John Heckle: Blues for a Red Giant (Lunar Disko)
John Heckle: Wet Noises (Midnight Shift)
John Heckle’s style of dance music has always seemed slightly alien to me, like it comes from an entirely other place than most dance music of his same scene. It feels like it was made by hand with hardware and is often rougher around the edges, things sound less than perfect, the production is a bit crude at times and sounds can vie for position in an often crowded mix. “Bon Voyage” shows this off in style with its dense and noisy mix of chunky drum machines, crashing cymbals and hihats, and a totally inspired italo-disco bassline and arrangement to go with it. It’s a good lip and would fit in nicely alongside tracks from Creme Organization, Viewlexx, or Legowelt.
“Red Giant Encounter” drops the italo elements and instead veers headlong into more abrasive EBM territory, with an insistent bassline and crashing snares and claps. Like Hieroglyphic Being, Heckle’s sounds are often highly synthetic and dry, often sounded like they’ve been laid down to tape with minimal care, like these just happen to documented rather than existing in a world of pristine, studio perfection. So the angular clanging of “Collective Intelligence” feels less like toiled hours in front of a laptop’s cool glow and more like a spontaneous hardware jam, elements freely dropping out and reentering the mix as it pounds away with a fuzzy kick. That same mutant alien machine funk comes through on “Implications of Meaning,” with what sounds like manipulated vibraphone patterns circling around some crusty drum programming.
The Wet Noises EP is cleaner in aesthetic than Red Giant, with tracks that feature distortion and mid-range frequencies far less obviously. “Wet Noises” is a very fast one that would likely feel right at home alongside some of the early Rephlex camp, uptempo with lots of squiggling acid patterns. It’s darker than the sounds of Red Giant, which feels brighter overall to me.
“Wet Noises” appears to get faster and faster in its final moments, before finally ending; the murky intro of “Alpha Deux” proceeds it, eventually revealing a muffled, filtered piano phrase as its main hook. It’s odd and infectious, especially when a wet synth pattern enters the picture accompanied by irregular alarming “whoops.” It’s not the prettiest sounding track in the world, but Heckle has a knack for making his oddball arrangements not only feel approachable but also distinctly unique. The Tapirus remix of “Wet Noises” is not as fast as Heckle’s original, built around a more leisurely lo-fi drum machine and with more pronounced acid details. “Frozen Planet” feels like a mashup of the sounds used elsewhere in the EP, but it features more syncopated and broken up drumming with phased pads to reflect visions of chilly environment its title conjures.
John Heckle’s weird take on techno may not be for everyone, but the more I hear his material the more I like his supremely original voice. This is not to say that he’s not pulling from convention — pretty much any readily mixable dance music does by design — but his touch is undeniable, and the often odd sounds that find their way into his productions on both of these EPs is evidence of what a singular talent he is. Recommended for adventurous dancers and headphones enthusiasts alike.