I once met the devil. He said Luxury Problems is his favourite album.
Yes, the devil listens to Andy Stott. Joking aside, the mancunian artist has been able to attract the attention of an ample audience especially with his 2012 Lp. Why?
Stott’s musical path it’s not astonishing, but still quite interesting. Andy’s first works (Merciless, 2006; Unknown Exception, 2008) already allowed him to draw Modern Love (his record label) attention, even though they were mainly “room’s production”, made up using Reason. Both the albums contained tracks that easily fit the dance floor. Songs like “Hertzog” or “Boutique”, recall the early Chicago and Detroit’s influence. The first stage of Stott’s musical experience seems to be a sort of “emulation era” of techno pioneers such as Jeff Mills, but this doesn’t lessen his work at all, on the contrary: even if these records seemed a bit latecomers, they proved Andy Stott’s dexterity.
Then, around 2011, a few events deeply influenced the artist, allowing him to step up to a second stage of his production: working at Mercedes Benz, Stott was surrounded with industrial sounds and noises. It’s fascinating how creative minds can be influenced by whatever comes around in daily life: an interview on Fact Magazine reports about Stott recording ambient sounds to use on his records, as Matthew Herbert and many others used to.
Contemporaneously, another element helped Andy’s musical evolution: his long lasted friendship with piano teacher Alison Skidmore. She didn’t just help to improve his work through the years, she also started lending vocals Stott decided to use on his forthcoming masterpieces Luxury Problems and Faith in Strangers.
Last but not least, Modern Love (small) army of artists allowed him to establish new “creative friendship” especially with Demdike Stare’s Miles Wittaker. This led to a profitable collaboration (with the moniker Millie and Andrea) and to sharing new tools and practical skills.
So even if the two EPs We Stay Together and Passed Me By still sounded a bit techno oriented, they already brought a deeper change in Stott’s musical experience which arose perfectly in Luxury Problems and, later on, Faith in Strangers.
What’s the first sign of this change? The album artworks.
From Passed Me By on, every Lp cover is a black and white picture of singular subjects and moments: a spooky man wearing a mask, a black man’s hostile gaze, a snapshot of diver Patricia McCormik at Helsinki’s 1952 Olympic Games, a Modigliani’s woman head sculpture. This continuity in design, perfectly fits the new stage of Andy Stott’s style, but this doesn’t mean the artist’s work became monotonous.
In Luxury Problems, Skidmore’s vocals mash up with profound basses, down tempo rhythms, sinister atmospheres and sampled noises.
The oxymoron between Alison’s heavenly vocals and the spectral bass lines in tracks such as “Lost and Found” and “Hatch the Plan”, disorient the listener. A mix of far industrial noises and echoes on the background increase the effect. Even when the rhythm keeps beating (take for instance the techno shaky, nervous “Sleepless” or the jungle influenced “Up the Box”), you keep feeling this dark musical atmosphere all around. This psychedelic fusion, made of this album not a breakthrough, but certainly some kind of an “evil oriented electro perfect opera”.
That’s exactly what the devil is supposed to listen to.
Two years later something changed with Faith in Strangers: the entire work sounds less threatening. The title speaks clearly: Stott try to find those invisible connection in between lonely people drowning in frenzied city life.
The beautiful ouverture “Time Away” is as simple as deep in its ability to transmit a sense of loneliness and melancholy. “Violence”, “On Oath” and “Science and Industry” keep being down tempo, but new elements are much exploited such as an exaggerated sound distortion and unworldly spiritual backgrounds.
More over, the title track is a successful response to Aphex Twin’s most peaceful works.
So, if Luxury Problems was almost totally a disturbing album, Faith in Strangers is most calm and platonic. Both of them describe city life: if the first LP seem to portray somekind of a urban hell, daily life annoyance, the second one try to take back a bit of humanity. Its ritual spirit is based on a sense of isolation which find its usefulness in staying away from that urban inferno previously described.
Now, as of 2016, the mancunian artist’s back with a new track, “Butterflies” which will be included in the forthcoming album Too Many Voices. Its Flying Lotus like trajectory, seems to confirm that Stott is getting further and further from his techno origins, even though he keeps this style for his live acts (take a look at his Boiler Room performance).
To sum up, a gentle mix of elegance, technique, noise, psychedelia make of Andy Stott one of the best electro artist around. Nonetheless his ability to depict the annoying nowadays urban life, made up of feelings like dissatisfaction, tiredness, human isolation, is innovative in someway: only a few reached this aim exploiting an electro-techno background.
The strengthen of LP and FIS, was that even if exploring a deeply complex, but I’d say not unknown, musical landscape, Stott packed up two almost perfect albums which became milestones of contemporary electronic music. His works are experimental and deeply emotional.
The great challenge in releasing Too Many Voices, will be the ability to share with his audience not an innovative, but such a complete and evocative work as the previous two were.
We’ll be waiting patiently until april 24th. Only then we’ll know if the devil’s still an Andy Stott’s attached fan.