Captagon can be exhilarating, but it’s best consumed in short bursts
Rod Modell, the Detroiter who usually makes dub techno as Deepchord, comes off as a pensive man with a spiritual bent. In an XLR8R interview shortly after the release of 2017’s Auratones, Modell expressed concern that the loud, aggressive music designed for big club soundsystems might somehow be harmful to the body, might not stimulate the chakras, might not induce a positive state of mind. Freshly signed to veteran techno label Tresor, affiliated with one of Berlin’s most hallowed clubs, Modell is ready to put his vision to the test on Captagon.
The only ambient bone Modell throws us here is opener “Triangulation,” on which a vibraphone struggles to be heard over a sea of static. It’s as if Modell is telling us a sound so dainty has no place here. From then on Captagon is relentless in its forward motion, rarely dipping below 140 BPM as if its life depends on maintaining constant speed. It’s a little like riding a rocket. Or watching lights pass by on an underground bullet train that never stops. Or blasting across the alkali flats in a jet-powered, monkey-navigated autogyro. And so forth.
The bottom line is that Captagon is all about motion. Modell tends to err on the faster side of techno, but his kicks are usually situated in the middle of immersive soundfields that spectacularly exploit the depths of stereo imaging. He’s typically comfortable creating spaces in his music (20 Electrostatic Soundfields) or making music designed to be played in spaces (Hash-Bar Loops, exactly what it sounds like). Captagon is about hurtling through space, or perhaps bending space to its will like a starship traveling faster than light.
The sound design is concentrated almost entirely on the drums. Modell creates heaviness not through overwhelming bass or dull thuds of noise but through generous, almost violent compression. Even as they barrel forward, these tracks still seem to be retreating into themselves. “Qurra” sounds like it’s being vacuumed up. The kicks are treated with great sloppy filters, and a wetness seems to ooze from the very drums, with little aquatic fizzing sounds sharing space with Modell’s beloved pall of static.
There’s really not much else; everything is drawn into the center. An erotic, spine-tingling whisper, redolent of the hallucinatory conversations Modell’s countryman Moodymann has with himself on this year’s Sinner, courses beneath “Jade” and “Scrawler.” But they dissipate into the same frequency as the hi-hats, leaving you uncertain if you’re hearing human voices or the chatter of machines. It’s similar to what’s achieved on the Alien soundtrack, with its inhuman little voices, or some of the tricks Shinichi Atobe pulls on Butterfly Effect.
Captagon can be exhilarating, but it’s best consumed in short bursts. An hour and change of this stuff can be as taxing as a long commute. That might be inherent to the nature of the project, though, and this stuff will go over like gangbusters in the club. Whether it’ll realign dancers’ chakras is beyond my knowledge, but it’s always a treat to hear techno this tough designed with such grace.