A Dusted Review: Persistence of Vision (April 21st, 2014)

VHS Head is the pseudonym of the enigmatic Adrian Blacow, and he uses it as a vessel for some of the most bizarre, unfathomable electronic dance music you will find. Blacow uses old, library-sourced VHS tapes (hence the name), in this case apparently horror films, and then dissects them and splices them back together into high-octane dance floor pounders, of a weird sort.

Demdike Stare mines similar territory to VHS Head, but uses it to conjure up subliminal vignettes mirroring nightmare visions of collective unease, as if the ghosts of the Pendle or Salem witches and the Witchfinder General could be recreated as music. Blacow’s music is wrenched from any clear context, a sort of flipside on the coin of hauntology. There are none of the wispy drone textures, bursts of noise and muted vocal samples that dominate the works of other horror plunderers, replaced instead by jerking break beats, unsettled synth melodies and ever-shifting tempos.

This frenetic energy makes for an often thrilling, but equally distracting, listen. Some songs bristle with melodic hooks and rhythmic propulsion, especially the exciting opener “Enter The Devil,” where pounding techno beats collide with swooping synth lines. “Frozen,” meanwhile, is dominated by seductive, see-sawing synth lines that sound like a madly entwined Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre reimagined for a 21st-century dance floor.

In this context, however, the fact that these tracks started out as spools of horror film VHS tape is somewhat immaterial. Blacow makes seductive, hyperactive dance music that feels as far from a video nasty as the latest Burial EP. Snippets of mutated dialogue (“Don’t look in the closet!” intones a grim voice on the track of the same name), and track titles such as “Mutant Nights” and “Tracking the Moon Beast” hint at the nightmarish and phantasmagorical, but the brightness of the synths and booty-shaking beats render such references bewildering rather than unsettling.

As such, Persistence of Vision is an exhausting listen. The VHS extracts are so distorted, I assume for copyright reasons, that there is no sense of the music’s place outside of Blacow’s head, and, to an extent, the dance floor, although you’d be hard-pressed to keep up the album’s pace all night. When Blacow’s blender approach clicks, the results are a kaleidoscope of weirdness and sensation, but at other times one is left reeling in a sonic environment without a structural anchor.

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