With melodic techno, electro and IDM in rude health once more, Kirk Degiorgio has rebooted his As One project via arguably his strongest album to date
At this time of year, it’s traditional to comment on the musical trends that marked out the last 12 months in electronic music and club culture. And in 2019, one of the most noticeable phenomena was the return of the kind of melodious, futuristic and far-sighted techno and electro that first began to emerge from the UK, and London in particular, 30 years ago. Whisper it quietly, but “intelligent techno” is back with a bang.
While some of this is down to the work of a new breed of producers inspired by this classically escapist and emotive form of electronic music, much credit for the revival should be given to those who played a role first time round. 2019 has seen significant releases from both original members of B12 – Michael Golding and Steven Rutter – and sometime Black Dog producers Plaid. And then there’s Ipswich-based Kirk Degiorgio, a DJ, producer and live performer who has been part of the UK techno landscape since he was a fresh-faced staff member at London’s Reckless Records in the late 80s.
Last month, Degiorgio dropped his first album as As One – his most famous artistic alias by some distance – since 2006. Entitled Communion, it sounds like a futuristic echo of a bygone era: a collection of timeless-sounding electronic tracks that could have been beamed down from a far-off galaxy.
“There has definitely been a renewed interest in the more melodic, electro-influenced techno sound,” Degiorgio explains enthusiastically over email. “The demand for me to take my As One sound on the road is proof of that. As long as it doesn’t become a 'retro' scene the sound could continue to produce exciting new artists and music.”
Degiorgio is also keen to point out that the healthiness of this particular sub-genre is indicative of the overall strength of the techno scene right now. “Techno is hugely popular in the UK, especially the tougher club-based sound,” he says. “The Machine events I co-host with Ben Sims are stronger than ever. Techno is no longer underground – it’s massive. The melodic/IDM-based end of techno is far more niche, but there are some great new artists and labels emerging in this field and my ART [Applied Rhythmic Technology] label is selling as many records as we’ve ever done. Good times all round!"
Degiorgio has certainly picked a good time to return to action, though in truth he never really went away. He’s continued to release EPs under a variety of aliases, and in 2014 released his first album on his old friend Carl Craig’s Planet E label as Korrupt Data, though at the time no details were provided about the “mystery artist” behind the project.
“Carl and I just thought it would be a cool experiment to release something anonymously that was quite different from anything associated with me previously,” Degiorgio laughs. “I have a broad range of tastes – as my Sound Obsession radio shows on Worldwide FM and Red Bull Radio testify – so I often get the urge to try a totally fresh genre. My rock-soul project The Beauty Room with vocalist Jinadu is another example of this, and the biggest departure might just be my project for mid-2020, Sinelab.”
It’s certainly true that Degiorgio’s discography is far more varied than some might give him credit for. Fittingly, the As One project itself is a great example of this, with previous albums exploring future jazz and broken beat as much as Motor City techno, electro and IDM. Communion is unashamedly influenced by the latter more than the former, but still boasts complex melodic arrangements – in some cases more akin to neoclassical compositions than classic Detroit club tracks – as well as layered, futuristic sounds and off-kilter rhythms.
“I was definitely experimenting more with classical arranging and chord structures, rather than the jazz-style elements found within my later As One period [first time around],” Degiorgio confirms. “It just lent itself more to the classic sounds influenced by my work with the Detroit guys in the early days.”
Some of Degiorgio’s lesser-known musical projects, including scoring online videos by fashion brand Stone Island, also played a part in the widescreen nature of Communion. “I agree that there’s definitely a cinematic element present,” he muses. “Although I’m not a musician and I can’t read music, I’ve been immersed in arranging theory and orchestral work since The Beauty Room album. We worked with a full orchestra at Abbey Road for that album and I soaked up as much knowledge as I could from the arrangers Paul Buckmaster and others.”
Another key aspect of the album, from a listener’s perspective at least, is the unashamedly emotive nature of many of the tracks. Whether deliberate or otherwise, Communion is capable of genuinely stirring the emotions and awakening your senses, both via quietly positive moments and the bittersweet electronic melancholia that has always been inherent in techno and electro music that can trace its roots back to Motor City pioneers the Belleville Three (Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson).
Surprisingly, though, Degiorgio claims that this effect was made by more accident than design. “I’m actually very technical when it comes to making music rather than emotional,” he states. “I’m not a musician, which is why I love working with hardware sequencers and modules, and I wouldn’t know how to reach for an ‘emotive’ chord. Everything is very technical and involves a long process trying out keys, chord progressions and melodies. My chord progressions sometimes take hours to take shape.”
Deliberate or not, Communion is wonderfully emotion-rich, with a flow from start to finish that deftly enhances the listening experience. The set is topped and tailed by two brilliant ambient tracks: in-between, it’s an undulating journey to the stars in the company of a lonely, homesick starship pilot.
“I have to give Bonny who manages the Detuned label praise for the sequencing,” Degiorgio says. “I generally leave all of that post-delivery stuff to the label. Once the album is delivered, I’m done and on to the next project.”
Words: Matt Anniss
Communion is out now on DeTuned