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Distressed, Dirty, Disfunctional: Roma Zuckerman

Dirty, dysfunctional minimalism confuses and fascinates simultaneously

Roma Zuckerman

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ollowing two previous compilation appearances on Icelandic label трип (Trip), Russian producer Roma Zuckerman releases a memorably quirky debut EP on the imprint.

The label claims Zuckerman works in the isolated post-industrial Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. Although there’s nothing obviously ‘Russian’ in the music and it flirts with styles associated with other places, his music certainly feels like it comes from ‘elsewhere’ (psychologically as much geographically).

The tracks confuse and fascinate simultaneously, sounding almost as if they’re being broadcast on a station subject to jamming. At a time when we’re all so used to perfectly filtered pre-sets and by-the-numbers sonic templates they perhaps seem more ‘bizarre’ than they really are (though they are genuinely odd).

‘So What (I Feel Dirty)’ opens in fairly straight-ahead, beat-driven style with a hard kick plunging you straight into the action. Its dirty, lo-fi, menacing atmosphere makes it sound like something from the Bunker Records back catalogue. Gradually it becomes clear there’s something else at work, as Zuckerman’s slurred voice repeats the title phrase and the track increases in urgency and the sonic dirt creates a slow frenzy.

Announced by a whispered vocal, ‘Years’ is more subdued and sinister. Slow, low, bass waves and a brittle, minimal beat structure are corroded by a robotised vocal like a cut-price, drugged-out HAL having a breakdown. The subtly shifting spectral acid textures that emerge are fascinating in themselves and the track could be even better without the main vocal sample being repeated so often but even as it is it leaves a strong impression.

In comparison, ‘Your Ego’ is in a way the least interesting but the mildly uncanny mood still leaves a trace. The overall impression is something like a minimal house track played on a slightly out of time reel-to-reel player.

Things reach an uncanny and slightly climax on ‘Robologia (Voice Ring Edit)’. With a busy electro undertow providing contrast, Zuckerman presents mumbled, stream-of-consciousness vocals that sound like a massively sedated and filtered Alan Vega trying his hand at a minimal dance track. It leaves you feeling vaguely dirty and implicated in whatever scenario’s unfolding. Here again, for some the vocal will intrude on the detailed and impressive electronics but together they leave an impression. It’s almost as if Zuckerman wants to sabotage his own production skills by hijacking the tracks as vehicles for his monologues but if they were designed as soundtrack for them then the listener has to take the rough with the smooth.Roma Zuckerman

Much of this EP shouldn’t work but somehow does, at least up to a point. The tracks are powered by a dirty, dysfunctional minimalism with much in common with the ‘West Coast Sound of Holland’ associated with Bunker and other Dutch labels but also a strong sense of otherness and wrongness. They sit (or throb) in a sleazy, poorly-lit interzone and operate on what’s probably quite a narrow spectrum of acceptability – they will work for some but certainly not for all but somehow they get under the skin and function.

If nothing else, the fact that the EP often sounds like it’s held together by an interestingly-soiled piece of string seems quite apt for the general state of things. Or perhaps these are no more than idiosyncratic underground tracks with no greater meaning than whatever obsessions motivated them. They’re dance tracks Jim, but not quite as we know them.

Roma Zuckerman
That Present Terminal


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