Wonderland, Demdike Stare’s first full length album since 2012, is a magical ride, weaving together stark, grey slabs of concrete electronica and A+ experiments straight out of a night school’s advanced chemistry class. Inner-city beats are aplenty as the music careens past thronging streets and through subterranean tunnels. The clipped, loose musculature of the opener ‘Curzon’ gets its inner workings into gear as it slowly revs up. The musical muscles are limbering up for a punishing workout session in the gym, and throughout the album the music’s put through its paces. It’s soon running along on the treadmill’s fastest setting, its feet pounding and its pulse racing; drops of sweat dripping in front of its eyes. Old rhythmic blocks are bulldozed, collapsing in an avalanche of clay and dust, and smaller rhythms link up to help with the renovation, creating unbreakable and dangerous chains. These chunky sounds would give you a cold, hard stare in the street, either accepting you or aggressively marking you as a threat.
The strutting beats of ‘Animal Style’ slowly mesh together, while the harsher sound of ‘Hardnoise’ is skittery and heavily industrialised; the tones scrape the ground, grazing themselves on a spray of pebbles and grit. The thick air chokes on the fumes coming from the beat factory, which belches out a yellowish cloud of toxic air. The cry of an exotic bird could be mistaken for the sound of a police siren, and just like that law and order is brought into the mix, trying to bring some discipline by means of force; eventually, the music shape-shifts into a smoother, more respectable groove. By this stage, each ingredient is forming part of a poisonous recipe, encouraging the beats to riot. The lopsided beat of ‘Sourcer’ feels as though it’s about to spin out of control at any moment…and it does. Quick-fire beats crush the flesh, scattering the vocals and the rhythmic artillery with a grenade’s worth of shrapnel.
With dexterity and flexibility Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty take the listener through the urban sprawl, where night tubes rattle through the ground at four in the morning and the bars slowly empty. Demdike Stare are on a mission, taking the listener back to the glory days of electronic music, when DJing was an art and clubbing was not only a complete and engulfing liberation but an act of note worship. The music winds around the turns with the slinky body of a rattlesnake. ‘Airborne Latency’ pounds and seduces in equal fashion, because even though the beats appear to be hard and unforgiving, they do have a softer core, like chocolates with creamy centres. The world outside is often frenetic and stressful, and as they scurry around the beats carry around their fair share of hypertension. A reassuringly calm harmony steps forth, a magic spell in the middle of the wreckage.
Rhythms that appear to be on the verge of a psychotic breakdown are in reality a myriad of thoughts placed in the dark minefields of a complicated mind. The rhythms are a seemingly endless pyramid, home to many secret chambers and claustrophobia-inducing crannies. Towards the end, the sound inflates, and the atoms bounce around in the tight space. A liquid harmony gifts the music some head space, shaping it into a slightly more stable track. The harmony wraps the music in a slimy residue. Demdike Stare are still able to bottle those past-era raves and the sweet ecstasy of a Saturday night, the only difference being the passing of the decades; the music’s still here, but now it’s grown up.