Xela & Jake Muir – Safe

A sprawling, evolving Documenting Sound double-header from Boomkat Editions brings together John ‘Xela’ Twells and Jake Muir. Originating in the coma of lockdown, this latest volume in an ongoing series is one of echoes. Rave flashbacks, field recordings that hover in a strangely-hazy ambient fog, and bittersweet reminiscences of better days are all in its DNA. As the global pandemic swept the planet, Twells resurrected the Xela name; lockdown ultimately inspired the Berlin flatmates to create something fresh while drawing on their memories and past adventures. Due to the ongoing situation in which it was born into, the accompanying music has something eerie and pressing about it, a cramped-up energy that can’t fully be satiated or released into the wild, and the empty streets of Berlin make for an eerie sight, which is reflected in the music.

Relatively new to the city, both artists are able to explore their growing relationship with Berlin in curious, tentative, and sometimes hesitant ways, trying to uncover more while being afraid of venturing too far. This work feels slightly removed, distant from the true vibe of the city – perhaps because of lockdown, but also because of their relocation to the city.

Xela’s love for rave music trickles into ‘Safe (in trauma)’ as distant drums skitter around at a high tempo, while atmospheric and dislocated sounds bubble up beside them. As the track progresses, it kicks into a higher gear. Along with the tempo, the heart rate soon goes through the roof, elevating as it progresses; the music screams at the listener to get moving, and it builds and builds until it becomes a full-on rave.

Jake Muir’s ‘Cloister’ is a response to the earlier vibe (he was in an adjacent room, studying, while Twells was in the midst of recording). On this piece, Berlin’s cityscape comes to life in Muir’s hands, and the track is the polar opposite of the earlier radiation-rave from beyond the grave. ‘Cloister’ is similarly locked up, though, and the cooler atmosphere is a temperature drop; snowflakes could easily begin to dust Berlin’s famous streets.

Eerie ambient fuzz and vague, formless, and depthless tones swim in its murky ether, halfway between the bliss of ecstasy and the nightmare of a killer virus. The debris of yesteryear sounds, such as footsteps, casual conversations, a public area usually teeming with people, infiltrate the record and give it an empty feeling, like a gaping hole right in the centre of its chest, silence in place of a pumping heart. Together, the pair have crafted a record of anomalies and strange magic, and that makes it well suited for a strange era.

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