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Spotlight: The Wonky, Emotional Techno of Bruce

Rave music, a sound partially founded in loved-upness, self-expression, and garishly colored outfits often, these days, finds itself caked in its other, darker history: one of black clothing, brutalist architecture, and anonymity. EP covers depict eerie nineteenth century portraits, BDSM imagery, and other stark images with roots in EBM and Industrial music. This is not to say that peace, love, unity and respect cannot be found in dark musics like EBM or pummeling, German techno — but rather that sometimes, it’s nice to emerge from the dark side of rave’s comedown into a more contemplative space. This space, sparingly found in harsh techno, is a repository for a musician or listener’s daily struggles, muses, and heartbreaks; a place to dance the pain away, but think through it, too. This is why it is so refreshing that Bruce, whose soundscapes usually lend themselves to warehouses or basement clubs, decided to make a breakup album.

The title track on Spring 2016’s Trouble With Wilderness starts off with a subdued but chugging bass/kick combination along with an odd, earthy percussive noise. When the earthy percussion collapses under the weight of the kick drum’s repetition, we enter a dark, bassy depth for a few moments, the ground above us caving in as the track crumbles completely. Suddenly, the sound dissipates, and we hear a lone, reverberating voice softly assert: “I will always love you.” Warm pads follow the voice, hopeful and unwilling to confront the fact that the sonic world which now supports them had just caved in. The kick drum reemerges as Bruce continues with his story. The narrative of the first track, as he says in an interview with Stamp the Wax, is one which “represents the sombre realization that it really was over between us” — the hard point in the traditional breakup at which one lets go of any naively hopeful prospect of salvaging and commits themselves to the ephemerality of it all.

The subsequent tracks are steeped in this very notion; on “Waves (For Yasmin),” over-saturated pads with lightweight, glassy percussion waft over us as a nearly inaudible bass kick lazily sits beneath. The track places us in a liminal state between over and not; neither in nor out of partnership; remnants of a hope for love remain (the pads) but now, they seem sluggish, drawn out, and uncanny. “Summer’s Gotta End Some Time” is a clear end to the saga, neither completely ecstatic nor as melancholy as the first or second track — after such intensity, we bath in sunny chords and the ghost of a traditional house track, hi-hats abound.

After this journey, it seems that Bruce has returned to the straightforward rhythm of the club, but certainly not to its overused tropes. His Fall 2016 release “I’m Alright Mate” is a pummeling techno banger with transitions that choose harsh, metallic grinding sounds over light, tired white noise. Despite it being a techno track meant for a sweaty warehouse filled with escapists, it is anything but straightforward, employing complete volume drops, drum hits that do anything but stay in one place, and repetitive chords which are constantly eaten up by thick, flanging noise. He may be back to the club, but it is certain that Bruce’s journey through sound will always be shaped by his return to a spirit of rave techno which now seems oft-absent: the willingness to confront the contingencies — sometimes happy, sometimes ecstatic, and often sad — that shape our world, sonic or otherwise.

– Ben Ritz

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