Playmorium, Groj’s second album (release 27 Nov, 2013, box records), strikes a more defined and directed tone than his last. Promised Land was very much about acoustic exploration and having fun. In his own words, producer Kevin Jamey now wanted to make ‘happy’ music. We would expect even more fun, even more daring psycho-acoustic exploration that has become trademark of Groj’s remixes.
We could not be further off. Take a listen, and read below what I mean.
While Playmorium is indeed happy music, we are looking at a different kind of happy. Interestingly, as a listener, this album is much more about you, then it is about Groj. Though meticulously crafted, it lacks the imposing quality that marks most of contemporary electronic dance music. Certainly, you can dance on this if you like, but if you decide not to, there is still plenty of song structure and intricacy to keep you satisfied. Sure, you can feel delighted by this, but the music still transcends if you look at it level-headed. Finally, at times this music reveals to you the happiness coming from simple things, but at times you realize that much of what we consider important to ‘happiness’ is merely distraction and entertainment – and leaves a hollow aftertaste. And this is where I realized that this music has a deeply political side.
We have become very function-oriented. Function can be quantified and performance objectives are measured; the same logic has replaced the somewhat blurry concept of happiness with markers of our own success. What are your qualifications, who are your references? How many friends, how many ‘likes’? How many plays, how many followers, how many citations? How well do you party, how good are your friends? Music has always supported our social interactions, and much of modern dance music has become tailored in the same way as our perception of happiness. We have created ‘functional music’, performing to ‘effectively drive’ dancefloors. Playmorium is not functional. Playmorium, played out in a dancefloor setting, gives you a gauge how much is left when, just for a moment, you disregard all functionality. In this sense, Playmorium has achieved what is reserved to the domain of art: ask questions without phrasing them in words, ask them implicitly and viscerally without preaching them, and once we discovered them, leave finding the answers to ourselves.
To stop the rambling, let us talk about music more factually. Playmorium can be very immersive. This is largely carried by Groj’s production skills, but also by the conscious decision to use concepts and composition from Krautrock/Kosmische Musik. In contrast to ‘degraded house’ à la Opal Tapes, L.I.E.S. or Huerco S. (all of which I am thoroughly enjoying) or Imre Kiss’s wonderful Midnight Wave, the production leaves no space for intentional ‘washing out’ of sonic material. Keeping it clean and straight, immersion stems from composition, harmonies, rhythm, and acoustic material used in the tracks.
The Krautrock theme recently seems to be somewhat of a re-emergent concept. I should mention two great records here, which explore similar terrains. Both are sophisticated pieces of work, but also serve to point out how Playmorium achieves an unrivaled sense of direction and focus on the question of ‘healthy’ happiness. Nebulo’s recent Castles (a gorgeous bundle release with the highly recommended Basements EP) on Hymen Rccords adds in the extra bang of an electroacoustics / techno / industrial perspective.
Listening to the first tracks of Ricardo Tobar’s Treillis (sadly the full album stream is gone again), the similarity to the rythmic and synth work to some of Groj’s single and remix releases is striking. Though, closer investigation of the album obviates a much jumpier, very inspired take on the Krautrock and synth theme, exploring it from various different angles.