One of the most attractive things about techno, and dance music in general, is its ability to isolate itself from the usual drama and narrative that surrounds us in both art and living. Many tracks celebrate this aspect self-referentially—Ekkohaus’ deep house number “Rendezvous,” for instance, features a voiceover that waxes half-poetic, half-prosaic about the way that dance music’s comforting yet cathartic continuity can not only numb but perhaps even purge the pain from being trapped within the constant plot-jerks-and-twitches of everyday life. This is certainly something I have experienced myself on the dance floor. In fact I can pull out of my very recent memory a night in which I arrived at a club in a no-good mood, finding it first impossible to forget the preceding events that had placed me in such a state, skeptical that the old trick-of-the-bass would work once again, then witnessing the pulsing music slowly but steadily dissolve my funk like a deep cleaning powder, almost entirely without my contribution, save for the concession of small head bobs.
On a certain level, though, it feels trite to articulate the all-too-familiar “dance your cares away” phenomenon and act as if it is some novel discovery unheard of or not experienced by others. Although such tropes are always freshly fascinating when they leave the realm of theory and affect you, like clockwork, on a personal, concrete level, there is still the anxious question: Isn’t there something else we can talk about, now? Isn’t there another way to use the elements of dance music, another effect that it can have while still retaining its original ingredients? To me, Objekt’s Flatland says yes, and the album’s use of a narrative structure—strange, surreal, dreamlike in the way where you are not sure whether waking is a relief or a loss—makes it all the more enticing within the context of its surrounding tradition.
Of course, I have no real evidence to prove that this album documents the trial for a murder carried out by a twisted yet charmingly mischievous female-presenting machine named Agnes. I have no source that backs up my feelings: that the opening blast of “Anges Revenge” represents her first attack, that “Strays” should win an Oscar for best chase sequence score, that “First Witness” documents her conniving, manipulative wordplay as she repeats the same ambiguous phrase to her interrogator through industrial burps and hiccups, “She saw me…she saw me…” And I also had no intention, when first listening to this record, to pin a story on to it—rather, it came naturally, completely manifested itself within the cloud of my consciousness after repeated listens, like a phantom, sovereign from my own imagination.
And that is what makes the phenomenon of this imagined story, and the album behind it, all the more arresting to me. I have never heard a record that is at once so cold and steel-like, yet so alive, full of agency, motivation, whims, and fancies. Tracks like “Ratchet” begin with a typical hyper-structured fervor of programmed sounds, but then begin to fray and explode into tiny tantrums that feel anything but robotic. It does not feel like there is a machine behind this music, but it also does not feel like there is a person behind it—rather, a hybrid, a benevolent yet monstrous combination of producer TJ Hertz and the hardware with which he interacts. The impersonality that characterizes so much techno is gone, replaced by something a little harder to describe. But make no mistake in thinking that Flatland betrays the genre—if “Strays” came on in a club, it would provide me with the pleasure I was looking for. Instead of leaving narrative altogether, however, I would have the chance to transition from my own drama into one altogether new and foreign—an alternate channel of escape.
Flatlands is out now via PAN.