March 30, 2013

Rev You: Hacker Farm – UHF

There’s something in the air these days.

The menace of big data, unmanned drone surveillance and 3D printed weapons is reaching a pitch that’s hard to gloss over with gamified, targeted pleasantries. While the doomsday preppers among us have been hard at work sowing the seeds of technological paranoia since time immemorial, a new type of subtle discomfort has begun to spread amongst the general populace.

I can’t speak on every citizen’s behalf, but for me, the writing is on the wall: Over the course of one week, I watched the first series of “Black Mirror”, started following Evgeny Morozov on Twitter, and finally gave a listen to the latest missive from the UK electro-primitive collective Hacker Farm.

The minds behind the project are committed to a post-consumer, techno-skeptical methodology, using DIY electronics, hacked gear, and found sounds. Their motto “Make do and mend. Broken music for a broken Britain” has more than a whiff of half-serious subversion, and serves as a manifesto for their “whatever works” aesthetic. Meanwhile, the mysterious, loaded cover art looks like helicopter video surveillance of a derelict car, like the bleakest of evidence in some homegrown terrorism trial, or the last known location of some seditionary leader.

The record is a smorgasbord of dynamic, lo-fi grit. The album’s 10 song-length tracks effectively skirt genre into all the best nooks and crannies of experimentally-inclined electronics. The most successful bits are on par with the best Moebius & Beerbohm outings, keeping the industrial clatter always just shy of pure atonality. The general approach is brooding and soundtrack-esque, as sparse arrangements are augmented with swelling pads in mysterious chordal arrangement, soaked in plenty of trainyard clank and tape-fidelity grit.

Several pieces are more conventionally composed, with a nice sense of lyricism underpinning the hairy sound palette. Pleasantly mysterious lite-industrial soundscapes and spoken word snippets provide counterpoint to the more overt circuit frying. At one point, an “Anonymous”-style computer voice decries our app-crazed hollowness. In another, a MidWestern-inflected newsreader recites a list of unexplained phenomena. Unafraid to be critical in a way that feels just slightly tongue in cheek (as any smart criticism is), but still executed with enough flair to fall well on this side of Atari Teenage Riot.

Overall, the tracks are simple, rhythmic exercises with a metric ton of atmosphere and attitude, melding the spirit of 80s home-tapers with early techno/EDM experiments. The group’s most obvious contemporary might be fellow Brit Eckoplekz, for his improvisational approach to vintage sound, though Hacker Farm embraces a more “narrative” approach in their use of found sound and grimly cinematic progressions. UHF is a melting pot of fringe paranoia and dark techno-skepticism, an anthem for the confused, disturbed citizens of our technology-laden retro-future, 1980-present.

Check out the creeping ambience of “Burlington” below.