All that exists to contextualise Damascvs’s latest release, Rigour, are Luca Stefano’s previous singles, albums, video-releases and…
All that exists to contextualise Damascvs’s latest release, Rigour, are Luca Stefano’s previous singles, albums, video-releases and live shows — no interviews, minimal public statements and a diminished online presence. And thats exactly the point. Cape Town’s most recondite electronic artist is defined by nothing more than his sublime, mind-altering beatscapes. And with Rigour, Stefano’s second full-length in the last two years, this focussed artistry seems to have transcended any self-awareness that anchored A View/Her Dove (2013). His latest effort is a collection of 15 free-floating thoughts which somehow, when viewed empirically, come together as a mini-thesis on hazy hip-hop, progressive electronica and the daily grind.
The biggest shift in direction for Stefano on Rigour is its grittiness. Early works like ‘Blue Monarch’ and the winsome piano-based ‘Solly’ were finished with a perfect halcyon gloss, splicing airy synth chords with laid-back percussive elements. But right away, tracks like ‘Tile Shop Edit’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ are scuffed, imperfect surfaces in comparison; the beat in ‘Gotta Get My Life Out The Gutter’ literally plonks along through grimy distortion and a spillage of MIDI samples.
‘Mortal Illusionz’ is the murkiest experience on offer, closely resembling Stefano’s 12 minute audio-visual collaboration with Daniel Mark Nel’s (Swishy Delta) in February this year. Its rambling Djembe drum centrepiece speeds up the sauntering pace of the preceding ‘Wood Grain Spiral Staircase’, and this transition offers a unique culture clash in that French samples segue nicely into African percussion.
But this trip takes a turn for the worst, albeit briefly, with the hyperactive beep-fest ‘The Prestige.’ At 35 seconds, we’ve got to wonder whether it’s mere album filler or an essential piece in the unified whole. It hints at the brilliant, frenzied drum work of Manchester DJ Star Slinger on Volume 1, but just doesn’t last long enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, fellow mini-tracks ‘Up In The Morning’ and ‘Humble’ restore some faith in the idea. As simple, beat-spliced melodies they really do convince that good electronica doesn’t have to be an infinite loop with a few permutations, cut short at 6 minutes only for the sake of avoiding having to upload 15MB song onto Soundcloud. Sometimes its good to have made something short, finite and containable. This discipled wisdom is one of Stefano’s virtues on Rigour.
Like most honest artworks, Rigour will divide its observers. Some will miss the straightforward danceability of A Let Down Part (2012) and songs like ‘Jazz (from Utah)’, and look at Damascvs’s new complexities with a saudade chip on their shoulder. But stuff them. Because others, those who listen to Rigour from its first to its last beat, will be gratified to experience its transcendental effects. And don’t be mistaken, this isn’t the exclusive reserve of electronic die-hards. At only 36 minutes, Rigour is even shorter than a typical live set, and it’s in this context, Damascvs’s only true context, that it’s best enjoyed by anyone: swirling, swaying, and bopping away in primal uninhibitedness in a cloud of smoke and lights before a small stage, anywhere, with Stefano hunched over the tools of his trade.