2018 has been a productive year for Photonz. That’s not to say the Portuguese DJ and producer hasn’t been busy up to now – his releases stretch back as far as 2006, and his CV includes label boss, promoter and radio station founder/manager. This year, however, his presence seems to have taken on a bigger aura. Between his releases on labels like Unknown to the Unknown, his prog-house-influenced DJ Senior Vasquez alias and his Sónar spot with partner Violet (who else would play Greece 2000 into MMM?) everything’s seemed bigger, bolder, demanding attention without being flashy or playing any kind of game. To end the year he’s got what feels like his most accomplished release to date, a six-tracker on San Francisco label Dark Entries. Josh Cheon, head of Dark Entries, was in Lisbon in 2016 and needed a space to record a mix. Photonz and Violet provided that space at Rádio Quântica, the station they established some years ago. The trio hit it off, spending time and DJing together in Lisbon, across Europe and in the US (see RA’s recent profile of Violet for more on that). One day Cheon asked Photonz for demos, of which he had plenty. After going through what Photonz calls “a gigantic private SoundCloud playlist”, which included music recorded as far back as 2008, Cheon picked out what became Etheric Body Music.
While No More Drama (as DJ Senior Vasquez) on Paraiso referenced the tough New York sounds of Junior Vasquez and Danny Tenaglia, as well as his city’s own Underground Sound of Lisbon, and “Haku & Chihiro” on the Metanime EP on UTTU recalled 90s smash “Le Voie Le Soleil”, Etheric Body Music is laced with the manic snarls and metallic clanks of 80s EBM. It’s more than simple pastiche or homage, however. The tough kicks and squelching gurgles of “Viperidae” come up against “Blue Monday”-type choirs, a layering of sounds and ideas, times and moments. It’s rough and intense, its main theme distorted to a crazed flurry of squeals by the track’s end. “Dagger Ceremony” is just as much of a rush, its pistons flying with mechanical fury. The lead melody, if it can be called that, plays out as much in tensile crashing tubular sounds as any melodic theme. “Hospital Acid” is a slower cut that flips bombastic kicks with syncopated hi-hats over digital squalls. It’s like the sound of Deep Dish, which invoked images of factories without being industrial, per se, transported to the jagged chunk of EBM.
On the flip, things lighten up with “New Advent”. It’s a low rumbler of a track, all whirring repetition and a bass line with a smile on its face. It’s almost silly, but keeps its composure just enough to maintain an air of gravitas. Things then get even squelchier on “Playing With Fire”, returning to the arena of rugged, defiant percussion. Apocalyptic blasts of sound and muffled kicks and claps bounce off crisp hi-hats while a simple yet demonic synth line dances here and there. That’s on top of the yawning, breathing monster that seems to bring the track alive. This time it’s the bare bones workouts of N.Y. House’n Authority that come to mind, a counterpoint to the thick slabs of sound throughout this release. Finally, “Mysteric Teachings” is a swirling bed of echoes, big room trance drama at 112bpm. The press release quotes the artist’s interest in an “aesthetic when 80s industrial and EBM bands split up and start to make trance in the early 90s and all the ritual magick pushes them to zen stuff and they do ecstasy”, so it makes sense that the EBM of the title should splinter off into these disconnected spheres. In doing so, Photonz has put together a body of work that transcends his interests and influences, coalescing into a disparate yet coherent whole.
Photonz – Etheric Body Music is out now on Dark Entries. Buy here.