Why does great dance music elicit such a profound physical response? It’s more than just an aesthetic appreciation for an artist’s creative vision. It’s more than just the communal energy of a packed dance floor. And it’s certainly more than just an alcohol-induced compulsion to let loose and move. On a fundamental level, whether biological or metaphysical, it would seem that dance music forms a natural and inextricable bond with something inside of us.
For the past two years the musical output from 20-year old Darling Farah, the London-via-Abu Dhabi-via-Detroit producer born Kamau Baaqi, has been a testament to the covalent nature of the connection between dance music and the human body. On his previous two EPs for Civil Music, last year’s “Exxy” and the more recent “Division”, Baaqi stripped club music down to its essential building blocks: rhythm, energy, and soul. Cuts like “Younger” and “Grace” demonstrated his innate ability to craft organic, expressive yet remarkably sparse productions that resonate at the same frequency as more up-front dance tracks. But by distilling the essence of club music, he showed that its least common denominators are intrinsically connected with the human body, with its form, components, processes, and impulses. Rhythmic structures build the skeleton that supports the weight of the body – the instruments, synthesizers, samples, and vocals – while the steady, pulsing energy provides the all-important cardiac function that drives the track forward and keeps you moving.
Baaqi’s debut full-length on Civil, appropriately titled “Body“, is a visceral listening experience that feels far more human than any other techno album you’re likely to come across this year. And this is unquestionably a techno album, marking a significant departure from his house- and garage- leaning productions on previous releases. Most of the tracks on “Body” are bleak and minimal, tinged with a pronounced industrial aura that sounds like the lingering imprint of Baaqi’s upbringing in the Motor City. On album-opener “North,” waves of smoky, grayscale ambience ebb and flow, washing over the oblique tracks left behind by syncopated kicks and hi hat patterns. “Realised” diverts locomotive power into a square-shouldered, production line techno jaunt that’s one of the primary body-movers on the album. He even delivers some relatively straightforward dub techno on “All Eyes”, albeit with a graceful execution that combines melancholy with calm, centered self-reflection.
A handful of tracks on “Body” feel almost meditative despite the album’s pervasive grimness. Listening to the album plugs you into a realm that’s hermetically sealed off from the outside world, providing an introspective and insular experience. As he has done so well on past releases, Baaqi turns inward to create intimate spaces that are more mental than physical, more imagined than real. On “Fortune” – a track that’s aesthetically similar to his previous work – he utilizes sequences of rich, white-washed chords to create an atemporal dreamscape that fluctuates dynamically from dense and impenetrable to cavernous and ethereal. “Body”, with a running time of nearly eight minutes and situated in the middle of the tracklist, is clearly a focal point of the album. The track builds up so gradually that you wonder if it has a pre-determined landing point or if it’s moseying along without intent. But the unhurried pace makes this one a hypnotic, compelling, and rejuvenating journey that stands out on an album full of standouts.
There are a few points, though, where Baaqi ventures off into a slightly different direction. “Forget It” is a wistful exercise that shows off his knack for building creative, off-kilter rhythms, but it lacks the same propulsive energy found on the rest of the album. Meanwhile, the crushing kick patterns, gruff melody, and female “This is it” vocal sample on “Bruise” suggest a big payoff that just doesn’t materialize in the way we were hoping. Nevertheless, this is truly an impressive album from an equally impressive young producer who continues to innovate and wow us in new ways. Not only does it mark the high point in his career, but it also raises the bar for techno albums in 2012.
Darling Farah – “Body” is out now on physical and digital formats via Civil Music.