Function – ‘Incubation’ (Ostgut Ton)

The release of Function’s debut album after decades of writing some of the most well-regarded minimalist Techno is something that the genre’s aficionados will, no doubt be clambering all over for quite some time to come. At times the album exhibits brilliance, taking the listener through a sea of metallic force, interspersed with some truly astonishing melodic moments. It is not without its faults, but a debut of this quality is rare, and it is testament to Function’s enduring popularity and skill that the legendary Ostgut Ton have put it out.

This album is very much part of the sonic narrative that David Sumner has presented in his previous output thus far. His contributions within the Sandwell District Label as well as a solo artist on various imprints over the years – CLR, Ibadan Records and Droid among others – are all present in the sound and make up of the ‘Incubation LP’. The wide and unrelenting drum programming of much of his work is ever-present across the album, notably in ‘Against The Wall’, ‘Modifier’ and ‘Incubation (Ritual)’, and certainly packs the raw, lethal punch we’re used to. While these particular tracks might be more suited to a club environment, his creative use of panning adds real depth to the roll of classic drum machine sounds. This allows for home or even headphone listening to be so gratifying.

The textural and melodic elements spread have a certain amount of 80’s new wave influence, with the darker corners of Depeche Mode’s back catalogue appearing to have been an reference point; as well as the (almost too obvious to mention) echoes of Vangelis’ ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack. ‘Voiceprint’ begins the album in classy fashion, washing over the listener like a good introduction should. The build up and fade of the track moves into the most driving piece on the record, ‘Against The Wall’; a real highlight that demonstrates the appeal of Function’s mix of rolling minimalism and melodic maturity.

These elements while truly brilliant in places, are to be expected of an artist with as much nous as Function. It is thus, an unpleasant surprise that some of the mechanics of the album seem to let down the overall aesthetic. Firstly, the more melodic tracks occasionally appear unjustifiably long. While the presence of long and dreamy work outs will be no surprise to the initiated, they feel overly indulgent in places, and if shorter would perhaps leave room for more experimentation on the album. It would also have been nice to see him toy with a range of speeds, perhaps what’s needed to reach that next level.

The reappearance of the excellent ‘Voiceprint’ as a reprise later on in the album feels unnecessary, or indecisive even. It certainly does the trick and is not bad per say, but seems like a waste of space on a track list which only includes nine works. Techno is certainly a maleable genre, one in which it is easy to take a textural piece of music and underlay a back beat to obvious effect, but here it’s not exactly needed. Rather, it feels like a presentation of two sketches, or creative possibilities, without a decisive faith in either. This wouldn’t be such a problem, but the original really is sublime so to have rehashed it so soon after is a bit of a shock.

These small but significant, structural problems with the album turn it from great to good. This is only worth noting because when you set a bar as high as Function has, it is hard to top yourself. The great bits on the album, are about as good as Techno gets: cold and immersive. The melodic power of some of the pieces really is outstanding, something which can be lost in a field famed for its harsh character and pounding rhythms. The record in total is far more suited to a long night-time car ride, than a big club on a Friday night, but something tells me it wouldn’t shape up half bad there either.

Sean Hughes