What is it that marks an electronic music producer out as great? Not great as in a synonym for important or distinguished, but great as in a title used to denote the most central person(s) of a particular kind. Throughout history we’ve had Alexander the Great, Ramesses the Great, and most notably Gonzo the Great, the greatest Muppet of them all. So who might qualify for such a title in the world of electronic music? Obviously, there are no objective and impartial criteria for ‘greatness’, but off the top of my head I would mention Aphex Twin, Burial, and probably Brian Eno. Three Kings you could call them, but I’ve believed for some time that a fourth name needs added to this list: Rod Modell. Whether under his own name, under his most well-known and most common alias Deepchord, or with collaborators in cv313, Shorelights, or Waveform Transmission, the sweeping, glittering ambient, dub techno, and minimal that he has made in the time I’ve been alive (27 years, if you’re interested) is close to unmatched.
Among this oeuvre is a positively endless list of classic cuts. The dc series that reached its apogee in 2001, the Vantage Isle sessions, ‘Prana’ and ‘Tantra’ and the Echospace and cv313 collaborations – the list could go way beyond my word count. But to my mind the finest thing Modell has ever made is ‘Lanterns’, which kicked off the Astral Industries imprint back in 2014. A masterful arrangement of synthetic textures, fizzing static, and swishing atmospherics, it is a record that now sells for far upwards of £100 on Discogs. It is also a record that in four years I have not been bored listening to, and I’ve listened to it a lot. In the years since its release, Astral Industries has gone on to be one of the most special labels in operation today, and Modell has released more wonderful music such as the crackling, potholing ‘Auratones’ and some stunning collaborations with Greek producer Fluxion. Now though, Modell has pushed the boat even further with the aptly titled ‘Immersions’ project.
This release, the tenth on Astral Industries, comprises two pristine slices of sprawling, atmospheric magic that continues Deepchord’s impeccable roster. Because it’s on Astral, you are greeted with the mindbending cover art of Theo Ellsworth before you’ve even got your hands on the music. But that’s not all. Perhaps to celebrate hitting double figures, or just because they’re a bit nuts, Astral decided to press 30 advance copies of this record with liquid inside (inside, as in, inside the record) the wax. These were sold on Astral’s Facebook page, and although I am not privy to the exact amount they were sold for the word is that it was a couple of hundred squids. Whether they’ll actually play very well or not isn’t really the point, it’s more to emphasise that Astral, and Modell, embody most completely the well-worn phrase that music is art.
The flipside, of course, is that art is also music, and this is emphatically the case once you’ve put the needle to the wax here. The first side, ‘Immersion I’, will sound familiar to any who’ve travelled inside Deepchord’s Carolina Forest remix of Peter Michael Hamel’s ‘Colours of Time’, or who’ve sunk deep into his Coldest Season releases on Modern Love. Bvdub-esque in its layering, the first few minutes of this track soar and twinkle beautifully, and you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s just going to crescendo into a gorgeous ambient snowstorm before cooling back down again and filtering itself into nothingness. But actually, and in such a subtle way that it takes a while to even notice it’s there, the faintest of faint kick drums begins to bubble under the surface, throbbing and echoing in a way that only Deepchord can engineer, and suddenly you’re listening to a rolling dub techno workout at around 140bpm that chugs along like a Maglev. You might want to move to it if those glistening atmospherics didn’t make you giddy with blissful happiness.
In short, this is an astounding piece of music, blurring the edges between dub techno and ambient in a way that no-one else on this planet can. ‘Immersion II’ then follows in a similar vein, and at a similar tempo, dancing and pirouetting along without a care in the world. It begins, glowing softly as if lying on a seabed looking up at the sky, before layer upon layer upon layer is shrouded over the top. It’s hard to tell if this side has a kick drum in it anywhere, and the way that Modell manages to forge the elements and sounds together to create a bpm while holding back on the percussion is amazing. This is a consistent feature of his music, whether as Deepchord or under other monikor, in that you kind of know what you’re going to get but it still manages to be like nothing you’ve ever heard before. You just have to sit there in a mixture of bemusement and astonishment while the waves of the music wash over you.
In a roundabout way, this brings us back to the beginning, and the question of what marks an electronic music producer out as truly great. Whether it’s Aphex, Burial, Eno, or Modell, what I think makes the difference is the ability to have their ‘sound’, to stick to it, to forge innumerable tracks and albums with it, but to do so in a way that still seems to sound like nothing you’ve ever heard every time you hear it. A sound that is so unmistakably theirs but that never, ever gets old or boring, to the point where you can press play at a random place on ‘Ashtray Wasp’, or ‘Rhubarb’, or ‘Music for Airports’, or ‘Prana’, and know exactly what comes next no matter where that place is. On the evidence of ‘Immersions’, Modell continues to show just why he is in that elite bracket. As for this record, time will be the only way to judge whether ‘Immersions’ is as timeless as ‘Lanterns’, but early indications are that it will be every bit as moving and special in 2022 as ‘Lanterns’ is now.