Saturday, July 29
LIGHTS DOWN LOW SF w/ BLACK MERLIN
Lights Down Low SF. w/ Black Merlin (Jealous God | Berceuse Heroique) - UK & Richie Panic (Lights Down Low)
Tropical showers, distant waves, exotic tribal instruments played against restless island chatter – on any given day one might find these background noises accompanying some soothing New Age music; except this ain’t such a day. Rather, this is the sort of reality one unwittingly stumbles into in a somewhat altered state of consciousness. Here, a sense of urgency lurks close by; the sonic map of the surrounding acoustics is building up to one of quickened heartbeats and bated breath amidst an uncomfortable and unfamiliar humidity, as if an ancient civilization is on the verge of awakening. One could almost feel the damp heat of the rainforest replacing the air with the advent of each uneasy beat.
Hipnotik Tradisi, an album Black Merlin compiled with eld recordings from his month- long immersion in Bali, Indonesia, was released last summer on Island Of The Gods as part of its Island Explorer series. Featuring traditional instruments such as gamelans and gongs woven into pulsating techno basslines, it established a new modus operandi for George Thompson – the artist behind Black Merlin. Indicating a refreshing departure from the oft-super cial treatment by many electronic musicians when adapting foreign sounds to their music – a process termed “postcard soundtracking” by Baptiste Girou – Thompson had instead opted for an approach that gave as much weight to the Balinese culture as he did to nding a sound from within that bears his own signature.
Hipnotik Tradisi went on to sell out in 48 hours – a height not previously achieved by Thompson’s previous releases. The positive reception was shared by both critics and audiences alike, who responded in kind to the rare fruit of a respectful and truly collaborative exchange between the East and West; one that happens just once in a blue moon.
If, like many others, your introduction to Black Merlin began only from the point of the highly successful Hipnotik Tradisi, your curiosity might have been piqued enough to attempt a little digging of your own, only to be gobsmacked once you realize that you’d been missing out on 90% of a highly productive, almost a decade long career that
had preceded the Black Merlin stage name. By the time his jungle-infected LP arrived, Thompson had already carved out several niches for himself in various corners of the electronic music world.
Way back in 2008, Thompson was already making music as one half of Spectral Empire, a duo act with fellow Brit Kyle Martin. Since then, and in between his solo creations as Black Merlin, he has collaborated with partners under no less than
two other guises (Kommune, Karamika). His musical catalogue is nothing short of spectacular, having released on such diverse labels as Bird Scarer Records, LN-CC, Common Thread, Crimes of the Future, SORN, ESP Institute, Boysnoize Records and Jealous God, among others. The recurring theme here appears to be one of constant reinvention, as the genres he has dabbled with oscillates from warped spacey disco, synth-driven krautrock, droney minimal wave, retrogressive EBM, to the hypnotic dark techno of recent years. If there is a Black Merlin signature at all to be found throughout Thompson’s work, it has got to be his love for 80s lm scores; more speci cally, the kind manipulated to full e ect in thrillers and horror movies. Evoking visceral Giallo scenes in much of his productions, there is always an ominous presence making itself known in mysterious ways.
From the outside looking in, Thompson’s career trajectory thus far appears to have been less dictated by ckle industry trends and more intrinsically motivated. Running on his own internal clock, he’s been releasing music and reinventing himself at a steady and relentless pace both before and after Hipnotik Tradisi brought his name to the forefront. Few musicians would be tempted to stray from a formula that has tasted success. Not Black Merlin. Following hot on the heels of his 2016 tour de force are already two completely di erent, new records by Thompson, all within the span of a year. Clearly, he wasted little time basking in past glory.
Any bid to decode this artist and reduce him to a mere label for one’s own categorizing convenience would be a futile endeavor; it’s akin to a cynic’s vain attempt to deconstruct and unravel one magician’s trick: you’ll likely come o none the wiser and risk missing out on the pure and simple appreciation of his art form. Much better to let each of his music pieces speak for itself.