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Premiere: Dances Across Borders, Vol. III

I’m really picky when it comes to electronic music. No matter what variety of electronic music it is, the work must balance the intentionally-repetitious grooves with enough variance to keep listeners attuned. Furthermore, the balance between texture and melody has to be spot on: too much texture and you get amorphous clouds; too much melody (at the expense of other elements) and you get thin tracks.

Dance Across Borders, Vol. III is a deeply impressive collection of techno cuts that hits the sweet spot where grooves, variation, melody, and texture come together–six times in a row. It’s the lot of most compilations to be wildly uneven, but curator Jean Grünewald has avoided that pitfall here. The results: all aces.

This collection is the third comp from Dance Across Borders, a “platform bringing together music artists against borders and state brutality, originally based in Montreal (Tiotia:ke in the language of Kanien’kehá:ka people) and now beyond.” Grünewald further noted that, “this project is to remind that this music, embodied in spaces, is above all political – and made to unite across all types of physical or abstract borders.”

The six pieces themselves live primarily in moody, minor keys, setting a unified tone for the collection. Opener “2 FRITES 1 COKE” by Esse Ran & S.Chioini (each of these six tracks are multi-artist collaborations) leans heavily into mood: subtle synth touches, carefully applied glitches, and meticulous arrangement of parts allows the techno piece to have a complex, forward-pushing beat and intriguing melodic elements.

“SPAZIO LIBERO by Kazuho and Ottoman Grüw opens by melding industrial clanks and groans into a pattern of dense thuds (a la Traversable Wormhole). A sudden, surprising shift into ’90s big beat vibes (without abandoning the dark’n’stormy underpinnings) makes this an unexpectedly diverse and fun piece.

The opening arpeggiator of “SCINTILLATION” by CMD & VIGLIENSONI makes a path into Tron Reconfigured vibes: this punchy track is equal parts “chase scene through an ’80s-style digital city” and energetic dance floor cut. “RETOUCHE” by Brusque Twins is a cold, stark cut that leans toward the industrial side of a techno/industrial mash-up. The breathy vocals and restrained arrangement keep it in the same mood as the other tracks, while the dour lead vocals push it toward the industrial side.

“Sublime” by LACED & NO AIRBAGS is my favorite of the set, as it matches rat-a-tat backline, four-on-the-floor bass hits, and ghostly synths for a piece that defies clear boundaries. The synths alone would be a lovely ambient piece; the rhythm and bass are highly busy and technical, almost footwork-ian. The tension is productive and exciting.

Closer “BUILT TO SIN” by H E L_H A X & 2 PIGS UNDER 1 UMBRELLA combines the approaches of many of the tracks into a solid closer. Distorted, ominous, industrial-style vocals sit over an adventurous techno cut that is equal parts Tron-style lucid synth action and Traversable Wormhole bass work. The piece flies by, barely letting the listener get settled in before its 4:00 runtime is up.

The six pieces here are all high-quality work. It’s rare that a compilation can produce such exciting and consistent work over so many artists. Furthermore, getting them all into a similar enough space that the collection is deeply listenable without massive tonal shifts is a triumph. If you’re into dark’n’stormy electronic music, Montreal Dances Across Borders, Vol. III is a must-listen collection. Highly recommended.

All profits from the compilation will be donated to Solidarity Across Borders, a Montreal-based non-profit organization that works to protect human rights. For those of you in Montreal, there’s a release rave-party in a church basement on November 18th. All the profits from that event will be donated to Milton-Parc food bank and to Solidarity Across Borders.