Psychedelic music involves guitars, pleasant memories and life-affirming epiphanies, is more often than not belittled, but all in all embraced, probably because this is yet another genre term that is as fuzzy as a boatswain’s beard. There is, however, the dark side of psychedelica, a murkily bubbling tour de force through uneasy t(r)opics, locales and concepts, and this journey, at least for now, is brought to you by Driftmachine, the Berlin-based duo of Andreas Gerth and Florian Zimmer who present their modular synth-bolstered work Nocturnes to the Western front. Released in the middle of June 2014 on Umor Rex Records situated in Mexico City, the six-plus-one-track vinyl edition is mastered by John Tejada, comes with an additional 11x17" poster and is distributed worldwide via Morr Distro. The digital version meanwhile can be streamed and purchased at Bandcamp and iTunes. As usual, inhouse designer Daniel Castrejón is responsible for the versatile packaging. Now here is the striking beauty of Nocturnes: not only is it uncannily psychedelic, it is furthermore a conglomerate of four distinct genre pillars, each of them multiplexing much hope or chagrin when isolated, but all the more eclecticism when merged in this album. The genres are, in alphabetical order, Ambient, Dub, Glitch and Rave, the latter of which is not even a real genre per se and thus rather used here as a connotative device that radiates the underground parties of yore and the majestic energy of chopped synth patterns. Driftmachine do not approve of Italo House pianos or the pitched vocals of a Disco sorceress. Instead, two concepts are poured into the album in adjacency to those four genres: grayness and metallics. The LP took – and changed – shape since 2012, the tracks however have not lost anything of their convoluted, polylayered physiognomy, nor has the metallic complexion turned any more solacing. Here is an in-depth review of a powerfully focused work whose impressive fluxion will cause havoc in more than just the aural sense.


Coxswain Castrejón's cyan ctenidium: the packaging of Nocturnes.


"A massive scale of gray," Umor Rex’s press blurb typifies the debut of Driftmachine, and this hue is indeed the endemic veil of Nocturnes. It is already overwhelmingly apparent in the opener Claire Obscure, a dichotomous aureole basked in beryllium cesspools. The title magnanimously gives away the synergetic forces in place right from the get-go, delineating what could also be called a clandestine clarity, i.e. a reticulation of countermovements, lights and shadows. Launching with asbestus-coated drones amid glitchicious globs, then moving to agglutinating low frequency streamlets in adjacency to cowbell catalepsies, Claire Obscure oscillates between a seemingly harsh metalization and backdrops of nullity. However, it is only the core of each surface itself which is stern. It turns out that the hardened steel guides are covered with an alloy of melodies, with a chromaticity of playful tone sequences. Muffled brass-oid Jazz interstices and the bubbling two-tone bass undercurrents interact with each other, creating a brazen harbor vista at night complete with faux steamer signals. The huge reverb that becomes apparent at the end could also hint at a cavernous state of remoteness. The aforementioned grayness continues to thrive in Drift, an electrifying corker which passes the threshold to tachycardia due to its mercilessly sped-up gestalt. Naturally, this is no Dutch Hardcore audacity, though it is equally bewildering as Driftmachine take the timbre of the opener and place – or to be more precise: throw – it into the helicoidal void. Drift thus feels like a meaningful appendix. Launching with argentine Rave scythes, heartbeat helixes, static coils and a sustained circular disk saw romance, Drift is the cinematic drive through the gray matter. Whether it is the prolonged bell sirens, the pneumatic chimes or the fallow ignis fatuus with its wonky luminescence, Drift is a badass juggernaut, grotesquely retrogressive, a tunnel vision of Babylon.


I have just interconnected Claire Obscure and Drift, as they are similar enough despite their temporal shifts. This might be wrong. However, Andreas Gerth and Florian Zimmer themselves come up with a sacrificial oblation that is truly meant to be cut into two parts. These instances are called To Nowhere Pt. 1 and, unsurprisingly, To Nowhere Pt. 2; without overanalyzing the choice of words yet again, it seems that Drift was a concentrated effort prone to pinpoint a specific goal after its progressive ride. To Nowhere rather floats and ferments arbitrarily while still maintaining the ubiquity of a focus. During the first incarnation, the German duo wanders through Dub-infested industrial complexes supercharged with fluorescent pinpricks, convulsive catenae, coruscating cannelures and arpeggiated comblike structures. The atmosphere is mephitic and transcendental at the same time, harboring both an apocryphal synthesis and easygoing wobble sound. This steamy-gaseous lactam cauterizes the soul. Bursts, eruptions, clings and chinks on the one hand, bumblebee acid camber flaps and staccato dragonfly cylons on the other make this quandary strikingly effective. Pt. 2 then revs up the laid-back laissez-faire attitude to the nth degree. The formerly languorous staccato becomes a superimposition of callisthenic shrapnel. The fusillade of midnight bells, aerose salvos and aggressively pumping beat cauldrons annihilate the Dub atmosphere in favor of saltatory granulomas of jagged causeways. The listening subject is hunted, the barnstorming flow this tune creates is overwhelming. Here, for once, the gray pith turns into a dark-blue floyd of belligerent violence.


The fifth track is called Sternenmeer which translates to ocean of stars. There is of course no reason to believe in an Arizonian diorama, as Driftmachine once more erect an alluvial Dub soil – or was that soul? – aquiver with benignancy and slick sleaziness. These billows do emanate warmth and shelter alright; as usual, it is the bouncy lanthanides and cautiously overdriven yet sylphlike blips which add arcaneness to the scenery. Glowing cataracts, recalcitrant calcium tungstates and a clever interdependency on the reverb make Sternenmeer a cosmic epiphany which purposefully lacks the wraithlike antipode to the epithelial periphery of the inorganic power drive. The final track Réveil Des Oiseaux is the mean-spirited stab, the fitting final blow to the engine casing that is the whole album. It almost pains me to translate the track, as it refers to the awakening of birds. I’m not even sure whether there are cyberbirds in this track, but the vulturine stabbing and jabbing as alluded by the breakbeat mélange and the aqueous droplets is life-threatening for sure. Steamy, smoking hot and glistening, this is more of a concrete jungle than a rainforest, although some of the turbulent glowsticks could resemble birds after all. Réveil Des Oiseaux ends with an Ambient addendum, a bedazzling counterpart to the tumult. The digital version of Nocturnes furthermore adds a bonus track called Call Mr Moriba to the roster which is another Rave-inspired, glacially helicoidal commander of melodious putrefaction and Glitch vestibules, even though the synth textures are unexpectedly wide and transmuted, probably the reason for this being a bonus track. The spiky snares and susurrant bass protrusions are compatible with the endemics, but the mountainous, swirling patterns add an excitingly different viewpoint to the whole work.


Nocturnes relies heavily on the past, but I can’t for the life of it figure out what I mean by that. That sentence lacks the precision, and it fits with the overall scheme of Driftmachine, for no matter how scathing and hazardous the abhorrently twinkling pads and spiky prongs of the presented material are, their clarity is only one aspect of this Glitchfest. The untrained ear will never encounter this album anyway, but even the experienced connoisseur will contemplate the reliance on the past and the zoetropic amalgamation of heftily ebullient stacks. Nocturnes gyres among delicate Rave rhizomes and equally delicious Dub doldrums in the best sense. There is an unrest that is more akin to a murderous upheaval than a conflict that takes place within the intended bystander. The grayness which is so often mentioned in this review is no enigmatic fog, no elysian haze, it does not cover up anything. The color simply refers to the intended structure of the virtual surfaces. Everything is either polished or rusty, stupefyingly metallic or scarily mucoid. Even in the slower tracks such as To Nowhere Pt. 1 or Claire Obscure, there is a certain madness, an antagonistic force which is as much a spoilsport as it is part of the actual fun. Listeners who adore to fathom and absorb blotchy sophistication, pointillistic situations and a somewhat dirty crystalline aurora will be more than up for Nocturnes. Within all these turmoils and apocalyptic bells there lies a moony playfulness, a peace that is not allowed to prosper but whose tendrils (tentacles?) touch every presented texture. Glitch, Rave, Ambient and Dub: Nocturnes delivers the gradient.


Further listening and reading:

  • You can stream and purchase Nocturnes at Bandcamp
  • Umor Rex Records’ Twitter account is @UmorRex.


Ambient Review 352: Driftmachine – Nocturnes (2014). Originally published on Jun. 18, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.