Anonymity is a big deal in dance music: sometimes artists don’t want to deal with expectations, preconceived notions, or simply would rather keep their personal lives separate from their musical lives.
But a group like Downliners Sekt seem to thrive on it: consisting of unknown and inconsistent numbers, refusing to disclose geographical info, their names, or much of anything at all, they carry with them a certain cultish diffidence evoked by their very chosen name, germanic ally-stylized spelling and all. The group make appropriately dark and sometimes claustrophobic music, a mercurial history traceable through their releases: the abrasive broken beats of debut album Statement of Purpose sprouted serrated fuzz for the post-rock influenced Saltire Wave, both albums full of sometimes unfriendly – and always distorted – beats and grooves. But when the group shed its excess and stripped itself down to a duo, so the guitars melted away and their energy channeled into slamming hunks of twisted metal that don’t so much hint at industrial music as melt down and remould it to fit a slightly dubstep-informed template.
That being said, Downliners Sekt don’t make dubstep: their music just shares the same lurching, bass-heavy approach. Evidently not too concerned with functionality, their tracks occupy strange and unexpected tempos from anywhere between 120-160 beats per minute: while they can certainly pair with like-minded music (particularly, yes, dubstep), they’ll make you work hard to make it fit. Bubbling with post-apocalyptic tension and a type of theatrical, all-encompassing dread that borders on the grandiose and cinematic, the music on the EPs comprising their current thematic trilogy seems to create its own self-reflexive world of obscure film references and occult flirtation. Where a group like Demdike Stare self-mythologizes around antiquated legends and tales, Downliners Sekt is intent on exploring the seedy underbelly of the industrial age, the pockets of black arts that emerge in an society with no place for them anymore. These remnants of the supernatural manifest in the mutant mechanics of tracks like ‘White Dawn’ or ‘U Gumbu’, where the malfunctioning machines sometimes harbour a menacing derision, an antipathy towards humanity.
Of course, the antipathy is only musical: and despite their shadowy appearance, the Sekt are quite the populists, sharing their entire discography for free download on their website. 2010 was a big year for them, signing with niche label Disboot for the physical release of an in-progress trilogy of EPs exploring the aforementioned and newly-minted industrial sound. Hello Lonely, Hold The Nation was four tracks of blackened mechano-funk, while We Make Hits, Not The Public explored the ubiquitous hardcore continuum obsession with chopping up R&B vocals, strangling and choking otherworldly sirens in their crushing pincers. Tapped for mixes by radio kingpins like Mary Anne Hobbs and Rob Booth of Electronic Explorations, their mix for the latter is a particularly wonderful way to understand their sound, forty minutes of post-industrial sound collage and abstract beats that acts as a thrilling longform preview to the kind of larger statement they could make in the future. Their new sound has seen rapturous critical reception, their audience growing leaps and bounds with the ongoing trilogy campaign, and it’s easy to tell why: there’s something so admirably current but uncompromising about their mix of styles, something wonderful about their flirtation with dubstep but refusal to give in completely. Their fusion of the emotional with the metallic often leaves them wide open for inescapable Burial comparisons, but such comparisons are reductive and surface-level: no one does Downliners Sekt except Downliners Sekt.
“Music, for us, is the most powerful language”
Where does the name come from?
“Well, originally it was a 1956 song called ‘Down The Line’ by Roy Orbison [also covered by Jerry Lee Lewis], then eventually used and modified by an obscure British band as Downliners Sect. We sampled the name from them because we thought it sounded great. Also, it has a special meaning that connects all of us to Portbou. Portbou is a train station that gets you in a really weird mood especially if you happen to stop there after raving “under the spinning lights” of Barcelona clubs all weekend. This place has a very Twin Peaks oppressive atmosphere. It’s the changing point between Spanish and French railway networks, and once you get there everything slows down for the customs check between borders. Because since 1845 the Iberian railway gauge has been 233 millimeters wider that the European gauge, the train has to undergo a break-of-gauge before crossing the border. It feels like time stands still in the town and Portbou, almost imperceptibly, shrinks by 233 millimeters. The sect of ravers trapped in oblivion, “down the line” in Portbou. Since then, when we feel a bit down, we kindly use the expression: “en descente de Portbou” — which means “going down the line from Portbou.”
What made you start wanting to make music in the first place?
“There’s some mixed sensations that only music can give you, this particular mood that rips you from the inside and is so hard to explain. Since the very first time that you have these overwhelming feelings as a listener, there’s a natural curiosity growing strong within that forces you to have some sort of control over it: to have the ability to mess around with these feelings, to move people the same way you’ve been moved, to get into their minds. Music, for us, is the most powerful language. It has the capacity to translate a wide range of feelings, to create imaginary worlds. Once you start thinking that you understand how it works, you might want to rest on that safe place you happened to produce. It’s up to you to go further and keep exploring. In our case, when it becomes too safe, we get so impatient that we start all over again from a new different angle. In some way it’s like re-experiencing what you felt at the very beginning.”
How did you meet, and why make music together?
“We are from small boring provincial towns with no real cultural life; not the best place to be for teens growing up in the ’90s, especially coming from a working class background where music wasn’t considered a serious career option. All we had were some isolated independent record stores where a bunch of lads used to meet up after school to discover new music. Soon after we put our first bands together, eventually escaping from the cycle of boredom and lack of understanding from our families that was keeping us down. After a while we decided to take our chances and relocate to bigger cities. Trying to extend our project in such cultural and cosmopolitan places proved to be incredibly challenging. Discovering great new sounds was priceless. It changed the way we perceived, consumed, and furthermore, the way we produced music. We began to introduce electronic elements in our songs, pushing the sonic experience as far as we could. It gave us new angles to work with in terms of depth and length of the tracks: it opened wide up new sonic directions of endless possibilities.”
How would you classify the music you make as Downliners Sekt? Do you think it fits in any scene particularly?
“All this nonsense about styles, genres and tags that the media uses to define and categorize any cultural act doesn’t really affect us. We are not following any trend, but we’re not purposely trying to be outsiders either. We happen to be this way, that’s our story.
“Musical “scenes” usually start with a handful of people, a few friends in a room with clear ideas of what they don’t want. Kind of like “let’s try not to sound like everybody else!” Then, all of a sudden, everyone wants to be at that party, but no one really knows how to dance. As soon as the people start dancing and the party gets crowded, it becomes something marketable and easier to package and sell.
“There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by something, but a lot of people just tend to follow the cool new sound of the moment. This is how the “scene” mutates into something bigger but more superficial, fading away from its roots. Loads of musicians and producers appear and catch that trendy new vibe and produce tracks in the exact same vein. Hopefully someone will eventually not fall into this copy/paste/preset mindset, and then the whole cycle might start again with fresh and new ideas.
“We do understand that most people stick with one genre or style, but truly, we’re not attached to any sound or formula in particular. We definitely have more of an attitude that goes way beyond the music itself. We feel that there are so many different colours out there, and rhythms to back them up, that we’re endlessly trying to get those sonic fragments to fit together and create a genuine and powerful tune in the process. We see our artistic development as a long term progression: for us, it’s essential to advance without repeating ourselves.”