Rashad Becker lives in his studio.
It is a classic Kreuzberg construction: a tall, graffiti-covered townhouse entrance plastered with haphazard buzzers, behind which is a series of courtyards and a boxy building. He wanders across the road, stopping to speak gently with a passing friend, and greets me at the door, bleary eyed from a flight from Moscow the previous night.
A few storeys up, Becker opens the door to his unit. It is a sizeable, airy room, treated with acoustic panelling, that looks like the midway point between a squatted office building and an electronics workshop. We sit on sofas in the corner, Becker dressed in the uniform in which he can be found in virtually every photograph of him: chore jacket; peaked hat; rollup. His favoured outfit is a neat metaphor for his demeanour: simultaneously workmanlike and scholarly; at once the proletarian and the intellectual. Becker sits with his back to the bulk of his equipment, set out in a ring of patch leads and unknowable black boxes in the centre of the room. There is a bass guitar languishing on the floor at his feet. Occasionally he will mention a trombone and gesture casually to his right, as if there is a cabinet full of unexpected instruments somewhere in the corner. Which, I am sure, there is.
Becker has been disappointed that talk of his music has been projected through the prism of his day job, and yet it is difficult to speak about him without acknowledging the singular presence in dance music that his 9 to 5 has wrought. In 1996 Becker began working at Dubplates & Mastering, the studio established by Basic Channel. Today he is one of the world’s most sought after mastering engineers, splitting his time between Dubplates and his own Clunk. Discogs credits him with more than 50 releases so far this year, notable highlights amongst which include Keith Fullerton Whitman’s split with Floris Vanhoof, Dozzy Plays Bee Mask, and Stellar Om Source’s Joy One Mile.
Becker has also mastered all but a handful of the releases on Bill Kouligas’s PAN, the label on which his debut LP Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. 1 is released, and to whose head the artist refers as “Don Kouligase”. Becker’s name has become one of the label’s calling cards, seemingly a fundamental element of the label’s aesthetic project. “I wouldn’t have released anything without Bill,” Becker says. “He just pushed me into making a record. It’s not so easy for me to find the impulse to add something to the multitude of millions of records being released. There is a lot of music going through my hands. That raises the threshold to be eager to throw something in there.”
Becker’s record is an acutely physical thing. Split into ’Dances’ and ‘Themes’, but with both sides more or less sharing a palette, it is a series of vistas of an odd new world, sometimes ghoulish, sometimes vaudeville, inhabited by burbling, intensely talkative creatures. Even without having seen the title of the record it would be easy to identify these noises as somehow vocal. They move dramatically across the stereo field, at times appearing as elongated screams and at others as delirious incantation, interlocking with each other in an unsettling chatter. The landscape, meanwhile, creeps slowly beneath them, undulating with contorted bass frequencies. Very occasionally a melody will appear, seemingly accidentally, only to submerge itself back into the mire almost immediately. It is a ‘challenging’ record, certainly, but far from an impenetrable one. The act of listening feels more like travelling; of having an aberrant new planet, complete with its own peoples, thrust in front of you, as in a snow globe.
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