Review: A-rp Pioneers Dystopian Club Music On His ‘ON | AX’ EP

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Mexican imprint Maligna have successfully curated some of the boldest electronic music from the country’s underground. They have a refined ear for what’s bubbling up in the experimental scene, and they’re showcasing it for the third consecutive year with a new project straight from their roster for the 2015 edition of Mutek Mexico, which kicks off October 21. Newcomer A-rp is releasing his new EP ON | AX on Maligna, and we have it exclusively here at Remezcla.

ON | AX is a five-song EP that can be easily labeled as techno, since it draws a lot from the genre. But his particular take is a lot more sinister and distorted than what we might associate with techno normally. The element that stands out and remains for the entirety of the EP is saturation, and there’s a lot of it. He squeezes the living hell out of the songs, resulting in rich harmonies on the whole frequency spectrum, especially on the upper range. That distortion and experimentation is also explored in the accompanying net art, which you can check out below:

Opener “Qhral” screams techno right from the beginning, with a repetitive beat and arpeggiated bassline. Some vocals reminiscent of The Knife appear here and there, and along the way he introduces slight variations to the instrumentation, generating great dynamics. One good example is the almost-imperceptible tempo change in the middle of the song that makes it feel unpredictable, even if the whole thing is based on repetition. Speaking of unpredictability, “Uar” is as disjointed as it gets on the EP. It starts off with a crunchy drum break, evincing bass music, only to start, stop, and take unexpected turns. So, in one moment there’s a rap sample embedded in a Caribbean flow, and moments later there’s an undecipherable spoken word bit over a tempo change. The result is actually quite amazing. Vocals here aren’t exactly the main elements, but they are used effectively and in different ways. On “Pyr,” they come in the form of whispery, chopped female vocal samples, over static programming that seems to grab influences from EBM and coldwave.

Ok, one thing is EBM, but EDM? There’s an interesting reference to the current genre on “Qrusta,” but it’s not an obvious one. Those blips that are so overused nowadays make an appearance, but he changes their swing and pace as the song progresses, making them his own. But because of its industrial tendencies, it’s a song that we won’t be hearing on mainstream radio anytime soon. “Hedral” closes the album, and it’s a long one. Clocking in at over eight minutes, the song sounds menacing and unsettling, with a hard-to-understand Jamaican-style rap. Halfway through, it actually transforms into some sort of hellish dancehall riddim. ON | AX is a display of creativity and experimentation in terms of sonics and structure, so A-rp is a name we should definitely keep on our radar.