It’s possible that nobody needs another 303 workout, but the Italian producer’s latest album proves that a programmer of his caliber can still wring some ecstasy from the machine.
What’s left to do with the 303? Tadao Kikumoto’s 1981 invention for Roland was supposed to simulate a bass guitar, but instead it stimulated musicians’ imaginations and—with acid house—spawned a genre of its own. Beginning with Charanjit Singh’s 1982 classic Synthesizing: 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat and perfected on CTI’s “Dancing Ghosts” from ’84, the magic box went on to burble and gurgle and squelch and screech through warehouse anthems from Armando, Phuture, LFO, and Daft Punk, not to mention radio staples from Shannon and Aaliyah. An acid house revival seems to fade in and out every five years, summoned by various incarnations of analog fetishists, soft-synth and hardware market servicing, nostalgia—and the simple fact that few sounds tickle the body and mind (particularly when drugged) quite like its squiggle slipped into a set.
Few artists right now are plumbing these psychedelic depths with more success than the Italian producer Donato Dozzy. He’s built weird albums by sampling the mouth harp, and from multiplying and processing sounds from the mouth itself. But his real forte is programming, through which he’s somehow able to coax or conjure the most astonishing expanses. His minimalism is mind-altering in the same way Bridget Riley’s paintings are: It’s hypnotic, efficient, and inexplicable.
Maybe nobody needs another 303 workout, but Filo Loves the Acid proves an expert like Dozzy can still wring some ecstasy from the machine. Opener “Filo” (named, like the album, after an old friend of Dozzy’s) starts out humid and stays that way; a foggy melody that recalls the better of Richard D. James’ Analord tracks condenses for a few minutes, then dissipates. Through the clouds, “Vetta” arrives; its title is Italian for summit, and the track resembles a rocky peak, with 303 crags jutting out and over a simple kick drum, maybe a tom-tom or two, and some delays. An old trackmaster’s trick is to use the 303’s gradually shifting tones to simulate ascension—see: Josh Wink’s deathless “Higher State of Consciousness”—and here you’re climbing, too, but the path is winding, and it winds you, and when you get to the top you don’t know where you are anymore. Or even when you are, as Dozzy is also skilled at suspending time within rhythm. Later, in “Vetta (Reprise),” the journey is far rougher: Hurtling at a relentless clip, bassline engorged like a gasping throat, the track evokes the panic of freefall while hi-hats snap like failing safety ropes… until it’s all suddenly over.
Other tracks aren’t as lethal. “Duetto” is a po-faced cha-cha that is also, oddly, a three-way between kick, 303, and a shawl of phased hi-hats that finally unfurls and swirls around fabulously. “Nine O’ Three” is an icy delight, all distant sirens and chunky, barely submerged drums, equal parts palate cleanser and cold shower. “TB Square” has a charming “Sharevari” kind of snap and wiggle. “REP” closes things out with a euphoric raspberry of noise, pounding with full four-to-the-floor-as-two-fingers-up insouciance. And “Back” is easily the most luxurious of the bunch, with multiple garlands of glittery clamor so dazzling they almost prevent the ear from focusing. It could go on forever, and one night at Berghain it probably will.
For all of Filo’s thrills, though, Dozzy keeps things under control—a characteristic highly prized by the album’s stern German label, Tresor, which since 1991 has offered tense, uncompromising articulations of techno and electro from Drexciya, Surgeon, Robert Hood, and Jeff Mills. But it seems even they couldn’t resist a wink, commissioning this for their 303th release. At eight songs and just over 40 minutes, Filo is a fine thank you to friends—human and machine—who’ve stayed true over the years.
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