From Detroit techno and hip-hop’s early sampling experiments to Terre Thaemlitz, electronic music has long proven its political potential, even in instrumental form. With OstWest, Berlin-based electronic-kraut-dub trio Automat complete their LP trilogy with a deep and entrancing take on the failures of neoliberalism.
Recorded in 2015 at Candy Bomber Studios in Berlin’s former Tempelhof Airport at the height of the European refugee crisis, the band found itself neighbours of thousands of refugees from across the Middle East and Africa who were being provided temporary housing in the airport’s former hangars directly below the studio.
With the first two parts of the Automat trilogy centering on Berlin’s airports (2014’s self-titled 1st LP) and dub’s hardware of sonic space travel (2015’s PlusMinus), OstWest stands as a musical interpretation of the impact of these thousands of new arrivals within Germany and the EU, as well as the rise of xenophobic political movements spurned on by the Brexit. The result is a series of atmospheric and rhythmic meditations that provide the foundation for swirling electronics and the bass-heavy sounds of a changing Europe–from the musical perspective of longtime Berlin residents who have already experienced the destruction of post-Cold War optimism shortly after the fall of the Wall.
More driving than previous recordings, OstWest is made up of a series of first takes. While the opener “Ost” features a melange of samples, meandering organ and synth stabs that recall both Count Ossie and Basic Channel, it’s with the second track “Fabrik der Welt” that the band’s Kraut-y push – also featured later on “Europa” – charges forward. Where historically Europe has been used by the likes of Kraftwerk and Cluster as a metaphor for space and freedom of travel, Automat recast it as a dark rain ride to refuge, shaped by the sounds of claps and samples that race past the listener on the way to an uncertain future.
The feeling of stylistic exploration remains throughout OstWest in the loping riddims and acid-jazz-like “Tränenpalast” and “Tempelhof”, with the former (“Palace of Tears”) named after a border crossing between East and West Germany, and the latter a shelter for new immigrants to Germany. The band’s continued collaboration with Max Loderbauer (“Ost”, “Tränenpalast”, “Yuko”, “West”) is reflected in touches of modular synthesis, which augment the melding of acoustic drums and electronics. It's a sound Automat have honed since their first LP, and one that grooves with authority.Groove.
2. Fabrik der Welt