Three or four years ago, Copenhagen became known for a particularly speedy strain of dance music. Its breakneck drum programming packed an industrial-strength wallop; its glistening synths channeled ’90s trance. Most people just called it “fast techno,” though that dryly utilitarian term fails to capture the style’s eye-widening psychedelic aura. Kasper Marott is no stranger to quick-stepping tempos, and he has released on Kulør, a Copenhagen label central to the sound’s development. But Marott doesn’t share the air-punching ferocity of some of his peers. His 2018 single “Keflavik” filtered the scene’s pogoing grooves through the rubbery funhouse shtick of vintage Italo disco, scrawling a giddy smile in place of fast techno’s clenched-jaw grin. And on his 2019 Kulør single “Drommen om Ø (Forever Mix ’19),” he switched things up entirely, slowing the tempo and diving into 14 minutes of weird, weightless bliss—rosy as a sunset, humid as a rainforest, squishy as a waterbed.
On Full Circle, his debut album, Marott continues to push against techno orthodoxy from multiple angles. He tackles a wider range of tempos, styles, and moods than ever before: woozy slow-motion jams, pensive ambient sketches, pulse-racing breakbeat trance. The common denominators are ultra-vivid sound design, super-saturated colors, and a subtle sense of humor. There’s nothing jokey about these tracks, but they’re distinguished by a lightness of spirit and a trickster’s instincts. Multiple times in the middle of “Missing Link,” a thundering drum’n’bass tune, the beat drops out. Marrott typically fills those pauses with squiggles of electronic noise, but the final time it happens, he simply cuts to silence for 11 long seconds—what must feel like an eternity to the startled DJ, scrambling to cue up the next track, who thinks the song has come to a premature end.
The standout tracks take the fast-techno ball and run with it. “Mr. Smiley” opens the album with a gentle aurora of softly flickering synths, but once the beat kicks in, there’s no hiding from the song’s peak-time fervor. Both drums and hyperactive bassline place emphasis on the upbeats, lending the groove a nervous, hiccupping energy, which only grows more unhinged across the course of its nine-minute run. But despite the goes-to-11 intensity, “Mr. Smiley” has a hypnotic grace that’s missing from many similarly full-on club tracks. For all its cartoonish force, there’s plenty of subtlety in the mixdown and just as much surprise in the arrangement, which finds a neat dichotomy between the rolling groove below—bassy, unceasing, regular as your heartbeat—and the mind-melting synths that pitch and dive unpredictably through the upper register, gibbering like deranged birds.
Several tracks mine similar territory. “Mini Trance” marries warm Detroit synths to a stiff, stomping beat and fleshes out the space around them with glittery metallic accents; the sun-kissed “Sol,” the album’s highlight, applies the same approach to a rolling breakbeat house foundation, surging forward and then falling back in oceanic waves. Among these uptempo tracks, only “Kun for mig” (“Just for me”) feels wanting; like its companions, it aims at a kind of billowing catharsis, but the beat and bassline fail to achieve liftoff.
Some of the record’s most unexpected moments happen when Marott abandons the high BPMs. “Mere” offers an oddball take on UK garage, with a stumbling rhythm that feels even slower than it is; like “Mr. Smiley,” it makes the most of contrast—in this case, between the crispness of the drums and the gloopiness of the bleeps above. “Hvad er det” (“What is it”) layers ambient textures over the sort of slow-motion groove once common among ’90s acts like Soul II Soul and Ace of Base, then throws a wrench in the works by looping a misshapen breakbeat in an odd time signature. “Top Soap” and “Pling” both use marimba to evoke warm tropical atmospheres—the former over a crisp dembow rhythm, and the latter tapped out in rippling triplet patterns reminiscent of classical minimalism. That many of these songs are just two or three minutes long doesn’t lessen their impact. These shorter, more sketch-like pieces nicely complement Marott’s trance-inducing epics; their low-key nature makes his anthems hit that much harder.
As a genre, fast techno doesn’t seem to have suffered much during the pandemic; scene stalwarts like Ibon, Rune Bagge, Funeral Future, and Repro have continued to push trembling needles into the red. Still, the style remains inextricably bound up with the experience of nightlife, and as the pandemic drags on and clubs remain shuttered, club music’s entire raison d’être becomes increasingly notional. Divorced from the functional requirements of moving bodies, what is dance music for? Full Circle offers a number of possible answers, stimulating the imagination as much as the limbs. This is music for dancing but also music for dreaming—and, crucially, music to stimulate dreams of a time we can dance again.
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