The Spanish DJ Pépe started producing tracks when he was 16, a full two years before he was of legal clubbing age. Years later, his music still has the dreamy quality of an imagined dancefloor, an idealized space far more vivid than reality. While still a teenager, Pépe had his synapses rearranged by Marcel Dettmann during a pilgrimage to the hallowed Brighton club Patterns, where he would eventually become a resident: “I had come from Valencia, which at the time had nothing like that happening,” he marveled. His music glows with the wide-eyed energy of a convert.
Like Dettmann, Pépe smuggles subtle warmth into the echoing spaces his music populates. His synth pads are taffy-like and warmly pliable, while the drum hits, glistening mallets, and shimmering keys all seem to have a little moss creeping up their sides. His evocative and propulsive debut LP, Reclaim, glitters in a slipstream between worlds and genres. Synths like thrown scarves suggest house music. Breakbeats evoke harder, more forceful genres—dubstep, garage. No matter where you think you are in one of Pépe’s mercurial tracks, the weather is shifting beneath, and a blinding change is underway.
The album title refers, he says, to the way nature “strives to regain ground, once humans are removed from the streets.” Pépe has expressed interest in architecture that allows for flora, in cities covered in green—a redemptive embrace by the natural world of the constructed one. He seems drawn to the spot where bustle gives way to calm, where a packed landscape suddenly seems to empty out. On “Katta,” a smeared synth like a truck horn dissolves abruptly into chittering and peeping, as if the camera had panned abruptly beneath a superhighway to the insect kingdom below. Blaring sirens, a few cents sour, echo off of the implications of bare concrete on “Optical: Activate” before being submerged from below in a warm bath of long tones. It’s a phantasmagorical landscape, one where you can never be quite sure whether you’re squinting down a chipped-brick alley or breaking cloud cover in a sea plane.
It’s hard to maintain this level of rapt attention over 10 tracks, but Pépe’s ear for detail is so fine that each new sound arrives with the urgency of a clue. The pianos that pierce through the milky light in the last minute of “Act III: ‘Compact City Dream’” sound almost too beautiful to be real, while the oscillators on “Resonant Bodies” seem to take you upward with them. Some of his juxtapositions are so radical as to be blinding. On “Goma (Prime Mix),” a musty breakbeat, redolent of Burial and seasonal allergies, finds itself drowned by chlorine-blue synths and assailed by pink plastic mallet percussion. You are forever just about to discover your true location in Pépe’s music, only to be mistaken.
Implicit in Pépe’s beatific vision of a “post-human future,” of course, is widespread death and destruction. The longer you spend within Reclaim, the more the serenity begins to feel deceptive, even ominous, as if it were smoke emerging from the crater of a blast site. Near the end of “Resonant Bodies,” wraith-like synths rise up, with melodies shooting through them like headlights through mist. It recalls nothing so much as Vangelis’s score for Blade Runner, which hinted to us at the vast reserves of beauty awaiting us even in the most blasted and dim of corridors.