Music made on machines can often sound cold and lifeless, sometimes by design. Electronic musicians from Kraftwerk to the makers of minimal techno have occasionally set out to write music that sounds deliberately robotic – all bleeps, pauses and chilling metallic ambience.But that’s not what Radioactive Man does. Though his music is mostly drum machine-led, four-to-the-floor, electro-meets-acid, he somehow injects everything he does with so much funk that it’s impossible to listen without jerking your head from side to side. It’s dance music that you definitely can dance to.
Album opener Wreckorder demonstrates this quality. Amid layers of drum hits, synth washes and acid-synth twirls there somehow emerges a hip-shaking groove that is as compelling as as it is hypnotically pulsing. The second track, Vitamin E, is more upbeat, a bouncy little number with a catchy rhythm that could almost work as a backing track for a pop song from Robyn. (This is meant as a compliment.)
Probably the best song is Flying Fuck, which has one of those bass lines that makes you feel like endorphins are being pumped straight into your brain while you listen. This track uses real drums (sampled, most likely) in a couple of places which gives it a liveliness and groove that puts it above the rest of the album. And there are a few experimental touches. On the same song, the audio seems to crinkle up and distort halfway through as if the producer’s computer had a semi-meltdown while outputting the sound. It’s intentional, though. These are the kinds of things you have to expect from a man who used to release tunes on Warp, which is surely the UK’s home for weird computer noises.
This album, Radioactive Man’s fourth, is out on a new label called Wang Trax. The man behind it, Keith Tenniswood, has made music under other guises. He was the other half of Two Lone Swordsmen with Andrew Weatherall. But whereas Two Lone Swordsmen made music that was brooding and sometimes morose, Radioactive Man’s music has all the joyful enthusiasm of a teenager tipsy on alcopops. (This is also meant as a compliment.)
There are some introspective moments. The final track, Where Am I?, has a slightly mournful quality and recalls the unearthly and rather marvellous Uranium from Radioactive Man’s 2001 release. But even though the track is an emotional, minor-key affair, it it still underpinned by a machine groove that keeps the energy levels up.
Not every tune on Waits & Measures is a winner. Incoming is a little repetitive and grows tiresome by the end. And it could perhaps be argued that Radioactive Man hasn’t pushed the boundaries much with this release. It doesn’t feel particularly daring. But then why criticise someone for doing a certain kind of track well? You wouldn’t mess with the formula for the perfect three-minute pop song, would you? This album is great for those who want dance music that is intelligent without being afraid to have a sense of fun.