Co-founder of the Discwoman collective and holder of the monthly Technofeminism residency at the Bossa Nova Civic club in Brooklyn, producer and DJ UMFANG has founded her career not only on the principle of her love for techno but also on the demand for greater representation in an all-too white and male industry. In her work with Discwoman, she has played a large part in promoting the diversification of line-ups in recent years, helping to make the club a space for cis and trans women and the genderqueer community, on the dance floor as well as in the booth.
For a career founded on the celebration of difference, UMFANG’s own music puts forth a singular identity of consistency. Her music doesn’t engage with overt politicism because it speaks for itself, or perhaps it doesn’t need to speak for anything – it is what it is. Following on, then, from a set of introspective and subtly insidious releases on labels such as 1080p, Allergy Season and Phinery, UMFANG is now set to drop her debut LP, ‘Symbolic Use Of Light’ on Ninja Tune’s Technicolour imprint.
Fans of UMFANG’s previous work will note its capacity to draw in the listener without capitulating to a bass-heavy payoff. Tracks like ‘Need Yr Luv’ and ‘Pills’ are percussively insistent and form their entrancing appeal through this insistence; the listener pays attention to the subtleties present within this grid-music, rather than spacing-out, ready only for the ‘drop’. These fans will be pleased to hear that ‘Symbolic Use of Light’ is no different in its constancy of production. Opener ‘Full 1’ makes use of synth triplets seemingly taken from the Windows ‘error’ sound, looping the same phrase over brief stabs of improvised keys. Improvisation is key to UMFANG’s work, as she states that the record was made mainly in live takes, using only a minimal palette of synths and hardware, prioritising instead a sense of catharsis latent in the normally austere sounds of the genre.
The rest of the record continues in much of the same vein, mixing the intensity of the live take with a rigid structure anchored by a pervasive rhythm. Following track ‘Weight’ employs a high-register, euphoric synth that floats over the kick, whilst the title track performs the opposite function, moving into darker territory with a rumbling bass line, punctuated only by sparse percussion and quiet, sustained chords. Other highlights of the album include the ambient ‘Path’, the deceptive sweetness of ‘Pop’, and the subversion of upbeat percussion in ‘Wingless Victory’.
Closing track ‘Full 2’ brings the album full circle as it repeats the motif of its opening counterpart, this time dissolving into melodic keys before looping seamlessly back into the beginning of the record once more. This encapsulation of the nine tracks on the record is a metaphor for the whole work: containing subtle difference within unity. As DJ Sprinkles exposes the darker, more pensive side of House, UMFANG is carrying this torch in the techno world. If you’re looking for a 3am club techno sound, then this record probably isn’t for you; its delicacy makes rather for an introspective experience. This isn’t to say that ‘Symbolic Use of Light’ is removed from the club experience so central to the genre though – its use of repetition is a key tenet of techno and within it the listener finds difference in sameness and moments of selfless release.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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