HUG - HeroesIn December 2006 and January 2007, John Dahlbäck, the Swedish techno maverick, released the following: a full-length on his own label Pickadoll (‘At the Gun Show’), new remixes of an old track ‘Now It’s Not Summer’ (on Systematic), an EP on Joia Sweden (‘Borderline’), another EP as Huggotron for Confused Records (‘Superkiller’), one for Pickadoll again (‘Blink/Sting’), one as Kaliber (‘Kaliber 10’, on the obscure Kaliber imprint), then remixed himself on the ‘Snabel and Friends’ EP (as Hugg & Pepp with cousin Jesper), and finally this, an album as HUG (his other main alias) for Kompakt’s sublabel K2 titled ‘Heroes’. Now any fan would be delighted to see his or her favorite recording artist unleashing records as often as he is breathing oxygen, but there is a slight difference between being productive, being over productive, and literally flooding your market. In Dahlbäck’s case, the situation has reached this point where it is absolutely impossible to tell what is he trying to communicate exactly through his art: That he IS the producing geek everyone thinks he is? That he is a Romantic-like genius that HAS to create constantly just to stay alive? Or is that new mortgage putting financial pressure on his 21 year-old shoulders? Who knows, really: it feels like the medium is now its only message (!), the confirmation of the cliché that says techno music is easy to compose (“Everyone can do it! Gimme a computer and a mouse, I’ll write you a dance anthem in five minutes!”, as any moron would say)… and easily forgettable. As listeners, at the receiving end of that constant flow of releases, we are left with our hands filled with (most of the time quite good) music, but not with enough proverbial time.
In other words: when is enough, ultimately, enough?
The problem here is: there is nothing wrong per se with ‘Heroes’; it is faithfully following Poker-Flat-dictated tech-house codes and syntax, and it fits right in next to other K2 artists. Dahlbäck remains a gifted producer (at this point, we’d be in deep troubles if he wasn’t, wouldn’t we?), and it shows through Hug’s oblique melodies (‘Tons of None’, ‘Ask for It’, ‘Room of Rum’) and pristine textures (the whole album, really). The fact all twelve tracks (some which were already released on 12” in the past two years) are between 5’41” and 6’36 in duration, though, could be seen as a sign of formulaic uniformity. The fact I cannot even remember what ‘Raido’ or ‘Birds’ sound like after repeated listens could be too.
John Dahlbäck, in 2007, is thus facing a crucial career reorientation, and ‘Heroes’ could be that very career’s turning point: Will he keep saturating his fan base and potential buyers while fucking over any basic laws of supply and demand, or will someone at quality control tell him that pointlessness in the dance music album world is the most unforgettable and painful flaw? As individual tracks, ‘Heroes’ is fine, but as an album, it’s just… there. But – unlike past releases such as ‘Pop it Bad’ or ‘It Feels So Good’ – there is nothing vital about it, and Hug could therefore be seen as just another lifeless techno entity, a musical corpse with no real blood, soul, or even, well, caliber.
One thing is sure: I wanted John Dahlbäck more when he needed us less.
John Dahlbäck is further testament to the theory that when it comes to overly talented musical homelands, there could indeed be something in Sweden’s water. Born in 1985 in a small village near Stockholm, he landed his first record deal aged just 15 while most of his peers were just discovering clubs. Just a few years later he was already the proud owner of a worldwide respected label, had a string of well-known productions to his name and a reputation for quietly turning out some of the best house melodies you could hope to hear.
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