Looking back on a techno luminary's most powerful track.
There was a mistake with the vinyl pressing of "Sometimes Everything Is Wrong," a cinematic techno track by Stanislav Tolkachev. Originally produced at 140 BPM, the error made the vinyl version substantially slower. A cutting mistake also shorted the track to five minutes instead of the intended seven. Subsist, the label, released the correct version online soon afterwards, which is the one most Tolkachev fans have heard. Raw and emotional, it's arguably the best track in one of techno's key catalogues.
"This track came at a difficult time for Stanislav," Fon, the producer and DJ behind Subsist, told me over email. "The emotion is reflected in the song." That emotion is the melancholy and despair channeled through the pads and loud bassline, both rare instances of melody in Tolkachev's discography, which favours abstract sounds over conventional musicality. But that melody is why "Sometimes Everything Is Wrong" touches so many people, an accessible entry point into Tolkachev's stunning world of unconventional techno. Many of his tracks are more daring or technical, but none tap into the maestro's soul like this.
"Sometimes Everything Is Wrong" is the third track Tolkachev released on vinyl, appearing on the B-side of a low-key 2011 compilation EP called Hang. It followed two tracks for Sweden's Pohjola label, which in 2006 released tracks discovered on Tolkachev's defunct randominde.com website, a hub for his music and photography. "The discovery was an almost religious experience," Mika Hallbäck, the veteran techno artist behind Pohjola, told me about finding the website. "I think Inigo Kennedy tipped me in 2003 or 2004. I knew within minutes that this was an artist that would extend and maintain the foundation of techno."
Where the tracks released on Pohjola were deep and abstract, much like the music Tolkachev releases today, "Sometimes Everything Is Wrong" was easier to grasp. First come the bleeps, a Tolkachev trademark, then the bassline, the boldest he's ever released. It groans beneath the rattling percussion and zaps, which dart around the stereo field in sharp angles. There are also pads, another element not often heard in Tolkachev's tracks, that add even more feeling to the stunning instrumental.
Kr!z, the DJ behind the techno label Token, counts Tolkachev among his favourite artists. He's been following him since hearing the tracks on Pohjola in 2006, but his connection with "Sometimes Everything Is Wrong" is especially strong. "It was the second time I heard his music," he told me. "This time it hit me much harder, as it sounded so cinematic and emotional—much more personal." Like many of us, he also recognises the strength of Tolkachev's track titles, which are also notably original. (Recent highlights: What Are You Thinking About, Little Duck?, "Hello Stupid," "See You Tomorrow?") Sometimes, they're fun phrases to laugh at. Other times, as is the case with "Sometimes Everything Is Wrong," they increase the music's potency.
"His track titles are always on point," Kr!z said. "Most of the time they amplify the listening experience, and this track is the perfect example of that. It's easy to connect to the sadness and melancholy, which is what makes it such a highly rated piece of music."
Tolkachev has appeared on dozens of EPs since releasing "Sometimes Everything Is Wrong." His releases include some of the decade's most thrilling techno, a glitchy, atonal sound that's been relentlessly copied by artists big and small. He continues to release music in waves (in 2018 he appeared on at least ten records, this year there have been two), which perhaps speaks to the authenticity behind the music. There's no plan, goal or strategy, just transmissions from another dimension. But for a more human sound, revisit "Sometimes Everything Is Wrong."