And so Turning Dragon drops with a thud, heavy with expectation and yet shrouded in mystery. The packaging is dark and abstract, and the track names suitably opaque (‘Violenl’, ‘Gaskarth/CYRK Dedication’). The only clue to the album’s content is the Warp logo, a guarantee of music that will definitely stimulate the brain, but may not move the booty.
Prepare for a shock. Dragon’s opening battery of jackhammer beats will both physically jar and completely blindside fans of Clark, and indeed Warp. This is the last thing you’d expect of either: big, dumb dancefloor fun. Signaling this new wavelength, Clark interrupts this pummeling with the sound of a radio tuning in. He then leaves the needle between frequencies, abandoning the listener to a static-charged sonic collage of Mindless 106, IDM FM, and whatever randomness the local pirates are putting out.
‘New Year Storm’ is a statement of intent—a distorted update of ‘90s hard techno slowly eaten away by corrosive saw synths—but the tracks that follow are the full realisation of Clark’s new sound. During ‘Volcun Veins’ he throws in an uncredited sample of a hip hop diva (Missy Elliott?), and when her chopped-up whoops and hollers pierce the wall of white noise they vocalise the only rational reaction to the gleefully wrong party vibe: “Oh baby… oh God… gotta get to the club”. ‘Truncation Horn’ grafts what may have once been ‘80s funk onto Berlinette-era Allien breaks to create a noisy bastard that will jack bodies and hijack dancing feet.
While the remainder of Turning Dragon is more recognisably techno, even the most upfront and direct tracks take unexpected turns. The start of ‘For Wolves Crew’ makes concessions to minimal, bubbling under with K-hole hypnotism, and ‘Ache of the North’ opens with the cavernous thunder of a rave reverberating through an abandoned bunker. But then their skinny synth lines swell and rise, twisting into truly Warped hollow majesty, the kind that makes you throw your fists in the air despite that uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Clark tears off down this path of fearsome, frenzied fun, stopping to look back just once. 'Hot May Slides' retreads familiar territory for devotees of his label, all quiet ambience and staccato beats, an Aphex Twin track in all but name. It's out of place here, but serves a purpose, providing some breathing space before 'Beg' causes real techno trauma with its wet thuds and demon howls.
Like all of Warp's output, Turning Dragon is not for everyone. However, for those who can get into its bloody-minded dancefloor brutality, it offers something of a rarity for the label: intelligent music that short circuits the brain and shocks the body into action.