Over the past 20 years Dutch EDM has become the country’s top export rivalled only by hand sanitizer and cheese. While the swankiest clubs of Europe rolled out the red carpets for young DJs like Joris Voorn in the late 1990s, away from sold out events European dance music evolved in leaps and bounds. Tearing down and rebuilding itself nonstop, it left a trail of groundbreaking albums in its wake - ‘Tales of Ephidrina’ by Amorphous Androgynous, ‘Leftism’ by Leftfield, ‘Remedy’ by Basement Jaxx and ‘Untrue’ by Burial, to name a few. They have stood the test of time and set the standard for all consequent projects to be measured against.
As expected, years after this heyday, Joris Voorn’s album ‘Four’ is polished and controlled in every respect. After all, some tracks have been part of his DJ set for years, tried and tested on the consumers. From the orange prison jumpsuit worn on the album cover to the stilted naming conventions of tracks such as ‘Dark’, ‘Life’ and ‘Never’, nothing has been left to chance. Whether the meticulous planning has been dictated by creative urge or commercial acumen, that’s a different matter altogether.
What is most characteristic about ‘Four’ is its emotional void, one that no amount of bass drops, reverb, trance stabs and arpeggios - a 1980s sound that hasn’t always aged so well - can fill. This makes for as emotionally detached experience as driving past a scene of an accident on mood stabilisers. 10 minutes in, the issue is highlighted on ‘District Seven (Broken Mix)’, in which a sample of a heroic male voice asks: “How are you feeling?” An hour later, we are still unsure.
Indifference aside, the project’s failure to optimise on its collaborations can be frustrating. Lotti Benardout’s voice isn’t given space to reach the soulful melancholy sound associated with HÆLOS before it’s drowned out by more trance stabs and arpeggios, while the established Johannesburg slam poet Lazarusman’s vocals could be confused with inspirational memes regurgitated on Facebook feeds: “How can you be alone when you have yourself?”
A bright silver lining is the moment when Voorn invites Underworld to his studio. Suddenly, you have a melody to hum, lyrics to hold your attention, a distinct feeling of regret for opportunities that have slipped through fingers. Tragic in more ways than one, it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye. But as the track’s title says, it’s too little too late.
Back in 2003 ‘Lost Memories Pt. 1’ combined the best of both worlds - Detroit techno and Chicago house, pure and simple - which meant the EP became Voorn’s ticket to fame. That was then, this is now. Compared to ‘Lost Memories’, sadly, ‘Four’ is a forgettable walk down the memory lane. And perhaps there’s a reason for that. In reference to his indispensable DJ gear, Voorn told Future Music: “To be honest, I could probably throw away 90% of my gear and still make the music I do today.”
Make of that what you will.
Words: Eero Holi
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