Last year, Monolake (mainly the recording project of Berlin producer Robert Henke) had to cancel his Seattle gig due to a bad case of tinnitus. Data Breaker's hoping the ringing in Henke's ears has subsided (one is hopeful as he played two memorable gigs at Montreal's Mutek festival this year) so he can help bestow Monolake's icewater-in-veins, dubwise techno on our humble city.
For the last decade, Monolake—at first a duo with Gerhard Behles, then Henke solo from 1999–2004, and now operating as a duo with Torsten "T++" Pröfrock—have been advancing the art of minimal techno. Hongkong, Monolake's 1997 debut album on the legendary Chain Reaction label, established them as a major international techno force. The disc stands out for its vivid sound design; recontextualization of dub as laid-back, oceanic skank; and mesmerizing rhythms that seemingly emanate from the deepest caves. The tracks strike a riveting balance between tranquility and tension and would probably sound fantastic while you're scuba diving.
Monolake have continued to refine their sound over five more albums, including the most recent, Polygon_Cities. This work lightens Henke's typically tenebrous atmospheres and ushers in attractively pastoral tunes and winsomely chugging beats à la '70s proto-synth-pop band Cluster. As usual, Henke's sonic palette is rich and precisely arrayed, but a slight predictability's creeping into his approach, which is somewhat expected when you've been creating for 10 years. Nonetheless, Monolake's music is more interesting than 98 percent of their peers', and even if they seem to have plateaued, Monolake's plateaus top most artists' peaks.
Regardless of what you think about Monolake's recorded output, you have to respect their live act. Under his own name at Mutek, Henke stunned a large crowd into silence with his Studies for Thunder piece, which had punters repeatedly flinching and reaching for their phantom rain gear, even though we were indoors. Later in the fest, Monolake played a marathon set that left people happily drained. After an intro of ominous, midnight-blue dub-tech with efficiently neck-cracking beats, the music gradually became more complex and polyrhythmic. At points, Monolake seemed to craft the perfect hybrid of German and Afro-Latin dance music—brainy yet slyly bawdy, with accelerated cha-cha beats surprisingly surfacing. The tracks were extremely heavy, but they possessed irrepressible shake appeal, and they turned dancing into an act of paranoia.
What makes Monolake unique is Henke's role as head engineer for the revered Ableton Live program, as well as his musicianship. It's as if Antonio Stradivari were also a virtuoso violinist. Henke is both scientist and sorcerer. While most of the Chain Reaction roster has lapsed into obscurity/inaction, Monolake are the sole act still powering the mighty legacy futureward. DAVE SEGAL
Monolake play Sat Sept 10 with Nordic Soul, Paul Edward, and live visuals by Randy Jones at Chop Suey, 1325 E Madison St, 324-8000, $10 adv, 21+.