Remix albums come in many shapes and sizes, from marketing post-scripts following a successful release to self-congratulatory retrospectives full of sonic high fives to label mates and friends alike. Whilst Feast/Beast technically falls under the latter category, it escapes the pitfalls of so many of its peers solely because of who the artist is. That is not to say Clark is some unbridled musical Midas who has cascaded golden notes upon us mere mortals for the last 12 years; but rather because the sheer volume of his output guarantees that any effort to compile a 'best of' will always come up trumps. It also helps that he is signed to Warp, and so his labelmates are of a special breed. And most importantly, yes, he’s pretty good.
Feast/Beast is divided into two parts, with Feast showcasing his softer, more melodic side and Beast, as the name would suggest, featuring the snarling techno for which he is better known. As a whole it clocks in at over two hours and 29 tracks, which for a collection of remixes is an achievement in itself. Its size is almost intimidating, a record whose very presence makes you feel as though you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Any fears of it being the musical equivalent of Ben Hur, however, are dispelled by the first haunting notes of his reworking of The Beige Laser’s ‘Smoulderville’, as all sentience is lost.
With Clark, you are assured that no matter which side of himself he chooses to show, from the down-tempo, almost acoustic remix of DJ Stith’s ‘Braid of Voices’ to the near inaccessible rework of Drvg Cvltvre’s aptly named ‘Hammersmashed’, his songs are always personal, always right inside your head, floating on the border between melancholy and madness. This tendency is only exacerbated, to great effect, by his choice of collaborators, the most notable of which being Nathan Fake, who contributes to both Clark’s Feasty and Beasty side.
The first installment of their remix swap is found on Feast, with his reworking of Fake's ‘Fentiger’. The original features squelchy techno before breaking down into a heartbreaking melody, but Clark’s version dispenses with the rough edges and goes straight for your chest, beginning with a vocal clip that falls completely into the melody amidst layers of analogue wooze and Clark’s trademark sharp but fuzzy synths. The second is found on Beast, with Fake’s version of ‘Growls Garden’. Its contrast to ‘Fentiger’ perfectly encapsulates the difference between the two sides of the album: whereas the former is heart-wrenching, ‘Growls Garden’ is pure in your face techno, pounding at your ears from the start, then disintegrating into a shapeless trance before the bassline drags the song back into life. Whilst being relentless, it is also unsettling due to the fact the whole track seems off-beat, with each thud arriving too soon or too late whilst never upsetting the flow.
One of the (several) traits that links both artists is the organic texture to their music. Whilst Clark’s output can often be nightmarishly industrial, it is always human, its beauty residing in its imperfection. For his remix of ‘Fentiger’ he described recording the percussion in a park with two sticks and being asked by someone whether he used Ableton Live. The conversation itself never made it onto the mix, but his reaction perfectly encapsulates his idiosyncracy, where he later wished he had said 'Fuck Ableton Live mate, I’ve got twigs to snap!'.
Another marked contribution are the two remixes from label-mate Bibio, both on Feast. ‘Absence’ grows from a repeated piano melody, bearing the trademark sadness without being disconcerting, and transforming into an 8-bit post-rock number. ‘Ted’ on the other hand is almost Latin folky, again taking Clark’s sound and stripping away the confusion, making for a delightful collaboration. Silverman’s ‘CANTSTANDTHERAIN’ is perhaps the most haunting song on the album, with faint dreamy vocals echoing behind a piano riff and thick gritty and moisture-filled textures. The next track, Rone’s ‘Let’s Go’ has a Four Tet/Burial production vibe offset by the trip-hoppy vocals.
Beast showcases some of the more surprising reworkings, with Maximo Park’s ‘Let’s Get Clinical’ being transformed into an off-key glitch-filled rave unrecognizable from its former self. HEALTH’s ‘Die Slow’ could almost be an upbeat electro-pop song if it weren’t for its descent into madness, lead all the way by a hurried beat which seems to get faster and faster without ever changing.
Feast/Beast mirrors Clark’s essence – despite featuring artists as varied as Battles and Amon Tobin, HEALTH and Depeche Mode, Maximo Park and Massive Attack; and despite being an indigestible 2 hours long – it makes sense and works when it really shouldn’t. It is not only the quality of the tracks on show, and the dynamic collaborations contained within, but the way in which they fit together and grow which makes listening to Feast/Beast so enjoyable and transportative. Describing the project, he explained, 'in some ways these remixes represent the range of music I have released over the last 10 years in my albums, but they are more unhinged—there is more freedom involved when using other people’s material. And particularly when friends are involved, it can push you into electric new terrain.'
As you would expect, with so much material it does dip in places, and in others becomes too frantic, but overall sitting through its entirety is never a chore. The fact it works as well as it does is a vindication of a career which has always balanced on the cutting edge, and best of all, a career which promises so much more.
8Alex Baker's Score