AQXDM – Infrared Review

AQXDM Infrared album cover

AQXDM is the collaborative project of Aquarian and Deapmash. After their brilliant debut on Bedouin last year, the two now land on Houndstooth – shout out to the London label for the sheer quality of their October releases – for their sophomore EP, titled Infrared.

Some electronic music artists and genres are built upon sameness and predictability, emphasizing subtle changes. Others rely on versatility and polymorphism. AQXDM sit comfortably halfway these polar opposites, having crafted their very own signature sound over just two releases.

Their habitat is that greyscale spectrum where broken techno meets jungle breaks. As restrictive as it may appear, the duo nonetheless manages to delve into this sonic landscape with unrestrained creativity and comes out with tracks that share a common vibe yet retain a strong individuality.

Although the two producers are Canadian and French, their sound is rooted in the UK strain of broken techno, and it’s close to the aesthetic of Ilian Tape. As you may have already deduced, there’s no trace of 4/4 kick drums to be found here. AQXDM provides a masterclass in drum programming, deploying a considerable amount of layers of micro-to-macro variations. What’s most remarkable about Infrared is that while it is claustrophobic and slightly anxiety-inducing, it doesn’t recur to the overused physical assault of average monochromatic industrial techno. It’s pleasurable and seducing, like an evil ritual that appeals exactly because of its obscure nature and the promise (well-kept, without a doubt) of catharsis.

The name of the EP, Infrared, makes me think of the deletion of several shades of musical chromatism, leaving only a restricted range to be thoroughly explored.

Indeed, each track is an excursion. “Infrared” sets the tone of the record with a stripped-down broken techno beat, a dark, dronesque lead synth, and the gradual build-up of percussive elements. “Tunnel vision” is faithful to its name, its cavernous beat evoking narrowness and impeding anxiety. From linear hi-hats matching broken kicks, to glances of breaks, to the final percussive eruption after the sixth minute mark, it’s an orgiastic celebration of machinic rhythm and existential alienation.

Things get punchier and groovier on “Leisure techno”, which starts off as a black&white tech-electro hybrid, slowly giving space to hardcore stabs, vocal samples and a majestic use of the evergreen “think” break. In less than three minutes the track gains a melancholic flavor without losing any of its rhythmic grip, and I can’t wait to hear it blasted out in a dark basement and lose my sh*it to it.

The breaks end of the spectrum reaches its apex on “The good old days are tomorrow” (do tracks titles get any better than this?): here we have jungle-like breaks paired with dubby chords, heavy bassline and ecstatic vocal, oscillating across blocks of tension build-and-release.

The EP ends with the aptly named “Requiem”; closer to recent developments in UK techno as for its mood and texture, it maintains the spotlight on grittiness rather than rhythmic intricacy; being the gloomiest track on the release, it’s appropriate for closing.

With each track sounding like an evolving organism, Infrared is carefully and skillfully designed in every tiny sonic detail, and yet it doesn’t sound overthought nor devoid of a pulsing heart. These tracks slap hard, and they have a palpable expressive urgency. AQXDM have found their place, let’s hope they’re here to stay.

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