Sustaining creativity over decades isn’t always about who you are. Sometimes the operative question is How? ‘Or’ What: How much of yourself should surround your work? How do you reconcile a unique point of view with the utilitarian demands of the dancefloor? How to change while remaining yourself? Over two decades and six albums, Shinichi Atobe has developed an adventurous, uncompromising and deeply enjoyable body of work that offers a clear answer to the first question: very little.
A handful of photos identify his physical form. His origin story is short and sweet: he managed to release a 12″ single, 2001 Ship’s range on Chain Reaction, itself among the most mysterious and respected techno labels, then fell silent until another cult label, Demdike Stare’s DDS, suddenly revived its career with a series of albums sold out – or are they compilations? No one can tell. He is said to live in Saitama, north of Tokyo. If he is otherwise present in the world, there are few traces.
Atobe’s early work floated industrial loops through seas of melodies, with rhythms like iron anchors attached to vast rubber bands. It was strange; it was embarrassing; it sounded like no one else fit right into the mix yet. Eventually, it got even more singular: Tracks like 2014’s ‘Butterfly Effect 2’, 2018’s ‘Heat 2’, or 2020’s ‘Ocean 1’ are off-the-grid efforts that whisper into your headphones but pound on the floor, in perfect and amazing balance.
Like his previous releases, The love of plastic comes by surprise. It is the maximum form. Like the rest of his resume, his tracks are serially titled but sequenced out of order. They can last two minutes or almost 10, and these durations seem both arbitrary and indisputable. The love of plastic embodies his point of view: the phrasing must be soft but not sappy; the beats should be slippery, not sloppy. The difference here is what else he allows himself to do, which is to warm up. No burn, as parts of 2018 Heat done, or get mushy like a moment or two of 2017 From the heart, it’s a start, a work of art. Of Atobe’s franchise of titles, one could be forgiven for expecting The love of plastic be arched or brittle. Instead, it’s her most accessible and bountiful collection to date. “Plastic” as in “malleable”, not “artificial”.
The brief “Intro” is all bubbles, something that rises to the surface – and what comes is “Love of Plastic 1”, so bright and bouncy that it shimmers like a bauble before revealing itself as a jewel of the crown in Atobe’s catalog. What the world needs now is more good old gay house music, and while I didn’t expect Atobe to suddenly become Frankie Knuckles, the look suits him.
To like is not just poppers, pianos and synth pads. “Love of Plastic 8” leaves welts, with an acid bass line that itches and etches lines between your ears that never quite form paths. It’s a devilishly good bad trip, so delirious that when the bass drum suddenly topples over on itself, it sounds like a burst of laughter. “Beyond the Pale” is coated in such high-viscosity shine that her home looks more like an apartment in a high-end magazine, desirable and out of reach. Its low end is just as enviable.
Two titles look back on the 2020s Yes. “Ocean 2” is neither the analog expanse of “Ocean 7” from this album nor the crowd-pleasing deep house of “Ocean”; instead, it’s the kind of shimmering, dank Hall of Mirrors that DJ Sprinkles might reside deep within. And the seductive “Loop 6” is less a reincarnation of Yes“Loop 1” than an interpretation of the kind of bulbous, weird fantasy that Olof Dreijer created in The Knife’s later work and, in particular, in his recordings as Oni Ayhun. Yet their form and scope are unique to Atobe.
The highlights are the “Love of Plastic” bits, though, and they’re just delicious, even Weee-Lite-ful. “Love of Plastic 5” chokes and shakes with joy, while curtains of perfumed synth pads sparkle and percussions click and tinkle. At one point a helping hand comes in just a beat or two behind and spends the next few minutes trying to fit in, and maybe that’s how shitty the world seems right now, but the effort is heroic. With its fabulous staccato strings and tantalizing vocal sample, “Love of Plastic 6” is almost diva house, the way Burial can almost be a British garage, but there’s a herd of glitchy noise to the side and a situation of rattling like a handbag spreading all over the floor. Closer “Severina” ups the ante, its dub tunneling techno gradually expanding into a breathtaking vastness of detuned bells, a kind of trumpet, spiraling chimes and whirring streamers of noise. Atobe strikes a pose and shows his poise, perfecting the gestures he’s honed over the years. What happens next is an open question.
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