Sum Dark 12, from prolific electronic musician Michel Banabila, consists of four original, standalone tracks and one long live track, performed at the Summer Darkness 2012 Festival, that incorporates elements from the first four. If this recipe sounds interesting to you, you are correct. This is a ride you’ll be taking more than once, and you’ll be taking it with the volume turned up and the bass cranked. The first four pieces are diverse and plenty strong on their own. “Crowds” comes in on a spring-loaded beat, then ramps up its density and intensity. There’s a certain tribal feel to the rhythm, paired off with industrial undertones. Throat-sung notes snarl under the beat, and then Banabila slides in a growing chorus of the titiular crowd sounds and suddenly we’re in mid-ritual and working toward a frenzy. The build here is superb, and when Banabila drops a little house beat into the middle of this epic swirl of sound, it just amplifies the existing cool. Banabila shifts gears with “Eyes of the Witness,” giving us a set of minimalist elements wrapping themselves around a glitchy beat. A snaky melody adds tension. “Sum Dark 12” follows, an expressionistic mix of wandering sounds–static, church bells, electric crackle, vocal samples, bass drones, and more, cooked together into a mind-grabbing mist. Banabila keeps it on the subdued side, letting the pure atmospheric elements do the work. After the three tracks that precede it, “The Empire in Transition” comes as a bit of a surprise–a spacey and soft ambient piece that moves gently across its five-minute span. There’s none of the grit and barbed edges of its fellows, just a surprisingly calming flow.
The live track is a 22-minute affair that, as you might expect once you know its genesis, rolls through several tonal changes as it progresses. It opens with the dark/tribal elements from “Crowds,” layering in and building up. Minimal elements take their turn as this early stage charges urgently along, taking firm hold. The build sneaks up on you until suddenly you’re back in the middle of that chanting, ritual-crazed mob and lost in the proto-tribal thrum. Banabila switches tone a little less than halfway in, picking up a bass ‘n’ drum feel, maintaining the deep groove but cleaning out the sound. Again he drives the thing forward on a big, pulsing, won’t-let-go beat and starts layering in his source sonics. This is seriously sweet EDM with just enough of a shadowy edge, and my favorite section of the piece. At the 15-minute mark we dive into the “Sum Dark 12” sound-set and get bare and experimental for a bit. As the track winds downs, the swirling animal call of didgeridoo blends with the churning industro-tronics and fades, slowly, to nothing.
Sum Dark 12 ranges from interesting to exhilarating, and once it has you in its grip, it has no intention of letting go. Each of the original pieces are full and engaging on their own, and the dark chemistry that creates the live set is inspired, perfectly managed, and utterly immersive. This is a great release from Michel Banabila, one you must hear.
Available from Michel Banabila’s web site.