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FUCK this one really left a dent in me dome when I first heard it, in fact that dent is still there, so aye, mechanically speaking, it was a total write-off the first time I heard The Chen Yi.
Admittedly, this heid-scramblin’ moment may feel a bit less revelatory amid the current, seemingly endless, somewhat faddist (but not entirely empty) belief that anyone who made anything using a drum machine pre-1980 is a fucking genius.
Half-arsed, pseudo-jaded moaning aside, if 14 tracks, some half-finished, some originally planned for a ’83 Peel Session, all written and produced by impassable studio wizard Mark Ellis, more commonly known as Flood, and an almost completely hermetic society of 20 or so nameless men and women (all residents changed their names to “CHEN 4”, “CHEN 13” etc.) in Chelmsford, founded in 1978 and finally disbanded due to “intensified public communication” in 1982 - DOES NOT tickle some of yer wee industrial-revivalist fancy then fuck knows what will.
What this Chen mob offer too, is hardly the idyllic document of communal living that anyone would come to expect, no self prescribed inner-circle of bright-eyed teenagers that have been promised Utopia - no-way-Ya-Ho-Wha! “The..” presents itself as a more hissing, demented statement to the outside world from a seemingly discontent subsystem taking shelter from the trials of modern life, with no mentions of enlightenment, or attempts to glorify their new existence. Aye, one rinse of “The…1979-1984” should feel like a fairly absolute test of whether you actually want to go and live in a commune or, y’know, to continue your ambivalent existence in the Western World’s rat-race, paying outrageous rent, but maybe do a bit more volunteering, eat less McDonalds etc. However, despite their humble state, the revelations lie in the tracks themselves, halfway through the first side - blindsided by the sadistic, shut-in bangers-on-batshit - 'Hail' and 'Rug', frustrated synth ping-pong and drum box abuse with vacuum-packed vocals that feel every bit as playful as they do utterly demonic. The Chens are just getting comfortable though, 'War Game' coughs up a crumpled blueprint of a Unit Moebius-style beat track, which, as with many of the tracks present, is characterised by its absolute honesty and feel - like a private scribble, albeit one that (in this case) somehow manages to detail everything you could want from repetitive machine music (!)
It rages on, dread atmospherics of cuts like 'Rounder', where you really feel the young Flood’s already deftly tuned electro palette lead the way, constructing a totally timeless groove of burbling modulars that loom over tourette tic’ing samples and tape mutilation, the kind of shit you would go crazy over if it was made next week, never mind 40ish years ago.
Feels a bit annoying to call something like this a “classic”, but in my head that’s always what it’ll be. Hearing it again, its complete singularity still carries all the excitement - all the “CHRIST ON A BIKE - HAVE YOU HEARD THIS” sorta texts that I ping’d out to friends after I had dusted myself down from my initial contact, all the subsequent collective dorking out over it and the endless internet excavations in search of anything that felt remotely similar… still searching! Highest possible recommendation.
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