With the release of The Crystal Ark's album imminent, we look at the synth wizard and DFA stalwart's finest moments.
For many years now, Gavin Russom has been behind some of the most original and out-there electronic music. His body of work is huge – his releases with Delia Gonzalez, his role in LCD Soundsystem, his remixes and his solo work are all essential listening. The Crystal Ark is perhaps his most realised project to date, an eight-piece band fronted by himself and singer/filmmaker Viva Ruiz. Their self-titled debut is out on October 30th through long-time home DFA Records, and follows a run of immaculate singles.
His music works towards a common goal – to quote his own biography, this is to “to hone his awareness of the ways in which sound, vision and space can transform consciousness and reveal the pliable, malleable nature of personal reality. Underlying this is a fascination with ritual and repetition, and with spiritual practices that combine them to achieve trance and other ecstatic states of mind.”
Here, we take a look at some of Russom’s greatest work over the years. It may only be ten tracks, but you’ll have to set aside a fair bit of time to get through them.
Gavin Russom – Night Sky
To date, Night Sky is the only single release credited simply to Gavin Russom and only Gavin Russom, and it serves as a typical introduction to his work – propulsive analogue synths over vast running times as layers of instrumentation slowly but surely pile on. Every additional aspect of the track is a reward – first the vocal line, then the kick, then the guitar, then the snare. It just keeps going from there.
Black Meteoric Star – World Eater
Taking its cues from the rawest forms of dance music, the Black Meteoric Star project imagined an apocalyptic, planet-destroying vision of a rave. Each of the twelve inches were a galaxy of noise, and each received an increasingly ominous track title – Death Tunnel, World Eater, Dominatron, Dreamcatcher…
Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom – Rise
In each of his projects, Gavin Russom is to explore the potential to elevate a listener into a trancelike, altered state of mind, and whether that’s achieved through lo-fi acid, sheer housey repetition or, in the case of Delia Gonzalez & Gavin’s 2005 album ‘Days Of Mars’, new age ambience. Rise, the album’s opening track, starts with an arpeggiated bassline and moves from there. It takes about ten minutes to reach its apex, but the payoff is worth every second.
Black Leotard Front – Casual Friday
When operating under their own names, Delia & Gavin were creators of abstract, krautish electronica. As Black Leotard Front, they get their disco chops on for what is one of DFA’s greatest and most underrated releases. A fifteen-minute exercise in repetition, centred around one of the most addictive basslines laid down, and recorded with as a DFA supergroup of sorts – Delia, Gavin, James Murphy, Eric Broucek, Tim Goldsworthy and Christian Holstad are all involved in the track.
Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom – Relevée (Carl Craig Remix)
When talking about Delia and Gavin, it’s impossible not to mention Carl Craig’s version of _ Relevée_. A classic piece of avant-garde techno, Craig introduces the track’s bassline at the beginning and then stretches it out for ten minutes without it ever losing momentum.
Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom – Relevée (DFA Remix)
Is this cheating? Carl Craig may have turned out a stone cold classic with his mix of Relevée, but the DFA version that features on the same release is just as essential. It may even be better. What it lacks in daring it makes up for in sheer groove, an ultra-percussive dancefloor bomb that is easily one of the finest remixes to have been credited to the DFA production alias.
The Juan Maclean – Accusations (Gavin Russom Remix)
A slow groover from Juan Maclean and Nancy Whang becomes a heady, psychedelic affair in Russom’s busy, crashing rework. Nancy’s vocals keep the remix fairly grounded at the beginning, but these are excised halfway through, leaving the synths to do the talking.
The Crystal Ark – The Tangible Presence Of The Miraculous
The first Crystal Ark single, The City Never Sleeps, was a deep and progressive tune that slowly envelopes and consumes you. The follow up, The Tangible Presence Of The Miraculous, was a slap in the face comparatively – thirteen minutes of uptempo, ultra-percussive dance music that hits you from the get-go.
Ford & Lopatin – Emergency Room (Gavin Russom Remix)
Synth wizard meets synth wizard on Russom’s remix for Daniel “Oneohtrix Point Never” Lopatin and Joel Ford’s joint project. Russom works best using ethereal vocals, and Ford’s voice fits perfectly with his tom-heavy, slowed-down take on acid house.
The Crystal Ark – We Came To
What makes The Crystal Ark so special is that they feel like a proper band, one that can be taken on the road and play at clubs and festivals, compared to Russom’s previous, more performance-centric collaborations. We Came To is a shining example of this – the productions are far more layered, the synths and drum machines and vocals and percussion and guitars come together. The album actually features some songs that fall under the ten minute mark, which almost qualifies The Crystal Ark as Gavin Russom’s pop project.