Much fuss has been made of Christy Wampole’s recent anti-irony article for the New York Times’ opinion page, with Wampole aiming her bile in the direction of hipsters, and their apparent lack of sincerity. “Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone)”, Wampole writes, before positing that babies and animals are the only sincere living creatures in the world today.
I’m not sure what Wampole would make of Danny Wolfers, aka Dutch techno stalwart Legowelt. Here seems to be a shining example of ironic living. Take a glance at his website, with its intentionally unwieldy, dial-up era design. Take his recent EP for L.I.E.S., released with Xosar under the daft name Trackman LaFonte & BonQuiQui. Take some of his other recent releases, which have odes to the TV series Bergerac and the quaint island of Sark as their central concept. Take a look at his array of ‘outmoded’ synthesisers, a museum of obsolete technology, or his interests in 90s cult television shows The X-Files and Twin Peaks. Take a look at the silly cover of ‘The Paranormal Soul’, where Wolfers appears sporting tacky facial hair against a knowingly shoddy Photoshop job. Legowelt, by all accounts, should be the king of insincerity.
Wampole’s argument is not groundless and not necessarily untrue, but it is flawed, and it’s sad how a lot of truly sincere things get misinterpreted as being little more than irony, kitsch or pastiche. If we were to apply Wampole’s logic to Legowelt, then his image would suggest that he doesn’t really give a fuck about what he’s doing, and that he is not being truthful to himself with his art. But, like much of Wampole’s article, this would merely be looking at things on a surface level. The absurdity of Legowelt’s imagery is central to his methods of working, and this shouldn’t be confused with irony.
Despite its vintage reference points, ‘The Paranormal Soul’, Legowelt’s newest album for Clone’s Jack For Daze series, is not simply an exercise in nostalgia. There are familiar sounds on it – a Larry Heard-esque bassline opens Voice of Triumph, 303s squelch throughout I Only Move For You, and vintage house hits float in the background of Rave Til Dawn – but these are more like nods and starting points rather than a model to be replicated. In fact, this could be said of the whole album; over its (quite vast) running time, there are recognizable signifiers of house and techno, but it can’t really be solidly categorised as either of these. The whole thing feels totally idiosyncratic, as hallucinatory as any dream pop act yet as booming and club-ready as the latest Rush Hour 12”.
‘The Paranormal Soul’ is not, however, a cohesive ‘statement’ of an album. Admittedly it’s not as rough as last year’s stellar free release ‘The TEAC Life’, but nonetheless it feels more like a collection of loose cuts from the Legowelt archive than anything else. Whilst nowhere near as dense as ‘The TEAC Life’, it still clocks in at around an hour, and that’s before even considering bonus tracks and the limited edition 10” that comes with the album. Strangely, though, this seems to work in the record’s favour, although it’s hard to say why. It may be due to the way it fits quite coherently with the attitude that Wolfers has held with all of his releases over the years. A slightly more obscure reason may be that, as so many dance music producers stumble into familiar pitfalls when making an ‘artist album’ (awkward forays into pop, forgettable vocal tracks, dodgy slowjams), Legowelt’s disinterest in the album format and preference for just doing what he does best feels, perversely, quite refreshing.
Or, it may simply be because there isn’t really anybody else making music like this. If we’re to truly believe that the music world today is full of ironic throwbacks, retro gear fetishists making retro music and crass revivalism, then it’s genuinely ironic that the king of insincerity is one of the most original voices operating right now.