I don’t know when exactly the memo was sent out that stipulated that techno is a quote-unquote “serious art form” that must be supported by monochrome press photos befitting said seriousness, with faces that look as though they would believe they were having a stroke if their eyebrows were set to anything other than “extreme furrow”. There’s nothing wrong with infusing electronic music with higher ambitions of course – in fact it should be encouraged – but it’s a stance that all too often appears incongruous with the foremost aim of being fun.
Powell, who once worked in advertising before setting off on his music career, is well placed to see past such artifice and has unexpectedly had the most fun pre-release schedule of the past few months. When he asked one of his heroes for a sample permission, Steve Albini gave his blessing with a strong dismissal of club culture (“I’m an enemy of where you come from. I detest club culture as deeply as I detest anything on earth”) that Powell then plastered on a billboard. For the album’s first music video, he asked fans to send him footage of them smashing watermelons. The album cover also comes in .gif form.
Even though I was already used to Powell’s sense of humour from his past releases, there was some concern that the heightened shenanigans this time around was a distraction from an undercooked album. Thankfully this is not the case. Sport avoids the common trap of appearing as several club-structured tracks stuffed into one package, though with 14 tracks and a few skits that don’t lend themselves well to revisiting, it does feel overlong.
At its best, though, Powell proves himself a unique producer with an instantly identifiable sonic character. ‘Junk’ and ‘Jonny’ are the centrepieces, with loafer-on-carpet drum shuffles, buzzy bass, and strong post-punk influence, helped by a sample from Mark E. Smith on the former, and vocals from someone only referred to as “Jonny”, amid guitar siphoned in straight from a Misfits out-take. Guitars appear again later on ‘Do You Rotate?’, this time as a metal riff ping-ponged around multicolour squelches, and sounds similar to those commonly used in the fidget-house music we all had a collective fever dream about around 2009, though mercifully more subtle and with purpose. I could see it as a pretty effective theme song for a Looney Tunes reboot where Wile E. Coyote chases Roadrunner. In space.
Sport has a lot to recommend it, but it’d probably be more effective as an album if less time was spent on not-really-interesting Skype samples or interludes that don’t have more to them than “look at this funny noise”. The album sounds like something that could have come at the tail end of the blog-house craze, if it had started concerning itself with experimenting, musical craft and actual humour rather than cake-throwing. The fact that it’s coming out so long after will probably be its boon though. Now comfortably outside of any trends, Powell can’t be accused of not doing his best to find his own voice, and is set to expand his audience even more with this flawed but unique record.