Barker has recently emerged as one of the more thoughtful and innovative voices in modern techno. Having come to prominence as co-founder of Leisure System, Barker’s 2018 EP Debiasing saw the Berghain favourite create a set of euphoric synthscapes that were club-friendly despite a concerted absence of kick-drums. This thesis - techno in which the primary drive comes from rhythmic synth play rather than slamming beats - is expanded on Utility, Barker’s debut solo LP.
Barker had lofty ambitions with this album. Attempting to shed the more ‘utilitarian’ aspects of his creative process, Barker has shied away from creating pieces that rotate on a build-drop-build-drop axis. That’s not to say that these pieces don’t ebb and flow - indeed, Barker’s attention to detail on dynamics and texture is extremely impressive - but the more traditional track structures and sound palettes of techno are avoided.
What we have instead is a set of blissed-out numbers that touch on the ruminative post-club stylings of Caterina Barbieri and Lorenzo Senni as well as The Orb’s psychedelic take on dancefloor music. Many of the tracks here come bathed in reverb, an effect that washes out their rhythms and means that a dreamy air holds throughout Utility. There are genre excursions - ‘Gradients Of Bliss’ moves towards sombre dub techno while closing cut ‘Die-Hards Of The Darwinian Order’ comes close to downtempo - but largely an effect of pain-free suspension is maintained throughout the record.
Barker’s ambitious approach to techno reaps further rewards on his first solo full-length Utility.