EP REVIEW: Minotaur Shock – ‘Qi’: exhilarating and complex IDM for Bytes

BRISTOL’S David Edwards, aka Minotaur Shock, is a producer for whom the phrase ‘nibbling away at the edges, at his own pace’, is a quintessential summation.

He’s been with us two decades, on and off, thankfully tilting towards the on; alongside Pedro, Minotaur Shock was one of the acts that launched Manchester’s cultist Melodic Records, and one of its strongest acts back at the imprint’s beginning. His early offerings, on EPs such as Bagatelle and Motoring Britain, were qurious: was it electronica? Well yeah, kind of. Downbeatz? Well it was downbeat, you could say that much. Folktronica? In the Four Tet/Tunng sense, probably very much so. Most importantly, was it lovely? By golly yes, it was: try the title track of that latter EP, in evidence, m’lud.

An excellent, leafy byway of a debut album, Chiff-Chaffs And Willow Warblers, led to a deal with 4AD and a gradual lean to a more electronic beauty on Maritime and the Vigo Bay EP, which carouselled and skipped with textural inventiveness.

The 4AD relationship was not to last, and various bits slipped out later on various small imprints, and a return to first base for 2012’s denser Orchard.

He’s working over at Dorchester’s excellent Bytes these days, gaining the honour of being 001 in the catalogue ledger with last year’s cassette-only album MINO, a little frisson he just missed out on at Melodic when Bagatelle landed at MELO 002. His throwing open of the shutters on 2021 comes in the form of a six-tracker, Qi, named (I infer) for the Chinese concept of the vital life force in every living thing – or its chi, as you also see it written.

MINO acted as a rinsing clean of remaining older material dabbled with during David’s time away from the world of formally releasing after Orchard; it was time to draw a line under all that, and refocus. This he chose to do by stepping away from the limitless choices of his compositional software: “When you can pretty much do anything, it can be difficult to know where to start: The answer was to “restrict the ol’ palette and force myself to work within limits,” he says.

He wasn’t happy, felt almost as if he knew too much, that there was no joy of discovery and happy accident: “And what I didn’t know I could just type into YouTube and someone would tell me how to do it”, and that “I needed to get this or that thing that would make everything sound better.”

Thus Qi was produced on a single bit of kit: ” … recorded live from an Electron Digitone in one take, or two, if I really cocked it up.”

“I set myself a rule of no overdubs or computer tweaks. This approach was really rewarding, and was the most fun I’ve had recording for ages,” he volunteers.

As with so many releases of the past few months, Qi arose from that other restriction engendering the qreative flow, lockdown; you can’t take away the musician’s qompulsion to create and explore, however much other areas of the musical life have fallen away. So, in a most quotidian way, David made a brew, perched his Digitone on his knees, “just seeing where it went … making music without thinking too hard about it.” Let the instincts flow.

David Edwards, aka Minotaur Shock

Qi‘s first salvo, “Qui” opens us in gamelan-like percussive fracture, which becomes rooted – just – in a glide of other tonalities, gains complexity from a more conventional snare ‘n’ kick rhythm. It’s futuristic and yet harks back to people like The Black Dog, all at once; it has that bright breeziness which has always been a mark of Minotaur Shock down the years.

“Qat”, named for that formerly legal, chewy stimulant, pulls towards a more stripped-down, north-of-England exercise in rhythmic chatter; think Autechre after Amber. It picks up a little of that woodblock-style percussion before really coasting into the thermals, spiralling skyward on all that intricate interplay, a more acid chittering giving it heft.

“Qin” plays with the twin strands of high prettiness in the melody colliding like a stream of atoms with squelchy, rounded percussion a la Aphex circa “On”; like a folk melody from some off-world culture, wending, patterning, thrumming hard in its undercarriage. Faerie-led, with harder edges to bring real sonic meat. “Qua” continues to play out in that space, with a more harpsichordal melody leading through; it has a club electro sensibility in its bold judder.

“QCD” – it’s a theory of quantum particle interaction that I’m gonna melt my brain attempting to explain – David is, reportedly engaged in writing the music for a performance piece connected to quantum physics, attempts to tip brain back in – is bright with the brushed steel of Rephlex acid-tronica; and to finish up, “Qis” throws that love affair with complex beats that so dominates the EP for a bathe in synth whimsy and charm, no less intelligent and layered.

It’s a really free-sounding record – that freedom, oddly, arising from self-imposed production constraints. It’s complex, playful, and readmits Minotaur Shock to a certain high table of mid- to downbeat IDM where he will sit among Rival Consoles, MP Productions, Kieran Hebden, et al.

Freed from the tyranny of choice, Qi is Minotaur Shock’s most beguiling outing since back in his Melodic days.

Minotaur Shock’s Qi will be released digitally through all the usual streaming service providers on January 29th; there’s also a very limited vinyl run, which you can order exclusively through Bleep, here.

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