Boomkat Product Review:
Stefan Betke aka Pole’s holy trilogy of frayed dub experiments resurfaces for a 20th anniversary reissue, taking us back to smokey nights at the turn of the century and some of the finest post basic-channel dub echoes ever released. Essential listening if you’re into anything from Rhythm & Sound to Vainqueuer, Jon Hassell to Jackie Mittoo.
As legend goes, Pole took his name from a malfunctioning Waldorf 4-Pole filter which produced hisses and pops which weren’t really controllable or predictable, much like a living organism. Betke realised the potential and came to alchemically morph and render them with judicious FX dubbing into a groundbreaking sort of minimalist electro-dub that sounds exceedingly good with a spliff and glass of booze. Working somewhere between the variants of abstract techno on Chain Reaction and Mille Plateaux’s cutting edge minimalist strains, Pole’s first trio of albums inarguably helped lay the foundations for dub techno as it’s come to be known and are held in the highest regard by practically everyone who owns them.
The Pole aesthetic is patently laid out in ‘1’, where his organic clicks ’n pops come out to play accompanied by lilting organ and jazzy bass channelling Jackie Mittoo via Jon Hassell and Rhythm & Sound into a uniquely, gauzy, gaseous state. But for us, his sound really comes into its own on ‘2’, where the opening melodica motif still sends electric shivers down the spine and opens out into the kind of sculpted, layered dub bass that spawned dubstep, and flows out into myriad, mesmerising permutations, but this time swapping out the hazy licks for a cavernous, brooding melancholy (that really matched this moody teenager’s psyche at the time) and reverberated through into the more humid, drizzly and funereal atmosphere conjured in the equally spellbinding spectral dub metaphysics of ‘3’.
So strong was the impact of these albums on the late ‘90s underground, they even generated a “pastiche” that was unwittingly issued (and subsequently deleted) by Fat Cat on their split series, but was purportedly made by V/Vm in a snidey but frankly hilarious prank, albeit one that demonstrates just how ubiquitous and influential Betke’s sound was at the time. More than that, it’s fair to say the 20 year cycle hasn’t rinsed out the appeal of this triptych one bit; it remains one of electronic music’s most enigmatic and strangely moving, tactile bodies of work.