Ben Frost: V A R I A N T

Ben Frost gives the roaring, visceral thunder of A U R O R A the dance remix treatment, but is it possible to do that without missing the point?

- The remix album is a strange beast, often little more than the sum of its parts. A brilliant rework of a popular single or overlooked deep cut can make a producer’s career — just look at early Four Tet. But what about when they’re collected together?

At their worst, remix collections smack of cynicism, of flogging a dead PR horse. At their best, they can change the original material, letting you return to it with new ears. Or they can become something totally new altogether. Or both.

Luckily, Australian-born, Icelandic-based composer Ben Frost takes his work very seriously, and he hasn’t overdone things on his new EP. V A R I A N T is a neat collection of five remixes drawn from this year’s A U R O R A, a bombastic and quasi-industrial LP that marks Frost’s hardest and most focused work to date.

I’ve talked about Frost a lot this year because I think his work is important and problematic. A U R O R A is not a perfect album, but it provides endless food for thought. Composed in the din of war-torn Congo, it’s ugly and unstable. Cold electronics are collided with fleshy, unquantised drumming. The mix is extremely impolite.

A U R O R A seems to refute the very technology that makes it possible. This is why remixing this strange, bleak, broken album is no mean feat. Yet the five artists on V A R I A N T contribute to an engaging and varied listen as a whole.

First up, British bass producer Evian Christ adds trap beats and glitches to Venter, turning the shuffling, grumpy original into a melodramatic banger that sounds like Money Store-era Death Grips. HTRK do the HTRK thing and spin the same track out into a quiet downtempo piece that recalls early ‘90s IDM, while Kangding Ray and Regis both turn to thrilling, militant dub techno, which sounds like a natural fit for Frost’s claustrophobic gloom, despite losing some of its dynamic impact.

It’s accomplished, detailed and beautifully produced, but my main issue with V A R I A N T is that it’s just too safe. A U R O R A is great because it sounds irreparably damaged, so it’s a little disappointing to hear these artists polish it up so effortlessly. The problem is that these remixes aim to correct or undo what makes Frost’s work unique, turning it from some post-computer masterwork into competent, but ordinary, electronic music. Really, these producers should be messing things up even more.

American experimental artist Dutch E Germ’s radical, droning rework of Venter is probably the most adventurous track here, giving proper attention to both the noise and the delicacy of Frost’s original.

So the question that arises is: what does Ben Frost want to gain from V A R I A N T, as an artist? The two techno cuts are great, and the lone experimental track is intriguing. Yet I’m left wanting more of each.

- Henry Reese.

Album Details

Album Title: V A R I A N T
Artist: Ben Frost
Record Label: (Mute / Create/Control)