The Labyrinth EP by Abel Ray is a four-track lesson in how to make effortlessly cool electronic music. Ray was born in Casablanca and currently lives in Marrakesh. He started making music from a young age and in addition to being a musician he is also a producer, DJ, sound designer and label boss. The EP’s idea came to Ray from a book he read about “the civilization of Amazigh* culture, which was a maze, a maze of how people can be merged into each other and still keep the colors and sounds alive along thousands of years, an authenticity kept being modernized, and it will still be.”
The tracks on Labyrinth are slow burners, with Ray delicately adding and subtracting elements and keeping the beats going like an expert plate spinner. The low-boom synth on opening track ‘Saudade’ could have come from a John Carpenter soundtrack and there’s a tripping rhythm and shards of icy synthesiser. ‘The Thousand Sunsets’ has a laidback Acid House vibe that bristles with 808 bleeps, bumps and boops plus a sharp-toothed siren that rises and falls throughout. ‘The Red Interlude’ brings the flavour of Ray’s Moroccan heritage by using African drums and the sound of a Mizmar which haunts the track. ‘Last Exit to Transkei’ sounds like ‘Jingo’ filtered through Richard Dorfmeister’s Tosca project with bursts of vocals, a flutter of flute and percussion bouncing along over a hypnotic beat. It’s embedded below in its full 10 minute 29 second glory.
So many EDM acts think that if you set off an arpeggiator and give it the occasional nudge, then it’s job done. But Abel Ray really understands the nuance between the electronic and the organic and manages to get syncopation into his circuits; a rare skill. In my opinion, the Labyrinth EP is up there with the masters at electronic/organic micro-manipulation, Kruder and Dorfmeister (whether you know it or not you will have been eating or drinking somewhere with their K&D Sessions album playing in the background). It’s too easy to overload tracks with multiple sounds but a true artist knows how to edit, hold back, let a track develop and find its own groove and this EP is a masterclass in restraint. Having listened to it many, many times, I feel safe in saying that this will be in my top 5 releases of the year.
*Amazigh is a which means “free people” in the Indigenous Tamazight language. … The Indigenous land of Imazighen is a region called Tamazgha which encompasses Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Western Sahara, Mauritania, the Canary Islands, and parts of Egypt, Mali, and Niger.
Review by Paul F Cook