Out Of Line
It really doesn’t feel like it’s been over a decade since we had new music from Dirk Ivens’ long-standing Dive project. The Belgian veteran and innovator of countless styles of dark electronic music certainly hasn’t been far from hand in the interim. Since 2004 we’ve seen the reactivation of Absolute Body Control, a farewell reunion album and dates from the legendary Klinik, plenty of live Dive touring, and a handful of Sonar records to boot. It’s maybe fitting, then, that Dive’s return isn’t just a reiteration of the spasming grinds and pulses Ivens left us with on Behind The Sun, but touches upon nearly all of the sounds and styles he’s pioneered and experimented with in his three-plus decades of work, and updates a few classic formulas to boot.
The range of tunes on display on Underneath might not be immediately apparent for those not especially conversant with Ivens’ work, but long time fans will be catching motifs from across his catalog. For every classic Dive number like the tense and tremulous “Sacred Skin” which seems almost paralyzed by its own anxiety (side note: the parallels between Ivens’ work and that of his adepts in Pure Ground are readily apparent here), there’s a tune like “Far Away”, which feels like an Absolute Body Control piece with its rigid but almost funky synth programming and harmonies. “Howling Ground” sits right in the Dive groove musically, with a swath of buzz and rhythms, but has a classic Klinik flavour to the vocals. “A Man Came” is about as stripped down as electronic music can get: a single bass note echoes while Ivens delivers an occluded narrative, reminding us of his overarching debt to Suicide.
The argument could perhaps be made that Underneath has left behind a portion of the appeal of vintage Dive releases like Final Report and Concrete Jungle; unlike those it’s no minimalist endurance test, where the question of how long a simple, unrelenting sound or figure can be programmed (or tolerated) becomes the music’s galvanizing force. I’d counter that concern by noting how effectively Underneath gets across what’s made Ivens one of the most enduring and influential figures in dark electronics in a relatively short space of time, but never finds him shying away from the future. The song which seems most indicative of what Dive sounds like in 2017 is “Something”. The insistent but stuttering beat never allows you to get comfortable while swarms of pinched drones alternately seem to be flying directly toward and away from the center of things. The lyrics’ prophecy of impending, inescapable catastrophe seems especially pertinent given current political currents, but are abstract enough that they could have been penned in any era about any subject. It’s a perfect encapsulation of what made Ivens such a central figure to the history of post-industrial music, yet also sounds wholly contemporary. It’s a pleasure to have Ivens back, regardless of the project or aegis.