No Such Thing as Society: The Inhuman Music of Raime

By Rory Rowan, 21 February 2013

Review of the unrelentingly dark duo, Raime, and their debut album Quarter Turns Over a Living Line by Rory Rowan


London-based duo Raime and The Blackest Ever Black, the label to which they are signed, have been treading the same desolate trajectory since 2010; the band’s eponymous debut EP being the label’s first release and their debut album, Quarter Turns Over a Living Line one of its most recent. Over the last two years Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead of Raime and Blackest Ever Black label boss Kiran Sande have forged a remarkably dense and resolutely bleak aesthetic world through their releases, a series of atmospheric live events and a steady stream of menacingly dark online mixes. The stark minimal photographs depicting scenes of anonymous terror that adorn the label’s cover designs and blog posts perfectly complement the portentous gloom of their sonic palette. The label has expanded during this period, adding a clutch of new artists including Cut Hands, Regis, Tropic of Cancer and Vatican Shadow, but it is in Raime that the label’s aesthetic has congealed in its most potent form. Although they share considerable common ground with other UK acts such as Andy Stott, Demdike Stare and Shakleton, whose work exists somewhere on the same dank peripheries of post-rave music, Raime have been most successful in carving out their own blankly oppressive aesthetic space. Theirs is a compellingly gloomy post-apocalyptic sound-world where murky clouds of synth are cut through with agitated, gnawing rhythms and shaken by ominous tectonic bass tremors and damp meaty thuds, producing the disorienting sense of being simultaneously snared in a claustrophobic subterranean network of chokingly tight corridors and abandoned in the midst of a immense barren wasteland haunted by the entropic wheeze of forgotten industries and the muffled cries of spectral voices.


Their aural aesthetic owes much to the legacy of British electronic music: the barbed tangle of 1970s industrial music (Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle); the gothic foreboding of early 80s postpunk (AC Marias, Rema Rema); the turgid bass surges and brittle, dislocated snare snaps of jungle (Dillinja, Source Direct), a mix they infuse with the petrified atmospherics of European cold wave and doom metal sludge. On tracks like Retread from their debut 12’’ and You Will Lift

Your Frame, from the follow-up EP, Hennail, Raime’s sound is unmistakably British, like a galvanized amalgam of the UK’s recent musical past. Even the terse ring of guitar strings, scraped and plucked like charred telegraph wires introduced on album tracks like Your Cast Will Tire and The Dimming of Road and Rights does not so much evoke the parched Americana of Dylan Carson’s Earth as a desolate overgrown M25-commuter belt sunk into cannibalistic lawlessness. Whilst their heritage is clear, the shadowy sonic wilderness the band occupies nonetheless leaves their music resistant to the crate-digger’s genealogical mania for tracing roots. Their influences rather lie side-by-side, crushed together like flattened road signs, offering only the most mangled orientations through an uncanny aural fog in which threatening scraps of familiar sound sink in and out of focus (perhaps replicating late nights spent wandering the internet’s seemingly infinite archival expanse guided only by the dim glare of the laptop screen).


Raime’s most immediate and obvious forbearer is dubstep, a genre rendered freshly naff through over-saturation but whose textures they continue to mine productively. Like the best dubstep, Raime slow the pulse of jungle, taking the hollowed-out clefts left by its rhythms as the skeleton for their own. However, they conjure a much more abject, agonized world than that of, say, Burial; a place drained of all residual humanism, lacking even the furlong comforts of the night bus, the dog shelter or the company of a society from whom to be alienated. They do not offer more post-industrial muzak to balm the pangs of lonely souls, but soundtrack an environment where there truly is ‘no such thing as society’. Indeed, it does not seem incidental that both band and label appeared in 2010 just as the new Tory ascendancy emerged with its empty cant about being ‘all in this together’. If the dissonant post-punk tribalism of The Pop Group and the rabid misogynist ranting of Whitehouse documented the rotten underbelly of Thatcher’s Britain, then Raime arguably do something similar for the era of scorched-earth neoliberalism spawned by the glisten-faced coalition government. The Britain they evoke is not one of village-green Big Societies or entrepreneurial green shoots, but a depopulated, workless tundra where financial crisis has evolved into social slump. It is austere music for austere times.


Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Raime is that they sound so utterly of the moment, tapping the quiet desperation seeping through austerity Britain whilst evoking a much deeper, almost cosmic, sense of dread. In the damaged image-world they conjure, the grim accountants’ truths of Tory ideology lie in claustrophobic proximity to a more terminal civilizational collapse; the government’s searing regime of cut backs only one visible symptom of a more profound societal entropy. Raime’s blackened soundscapes create something like an aural lens through which the morose mood of the present opens onto a much wider set of existential fears concerning the future. Here catastrophe is not a singular event that is yet to come but an insidious process already underway in a world eagerly eating away at its own foundations.The portentous tolling of bells heard on tracks such as We Must Hunt Under the Wreckage of Many Systems and If Anywhere was Here He Would Know Where we Are seem to fold grave omens from the future back into the present: their whispered fragments of human voice having returned to warn that now is already too late. This contamination of temporalities is reflected in Raime’s unsettlingly disjointed rhythms; the echoing beats of Soil and Colts resembling more the caustic dripping of some rank drain than a conventional drum pattern and the desiccated apache clatter of Retread scuttling sideways across the track like the last surviving cockroach. Even the more familiar rhythm of The Walker in Blast and Bottle is reduced to the nagging bleat of a life support machine inviting termination. Although their music, like that of Oren Ambarchi and SunnO))), is wrought with violent dramatic tensions that refuse resolution it remains strangely muted, as if dampened by the weight of historical time, hanging heavy over it.


The contorted temporal slippages that characterize Raime’s music are accompanied by a powerful sense of spatial disorientation. Their soundworld suggests a space of uncertain depth, at once intensely intimate and forever sinking into an indeterminate gloom in all directions. Tracks suddenly plunge from vast blackened planes whipped with shrill wails into rusted strata of constricted service shafts and back again as they weave though the warped topography of an endless void full of corners. The listening experience is something similar to entering into the enormous black chasm of How It Is, Miroslaw Balka's industrial echo chamber installed in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall in 2009 (however, unlike Balka, Raime’s work is remorselessly lacking in abyss-defying humour). Many of the tracks advance at a crawl, as if each step were tentative, testing the darkness ahead for firm footing. The sense of groundlessness is exacerbated on Exist in the Repeat of Practice by disturbing quakes of bass that seem to issue from the millennial grind of geological machinery. The album cover hints at the disorientated dimensions of Raime’s soundscapes by showing a young girl toppling into black air from an almost vertical ground, churned up by some great tectonic tilt.


A feeling of ambient dread fills Raime’s music giving it the texture of a paranoid aural world where ever-alert ears scan the darkness for threats, mapping proximities and assessing passages for escape. The listener is left with a distinct sense of being pursued by the slow encroach of anonymous threats. The hushed chants and distant howls that echo through tracks like Retread and This Foundry do not offer a comforting human presence but signal only the menace of a pack-like hunt. It is not even clear if the constant rustling and stifled whines that populate the dark recesses of Raime’s songbook emerge from the movement of some vast slab of living matter (the seismic throb and shudders of Passed Over Trail suggest the lurching footfall of some ever closer monstrosity), or the autonomous operation of gargantuan machinery grinding and pounding without telos (its no surprise that Raime reference Britain’s redundant industrial metallurgy on This Foundry, the caustic centrepiece of their first EP, reprised in a more viscous version as The Final Foundry on their new album). Indeed, Raime’s music seems to point to a truly inhuman future, the piles of suited corpses slumped at the bottom of an escalator on the cover of Hennail suggesting a moment of profound existential eclipse for the human. If the human exists at all here it can no longer be clearly distinguished from the monstrous or the mechanical. This is the chamber music of a violent, scrambled evolution where mutation is the only means of survival. Whilst doom-laden post-extinction dirges may be common in the darker margins of industrial music, drum and bass and techno, Raime’s aesthetic appears unique in its utter indifference to the species. Their willingness to spare no piety in the pursuit of cold reportage marks their soundworld with a distinctly terrifying aesthetic rigour.


Thus, while Raime share a mood of tortured foreboding with many iterations of post-apocalyptic aesthetics their music is void of the comforting romantic tropes that commonly accompany these now familiar images of future destruction. Their dark chambers are ruled by isolation and desperation, places from which all pleasure - even that plumbed from the negative - has been extinguished. Indeed, the group’s oeuvre is singularly lacking in the usual eroticization of destruction: there is no hint of fevered couplings as civilization crumbles here, no Sade-infused over-identification with totalitarianism and no erotic satisfaction in the fleshy slaughter of viral hordes. Their whole body of work is strangely flat, desireless. As affecting as the music can be, it seems to come from a thoroughly affectless place, a point where even the drive for survival has dimmed in the numb scramble through the burnt-out carcass of human hubris. The refusal of enjoyment in imagining Rome, or London, burn is what sets Raime apart from all the other contemporary electronic Cassandras peddling the sounds of doom. Their music does not titillate with the premonition of a just destruction but seems to ooze directly from a time when the image of catastrophe can no longer be enjoyed. What dull shiver of vitality does ripple through Raime’s work does not hold out the corroded hope of salvation in some coming community, a redemptive experience of the industrial sublime or whatever else we might want to find when holding an ear to its bleak rifts. It offers only the uncertainty of a slow, isolated mutation.

At least they know that Britain is ripe for change.



Raime, Quarter Turns Over a Living Line, Blackest Ever Black, November 2012