Review: John Tejada – Dead Start Program

John Tejada has just released his 13th studio album via Kompakt. The Waveform Transmitter’s Ste Knight takes a listen to the accomplished electro/techno crossover of ‘Dead Start Program’.

If any producer personifies the word ‘prolific’, then it has to be John Tejada. The LA artist has an impressive back-catalog under his belt now that his latest, ‘Dead Start Program’, has been released on Cologne-based imprint, Kompakt. This is now his fourth album on the label, and marks his 13th studio album overall.

It is clear where John procures his appetite for sonic exploration, and it ends the nature/nurture debate once and for all. Tejada‘s parents are both still practising classical musicians and it presumably would have been through their fostering of his talents that he became the accomplished producer that he is today. One can certainly see the complexity of classical compositions in the layering of Tejada‘s own work.

Tejada‘s projects are rich and varied, much like his productions. He started out over two decades ago, when his first single, ‘Waxing’, dropped on his own Palette Recordings. His debut album, ‘Little Green Lights and Four Inch Faders’, followed two years later on A13 Records.

Fast-forward to today, and we have before us a collection of tracks that straddles the space between electro and techno, occasionally flirting with IDM and breakbeat. We have launched the ‘Dead Start Program, so let us see how it is coded.

The album starts out with ‘Autoseek’; a track that reflects a lonely existence in the cybernetic ether. Minor chords give the track a melancholic sense of foreboding – a perfect start to an album named Dead Start Program’. One can imagine a single number 1 desperately seeking its partner, 0, as strings of united binary code rush by. The Percussive programming creates a disturbance in the listener’s matrix, before the synth line is ushered in, somehow instilling a sense of urgency as the sample becomes more and more distorted, eventually harmonizing with another version of itself. This is dystopia.

The futuristic theme continues in‘The Detector’. Alarm is the order of the day, here. The opening bassline has a warning siren-like quality to it, before an announcement is invited by the lead synth, similar in fashion to the ring of a public address system, which may explain the title of the track and the environment created by the textures of the composition. ‘The Detector’ evolves throughout, from a seemingly innocent soundscape to a very different vista, as a frenetic third quarter ushers in a heavily ring-modulated samples.

Breakbeats enter the fray in track three, ‘Sleep Spindle’. Again, the track title has a certain synaesthetic quality, as the choral pads demark a dreamlike state. A sleep spindle is a brainwave produced during light sleep, so the track describes itself perfectly; the dreamy pads interrupted by sudden bursts of activity, similar, perhaps, to the hypnogogic jerks experienced when falling into a deeper slumber.

Tejada continues to toy with beat programming, employing a solid 4/4 for his next arrangement, ‘Hypochondriac’. Distorted synth samples clash with an equally growling bassline as both vie for the attention of the listener, giving a sense of acute paranoia to the track, before sedatives are administered and the track peters out.

‘Loss’ returns us back to the isolation experienced in Autoseek’, the opening drum sample reminiscent of a machine in the throes of death. Saw waves rip through the mix, as a descending, forsaken synth weeps in its grief, accompanied by further tormented souls.

If ‘Loss’ represents death, then ‘The Looping Generation’ heralds a new dawn, or at least a continuation of one life in the absence of another. The acid house sensibilities throughout the track – those idiosyncratic pitch bends that govern the second half – give the album a sudden lease of life, injecting it with a sudden burst of energy as we reach the mid-point.

The works of modern kosmische artists receive a nod from Tejada, next, as ‘Telemetry’ comes across as a combination of Die Verboten and Antwerp’s DSR Lines, alongside a bassline to rival Stellar Om Source‘s Sure. A harsh, glissando synth ruptures through the end of the track, causing discomfort.

This discomfort is in stark contrast to the euphoria of ‘Duty Cycle’ and its distinctly ‘synth-pop-esque’ feel. The track is reminiscent of some of Orbital‘s more upbeat productions, with it’s treated piano sample, although pensive, giving ‘Duty Cycle’ a light, airy quality. This track has ambient techno written all over it, and was one of the many high points of the track for me.

Discordant ring modulators come back into play, with a blistering breakbeat to match, on‘All at Sea’. The track surges forward ahead of the listener, as the threat of being left behind and becoming lost makes its presence known. The skittering hats further this sense of exigency in the production.

‘Heal’ returns us to a state of euphoria, as he injects some IDM-style energy into the track, huge drops thermite-hot acid are sent hissing onto cymbals through the top end of the mix, as a throbbing bassline draws the listener to the dancefloor. This is certainly the most ‘club-friendly’ track on the album, offering the audience an opportunity to let loose.

We close the album with ‘Quipu’, which portents the return of a mysterious civilisation. Majestic string sweeps offer the listener hope through the wisdom of the ancients. Whether they are of this world, is another question entirely.

Overall, John Tejada‘s ‘Dead Start Program’ offers a fantastic dystopian narrative, and yet comes complete with a message that not all hope is lost. As each composition stands well on its own two feet (again echoing the themes of isolation that run throughout the works), it is as a collection, a unified whole, that they work best, with contrast and juxtaposition playing a key role in creating the album’s atmosphere.

‘Dead Start Program’ is available to buy now from physical and digital retailers. Check out a sample of the album, below.

Author: Ste Knight

Editor at The Waveform Transmitter. Lover of acid basslines, cavernous kick drums, and dark rooms. Cut his teeth to Surgeon's blistering techno assault at T-Funkshun in Liverpool and hasn't stopped for breath since.

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