Powell returns to fray with New Beta Vol. 1 - six upfront and disarmingly colourful tracks that harness a renewed energy following an intense period of production behind his densely packed debut album, Sport [XL, 2016]. Now thanks to a looser approach and influx of new ideas and machines, the results frame Powell at his most playfully experimental and nuanced, revealing new aspects of his mongrel sound not heard in previous releases.
Tooled up with some mad rare Oberheim v Dave Smith hardware and fuelled by a need to entertain himself as much as everyone else, New Beta Vol. 1 reminds of what made Powell's music so exciting in the first place - goofy, unhinged sounds sculpted into hard-to-resist and unpredictable arrangements - but now does so with in a brighter rush of clashing tones and splintering rhythms that reinforce his roots in DNB on par with his Wave, Rock and early Belgian techno influences whilst moving toward something comparable with a puckish take on AFX's mutant Analords or Actress discrete circuits.
New Beta Vol. 1 is effectively the sound of someone raised on all the raving music that post-2000 UK and the internet has to offer. But rather than any millenial emperor's new clothes, Powell weaves his references obliquely throughout the EP. Whether in the curdled gob of chromatic acid called Teddy that sets the EP's agenda, or in the clash of tart electro arpeggios and steppers' drums in Freezer and The Bust’soff-the-cuff electro beatdown, he persistently transcends his influences in a way that's key to all his work and always thrilling to hear - proving how to do reverential without being derivative.
Equally whilst his track titles and palette of razored sonic cues evoke strong context in the Virus-meets Din A Testbild styles of Wormhole and the stomach-knotting 97, or quite literally, if nothing else, in the title of Dogs On Acid, it's testament to Powell's vision that they still sound like him overall. And if any one track sums up the distance from and consistency with his early work, it's the rare beat-less outing of EP closer, Electric Sheep - whose visceral, strobing formation betrays a burnt out and unusually sentimental aspect of an artist best known for all-out hedonism.
Cocking a wink at the upfront sonification and syncretic mutations which made up late '80s Belgian New Beat in both name and form, New Beta Vol. 1 identifies Powell as a slightly more self-aware Johnny Bravo for dance music in 2017, serving to subvert the roid-rage trudge of EDM and the prosaic mundanity of grid-locked line-dance music with a daringly screwball, anachronistic approach to making dancers feel fucking strange in the rave.