The latest EP from Leisure Service has been floating the murky waters of the internet since April (4/20 to be exact), but despite the title, Dank Hell is no blurry-eyed, sticky green paean to herb. Although Michael Pierce enjoys poking fun at stoner culture as much as anyone (he used to play in a band called Guided by Bongrips), this chapter of his solo endeavor was inspired by the moldy house in which the tape was recorded. The result is one of the strongest techno records I’ve heard so far this year, a four-track journey of sparse electronica built on unsettling percussion and faded neon synths.
Usually, if a record sits in my queue for longer a month, the chance of it getting covered falls to a dismal 0%, but something about Dank Hell stuck with me. Even after the delay, Pierce was happy to explain his inspiration for the album as well as the nuts and bolts of the recording process. For those new to Leisure Service, Pierce grew up on rock, blues, jazz, and pretty much every genre other than what he’s currently exploring. Originally from Macon, he played in acid folk band Ghost Train before moving to Athens where he began experimenting with drum machines and tape decks.
At first glance, Athens doesn’t seem like the typical breeding ground for the other-dimensional techno Pierce trades in, but as a composer, he’s found himself drawn to the abstract fringes of electronica. “I’ve always lived in my head and consumed music voraciously with little regard to my immediate surroundings,” he explains.
Of course, even if Pierce doesn’t need local inspiration to guide his songwriting, he seems to have found it anyway through Michael Potter of the Electric Nature and founder of the Athens cassette label \\NULL|ZØNE//. Pierce and Potter met at Go Bar one evening and bonded over their mutual love of deconstructed rock music. After listening to a few Leisure Service compositions, Potter liked what he heard enough to release Dank Hell on his fledgling imprint.
Despite the electronica community Pierce found in Athens, the EP doesn’t sound like much else coming out of the Classic City right now. The record opens with “Satan’s Sulphur,” which begins as a plodding throwback to early Front Line Assembly, but counters decisive percussion with ambient tones that blossom into tropical psychedelia as the track fades. It’s these underlying shifts in tone which keep the record from spiraling towards the depths of nocturnal techno. Instead of a gloomy and repetitive ride, Dank Hell is an ascendant excursion through disorienting electronica.
Every click, hiss, and warble feels remarkably present thanks to Pierce’s love for live tracking, but his interest in live-to-tape recordings isn’t based so much on an analog obsession as a desire to catalogue a specific sensation. “Whenever I play music, my goal is to capture a mood or feeling unique to that moment,” Pierce says. “I’m not an analog purist at all; my favorite synths are mostly digital. I do enjoy making tracks on the computer with lots of overdubs, but even then I rely heavily on improvisation and impulse.” Additionally, Pierce utilized a good deal of borrowed equipment on the record, and he decided that the recording process should center around the gear he was lent — thus the necessity of live-tracking Dank Hell.
Throughout the EP, Leisure Service invites the listener into a world where harsh tones can be delicate, where clamorous beats flourish into gorgeous rhythms amidst the noise. This dichotomy reflects a unique balance of improvisation and meticulous design, the result of which is a tactile bit of forward-thinking techno wrapped up in a neat 25-minute package.