A key player in the changing shape of today’s global clubbing landscape, New York native UMFANG, aka Emma Olsen, is a DJ and producer on top of her game. Co-founder of all female identifying collective Discwoman and resident at Brooklyn’s Bossa Nova Civic club’s monthly Technofeminism party, Olsen has worked to offer a platform to those situated outside of the whitewashed and male-dominated dance music mainstream. Away from the DJ decks, UMFANG’s work is just as significant, creating a bold and authentic techno sound which she refuses to intellectualise. It’s a refreshing approach, and one which clearly translates into Symbolic Use Of Light, her debut outing on Ninja Tune imprint Technicolour. Recording mostly in live takes and drawing from only a few select pieces of hardware, the album sees UMFANG adopting a distinctly stripped back style which feels intrinsic to her solo work as a producer.
Easing listeners in slowly, opener Full 1 unleashes layers of rippling synth triplets in a blissfully hypnotic display. It sets the foundation for recurring ambient touches, with the softly pulsating synth phrases of Weight and Path offering further introspective moments. Deviating from the ferocious 90s techno sound of her DJ sets, Symbolic Use Of Light feels an understated aside, comprised of subtle mutations and polyrhythmic fusions. Pop is the perfect example of this skilful craftsmanship, combining a stark drum pattern with sugary sweet synths and acidic bleeps in an enthralling listen.
Whilst maintaining these minimal structures throughout, Symbolic Use Of Light is by no means one-dimensional in its sonic scope. The title track’s rolling bassline and the harsh kicks of Where Is She are certainly more club ready, and provide the album's darkest shades. Concluding the record through an echo of its introduction, Full 2’s beautifully muted synth patterns create a cyclical feel to a collection of compositions which Olsen refers to as a “time capsule” rather than making up a narrative piece. Distancing her music from the realm of conceptual high art, UMFANG allows her music to speak purely for itself, and with her intricately refined techno sound on full show here, it is more than enough to satisfy those who want to listen.
Words: Georgia Tobin