Lorenzo Senni - Scacco Matto LP


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Label: Warp

Lorenzo Senni was never a raver. Growing up in Rimini, the young artist was fascinated by dance culture as he witnessed close friends interact with a neon-hued chemical world that remained at odds with his own. He inhabited the local straight edge hardcore punk scene, a teenage drummer who absorbed the golden age of trance and gabber anecdotally. Senni was a rave voyeur, studying hedonism from a distance, fascinated by its maximalist, expressive charm.

When Senni released Quantum Jelly in 2012, it marked the beginning of an ongoing challenge. Using the aesthetic language of dance music (most notably the "Supersaw" preset on Roland's iconic JP-8000 synthesizer), he allowed his outsider's curiosity to inform experimentation he branded "pointillistic trance." Senni's suite of contradictions only added to the puzzle: a trained percussionist who completely avoided the use of drums, a sober listener reinterpreting the signals of music rooted in the drug experience. Each record since then has refined this initial idea; Senni has learned in public, sculpting his sound and unpacking his shifting relationship with dance music while attempting to marry it with the thematic immediacy of straight edge rock music.

With Scacco Matto, Senni wanted to see how far he could push these ideas. The title means "check mate" in Italian, and references the constant chess game Senni plays with himself when writing music. "There is a move and a countermove," he explains. "I always need something that limits the emotional elements of my tracks. That often means just not having something that you usually expect." And unexpected elements are littered throughout the album, from opening track "Discipline of Enthusiasm" with its dramatic orchestral elements that counter elastic rave bleeps, to the innocent organ intro on "Wasting Time Writing Lorenzo Senni Songs" that slowly erupts into what may as well be a children's TV theme.

On 2016's Persona, Senni fleshed out the gooey trance of his earlier records in widescreen, adding unforgettable pop motifs that could have been snatched from an anime show or video game. Scacco Matto continues this theme; it's an album of songs, not ideas. And while the sound is still based around the Roland JP-8000, the influence of trance is now in the DNA, rather than simply on the surface. It's tongue in cheek, an album that thrives on humor in an increasingly bleak dance landscape that prioritizes greyscale techno and self-consciously dark iconography.

This is reflected in the cover artwork from acclaimed American photographer John Divola. For the cover of Scacco Matto, Senni used an image from Divola's acclaimed 1977 "Zuma Series." It shows a Californian sunset, shot through a dilapidated window frame dotted with pointillistic globs of black paint. Divola also shot a series of press photos for the album; Senni and Divola drove to the abandoned Georgia Air Force Base, 75 miles northeast of Los Angeles, where they explored relentlessly, spray-painting and taking photos. On the way home, stuck in traffic, they watched the sun set over Los Angeles together.

Senni sees his own practice reflected in Divola's work; he is not destroying dance music, but vandalizing it. Once a rave voyeur, he is now a rave raconteur with years of experience informing his choices. He is making bolder decisions, poking fun at dance formula and lampooning it with sensitivity, skill and experience. On Scacco Matto Lorenzo Senni completes an agonizing puzzle, flashing a knowing wink to the camera. Check, mate.

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