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Strategy's Latest EP Uses Every Iconic Sample Known to Humankind (And It's Glorious)

By Michelle Lhooq

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Photo by David Nakamoto
 
There are two types of people in this world: those who find a soothing familiarity in doing the same things over and over again, and those who joyfully skip down the roads less travelled. Judging from his idiosyncratic oeuvre, spanning everything from densely-layered drone mixes for the ambient label Kranky, to Ibiza-worthy “sunrise house” for 100% Silk, to post-punk with the now-defunct band Emergency, it’s pretty clear which type of person we’re dealing with when it comes to Strategy (Paul Dickow), one of the most idiosyncratic producers to come out of Portland in recent years. 
 
“I never really have a game plan. I just work on whatever happens,” admits Dickow over the phone from Chicago’s O’Hare airport, where he is ambling around aimlessly, waiting for his flight back to his home town. 

So what is Dickow cooking up for his next release? For his forthcoming Pressure Wassure EP on LA’s indie label Peak Oil—which THUMP is exclusively premiering—Dickow draws from, funnily enough, material that is almost tediously familiar to us all: every iconic sample that has ever been used in the history of music. 

We’re talking about the Amen break, the Think break, the Funky Drummer, and the Apache break—samples that have been dismembered and patched together on so many tracks across the musical spectrum, they’re practically embedded into our collective consciousness.

“I went through my records to try and understand why these small sounds were so inspiring to so many people, and to prove to myself that it’s still possible to do something new with that raw material,” Dickow says. 

As such, all four tracks on the EP sound at once both familiar and strange, like meeting a friend from childhood who’s had so much plastic surgery done you can barely even tell it’s them. “I tried not to use complete loops, and broke [the samples] down in small pieces,” he elaborates. “There are some samples that you can’t even recognize… but they’re still there, and they still provide a point of departure.”


Paul Dickow playing in the "Cerebral Hut" in Los Angeles (photo by Stacie Jaye Meyer)

Another point of departure: the aggressive sounds of early hardcore, that strand of amphetamine-fueled dance music that came out the UK in the 80s and reached its frenetic peak in the late 90s. With its endless repurposing of the Amen and Think breaks, heart attack-inducing BPMs, and rejection of house music’s tension-and-release narrative in favor of brutal intensity all the fucking time, UK hardcore was a natural reference point for the “sense of epic grandiosity and urgency” that Dickow hopes to pack into Pressure Wassure.

Even the title of the EP is all about intensity—Dickow hoped that anyone standing in front of the "pressure washer" of his pummeling breakbeats would be blasted away, sort of like the guy in those classic Maxell commercials who can barely withstand the "insane wind" blasting in his direction. 

But he was careful not to turn the EP into a nostalgia-steeped homage to the manic days of yesteryear—”I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing a retro UK hardcore sound… I tried to mix new and old music together,” he insists. Still, he couldn't help but be drawn to the rawness at the heart of early UK hardcore, drawing parallels between its belief in "working with what you've got" with his own DIY approach to production. 

Dickow’s setup is charmingly old-school—his PC has a media card so old that he can’t transfer files onto it, which forces him to input every sample by hand, then edit it on the machine after. “That forces you to make really immediate decisions using just the sampler,” he says, “It’s not computer-driven. It’s a really immediate way of making music.” 

In-the-moment sponteneity with an eye towards the past is perhaps what best unifies the many offshoots of Dickow's eleven-year career, which in its sheer length has made him one Portland's dance music veterans. It's a position he hasn't always relished. 
 
Photo by Stacie Jaye Meyer

Not so long ago, he referred to himself as “too established to be cool and fresh, but too new to be, like, an institution.” That ambivalence is now gone, as he’s come to the realization that a lot of the people he’d come up with are “not doing it anymore, or very much.” 

“I’m well past the point of being able to break through and have a career in music,” he says with a surprising lack of bitterness. “But I’m kinda grateful for that, because you see people burn out or get boring… and I feel like I’m still underground, able to do whatever I want.” Perhaps Dickow’s his refusal to stick to a single genre of music—and his seemingly endless enthusiasm for musical reinvention—is the key to his lasting appeal. It’s certainly worked for Madonna. 
 
Pressure Wassure is out on Peak Oil on June 17, pre-order it here
 
Michelle Lhooq is waiting for you on Twitter - @MichelleLhooq
 

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