Portion Control

[Pure Form sleeve]"Pure Form" (Album, 2012) !DSO Recommended!

Sigsaly Transmissions

Brandishing a title that succinctly sums up where British electronic band Portion Control currently are in their career, this latest album from the electro-industrial duo continues an incredible run of quality albums since their unexpected return from the wilderness in 2002. We don't dish out our !Recommended! ratings easily here at dsoaudio.com. Pure Form earning the band their third, consecutive award is a first in our thirteen year history to date. 

There's always been something of a swagger about Portion Control. Back in the early 80s, it was the arrogant swagger of youth. Today it is the swagger of confident maturity. They've transformed from one of those interesting bands, to one of the essential ones. One suspects that in choosing a title for this, their twelfth album, Dean Piavani and John Whybrew only did so once the album was complete and, with no sense of irony, surveyed their handiwork and concluded that this was indeed Portion Control on pure form. 

The single biggest reason for the consistency of remarkable quality of their last three albums (including this one) is that having evolved from boys to men they've concluded that the sure-fire way to creating their finest work is to trust their instincts, disregard any external commentary (or fashion) and to just focus on what they know to be the lynchpin components of quality electronic music. Pure Form is full of Portion Control characteristics. Of course, that title then could be a label for those other familiar PorCon traits: pure electronics and a obsession with structure. One of the albums of 2012. 8/10

Rob Dyer (December 2012)

[Violently Alive sleeve]"Violently Alive " (Album, 2010) !DSO Recommended!

Sigsaly Transmissions

In the last few years a sizable number of key new wave/electronic bands from the early 80s have reformed. Bands often do this, but what has been most remarkable about this spate of reformations is just how darn good the new writing (and performing) of many of them has been. Portion Control are the perfect example. I picked up their Step Forward album when it was first released back in 1984. It was ok but not great, which in my ruthless youthful years meant that at some stage it was jettisoned from my record collection as it didn’t receive enough repeated plays. Jump forward a quarter of a century and Portion Control’s new album Violently Alive is the best I’ve yet heard.

They’re essentially writing instrumental tracks, although many have a smattering of lyrics/vocals, they’re only every really that – a smattering. Despite their minimal nature, the lyrics do provide a crucial platform for the band’s social and political observations. As much as I could quite happily listen to their compositions in their purely instrumental form, the lyrics and John Whybrew's snearing delivery of them are a defining characteristic of the band and keep the overall vocal style firmly rooted in it the band’s part punk origins.

Musically, this is pretty glorious stuff. Imagine the experimental, repetitive edge of Cabaret Voltaire’s formative years meeting Front 242’s finest rhythm and beat combinations, heard through a resolutely mid-tempo suite of songs and you’ve an inkling of what this achieves at times. Once again, Dean Piavanni and Whybrew’s choice and utilisation of sounds is another attribute that helps set these men above the boys. Violently Alive contains some of the best sounding analogue synths ever. Period. This must sound brilliant live. The clever ability to combine old school stylistic touches (whether that be the essential simplicity of the individual compositions or the rarely-heard-these-days pre-MIDI/digital technology voltage control triggering style of the basslines), with wider contemporary dance music influences is simultaneously thrilling and original. Portion Control are actually more relevant now than they’ve ever been. This is a remarkable album. 9/10

Rob Dyer (February 2010)

[Crop sleeve]"Crop" (Album, 2009) !DSO Recommended!

Sigsaly Transmissions

Electropunkers Portion Control formed in London in 1980 and despite being highly influential to household names (like Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Orbital, Skinny Puppy among others), have largely remained a fairly obscure cult act even by the standards of the industrial music scene. I picked up their third album ..Step Forward back in 1984. Its uncompromising coalition of punk attitude, breaks and hard rhythmic electronics was an eye opener at a time when I was still finding my way through the wealth of the electronic music field. After around a decade of activity they disappeared. They returned (again largely below the radar) in 2003 when they began a steady stream of critically acclaimed self-releases and a return to their memorable live performances. Their show at the 10th Anniversary Infest in 2007 was mightily impressive and proved that there was plenty of bite in these older dogs yet.

Last summer they released this two-disc, six page digipak. Crop is a compilation of material from 2004-2008 and includes a bonus CD EP of reworked and new material. Portion Control don't really sound like anyone else, or rather, nobody else sounds quite like Portion Control. Theirs is a uniquely distinctive alliance between the angry leftist politics of the punk ethic and the minimalist hard-edged electronics on the fringes of industrial genre. Band members Dean Piavani and John Whybrew share electronics and visual duties (a key part of their impacting live shows), with Piavani providing the militant vocals. And what sublime electronics! Few bands so carefully create and select their sounds as Portion Control do. In this respect they share that exceptional and limited club that key bands like Kraftwerk and Front 242 belong to.

There's a fair amount of reconstructed (rather than conventionally 'remixed') tracks on this two disc set, with several tracks over six minutes apiece; with the appropriately lengthily entitled Onion Jack IV Segue: Pearly King & Queen Cosh Boy.Onion Freak.Drive By.Sunbeam (WTF?!) clocking in just six seconds shy of 18 minutes. It's on these deeper forays into the song themes that Piavani and Whybrew relax their iron grip on the principle of pure hard rhythmic electronics, cutting out the angry vox and instead letting their imaginations and creativity run free. The results are all as invigorating as they are genre bending. There's a lot to like here and satisfying too having some proper old-school attitude aligned with a contemporary world view, backed up by rare skill and talent. Portion Control are more relevant now then they've ever been. 8/10

Rob Dyer (February 2010)

See also:

Cabaret Voltaire
Front 242
Front Line Assembly
Nitzer Ebb
Skinny Puppy
Solar Enemy