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Speech Act Theory - Single/Video Review: Old Versus New

25 Feb 2022 // A review by JamieDenton

Initially conceived of as purely a studio project to fuse electronica with live drums and other instruments, Auckland-based alternative/electronica Speech Act Theory is the brainchild of producer/musician Pete Hickman alongside drummer Ben Bradford. With the project kicking off in the latter end of 2019 — which is probably not the greatest timing, with all the upcoming turmoil and disruption to live music etc. — Speech Act Theory rapidly developed their sound, started developing their audience base, and translated their studio work into a live experience also. With three previous singles behind them (debut single Holding Out released in Aug 2021 and September 2021’s Grief Wave and October 2021’s Straight Lines), Speech Act Theory return with latest single Old Versus New.

One of the first things that struck me when listening to this new single, was how crystal clear and clean it all sounded. This was a pleasant surprise, as often the production of the track only really stands out to me if it is not quite right. If it is over-produced or too raw, but this stood out for all the right reasons. I was simultaneously impressed and surprised to be able to clearly hear the keys (including the attack as they were played), each element of the beat, and the lush vocals and to be able to clearly pick out as the next layer was added to the beat etc. It was smooth, masterful, tidy and from a purely production standpoint, it reminded me of the Lamb trip-hop-classic Goreki.

Kicking off with a beat that is reminiscent of, but a modernised version of, some of the classic sounds from Boards of Canada’s classic Music has the Right to Children album, and a beautiful keyboard that would easily stand alone in a downbeat track, Old Versus New wastes no time at all in bringing in the vocals. Within seconds of opening, the strong vocals are brought in. The vocalist is Akshay Belas, and his voice is stunning. It floats effortlessly over the music, carefully restrained to ensure it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the track, but with an obvious and natural power that can be sensed lurking underneath.

This whole track is a masterful study in layering, especially with regards to the percussion/beat. This is especially evident the dynamic shift from verse section to chorus section. The shift between these — which uses a subtle dynamic shift, rather than a whisper/scream approach — is facilitated through a more rhythmic keyboard line (dropping to an eighth note groove), a busier, fuller drum line, and is led back out by a near-Cure-esque keyboard melody.

While many artists that combine electronica and live instrumentation have done so in a way that leans more towards dubstep, drum n bass, jungle, or similar high energy sub-genres of EDM, it is refreshing and a very welcome change to hear something that harkens back to the classic trip-hop and downbeat era but with a modern spin. And while it is hard — nay, near impossible — to pin down an artist’s sound with one just single, I am hearing a lot less of the neo-jazz influences of bands such as Portishead, or neo-soul/hip-hop sample-heavy influences of Massive Attack and Tricky, but a lot more of those that mixed more alternative pop/rock and electronica – such as Lamb, Zero 7, Metric, Stars, and the more experimental Boards of Canada.

The accompanying video, directed by Uruguayan Auckland, NZ based director Dyego Cortinas is an absolute visual feast. Using a clever visual metaphor of digitally manipulated nature, the video visually reproduces the aesthetic of the electronic and live acoustic elements. The video documents the exploration of our protagonist through this sublime world where their discovery of a series of mysterious elements signals the start of reality unfolding and folding in new and unexpected, but beautiful ways. It is a fascinating, captivating story but one that is ultimately left open for interpretation and left unresolved at its conclusion.

It’s a solid release, entering a rapidly building catalogue of a project that is rapidly establishing itself and finding its own niche sound.

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )

About Speech Act Theory

With artful cadences that catch you off guard with every diaphanous progression, the Auckland-based alt-electronica pseudo-trip-hop outfit Speech Act Theory and the moniker of Pete Hickman provides fitting soundscapes to sonically visualise the process of acceptance and prevailing.

What started as a cathartic studio project in 2019 for the multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer quickly evolved beyond the studio, which saw Speech Act Theory play their biggest live show to date, supporting Trentemoller at the Powerstation in Auckland in June 2023.

At his core, far deeper than the proliferated comparisons to Massive Attack, Portishead, and Thom Yorke, Hickman writes through what resonates, exhibiting an intimate and honest interconnection to his vulnerability through his self-produced records.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Speech Act Theory


Speech Act Theory
Year: 2023
Type: EP

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