The Field - Biography
The Field is one of the most exciting new producers in abstract techno. The moniker for one Axel Willner, The Field’s sound is a distinctive blend of warm, organic, shimmering textures, softly propulsive beats and addictive pop melodies. Signed to one of electronic music’s biggest labels on the strength of his demos, Willner has refined his unique style over the last five years on a clutch of 12”s and two amazingly strong albums.
Axel Willner, based in Stockholm, Sweden, boldly sent demos to the Kompakt label in 2005. Kompakt has been the defining tastemaker in art-techno since the end of the ‘90s. Its no small feat to get signed to such an imprint on the strength of unsolicited demo recordings, but that’s just the reaction The Field elicited from Kompakt’s decision makers. After hearing Willner’s music it’s easy to understand why. Merging lush, swirling ambient techno, padded 4/4 house rhythms, ecstatic rave buildups and a keen sense of unapologetically beautiful melody, The Field’s music is extremely inviting.
Kompakt released the Things Keep Falling Down 12” in 2005. Featuring two long tracks of slippery beats and gaseous atmospheres, it instantly laid out Willner’s aesthetic. At times conjuring legendary techno producer Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas and M:I:5 projects, Willner adds more straight ahead disco beats and a greater dose of melody and in the process eschews the darker, experimental feel of Voigt’s music to arrive at something very light and airy.
2006 brought the release of the second 12”, Sun & Ice. Featuring three tracks that would go on to appear on his debut full-length and one exclusive cut, Sun & Ice expanded on the ideas laid out on the previous 12”. Again recalling ambient techno classics like Gas and Basic Channel, Willner weaves his pop sensibilities in with the throbbing ambience and glistening whorls of electronic sound. Its also obvious from these tracks that Willner understands the party peaks and dips of classic warehouse rave and trance.
Those classic rise and fall dynamics, so rare in much ambient techno, define The Field’s debut album, 2007’s From Here We Go Sublime. Featuring those three excellent songs debuted on the Sun & Ice EP plus seven stunning new tracks, this record came out as an instant classic. Blending minimal house and techno rhythms with dubwise production, cutup vocal samples, trance buildups, shifting layers of shoegaze-inspired textures and hypnotic melodies, Willner transcended the techno audience to find crossover success with indie rock listeners. Much of the record’s charm is due to Willner’s use of the buildup, the ecstatic climax of the rave. Shedding the cheese that colors much trance and Euro party rave in favor of a restrained, minimal vibe, tracks like “Over The Ice” and “Everyday” ebb and flow with a loose warmth that mirrors trance’s emotive crescendo while boasting a smudged, painterly minimalism. That combination, plus Willner’s deep and luxurious production style, proved to be a huge success on From Here We Go Sublime.
Willner stepped away from the Kompakt fold for a brief second to release the Sound Of Light EP on Heartbeats International in December of 2007. Comprised of four fifteen-minute tracks the EP explores a colder, more placid sound. While less gripping than his previous work its still a strong set of songs.
Returning to Kompakt in 2009 for his second full-length as The Field, Willner released Yesterday & Today. It was also a return to the warm sounds of the debut full-length. Willner has always pointed out that he does his mixing in real time, giving his tracks a sense of spontaneity. Yesterday & Today feels very live in parts due to collaborations with several instrumentalists including Battles’ John Stanier on drums for the title track. Tracks like “Leave It” and “The More That I Do” prove the overall Field aesthetic has lasting power but also showcase more detail oriented production and better songwriting. While the beats have gotten a bit heavier most of these tracks seem to move further away from the dancefloor, suggesting a move toward ambient home listening might be the future of The Field. Overall the album is a well-executed expansion of Willner’s debut.
The Field’s sound was born fully formed, a trait that can be a blessing and a burden. With a sound so defined it can be hard to move forward but Willner has carried his aesthetic over the course of several EPs and two full-lengths. No matter what his future direction is, merging the restrained and the sensuously emotive has never sounded better.