Shinichi Atobe

Sustaining creativity over the decades isn’t always a question of figuring out who you are. Sometimes, the operative question is how: How much of yourself should surround your work? How do you balance a unique point of view with the utilitarian demands of the dancefloor? How do you change while remaining yourself? Across two decades and six albums, Shinichi Atobe has developed an adventurous, uncompromising, and deeply pleasurable body of work that offers a clear answer to the first question: Very little.

A handful of photos identify his physical form. His origin story is short and sweet: He somehow managed to release a single 12", 2001’s Ship-Scope on Chain Reaction, itself among the most mysterious and respected techno labels, and then went quiet until another cult label, Demdike Stare’s DDS, suddenly reactivated his career with a series of instantly sold-out albums—or are they compilations? No one can say. He’s said to live in Saitama, north of Tokyo. If he’s otherwise present in the world, there’s little trace.

Atobe’s early work floated industrial loops across seas of melodies, with rhythms like iron anchors tethered to vast rubber bands. It was odd; it was awkward; it sounded like nobody else yet fit right into the mix. Eventually, he came to sound even more singular: Tracks like 2014’s “Butterfly Effect 2,” 2018’s “Heat 2,” or 2020’s “Ocean 1” are off-the-grid endeavors that murmur in your headphones but bang on the floor, in perfect and uncanny balance.

Like his previous releases, Love of Plastic arrives by surprise. It’s peak form. Like the rest of his CV, its tracks are titled serially but sequenced out of order. They might be two minutes long or almost 10, and those lengths feel both arbitrary and inarguable. Love of Plastic embodies his POV: Phrasing should be sweet but not sappy; beats should be slippery, not sloppy. The difference here is what else he’s allowing himself to do, which is warm up. Not scorch, as parts of 2018’s Heat did, or get mushy like a moment or two of 2017’s From the Heart, It’s a Start, a Work of Art. From the directness of Atobe’s titles, one could be forgiven for expecting Love of Plastic to be arch or brittle. Instead, it’s his most approachable and generous collection to date. “Plastic” as in “malleable,” not “artificial.”

The brief “Intro” is all bubbles, something coming to the surface—and what comes is “Love of Plastic 1,” so bright and bouncy that it glistens like a bauble before revealing itself as a crown jewel in Atobe’s catalog. What the world needs now is more good old gay house music, and while I wasn’t expecting Atobe to suddenly go all Frankie Knuckles, the look suits him.

Love isn’t all poppers and pianos and synth pads. “Love of Plastic 8” leaves welts, with an itchy, acidic bassline etching lines between your ears that never quite form pathways. It’s a devilishly good bad trip, one so delirious that when the kick drum suddenly tumbles over itself, it sounds like a laugh. “Beyond the Pale” is coated in so much high-viscosity gloss that its house feels more like an apartment in a high-end magazine, desirable and out of reach. Its low end is equally enviable.

Two tracks look back to 2020’s Yes. “Ocean 2” is neither the analog-y expanse of that album’s “Ocean 7” nor the crowd-pleasing deep house of “Ocean”; instead, it’s the kind of twinkling, humid hall of mirrors DJ Sprinkles might reside deep inside. And the seductive “Loop 6” is less a reincarnation of Yes’ “Loop 1” than a take on the kind of bulbous, queer fantasias Olof Dreijer made in the Knife’s later work and, especially, in his recordings as Oni Ayhun. Yet their shape and scope are Atobe’s own.

The highlights are the “Love of Plastic” tracks, though, and they are just delightful, even Deee-Lite-ful. “Love of Plastic 5” squelches and squiggles with glee, as curtains of perfumed synth pads shimmer and percussion taps and tinkles. At one point, a handclap arrives just a beat or two behind and spends the next few minutes trying to fit in, and maybe it’s just how shit the world seems right now, but the effort is heroic. With its fabulous staccato strings and tantalizing vocal sample, “Love of Plastic 6” is almost diva house, the way Burial can almost be UK garage, but there’s a gaggle of glitchy noise panned way to the side and a situation of rattling like a purse spilling all over the floor. Closer “Severina” ups the ante, its tunneling dub techno gradually expanding into a jaw-dropping immensity of detuned bells, some kind of trumpet, spiraling chimes, and streamers of whirring bits of noise. Atobe is striking a pose and showing off his poise, perfecting gestures he’s finessed over the years. What happens next is an open question.

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