As one of the founding members of New Zealand’s long-running and highly lauded Dead C, Michael Morley is royalty within the kiwi experimental underground. His work under the Gate moniker has, however, been nearly as prolific and certainly as challenging. The Gate is ostensibly a “noise” project, and as is often the case with the Dead C, Morley doesn’t shy away from flirting with a specific genre to further his ambitions. As the title suggests, Saturday Night Fever (MIE Music) finds Morley embracing dance music and pushing and mutating the parameters until any trace of EDM, disco, or funk is absorbed into a humming, pulsating, blissful cacophony.
All of the tracks on Saturday Night Fever clock in at around 10 minutes, and while constructed around central rhythmic or melodic motifs, progress steadily until they’ve evolved into a maelstrom of beats, looped samples, and pure white noise. Those motifs, however, aren’t mere gimmickry at the expense of some exulted notion of experimentalism. Album opener “Asset” features a legitimately funky synthesized horn riff, while “Hijack” kicks off with hints of synth-pop bounce. “Caked” is the album’s most traditionally dance-oriented cut and could easily be worked into any open-minded club DJ’s set. Gate’s patented aural haze emerges slowly here, enveloping the song’s otherwise more traditional EDM composition. It’s worth noting that Morley also takes the occasional vocal turn, offering a sort of dour yet oddly humorous inversion of classic house diva–style uplift.
It makes sense that an alchemist like Morley would embrace dance music as an avenue of exploration. The subtleties and repetitious nature allow for the construction of precisely the kinds of dense, gauzy textures that the Dead C are so expert at unleashing. Saturday Night Fever does have its fair share of authentic dance floor hooks, but in the end, the notion of Morley making a disco record in any conventional sense is as limiting and misleading as the idea that the Dead C just make rock records. Dance music provides a new point of departure for Morley, but the destination remains the same: the eye of the storm.