Berlin-based producer/electronic musician Stefan Betke worked closely with the dub-informed techno label Basic Channel before releasing music of his own under the name Pole. His sounds were derived from and named after a less-than-perfectly functional sound-processing device called the 4-Pole Filter. Running his skeletal, bass-heavy tracks through the filter produced random clicks and crackles, adding a thick atmosphere of mystery and unpredictability to the minimal compositions. Betke's earliest work as Pole surfaced as a series of 12" singles in the late '90s, but it developed from its noisy, spare beginnings on subsequent and more ornately rendered albums like 2020's Fading.
Betke worked as a producer and mastering engineer before
putting out the first Pole material in 1998. Two 12" singles, "Tanzen" and "Raum Eins" were quickly followed by a trio of numbered album-length releases. This trilogy, 1, 2, and 3 was issued by the Kiff label and distributed to American audiences by Matador. Where most Basic Channel releases clung fearlessly to the throbbing momentum of 4/4 minimalism, Betke drew complex, intricate rhythms from the crisp analog haze, layering rich, ghostly melodies over multi-tracked tape hiss and a barrage of syncopated skips and stutters. Betke's tracks thus shared more with off-kilter Kölners such as Oval, Mouse on Mars, and Kandis than with his colleagues at Basic Channel. Still, his music retained the stark emptiness of Berlin post-techno, though it was more interesting -- and far less dance-friendly -- than the comparison might suggest.
After his numbered trilogy of albums, Betke briefly aligned with Daniel Miller's Mute label, where he released the 45/45 and 90/90 EPs, as well as a self-titled album, in 2003. These tracks offered a radical departure from Betke's past. They incorporated more pronounced beats, as well as appearances from rapper Fat Jon. Betke then returned to his own Scape label, a revered source of releases from kindred spirits like Jan Jelinek, Kit Clayton, and Deadbeat. Steingarten, a livelier and more adventurous set, appeared in 2007. Following the album's release, Pole releases were less frequent, but Betke continued to be an in-demand mastering engineer for singles, EPs, and albums released on Third Ear, Mute, and Uncanny Valley, among many other labels.
Scape ceased operation in 2010; the following year, Pole created an eponymous label. His debut album trilogy was digitally reissued, and a series of Waldgeschichten EPs appeared. In Dubs, Pole's remix EP of tracks by Roll the Dice, was released by Leaf in 2012. Pole's long-awaited sixth album, Wald, arrived in 2015, followed by the single "Lurch (Version)" in 2016. The following year, Bureau B released Betke's installment of the Con-Struct series, featuring compositions made from the archive of the late electronic pioneer Conrad Schnitzler. Betke signed a deal with Mute Records, who brought his now-legendary numbered trilogy of early albums back into print in 2020. That same year, Mute released the seventh proper studio album from Pole, a collection of restless and drifting tracks entitled Fading. ~ Sean Cooper
BORNFebruary 18, 1967