Many years ago a friend of mine succinctly summed up what he felt was one of the problems with how we consumed music thus: “You don’t get LPs any more, you get albums. Albums are just a collection of shapshots that have little to do with what came before and what came after. A Long Player, though, should be a journey, a movement from one place to another.” It is something that has stuck with me, and now seems of particular resonance given that the way we buy and listen to music is again changing.
Digital formats have allowed the consumer to pick and choose what they listen to and purchase with an arbitrariness that would have given Nero pause for thought. It’s becoming increasingly rare for a customer to even buy a full EP (let alone LP or album) – cherry picking of specific tracks – usually the bigger hits – has become the norm not only for regular Joes and Josies who just want to get BIG HIT #3 on their Ipod as soon as possible but for a generation of DJs for whom crate digging is increasingly an alien experience. Whether this has led to a homogenization of music is a topic for another day, suffice to say that when you ignore those B-side tracks that need more than a second of exposure to fully work their magic, you’re also ignoring something both magical and important to your craft.
The regrowth of vinyl as an important medium, however, has probably helped slow this phenomenon down. After all, you can’t cherry pick tunes from a side of vinyl in the same instantaneous way. The breathing space, the momentary pause where a tune has time to exert its power, is restored. Best of all, though, is the resurgence of the LP as a viable art form.
For genres that have mostly propagated through the medium of the 12″ single and EP, House and Techno have a very, very proud history of longer playing releases. Aside from a pile of compilations, there were several LPs that had an important place in my own musical education. Guidance, by Bandulu, for instance held me in rapture for many months in the summer of 1993, as did the terrifying, fractured ghostlands of Plastikman’s seminal Sheet One, and I can’t even count how many hours my friends and I lost listening to The Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol 1. Over the next couple of years records by the likes of Vapourspace, The Black Dog, Neil Landstrum and many others had a profound impact on the way I and others came to view electronic music, especially as LPs provided the artists with an important space, room to experiment away from the relative tyranny of the dance-floor aimed 12″.
There were three records in particular that probably had a deep and lasting effect on Techno, at least in my view: Robert Hood’s Internal Empire, Carl Craig’s Landcruising and Model 500’s Deep Space altered the genetic structure of Techno in ways we hadn’t seen before, or seen since. Hood’s take on Techno, muscular and minimalistic, electronic music paired down to little more than ferocious grooves, became a blueprint for the ‘minimal’ genre that seldom seemed to actually understand or appreciate what Hood had achieved, but also provided everyone else with a new approach that is still being felt today. Craig’s Landcruising took me more than a few listens before I started to understand it. Detroit soul in its purest form, it was a mix of melody, atmospherics and grandeur, a world where Jazz, funk, electro and Techno all come together to form something greater than the sum of its parts.
Deep Space remains, for me, one of the finest records of all time by any artist in any genre. It is an astounding pinnacle of sound and form and texture that deserves a place at the high table amongst the great work of music. Juan Atkin’s took the elements of Detroit Techno to levels seldom ever reached before or since. It’s a broadcast from the future, from some long-lost race and from the depths of the universe,forever watching us and imploring us to learn. A signal from the mind and hand of God. It is perfect.
And now? There has been an explosion in LPs over the last couple of years that have eschewed the temptation to be mere packages of tracks in favour of something deeper and more permanent. Personally, Gunnar Haslam’s Mimesiak, The Body by Prince of Denmark and Mothercave by Traumprinz (The last two by the same artist) stood out last year as stunning entries into this great tradition, and this year, in the last couple of months, we have had Gesloten Cirkel’s Submit X and Kassem Mosse’s stunning Workshop 19 (amongst many others,) that have stopped me dead in my tracks and forced me to re-evaluate the music once again, and I haven’t even had a chance to buy, let alone listen to Joey Anderson’s new LP, After Forever, yet.
These are just the tip of the iceberg as well. It seems as if artists are beginning to fall in love with these longer formats once again, and the way they provide a playground for the imagination and creativity. The 12″ format will always dominate, and given its peculiar role and place within House and Techno’s history and present it probably should, but there is so much to be said for LPs and the way in which they reward us that to restrict ourselves to the quick thrill is to deny ourselves the privilege of witnessing art unfettered and in full flight. And that is the true pay off for playing the long game.