Over the last couple of decades Techno has moved away from the original blueprint provided by the first tunes that flowed to Europe from the States. It found fans in many countries here, and it didn’t take long for each of those countries to put their own mark on it. In Britain, Techno was, at first, heavily modified by Acid House and Rave before beginning to take on the far darker tones of the likes of Regis and Surgeon. In Holland the music was also tinged with Acid, but also by Electro and EBM. Germany, for the first few years at least, probably retained the closest connections to what had been envisioned by the originators, but even there a new take was being created.
During the nineties the music became harder, bleaker. Perhaps as the memories of the Cold War began to evaporate from people’s minds they responded by looking further into themselves and their fears and worries. The paradox has always been that dark times rarely produce dark music. You need good times for that. More importantly, though, there was no way that European Techno could sound like the American version. Cultural influences put paid to that idea in a large part and often when a European producer did create something that was undeniably Detroit sounding, it seemed little more that an homage. It lacked the actual fire. It lacked meaning. It lacked authenticity.
Kaleidoscope by Scottish producer Vince Watson is an interesting case. Although there is no missing the sound of Classic Detroit that the piece builds upon, it is never allowed to fall too far into slavish and mawkish devotion. One of the hallmarks of Detroit Techno that is often forgotten about now is that the velocity was never the point. Most of those old tracks kick along above 135 BPM. They shift themselves like nobodies business yet they rarely, if ever, allow the speed to interfere with the crystalline fragility of the music. Don’t believe me? Go and dig out some old Stacey Pullen or Kenny Larkin records right now and give them a listen. Notice the complexity of the synths and the way they create intricate motifs on the back of the thrust and drive of the rhythm. Some of the most beautiful music ever created with machines is done this way. They encapsulate something that been unfortunately alien to the mindset of a generation of European Techno producers – namely that hard music does not have to be ugly music. The drive can be used to open up the themes rather than imprison or isolate, giving the music an urgency rather than haste.
Kaleidoscope works because it understands this on a basic level. The tune isn’t pure Detroit. There is far more to it than that. There are many elements of early British Techno to it – particularly in the way the pads echo not chin stroking Electronica but the hands in the air euphoric rush of rave. It’s music for the sunrise. Strident yet fragile it allows the pads and main riff to climb ever higher whilst the kicks and the heavy, rolling bass provides a solid foundation.
I said a while ago that the real gift of Detroit Techno was not to be found in its sounds, but in the possibilities it showed us, and in its ambition and it’s honesty. Had Watson simply kicked out a track that sounded like Juan Atkins it wouldn’t have worked. This works because it knows where it’s from, where it’s going, and where it’s not. A rare gem.