Friday Night Tune: Jeff Mills – Sugar is Sweeter

Well, it was going to happen sooner or later, wasn’t it? When I choose a track to feature in these Friday night posts I try to think of things that aren’t too familiar to most people – hardcore sorts excepted due to the fact they tend to know every tune inside out. The bulk of the tracks are those that mean something to me in some way. Occasionally they’re something that no one else seems to give a hoot about, but often they are examples of the type of music that has come to define House and Techno to me in some way, both definable or otherwise.

There are a number of producers I haven’t featured because, well, it has seemed too easy to include them. I could probably spend every Friday night over the next year documenting the impact Underground Resistance, Rob Hood or Aux 88 had on me and I probably will get around to them at some point. But, seeing as how Jeff Mills will be playing here in Glasgow this Sunday at the Last Big Weekend Festival (see here for details), I thought it might be the time to cover one of my favourite tracks by one of the true innovators and greats of Techno.

Sugar Is Sweeter is not a typical Mills track. Released in 1997, the ‘Our Man In Havana’ EP comes more or less in the middle of a run of recordings perhaps unmatched in Techno where it seemed that he was releasing a bona fide classic record every few weeks for about five solid years. The EP itself is less furious than the bulk of his other material from the period, more pronouncedly focussed on grooves than the rawer, heavier machine funk that epitomizes much of his work but Sugar Is Sweeter goes even further into a territory where the sound reflects a moment of growth and discovery.

While the tune rides in on a set of colossal kicks, it is the fluid, melancholy chords of the riff that actually dominate and set the tone. The riff is a departure from his usual fare. Downbeat, pensive even, it provides an emotional connection that is almost jarring despite its subtlety. It rises and falls over and over again for almost the entire length of the track, barely altering the pattern formed in the first bar, and yet it imbues the piece with a distant warmth that echoes the potent electronic soul of Mill’s immediate musical forefathers. In many ways it is far closer to the feel of Model 500 than to anything else Mills had done before and would not do again for many years. In fact, it is almost an embodiment of the midnight Techno-Soul once proselyted by Carl Craig.

And yet it is unmistakably Jeff Mills. The rough-house clatter of the rimshots, the hiss and scratch of the percussion are all hallmarks of his sound and his style. Here they are restrained, supporting instead of directing and allowing the momentum of the synths to carry the listener onward. This is the Mills formula reworked; the firestorm compressed into live giving warmth. Not so much memorable as unforgettable. True magic from the Wizard himself.