As far as labels go, Positiva was one that went a long way to defining the concept of ‘hit and miss’. Some of the earlier releases, featuring the likes of Barbara Tucker, George Morel and The Disco Evangelists (and a few others) remain enduring examples of early house and techno, coloured with the glow of a musical world that has largely vanished now. Much of the bulk of their output was resolutely big time house, aimed equally at the larger clubs and the charts and not especially the sort of stuff that, with a few notable exceptions, ever filtered down to the underground. In fact, it is perhaps possible to view the increasing commercialisation of this strand of house as the beginning of the great schism when the ‘all in it together’ feeling of unity that acid house had fostered began to fracture.
Given the size and aims of the label, it still seems surprising that they were responsible for the release of 1993’s seminal ‘Positiva Ambient Collection’ – a compilation of music that represented tastes which lay about as far away from the day-to-day ethos of Positiva as it was possible to get at the time. Whether it was purely a cynical move aimed at cashing in on the burgeoning ambient dance scene that had grown to a level of importance (that it would never see again) on the backs of acts like Future Sound of London, The Orb and the Aphex Twin, I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that for many people it was an introduction to a strand of electronic music that you weren’t likely to be hearing in the sort of meat market provincial clubs that dominated British nightlife outside of the big cities. That alone was worth the price of admission.
The artist listing itself still remains thrillingly off the wall. Some of the bigger names are to be found in The Orb, Orbital and, err, Moby. Richard D James crops up a couple of times, once on remix duties for indy dance outfit Jesus Jones, and once under his Polygon Window guise. There are a host of genuine underground ambient talents in Visions of Shiva and the Infinite Wheel and, most excitingly to a Detroit geek like me, Derrick May makes an appearance with Kao-tik Harmony, a tune that still remains one of the most hearbreakingly beautiful and alien moments of techno ever recorded.
Beaumont Hammant’s Awakening The Soul is, in context, fairly atypical of a great deal of the ambient techno that proliferated in the period, but is easier to understand when put against a smaller band of producers who were making music that seemed to have more in common with more traditional artists. Many acts, such as FSOL and The Orb seemed to often be defined by the montage of concepts and samples that comprised the bulk of their material. On Awakening The Soul , Hannant slowly weaves a tale that gathers itself into a sparse and atmospheric thing, accented by the pulse of the almost acidic bass and a drum pattern that seems organic despite its obvious machine roots. The slow wash of the melody and the tight vibrancy of the chirping and incidental bleeps provide the deepest and most gorgeous of backdrops to an electronic dusk. Although elements of the approach are common enough nowadays, there is a simplicity to the arrangement that is rarely matched. A quiet beauty full of light and shade, and just enough drama to catch the breath all these years on.