Review: Drexciya – Black Sea/Wavejumper (Clone Aqualung)

I normally avoid reviewing re-releases and represses for the simple reason that with so much great new music being released every week I don’t feel any particular urge to talk about the hundredth version of an ancient Trax classic to be thrown out on wax yet again. Aside from anything else, originals (even original represses) can be had from Discogs – or any shop with a half decent classic house section – for a couple of quid. Most of these reissues are of well known tunes anyway, largely stuff most people have, or are buying again to fill up the remaining gaps in a collection. Where we enter more interesting ground is when the material being put back out there was difficult to find in the first place, or simply unavailable for years and at the mercy of the second-hand market.

The output of Drexciya probably fell into both of those places and it’s good to see so much new interest in one of the most important partnerships in electronic music. I’ll admit I’ve largely skipped the bulk of the – admittedly excellent – reissue series from both Tresor and Clone over the last couple of years, but that is mostly down to having a big bunch of this stuff from the first time around. It is tempting though, especially since the strength of the remastering work and the inclusion of unreleased material certainly sweetens the deal.

You probably don’t need me to tell you anything about Drexciya, so I won’t. Suffice to say that even after all these years, Drexciya’s music still sounds like the soundtrack to an incredible and alien alternate reality. They redefined both techno and electro, fusing the two together with their own fully realized philosophy, into something with imagination and attitude. Nobody sounded like them before, nobody has since.

Clone’s special Aqualung sub label (reserved for the lone output of Gerald Donald, and soon to be featuring his Der Zyklus album) brings together two of the best and most well known tracks. Black Sea from the ‘Journey Home’ EP, and Wavejumper from ‘Aquatic Invasion’ are both simply insane examples of what Drexciya did. Black Sea is a searing techno track , white-hot with a mournful fury and the tightest of grooves, Wavejumper a buckling electro killer, arrogant and funky, and always feeling like it would be about to clatter to pieces if it wasn’t for the titanium thread of stone cold purpose that runs through it. The third track, the unreleased Unknown Journey XI, a jacking, acidic, electro jacker, would probably be a stand out on another record. Here, though, the competition is unbelievably, stupidly high. It’s a good tune, but it’s clutching at coat tails.

Both of the two main tracks are released as alternate mixes. I’ll be honest: if anything, we’re talking about evolution rather than revolution. These aren’t remixes and for the most part it’s the remastering that helps the tunes the most. Black Sea is slightly longer and maybe a breath slower than before, although neither take anything away from the ride. The rebalancing of the mix seems to have had the most effect with the lower end. The kicks always seemed tough but fragile before but here they punch through stronger than ever. Likewise the bass propels the tune with even more clarity than before, firming up the spine and allowing that war cry of a riff to really howl. I’ve been over this with a FLAC of the original mix for comparison and, aside from the longer running time, there aren’t any major changes to the arrangement that I can tell, but it sounds better, more vibrant. I’d go as far to say this should probably be seen as the definitive version now.

Wavejumper is, I think, slightly shorter but tighter than ever. Clone say that it’s a ‘different mix (without the infamous skip)’ and that’s good enough for me. Again, to be honest, I think you will be hard pushed to notice any real difference. The sound is fuller, less top heavy than I seem to remember it. I don’t have a copy of my own to compare it to any more, but it does the same lean and mean job it always has, it just sounds even leaner and meaner.

The real question isn’t how different or otherwise they sound to the original arrangements, but how much value you put in owning two of the deadliest tunes in history back to back on a brand new piece of wax? Fair enough if you already have them from times long past, but even those with the original releases should take a closer look. The clarity of the new mixes, especially on Wavejumper which just seems even more of a snarling pitbull of a tune than it used to, are worth it. And if you are new to Drexciya, and looking for a way in to the huge mass of back catalogue suddenly available, well this should be your doorway into a world you won’t be able to escape from.

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