The thing about the underground – and it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about house, techno, electro, rock, country or anything else – is that the idea we have of it being a land of boundless experimentation, limitless invention and stone cold ethics is wrong. Should it be those things, and more? Of course it should. But it isn’t.
In fact, the concept of the ‘Underground’ as it exists now is often little more than a less successful counterpoint to whatever tastes currently comprise the mainstream. At one time the underground was defined by individualism, of artists and producers who were constantly pushing beyond the envelope, free to do so because they weren’t limited by rigorous commercialism and all that demanded of the music. Nowadays the Underground is, largely, a misnomer. It has become a brand like so many other things, a buzzword that is supposed to sum up a certain type of sound but rarely does.
I’m uneasy with such thoughts. Throughout most of my life the music I have listened to has belonged resolutely to the underground in its various guises. And yet in an era where the producers of the most dismal dreck can be described as underground by people who don’t even have the good grace to snigger at the misplaced appellation it’s not hard to lose some of that faith.
In electronica, where concepts of the underground remain common in both idealistic and distorted forms, We do still have a number of producers who are kicking out music on a regular basis that pushes out beyond what might be thought of as typical, and it’s these people who stop me from ever getting too angry at the idea of the underground because if such music can still be made, then surely we can’t lose all hope.
Jamal Moss looms largely in this list. As Hieroglyphic Being, IBM, Faces OF Drums (with Steve Poindexter) The Sun God and, of course, Africans With Mainframes (With Noleian Reusse) has been creating some of the most deranged music of the millennium. Famously prolific, you could probably spend a good chunk of your life attempting to track down and listen to Moss’s work. His Mathematics label has fostered some of the most forward-looking talent in house music today, and some true acid house greats who first made their names in the golden years.
Strangely, though, he remains a little bit of a hidden gem. I don’t know why. Actually, I think I can probably guess. His music is still thick with individual impulses that can often make it difficult to get onboard with if your ears aren’t quite attuned. It takes time to get in their – time that a lot of modern music fans don’t seem willing to invest in any more than Moss seems willing to indulge them.
Faso is possibly a little more accessible than some of the music he has worked on. I don’t know how much of Africans With Mainframes is Moss and how much is Reusse, but it’s possible that both artists are to attuned to each others rhythms and sounds that there is no longer any sensible distinction. I hope so. Such synergy is a rare thing, and should be celebrated when encounterd.
The shocking thing about Faso is that it is so densely packed that there appear to be three or four separate tunes happening at once, but once you peel away the superficial thrills, you become aware of a single, supreme groove that runs through its length, acting like a guiding intelligence that pushes and pulls the disparate frequencies until everything falls together in just right, which is just as well because if that magical counterforce went just a little way in one direction over another, the whole thing would fall apart into a crazed and screaming mess.
If you don’t own any records by Moss – under any of his projects – do yourself a favour and buy some. Such talent and invention is rare – has, in fact, always been rare. Sure, you might not find an easy way in at first, but unlike a lot of artists who predicate their careers on the obtuse, beneath the wild surface frequency of Moss’s sounds burns a powerful groove and the proof of why its important we still embrace the idea of the underground and the music it fosters.