Way back, not long after they left UR (perhaps not even that late, I forget) and before they had their rumoured falling out, Rob Hood and Jeff Mills collaborated on a pair of the hardest and most forward-looking 12″s that had been heard to date. Even now, Drama and Tranquillizer do the business. It’s easy to get blasé about the harder end of the techno spectrum, not least because for so much of it hardness is the defining characteristic; an attempt to produce music that batters listener and bruises the dancer into submission. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
The main problem is that so much of it is lacking in any form of funk or soul. Heavy, tightly marshalled beats and endless stabs of white sound certainly have their place, but often the lack of anything deeper tends to blunt their effectiveness. It seems to be a an ailment that has worsened over time, and there is perhaps something to be said for an overly academic approach to electronic music – sound design over soul, maybe – having adverse consequences on the direction of techno, and where the music can take us.
Although both Hood and Mills have moved on from the material of this early period – a time where they were both still finding their feet, musically speaking – the pair of them still infuse their work with feelings and rhythms that refuse to go down a single path. This is perhaps more obvious with Hood and the gospel tinged techno he has been releasing over the last few years. For Mills, who seems ever more determined to make music for mad-dancing aliens, his route has been harder to trace as he continues to slowly dissolve away the harder elements of his music leaving behind a leaner, more hypnotic sound that in many ways has its roots in Hood’s minimalist approach. Away from the production, of course, anyone who has witnessed one of Mill’s DJ sets can attest to the throbbing funk of the music, and the way it provides a furnace in which the sonic assault glows white-hot.
Suspense, from 1993’s Drama EP, remains an utter belter of a tune. Harsher critics may suggest that there is much in it that mimics a lot of the early UR work, but in reality it moves beyond that. The huge, pummelling riff which dominates the tune, and directs its constantly shifting stance like a master conductor, has similarities with the chainsaw snarl of UR’s Punisher , but where Punisher sticks to a single downward slash in order to get its point across, Drama’s focus swirls above you, moving from one extreme to another like the mood and anger of rioting crowd. It’s tight, compressed even, muscular but always on the move. More importantly, it falls away in the middle revealing, just for a few short, breathless seconds, a glimmer of the minimalist approach Hood would bring to his own genre changing music shortly after.
And it rolls with a furious groove that is rarely copied these days. Every element is locked into place, but still rattle and hustle against each other, providing movement within movement within movement. Give it just a moment and it’ll funk your little socks right off. What more could you possibly want for a tune? Music from the heart, direct to the soul and the feet.