I hadn’t heard this in years, and it might have been even longer if I hadn’t heard it in a supermarket recently. Yeah, I’m serious. The ability to customise ringtones has been less of a blessing than its inventors probably imagined. Everyone has been stuck on a train, in a lift or some other freaky, claustrophobic space totally at the mercy of whatever cacophony of wank some self defined ‘wacky’ soul has decided to subject us too. For years it was that bloody frog thing chirping out its inane, insane bollocks to everyone cursed by having to maneuver around modern life. The idea that you could use music took off slowly. It wasn’t easy at first, and even now it’s probably quicker to throw a few quid at someone to do your thinking for you. Personally, I’m sure I annoyed a few people when I had Didgeridoo by the Aphex Twin on my phone. I certainly scared more than a couple of pensioners with that one.
But hearing Infophysix uncoil across the aisles from someone’s smart phone was a real moment of unexpected excitement. Not so much for the weird location, but because I was suddenly reminded of how much I love this track, and Dopplereffekt’s music in general. For those of you who don’t know the history, Dopplereffekt was the (at first) side project of Drexciya’s Gerald Donald, and were a band almost as era defining in their own way as Drexciya had been. While the main act were heavy in their take on Afrofuturism, and their own alternate reality, Dopplereffekt were wired on themes of science, mixed into a far tighter Kraftwerkian step than was common at the time. More robotic than Drexciya, perhaps more intellectual in the music’s meanings than the bulk of the far more up-front techno bass that was doing the rounds, Dopplereffekt were – perhaps paradoxically – a breath of fresh air in the way they seemed to mine electronica’s past. They were, to coin a phrase, less Afrofuturistic than retrofuturistic.
The thing about Dopplereffekt’s music, particularly back then, and especially in comparison with what Drexciya and the technobass crowd were doing, was that it always felt lighter and more playful. Well, maybe not always, but there was a certain attitude on display when it came to tracks like Pornoactress, Scientist or Speak and Spell which was very much at odds with the over serious nature of a lot of techno and electro of the time. Other tunes, such as Sterilization or Superior Race may have been a little more brutal with their themes but the music – replete with those mentioned Kraftwerkian influences subtly altered for contemporary usage, and with an extra dose of Donald’s trademark funk – tended to push worries about context to the side. Even if you understood them in the first place.
Infophysix is perhaps an even rarer thing, and of all the electronic music to come out of Detroit I can’t think of many tunes which were more poppy. It’s a summery track, breezy and immediate in its effect. The only other tune I can remember being as straight up fun is Drexciya’s Sea Snake, another track with builds itself up with a happy-go-lucky atmosphere. Infophysix is a slightly different beast, though. While it seems warm and flighty, it’s a potent brew of skyward melodies and scattering beats which carries a wistfulness not often found in electro, often a colder, less organic genre than most. Even more astounding to me is that I still think after all these years if you had dropped a diva’s warble over the top, you may well have had a major hit there.
Dopplereffekt have been frustratingly quiet in recent years, although a scattering of releases since 2013 have given rise to hope something – anything – might begin to happen again. Electro itself is hitting a high it hasn’t come close to equalling since the 90s, and with interest in Gerald Donald’s various guises, in the work of his partner James Stintson, and in Drexciya, perhaps at a greater level than it has ever been, maybe now is the time to show the young pretenders how the old master rolls.