Considering that the real world is currently displaying pronounced and classic symptoms of going absolutely aff its nut in a very, very bad way, it’s hardly surprising that music seems to be responding by trying to celebrate all the things which bring us together in a spirit of real unity. This is obviously a good thing, and is to be applauded. But when the question is reduced down to a purely musical one, a question of taste, I’ve always been just as interested in the things that separate us.
Even before electronic music became a theme in my life It was something I’d noticed. At one point everyone I knew, people with matching tastes and interests, and similar ways of looking at the world would go crazy for bands like Jane’s Addiction or Faith No More. I couldn’t get my head around them. With Jane’s, Perry Farrell’s hackneyed Junkie Messiah act seemed designed to deliberately obscure the fact the band were little more than just another big stage rock act hungry for alternative kudos. With Faith No More it was even less subtle – and that’s saying something. I couldn’t imagine Faith No More existing without the oxygen of MTV’s cynical need to cash in on the rock underground; something which looked different from the Bon Jovi’s and Guns N Roses which dominated the era but were really just the same old same old with slightly more vivid videos.
When I first moved to Glasgow in the mid 90’s, and really began the douse myself in clubs and electronica, I already had my love for Detroit techno tied down, and devoured all the new sounds I could find. There were plenty of people around in Glasgow who knew the subject backwards – there still are – and many of them were willing instructors in these new and dark arts. The road was long, and the journey always exciting. And then I hit Drexicya. I didn’t get it.
Glasgow is one of those places that took Drexciya to its heart. Even after all this time I’m not entirely sure why that was. What I was aware of is that every single person I knew, people from whom a single world could send me scurrying to a record shop to check out their recommendations, were big for Drexciya, mental for them with a fundamentalist’s zeal. Not me, though, this wasn’t the Detroit techno that I knew mattered. This was something else entirely.
The music seemed scratchy; crackly beats and percussion that seldom seemed to be part of the same tune. Riffs and melodies, alien and angular, stabbed from the speakers with seemingly little regard for how they interplayed with the fractured, broken and apparently crude rhythms underneath. It was as if someone had taken a hammer and saw to the music of Kraftwerk and Juan Atkins, battering at it until it came apart, leaving only smashed, torn parts behind for rebuilding into something less than it had once been. And every single person I knew kept telling me how amazing they were.
I never grew to hate them in the same way I had with those rock bands from my youth. With those acts it was a case of the conventional masquerading as something edgy and new. With Drexciya it was something different, something very different, and I ever so slowly gradually came to understand what it was. There was no road to Damascus style revelation on the dance floor of Club 69 or the Subclub where I threw my hands in the air and declared that I got it now. Really it was a process of realising that those alien qualities that separated them from everything I was hearing was the point; that instead of no real clear musical ethic, Drexciya were in possession of one of the most singular artistic visions I’d witnessed. All those fractured beats, and wayward shots of percussion, the rhythms that seldom seemed united gradually began to fall into place as my brain rewired itself to those potent and unbelievable grooves. I went from refusing to care to buying the occasional record to buying what ever I could find, before finally coming to obsess over them. And aside from my new-found love for them, what also mattered was their role in opening the doors to a larger, stranger, and infinitely more exciting musical world.
Ask one hundred Drexciya fans what their favourite track is and you’ll get one hundred different answers. And ask them the same question the next day and you’ll get a different answer from the previous one. For me it changes so often there can be no definitive way of responding. Some days its Black Sea, one of the finest techno tunes ever created, on others it will be the brutal, static burning neo-rave of Devil Ray Cove. Sometimes it’s the wild Snoopy dance of Sea Snake, or the endless Futurist vision of Wavejumper. Today it’s You Don’t Know, partly because it’s what I’m in the mood for, partly because it’s the first Drexciyan tune I really fell in love with.
Yeah, I know. You’re thinking: ‘Oh, Jesus, he’s going on about Drexciya again.’ Well, there are constants in life, and that’s one of them. That something so important to me was nearly missed because I thought I knew better is a lesson I don’t want to stop learning. Beyond that I’m still making up for lost time. And so often, unfortunately, that turns out to be the only time that matters.