Friday Night Tune: Drexciya – You Don’t Know

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.

Review: Drum Machine – Space Suite (Lower Parts)

While the craze for true analogue jams seems to have receded a fair bit over the last year or so (or, at the least, finally settled into its own real niche), there is still a certain amount of romance attached to the idea of the lone producer, head down in a room lit only by flashes of LED light, coaxing all manner of weirdness out of racks of tortured machines. Greek producer Drum Machine, part of the ThessalonĂ­ki based collective Anopolis, has a reputation as a serious gear-head and indeed its the sound of collapsing electronics which dominates his new release on Lower Parts.

While the music is coloured with the distorted warmth that goes hand in glove with most modern hardware work, it doesn’t simply kick everything into the red and have done with it. Underneath the noise there is a fine techno mind at work, drawing out grooves which, although hard, never let go of an air of experimentalism and sense of adventure. At it’s most straight forward, such as on opener Jungel where the beats are thickened to the point they almost blur together and the rest of the tune appears only as a heat haze above the rhythm’s molten flood, it can get a bit crowded; a vortex of sound which sucks up everything around it and leaves you elated but exhausted.

But Jungel is by far the most conventional of the tracks. A better sense of drive and purpose on offer is to be found on VCO Ship where Drum Machine finds a natural balance between abrasiveness and a finely honed atmosphere of unraveling emotion. The beats still char the bones, but the ghostly pads and loose, simple riff hold in place an echoing moodiness which elevates the tune far above that of a simple electronic work out and teases out an implausible prettiness.

The collaboration between Drum Machine and Mituo Shiomi, Acute Angel, drives things further away from sanity, drowning the brain with the feeling of things really going off the leash, but using that madness to build a scatter shot monster that seems destined to fall apart even though it slowly reveals itself to be in complete, precise control. The beats rarely sound as if they’ve ever met each other before, so urgent are they in moving around, but as the track unfolds it reveals a demented sense of popiness and light which lends it something bubblegum and cheeky.

The tune I keep coming back to time and time again though, Space Wave, cuts away everything that it should need to make it work and leaves only a single vast and percussive riff behind. Space Wave distills Drum Machine’s penchant for tone and mood wrapped up in heavy sound, reducing down to a burst of rainbow frequency which drags influences of house, techno and day-glo big room rave out of hiding, guiding it with little clatters of metronomic clicks and the riffs own sense of purpose and direction, shining a bright and exhilarating playfulness across it. An explosive finale, and a fitting one for a record that veers between different facets of a common sound.

Friday Night Tune: Eat Static – Implant

Oh God, it’s festival season again. All across the country, every scrap of available land is filling up with cheap tents, cheaper beer and toilets you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s a curious way of getting back to nature – to transplant yourself from wherever you live to a site that is temporarily even more populous than your home town. But every year, without fail, hundreds of thousands of people do it. Without being forced. Jesus.

Although I live in a dirty big city, I grew up in the country side and have a natural aversion to being in close proximity to lots of people for very long. The idea of only having the walls of an Aldi supersaver 4 person tent between me and an increasingly muddy mass of humanity fills me with the sort of horror usually reserved for stuff like fighting in the trenches or dangling my bits over a hungry dog. I am not a festival person and I’m very bad at communal experiences.

Over the years though, festivals have altered their DNA a wee bit. Once the preserve of twiddly prog rockers with hollow eyes, they all seemed to go corporate in the early nineties and these days seem to be the natural holiday destination of middle-aged account managers and their mates. Whether this destroyed the spirit of peace, love, and livestock-worrying that was probably the reason festivals originally existed, I couldn’t care less. There’s probably less chance of bands being electrocuted in the ‘unexpected’ downpour of the average British summer than there once was so that’s a good thing at least. Well, maybe.

Few of those bands play the festivals any more. The passing of years and shifting tastes has seen to that and it seems that they have been replaced, in part, by our lot. It has become standard for any festival worth its salt to carry a dance tent between the cow sheds and where ever Blur are playing. The site of all your favourite disc jockeys holding sermon to a field full of disoriented youths is a pretty much accepted one now, and the chances are it’s all going to get bigger.

There were some groups, such as Spiral Tribe, who became associated early on with the festival scene, although their aims were probably rather different from that of many of the places they appeared at. Sound systems took a while to really get going, and although they soon seemed to prefer pitching up in random fields down south simply to piss everyone off, they laid down a precedent for dance music to be taken seriously by festivals.

Although such a thing as ‘festival techno’ probably existed nowhere outside of my own head, I always think of Eat Static that way. The funny thing is that whether or not they ever played a festival is irrelevant; created by two members of the English prog rock band Ozric Tentacles they actually embodied the traditional festival ethos far better than the vast majority of more traditional acts who were playing the circuit at the same time. Their early material shows infatuations with UFOs and hallucinogenics, and you quickly got the feeling they knew their way around a bottle of cider. It was the beginning of a short-lived era where crusty met kick drum and everything went weird.

For the music papers of the time, Eat Static were one of the few electronic bands they seemed to take to heart. Certainly, the first time I ever heard of them was in the pages of Melody Maker, and I suspect that they could give the journos something that wasn’t entirely outside of their experience, as a lot of dance music was. On the surface, Eat Statics preoccupations weren’t a world away from those of a lot of indy bands (the scruffier ones I mean, not your dipped in soap Britpop brigade). There was an agenda. An unspoken one for the most part, but something that the older scribes could get their heads around, seeing as it had probably been one they shared with the bands of their youths in the 70s, before they started pretending they had been punks all along.

Perhaps in keeping with their prog rock background Eat Static were a prolific album band, cranking out almost as many long players as 12″s. Tonight’s tune, Implant, comes from the 1994 album of the same name and is a good representation of their sound in general. A lot of the festival techno stuff quickly pushed off towards trance (and its terrifying Goan variant) but although Implant certainly contains more than a couple of nods to the chirpy 303 abuse that would later be a hallmark of that particular sound, it lightens it up with a good-natured nuttiness, gentleness even, that keeps its tongue in cheek and stops it from flying away after little green men. And although it is beginning to sound a bit of-its-time, it still has the capacity to put a smile on your face and get your feet moving. It’s like a private festival in your head. And that, to me, sounds like my kind of festival. I won’t even have to fall in the toilets.

Friday Night Tune: DJ Lhoie – Sublimental

Buying music digitally is one of those strange little facets of the modern world that manages to be both incredibly useful and highly unfulfilling at same time. There is an odd emptiness in buying files. Perhaps it is the immediacy, the speed at which you can harvest music; sit at a computer, spend an hour or so flipping through sound clips at Boomkat or Juno and end the night with a dozen new EPs to go through. The thrill of getting your hands on new tunes wears off quickly, and descends towards a task of pure acquisition. Of course, many of us are just as bad when it comes to vinyl. I have far more records sitting in the ‘to listen’ pile than I already know what to do with, and the existence of that pile won’t stop me from buying more. But there is also an inherent wait to buying records. You order them online and let the postman do his job, or you get off your arse to go into town to an actual honest to Christ shop and dig through the crates. Either way seems to elicit a feeling of accomplishment, and of doing something useful – although bank managers and significant others might well disagree.

One of the real boons of digital distribution however has been the way many forward thinking labels had some time ago begun to preempt the current hunger for reissues. Discogs is great, it’s a fantastic resource, but you are always at the mercy of sellers who couldn’t give a shit about how accurate their personal rating systems are, how out of whack with reality their pricing policies might be, or whether or not the state of the record has anything to do with them once it leaves their hands.

Although digital reissues are not always free of a similar level of cynicism – particularly when it comes to shite quality transfers where the music is simply ripped at low bit rate from the original vinyl, replete with pops, surface noise and plenty of artifacts, rather than going through the hassle of remastering from the original DATS or recordings to take advantage of the new format (not always possible, I know) – it has still allowed an increasing number of classics some fresh time in the sun. Some labels have gone to town big time on this; almost the whole of Djax back catalogue, for example, is available digitally, and the number of absolute corkers from the likes of Warp is rising every day.

Even better is the opportunity it affords for music that did not garner the level of adulation it probably deserved the first time around to have another go. Yes, it’s certainly true that an awful lot of tunage got ignored to begin with for the very best reason of all – it was rubbish – but that doesn’t mean it all deserves to be tarred with the same brush. It’s easy to forget that for all its dead ends, digital distribution can also be a gateway to discovery, and a great one at that.

DJ Lhoie’s Sonic Assault EP was one of these. Originally released on DJ Bone’s Subject: Detroit label way back in 2004 it remains, from what I can see, Lhoie’s only ever release. Born and brought up in the Philippines before moving with his family to the States, he seems to have hooked up with Bone at some point and that is all I know. But his place on the periphery of Detroit techno doesn’t cheapen the fact that Sonic Assault is an insanely good release. I stumbled over it a few months ago when I was looking for something else and quickly became obsessed with each of the three tunes. In particular, it was Sublimental that did the permanent damage; the combination of light speed beats, shining invention, and the sometimes whimsical nature that was a trademark of Detroit techno reinterpreted into something quirky and fresh took hold of me and wouldn’t let go.

As is so often the case, it’s entirely possible that Lhoie went on to create a shed-load of well-known records that I’ve simply missed, but I don’t think so. And if I’m right that this was his only release, it’s a real shame. I hope someone rectifies this.