Review: Differ-Ent – It’s Good To Be Differ-Ent(Don’t Be Afraid)

My relationship with the music of Eric Dulan goes back a long time. At first, before I’d even really heard the name DJ Bone, it was his still phenomenal Unleashed EP as Subject No.1 which took the top of my head off. It’s one of those rare records from the nineties I still listen to just as much today as I did back then – maybe even more so – and the years since then have blessed us with many other releases which can justifiably be held up as classics. Musically he always felt like an outsider; a later wave Detroit producer who made tunes which sounded like little else to come out of the city. There were nods to the sort of hard grooving, cosmic techno which artists like Shake Shakir or Claude Young had long been doing, but any similarities never became the basis of his sound, the more furious edge of his beats being instead tempered by a looser soulfulness which seemed almost at times meditative.

Perhaps surprisingly It’s Good To Be Differ-Ent is only Dulan’s second album in all that time, and it appears here under his more recent Differ-Ent Guise. It’s a project that I’ve enjoyed so far without being entirely blown away. There are probably many reasons for that. The music as Differ-Ent has felt, well, different; that of an older artist perhaps, and one more reflective that when he started out. Yet, two slim EPs has not really been sufficient material to make any real judgements. An entire album, you feel, should be a different beast altogether.

And it mostly is. While elements of it retain something of Dulan’s techno heritage, and certainly make their presence felt across the mammoth six sides, there is also a fresher mood underlying it, as if a multiple of strands from his previous work have been used to create a genuine foundation for the next stage in his sound.

Some of those elements inform a mood not a million miles away from his DJ Bone work. Fasten 8 Shun, for example, or Drum Addict both ply the listener with familiar elements. Drum Addict rides the collapsing beats, carefully shepherding the glimmer of starry-eyed chords into the dusk. Fasten 8 Shun moves beyond his own work, and encompasses something of Detroit’s larger techno heritage, conjuring up warmth from the crystalline structures of the pads and the melodies.

Yet neither track really feel like they are trying to recreate past glories. In fact, they represent one half of a duality which is at the heart of the album. Here it is the warmth, the light; the interlay between the cosmic and the physical which both lends them their glow and recalls memories of classic Detroit moments. Elsewhere the tone is a darker one.

Met Allergic Flew Antsy revokes any feelings of warmth. It’s stripped down, travels low to the ground, and builds up from tight, fast, movement and taut, razor-sharp edges. very much a musical predator. We Have U Surronded, is similar, but less gnarly, preferring instead to double down into surprisingly moody, almost minimalist territory where the bare bones of groove hold little more than a static blast of heat.

But where playing with expectations of mood are one thing, the real surprises are the fully realised slabs of electro which contrast beautifully with the techno. Compute Her stalks a noir-ish path, prowling through midnight with the pluck of an icy melody the guiding light above the sharp beats. Even better is Motive Hate Shun – almost the best thing on the album – a compressed burst of breakbeat propelled surliness which groans and grunts. Even so, for all that, it moves with a litheness which makes light of its angry weight, dancing around on a quickly shifting groove.

Across the 12 tracks its possible to make more sense of Dulan’s newer direction. The way the two halves, the light and the dark, compliment each other is at the heart of the album. Making the understanding of one essential to making sense of the other gives it an energy and emotional depth often lacking in contemporary techno. It plays with moods to an extent that most producers wouldn’t, using them to fuel the harder moments, and loosen up the lighter, sometimes even swapping that around. It’s a mature and, at times, introspective album, and one that utilises both techno’s past and future to push itself forward. While it may not be a musical rebirth, it certainly suggests an artist who is ready – and excited – to reconcile a formidable body of past work with new vistas. Where he goes from here I don’t know, but I sense it’s going to be somewhere differ-ent.