The Other People Place: Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe (Warp)
Warp continue their recent run of loving represses with an album that has become a holy grail of sorts for many people. Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe was originally released in 2001, a little more than a year before the untimely death of James Stinson, and has gone on to be regarded as a true classic of electronica. While the digital version has long been available, the original vinyl version has commanded the sort of Discogs prices over the years that have kept it in the preserve of the sort of loopy, dirty fingered obsessives who frighten animals and smell of mouldy record sleeves. Well, no longer. Now we can all own a piece of history.
But is it as good as the Discogs prices and the cool kids say it is? well, yes and no. Listening to it again after many years, and with a level of attention I was never able to give it in the past due to not owning a copy and having to hear occasional bits and pieces, I’m struck by the way it feels so very alien to Stinson’s work as either part of Drexciya or even his own Transllusion solo project. Musically I find the Transllusion material to be more interesting; while it is very much sticking to convention in its electro framework it feels somewhat more exploratory and inventive, a more logical step forward and away from Drexciya whilst being less abstract and opaque than a lot of his partner-in-crime Gerald Donald’s later work.
The thing is, that doesn’t really explain Lifestyles… in a particularly useful manner, and is less of a guide to its qualities than I would like. What sticks out when listening to Lifestyles… now is the way it doesn’t really feel like any other eletronica album I can remember hearing. It is a record which renders any discussions about underground versus overground moot because, at its heart it is neither. What it really is is a set of songs which would have fitted nicely on something like Later…With Jools Holland, and preformed in a profoundly non-electronica setting. It is, in several ways, a far more mainstream feeling album than we normally see around these parts.
This isn’t an attack, because the very qualities which see it coming up lacking against many of the classic electronic albums of the age which birthed it are the same ones which allow it to transcend to another level. While there are one or two moments on it which strike me as a little mawkish, the overall feel – the intimacy, the emotional depth and maturity of the creation – is sublime. In a way, this is electronic music which has grown up and moved on. And in an era where certain producers are praised for attempting to do something which is seen as ‘more than techno’ and are considered somehow more important for doing so, this is proof that at least one person managed to do it a long time before, and without the fanfare. Perhaps not the timeless album the peanut gallery believe it to be, but an important and haunting guide to a world many of us who listen to machines have forgotten existed.
Le Car – Auto Reverse (Clone Classic Cuts)
It seems as if the machine gods have listened to my prayers because so far this year there have been several represses of material I would never have expected. Clone, a label who so often come up trumps when it comes to rereleasing classic and important electro, have done it again with this collection culled from the back catalogue of Detroit outfit Le Car.
It should be pointed out that this isn’t the first anthology from the band. A CD compilation called Auto-Biography, released in 2000, is also available if you’re after it and willing to spend the money to get your hands on it. The CD is – possibly – a little bit better; just as comprehensive whilst containing a couple more tracks from 1997’s Automatic album. But that’s just gravy, really, and doesn’t detract from the excitement of getting these tracks back into our sticky hands on a lovingly put together vinyl set after all these years.
And what a set this is. The music spread out over a pair of remastered 12″s, and featuring a 16 page booklet containing a track listing and art from the original releases. I’m also told that a limited number of the packs also contain a 7″ of Erase That Thought randomly sealed before release. How limited and how random I do not know – mine contains one and I’m rarely as lucky as that.
Musically Le Car always stuck out. A Detroit act, they rarely sounded like it. Blending the electro of their home town with synth-pop and a far more overt Kraftwerk sound than anyone else around at the time. They released a number of cracking little EPs and an equally good album throughout the mid and late nineties which never quite got the respect they deserved, possibly because they sounded so far away from either Detroit’s own techno-bass sound or the European electro-noir which dominated the era. They were groovy, catchy, and poppy; frequently winding up the brain with scritchy little tunes which sunk their teeth in and wouldn’t let go. The Auto Reverse collection is pretty damn good, and while I’m not overly bothered by the slightly unnecessary inclusion of some of the 30 or 40 second long ‘jingles’ at least you can say they’ve gone for a certain level of completeness. Special shouts here to the snappy and moody Malice, the rolling, grin inducing wonky-pop of Warm Humans and the scratchy, ever brilliant electro-funk of Fony. If you have even the slightest interest in electro, then this is essential. If you don’t, get it anyway and prepare to learn something important. Electro with soul and a sense of fun. So good.