The last year or so has been an interesting time for techno and house. Interesting and a little strange. For a while it seemed as if we were getting increasingly locked into a deeper mood, one where the beats were congealing at a fairly pedestrian speed, and the only available texture was ‘fluffy’. I’m still not sure whether the current taste for safe, fairly undemanding house and techno, and the ongoing renaissance of disco, is simply indicative of the sort of nostalgia you get when you live in interesting times or whether it points to something deeper in electronica’s subconscious, but I’m really beginning to hope we snap out of it soon.
And, in fact, the evidence is that we are. There has been a slow increase in the amount of dirty, gutteral techno recently; music that mainlines a lot of old second wave Chicago energy along with techno’s stomp, often showering the whole lot in acid. While its easy to point at much of this stuff and accuse it of digging through the past just as much as any chunky disco infused house tune currently doing the rounds, it at least suggests that someone out there is getting itchy feet.
The resurgent interest in hardcore is an even more interesting one. Although there have been a number of records recently that exhume a lot of the old school ravey flavour, the majority of them have taken the basic sound and refitted it. Often this mean slowing it down by quite a bit. Usually when this sort of thing happens the music loses a lot of its impact, but with hardcore it tends to accent the heaviness, slowly morphing the music from homage into something new. It’s the kind of useful pillaging of influence I can get behind, and far more interesting than simply xeroxing the past.
But what I’m really hoping for is to see more producers willing to delve into different areas of sound and mood. At the moment there seems to be a surfeit of artists who only mine particular strands of electronica. I’ve touched on this before, wondering whether the way things now means that many people are unwilling to mix it up too much, that because fan bases seem to harden around a particular style the various acts don’t want to move too far away. In effect, electronica’s is growing compartmentalized.
Many of my own favourite producers were those whose work covered a lot of ground, who were always ready to jump between vibes as and when the mood took them. If you look at the work of an artist like Eddie Fowlkes, for instance, you can see a musical mind capable of moving between a deep, luxuriously rich sound where the gap between techno and house is almost imperceptible, and the scintillating, room-melting lunacy of a track like 420 Low, one of the harder tunes to emerge from Detroit. Underground Resistance’s Mike Banks is a similar figure. Responsible for atomic belters such as Punisher or The Seawolf, he also pushed the concept of hi-tech soul, that fundamentally Detroit movement encapsulated in the jazzy, soulful grooves of Jupiter Jazz or Journey Of The Dragons.
The point here isn’t that these producers were going where the market, and the fans dictated, but rather they were allowing full reign to their sense of expression, letting the full sweep of their creative skills the chance to bear fruit.
Perhaps more than any other Detroit producer Kevin Saunderson was a master of this. Known originally on this side of the Atlantic as Inner City – a project which although overtly commercial still combined the poppiness with the nous of a resolutely underground producer – and equally renowned in the darker, sweatier, corners of the globe for music released as Tronic, Reece, and a gang of other names, it was his work as E-Dancer which got me.
I’ve written about the other side of the record tonight’s tune comes from before, the cosmic brilliance of World Of Deep, and I still don’t know which side of this 12″ is my favourite. What I always loved about it though is the way it captures two very different sides of Saunderson’s music. World Of Deep is a glimpse of heaven; every bit as soulful as anything Mike Banks or Fowlkes did, it remains in many ways the epitome of Detroit’s fusion of body and soul. Velocity Funk though? Velocity Funk lays waste.
Aside from the fact it’s one of those tunes which Glasgow seemed to take as its own, it retains the power to shock. it isn’t just that, though, nor is it simply about the explosive rave energy it folds into its techno. There is, for all it’s heaviness, and speed, a lightness of touch and humour which propels it just as much as the slamming beats, paired so ably with the screaming vocal sample which slices the skin open and buries itself inside your head.
Many artists may have allowed themselves to cross the divide of moods and styles but few have done it on a single two-track 12″. Even fewer have pulled it off. Insane. And sublime.