These days we have a habit of chucking certain words around as if we are trying to ward off reality. We use the word ‘underground’ in its loosest sense, as if it feeds any amateurish, unlistenable bollocks or slick, mainstream blandness with the kudos it needs to transform it into something vital and edgy. We call stuff ‘analogue’ as if it imbues any old bunch of badly written wank with authenticity and artistic importance. And we torture the word ‘classic’ until it means nothing more than something we heard in a club two weeks running.
These misuses aren’t really new. The scene has being doing them for years, but it’s got worse as marketing and PR have made inroads into Our Thing. As electronica has become more and more commodified, the language used to polish turds has grown more and more strident, and reached the point where it happily co-opts original meanings for its own ends.
And it’s the meaning and the message which suffer. You are not longer being sold music, of course, but a dream and a lifestyle choice. Again, this is nothing new. The industry has been doing it since the very beginning. Even the blues, that by-word for irreproachable authenticity, was largely the creation of the early music industry, a dream dreamt to draw money from the sleepers.
Still. In techno, in much of electronica in fact, where all of these suspect words – and more – still carry a weight of meaning it’s hard to be too angry. That they no longer have the same importance they once did is true enough, but they still tend to echo something of the romanticism which was at the heart of everything when the music was young. And that’s warming, not because of the what they mean now, but because for all their abuse, it suggests that those original values still carry importance no matter how far everything has moved since then. It points to an innate sense that the music can and should be more than just an accompaniment to wearing the right trainers, or what listening to the right producers says about you. It might now lie in the subconscious more than anywhere else, but it’s still there. And that’s good.
The number of producers still kicking out music which hits up all these things might not seem as large as it once did, but that’s probably because the pond is bigger now. Even so, there are still producers out there doing special stuff, music which lights up the right part of the brain. I’ve always liked the techno of Troels Baunbæk-Knudsen because aside from his increasingly unique ear for the sounds, his music still feels unbelievably pure; created with little regard for what anyone else is doing. What is special about his techno is that it sounds the way techno should but rarely does. Often hard but never harsh, it’s melodic and funky in the way you always thought techno should be – alien and cyborg like, with the human elements not so much discarded but elevated and changed, incorporated into a larger, sharpened whole until the ghost becomes the machine.
Sockets was the first Ctrls tune I remember hearing, and something in my brain was stretched when it swung into life. It remains one of Baunbæk-Knudsen’s best moments, and epitomises, I think, one of the only real markers of a true classic – it sounds and feels familiar, like you’ve heard it before even though you really, completely haven’t. And it’s instantly recognizable; a rain dance belonging to a tribe of robots lost in a forest of metal shards, and powered by grooves tightened with strangely, impossibly, precise geometry.
A true underground classic, one of very few in the modern era. In the way it simply flows outwards from its own ideas of what techno is, it reminds you that the underground is about a feeling, a mood, and a sense of being. No matter how little language tells the truth any more, you can’t fake the music.