Although it may have become fashionable in the later years of the 21st century’s opening decade to slate Richie Hawtin’s trilogy of mix CDs, the Decks & Effects series, anyone not suffering from virulent Cool-Kid syndrome would have to admit that, for all their supposed faults, they provided an interesting and useful snapshot of electronic music over the course of a decade, showing where it had been and where it was going, and indicating the massive changes that were beginning to alter how we perceive DJing.
Although none of the three can really be thought of as a ‘live experience’ that really shouldn’t be used as a complaint. Mix CDs have often attempted to provide something different to what we find in a club on a Friday or Saturday night. From the easily forgotten details such as licensing of tracks which can have a profound influence over the DJ choices and the overall flow of the mix, to the use of studio equipment and editing, to a simple desire to explore a different facet of the music, mix CDs are an end-point of sorts, a genre of their own almost, where the DJ is given the room to create an ideal vision of what the music is and how it works.
Even so, of the three Hawtin mixes, my favourite remains the very first one, the original Decks, EFX & 909 which first came out in 1999 and felt less separated from the common DJ experience than the other two did. While both Transitions and Closer To The Edit are ear opening from a technical perspective, essentially using fragments and elements of the original music to create a new whole, neither have the immediacy and vitality that the first one has. Where the second to are very much ‘listening’ records, the first still retained something of the physicality and immediacy of the club. You could stick it on an Ipod, go to the gym and sweat to it. The others may move you, but the first got you moving.
It isn’t just that which keeps it in my top spot, it’s the music as well. The later additions to the series increasingly documented the changes which were filtering out from minimal techno’s ground zero in Berlin, mixed in with bits of dub and the harder edge of the European scene, but the first remained more recognizable to those of us kicking around in the nineties: lots of Jeff Mills, some Surgeon, Pacou, and Baby Ford. It wasn’t in fact, a million miles away from the standard playlists of countless residents back then who were banging out the tunes every weekend.
I had heard probably heard Road To Rio a few times in passing before I found it on DE9. It was that sort of tune, and a paragon of the sort of track which became later known – somewhat dismissively – as the loopy banger. Techno was full of it at that time. What made Road To Rio different though was that it was a beautifully pulsing number, rich with little tribal touches that accented the groove and propelled it outwards in a way most others of the type could barely aspire to. Far from dumping a few functional elements on you over and over again, it coloured them in, and mounted them cleverly, getting the maximum out of the tools available. It contained a similar energy to that which informed Robert Hood’s earliest Floorplan excursions, and for a while, catching it in clubs, I assumed it was possibly the same producer. It wasn’t.
The artist was a guy called Arthur Smith, somebody who deserves to be very well-known in the wider history of British techno but isn’t. He’s always seemed happier behind the scenes. His best known work as a creator of electronic music continues to be the Santos Rodriguez guise, and his Grain material (also appearing on the mix), but his output has always been limited. Despite that, he’s had a major role in modern music far beyond the confines of techno. He had a big hand in the creation of dubstep, has involved himself in garage, and has written for, and produced some of the biggest names in music. Seriously, go check out his Discogs page.
Anyway. I don’t have any clever way of bringing it all together here, nor do I have any major point to make. I kinda screwed that up, huh? I’m really tired and want to eat some food. So go and listen to the tune. Cheers.