Like most people my tastes have changed over the years, often rolling from one extreme to another as experiences have washed over me. There are stacks of records here that I once would have thought of as some of the best music ever made, timeless examples of everything I thought was good in electronic music and other genres but now just sound tired and frayed, dated by the passing years, emptied and discarded like bottles of wine enjoyed long ago.
There were brief infatuations: various forms of rock and jazz I was momentarily obsessed by before quickly becoming bored; ambient records which once felt like indescribably beautiful sonic paintings which now sound like yawns timestretched across infinity; IDM tunes which soon dulled through their cleverness and lack of anything approaching passion or soul. There’s a lot of stuff in that pile. I really should get rid of some of it. I know I won’t. It’s as much a part of my musical upbringing as everything else.
There are, however, some things which I tired of but have found myself recently swinging back to. There was a long period where the idea of listening to crumbly acid techno wouldn’t have gone down well. It had been one of the staples when I was getting into all this for the first time. For what seemed an age it was everywhere; every club felt as if it was pulsing with this stuff and I slowly came to hate it. Not because of its popularity, but because, like weeds, it choked out every other sound. A little later the same thing happened with ghetto house. What was, at first, a thrillingly alien and explosive change of direction soon became the new and boring normal, and it reinforced a lesson learned – familiarity breeds contempt, and over-familiarity murders scenes. In both cases I’ve slowly returned to them, feeling sheepish but knowing that the new space around them has allowed them to shine once again.
At one point I found myself disliking fast, banging techno. Everything seemed to blur together into a beige mash where only the loudest, most strident, and frequently the most boring elements, made it through into your conciousness. I began to seek out slower music, a lot of deeper house and lush electronica. At first it was a pleasant and interesting diversion, but it couldn’t really hold my attention. Of course, the problem wasn’t really the music; having gorged myself on it for years I couldn’t stuff any more into my ears. Something had to give.
Yet faster, harder music is something I’ve also drifted back to. I think the surrounding tastes for acrid myths of deepness, coupled with a harsher world to the one I remember from even a few years back has found me seeking out something more visceral. Some people turn to sedative music when everything sharpens. I don’t. I’m not someone who dips into a Sunday reverie of gentle, good time-ish tunes.; too light a touch has always irritated my skin. Part of it is that I don’t think I’ve ever looked towards music for chills. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to, but I can’t really detach the music from the obsession long enough to reach that cloudy passivity. I tend to only relax when I’m utterly immersed in something, anything, be it music or reading or writing. It’s a kink in my particular make up, and I’m sure that it’s unhealthy, but I don’t care: it’s mine.
My rediscovery of Space DJz’ Lights awoke all kinds of competing emotions, as this was a tune I really did obsess over for a long time. I was already aware of Space DJz when the EP was released on Soma back in 1996, mainly because Jamie Bissmire was a name I’d followed for a while because of his work as part of Bandulu, one of the first non Detroit techno acts I really loved. The work he did with Ben Long was a different creation from Bandulu; closer to a prime time burst of speed and colour, but with enough shadows playing across the surface to provide the all important contrasts.
I used to spend entire afternoons playing Lights, using it as the basis of a mix, dragging it for hours in an out of dozens of other records. I found an old practice tape not long ago, with moments of Lights scattered across the whole 90 minutes, like a recurring motif in a long classical work. Sometimes it was a few seconds, just long enough to dip out of one tune and cue the next up, other times it was long minutes, flowing across the tape and marshalling everything else.
Lights is still a paragon of faster techno. It’s just about the perfect example. Hard techno often cuts in links with both soul and groove, but Lights is all about both. The speed of the tune – and at about 140 BPM it certainly sails along – tenses everything else; the pure born flutter and flurry of the Detroit-ish melodies, the touches of Spastik style percussion, and that strange little bass which is at once so neutral yet controls and dominates the light speed funk.
It’s a reminder that soulfulness in music doesn’t tend to come from conventional approaches, from jazzy touches and minor chords. Often, it’s the outliers which provide the real soul, and only reveal exactly how soulful when you let them get right into your face, and right under your skin. It’s also a reminder that while tastes change obsessions rarely do. The trick is to make sure they’re worth it.