Aux 88 – Bass Magnetic (Direct Beat Classics)
The announcement back in the Autumn that Aux 88’s Tommy Hamilton and Keith Tucker were launching Direct Beat Classics with the intention of repressing some of the treasures from Direct Beat’s back catalogue was greeted in Pattern Burst Towers with a level of excitement that is normally kept for winning the lottery. Whether the new label was a long-term plan or something that grew quickly from necessity is, like worries of license hell, suddenly unimportant, for the first of these long-awaited reissues is upon us, and it’s a bloody good choice of starting point too.
I’ll admit something up front: I was particularly excited to find out Bass Magnetic was to be the first one out of the gate. I’ve never owned a copy of it. Originally released in 1994, I came to them slightly too late to pick it up, and by the time I realised how much I wanted it, copies were pretty much impossible to find. While I’ve spent plenty of time over the last two or three years convincing myself to pay over-the-odds for it from Discogs, something at the back of my mind suggested I waited. I’m glad I did.
Bass Magnetic, Aux 88’s second release, was a real statement of intent, one that utilised the 8 tracks to begin to codify not only the duo’s own sound, but also that which would quickly become known as techno bass, that blend of old-school electro, Miami bass, and techno, which would become such a defining factor for Detroit’s second wave. There were, of course, others who did techno bass, but Aux 88 were pretty much the definitive act, and their influence hangs over countless producers in the same way as that of their peers, Drexciya, even if it is not quite so apparent just now in a revitalized electro genre where there isn’t always such a focus on the raw groove.
And at heart, beyond everything else it does, Bass Magnetic is a collection of grooves. Whether it’s the hot, heavy, shuffle of Fly By Night, or the stalking tightness of Let’s Dance, every element is turned towards creating movement. Perhaps because of that necessity, the tunes themselves are stark and paired down – certainly in contrast to the swelling sound scapes that are to be found in a lot of modern electro – but there are still traces of something else, most noticeably of Detroit’s own relatively recent past. Model 500’s role in the evolution of the sound is apparent in many places, particularly on Time Space and Technology where it floods the tough jams with the glimmer of cosmic lighting.
This mix of past and future – in itself an important hallmark of all Detroit techno – runs like a river through Bass Magnetic but it never holds the music back from forming its own meaning, or stops it from pushing onwards to become an important stop, in its own right, in the city’s musical journey. It isn’t always a perfect record. Occasionally there is a sense of finding its feet, as if still forming the sound; here and there the beats echo into repetition as the soul and the groove don’t quite come together. Elsewhere, now and again, the ideas on offer drift into something a little one-dimensional, as if waiting for a missing element to be introduced.
There are people who think that, in terms of definitive statements, it’s 1996’s Is It Man Or Machine? which really nailed things down. And there is a lot of merit in that, but it was also, in some ways, the start of a period when the Aux 88 sound began to be refined to the point where further invention was rare. On Bass Magnetic there is a looser vibe, the beats less crisply executed. There is the sense of a band following different paths just to see where they go. Bass Magnetic, the tune itself, is certainly a premonition of later material, but its evocation of classic electro was straighter, less directly fuelled by Miami and Detroit. The quite frankly marvellous Sonic Boom, a stand out track in an already ridiculously good album, displays a sense of deep, joyous, funk-abandon that Aux 88 didn’t really approach again. It feels the odd one out, not because of its quality, but the way in which it feels closer to the energies of acid or even rave than technobass. It is a pure hit of good time accelerant, wobbly and all-embracing.
To anyone reared only on the electro of the last couple of seasons Bass Magnetic will probably be a slight shock with its direct and relatively austere execution. Even those of us who remember it from before might have our ears reopened, and be reminded that it’s this very directness that made Aux 88 such an amazing prospect. It’s electro with no quarters given, existing purely as a device for causing panic and delight on a packed dance floor, and quietly (actually, no, not quietly at all) reinventing the genre, setting it on a course with the future by taking the best bits of what had come before and adding in something new. Very few records are really deserving of being called a classic, but that it what Bass Magnetic is. An absolute treasure which sets the bar high for the rest of 2018.