Best Of The Represses September/October 2018

Yeah, I’ve been on holiday, and I’m not kidding when I tell you getting the motivation to write about music again has been a real pain. Still here we are so let’s see what we’ve got! A slim couple of months, looks like, but not as bad as it could have been. It’s probably going to be a little on the light side now until Christmas really raises its head. Oh well. Them’s the breaks. Here’s some class to beat back the lengthening nights.

Fastgraph: Systematic and ../../ – Klakson

While it may be easy to slag off the repress game there does at least seem to be an unspoken acknowledgement that there is an awful lot of music out there which deserves an extra few moments in the light. Electro has, all things considered, benefited more than most other genres from this mindset and it continues to bestow sounds upon us that were otherwise lost to the Hounds of Discogs.

Frank De Groodt has been back in the frame recently thanks to re-releases and new material under his excellent Sonar Base guise. For some of us, though, it’s his work as Fastgraph which reverberates as his definitive sonic statement. The two reissued EPs here, 2001’s Systematic, and 2002’s ../../ fill an interesting niche in the history of electro in the way that they both effortlessly create a sound which remains entirely their own. It would have been easy for Fastgraph – as a lot of producers did – to look to the dominant sonic signatures of the era for inspiration; after all,it was a world coming off the back of not only Detroit electro, but the cooler forms of Rotherian fuelled European electro-noir.

That’s not to say there aren’t touches, but they point more to a common ancestry than to homage or creative pilfering. In fact, what is most noticeable now having been able to listen to both in totality for the first time in a very long time, is the way that they feel very much like the forerunners of a lot of the more subtle thematic variations on the genre we have come to take almost for granted nowadays. There is as much kindred energy and commonality with the IDM tangled work-outs labels such as CPU release or the spidery forms of Arcanoid as there is with the way in which the likes of Le Car, Ectomorph, or Andreas Bolz would take the tropes and sounds of the genre and make it utterly, uniquely their own.

Of the two EPs, I would have to give Systematic the nod over ../../ as the better of the pair – although in terms of quality you would be hard pushed to get a cigarette paper between them; both are immensely satisfying records. What swings it for me is the way Systematic feels the more complete, the four tunes unified by a sense of groove and an articulate aural nous which allows a particular vibe and narrative to run from one end of the record to the other. 3Des with its souped up hip hops beats, liquid metal bass, and vacuum frozen grace is a tight scamper across an outer moon. Systematic itself is alien beauty, urgent and earnest and a tune which puts me very much in mind of Third Electric at the effervescent, introspective best.

../../ is certainly looser in construction, and a tab more experimental in execution. Emotionally and tonally it is probably more playful and open than Systematic even though it does quite hit the same crystalline highs. Even so, no one listening to a tune such as ../../ can surely come away without feeling some tug at their heart from the way in which the track pulls at your soul. Squid punches up the contrast and builds a moody, crackling beast of fuzz and 4/4s, lending the EP a very different feel to that which lulled you in to begin with.

Shout out to Klakson for bringing these two back from the freezer. Maybe if we’re very lucky we might get a repress of 2007’s Evasive Manoeuvres as well. I hope so; that’s a record which very much completes a special trilogy. Even if we aren’t, there is more than enough quality on display across these two reissues to ward off all the tech-house the winter can throw at you. Get buying.

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Electro Will Get You Through Times Of No Hope Better Than Hope Will Get You Through Times Of No Electro

Just sit down a minute and stop talking about Peggy Gau, The Aphex Twins, that Konstantin guy or whatever else is currently inhabiting the sordid and damp-ridden beachfront property that is your mind. Just hush a moment. Shut the hell up. That’s better.

It’s all shit, mates. All of it. Big room DJ’s who are spinning more lies than records, fat wads of cash circling their souls even as the final strands of their artistic integrity circle the plug hole; PR creatures who spend all their time trying to convince you that tech-house is, like vegetarian bacon, a tasty and viable alternative to the real thing; crowds of glo-stick wielding gonks who whap on about Burning-sodding-man and how 126 bpm is magically linked to the human heart beat; the swish, glistening, bawbags making a career out of who they know rather than what they know; and miserable old bastards in miserable old Transmat t-shirts who stand outside your favourite Twitter feeds raging impotently about it all like an ancient, incontinent hound dog barking in the middle of the night about a fox shitting in the garden. It’s all just shit.

Is Burning Man even a going concern anymore? Us ancient hound dogs have no idea.

See though, this is the thing: Out there, beyond the idiot parade of social media, the finger wagging fascist puritanism of populist politics, and the constant hum of substandard intellectualized excuses , are good things. There are good books. There are mountains and forests. There are deserts and oceans. There are curries. There are beers so cold that they freeze your throat on the hottest of days. There are dogs, and parrots, and bears, and manatees. There is electro.

I love electro. I always, always have. I can’t even remember first hearing it; so perfectly did it interface with my neural net it felt as if it had always been there. Only soul music comes close to eliciting the same response from me. I’ve mucked about with punk rock, and dallied with jungle. I’ve tussled with house and techno, but electro is the one I always come back to. Always.

Sometimes we need to kick ourselves a wee bit to bring the joy back. I’ve been doing that by listening to a huge chunk of electro recently, even more than normal. And I thought, for a change, I might just bash out a wee list of tunes that are doing the job on my jaded, fractured, heart. Maybe in the future I might do one of these about another of the major electronica food group. I might, or I might just do this again. None of these are in order – we’re not playing favourites here (well, not really); some are old – some are older than many of you probably are – and some are pretty much brand new. It’s obviously not an exhaustive list of tracks which I’m listening to just now, it’s just some words about some music. Nothing more. Sometimes that’s all we really need. Funny, isn’t it, how often we forget that. Let’s go!

Berverly Hills 808303: The American Lie (from the Dealers and Lies EP) – Reference Analogue Audio

You might not realise it, but acid electro is a bugger to do right. Often times it sounds as if the 303 has been drugged and dragged along for whatever sorry excuse for an adventure the sad producer has mistaken for a Grand Artistic Statement. This isn’t one of those occasions. This is acid electro done correctly. How can we tell? Because it’s a huge, godless slab of nasty, scabby music which’ll steal your wallet and spend every penny you have on drinks for the doyens of the mankiest bar in the mankiest port city it can find while you reel and weep in the gutter it left you in. Fucking yes.

Sekter.17: Communications Breakdown (from Exterminate. Populate. Procreate) – Twilight 76

Sekter.17 was an occasional side project, along with DJ Dick Nixon, of DJ Godfather who, back in the nineties, would occasionally take time out of his busy day job of writing incredibly fast tunes about ladies bottoms, shagging, and that sort of thing, to do something a bit less naughty. I’ve only got a couple of Sekter.17 EPs, but this one is a proper classic. And although every track in it can justifiably fight its way to the top of the pile, I’ve always had a thing for this one. Something about its ageless old-school style floats my boat. It’s also got a proper old-fashioned breakdown and dodgy robot voice that handily says ‘Breakdown! B,b,breakdown!’ during the breakdown just in case you weren’t sure.

Ovatow: A Thought (from In Loving Memory of Juvenile Ray) – Harbour City Sorrow

We get a lot of electro these days that either thinks its IDM circa 1991, or is receiving EU grant money to explore the greater depths of, uh, deepness. The problem is that a lot of it brings neither a tune or a groove to the party and lounges around on the one comfy sofa whilst wanging on about music with words you suspect it doesn’t really understand. This lovely tune is the opposite of all that. There isn’t really much to it but what there is really does draw a straight line from IDM to now, all while keeping a cheeky little groove boiling away under one of the simplest and most haunting melodies to appear in electro for years. A special sort of tune.

X-ile: I Wanna (from the I Wanna EP) – Direct Beat.

An all too short-lived project from LaToya Vaughn and Aux 88’s former manager Marnita Harris (I think, anyway…), X-ile produced the grand total of two EPs that I know of which is a real shame because both were absolutely belting. What made them stand out was the way they took technobass and simply slipped it a little to the side by simply adding a little more in the way of vocals than you tended to get on electro tracks back then. This is a genuine classic – slick, fast, and exhibiting an understanding of fluid funk that even their Detroit peers rarely came close to. The lyric might be suggestive, but they’re nowhere near as dirty as that strutting bass.

Go Nuclear: Machine Learning (from Descent Into Darkness/Machine Learning EP) – Bass Agenda

Go Nuclear has no where near enough material in circulation yet to make many big predictions about his future…oh, actually: that’s balls. Go Nuclear is operating up there at the top of the pile just now, along side Detroit’s Filthiest and a select handful of others. This is a great tune. It’s stark and busy, evoking memories of Aux 88, Audiotech and other gods of the genre without slipping down into the mud of homage. I’ve been listening to this a lot recently. You should too. It’s a perfect example of electro that understands how grooves and soul link together to create that almost mythic ‘deepness’ that many aspire too but few ever reach.

Keith Tucker: Brace Yourself (from the Brace Yourself double EP) – Electrocord

One of my very favourite tunes of all time. I thought I had lost my copy of this until I recently found it hiding in the wrong sleeve – Your parents were right, kiddies! LOOK AFTER YOUR RECORDS! Every bloody thing about Brace Yourself screams electro; the robotic, experiment recording vocals, the perfect, tight, and utterly pared down beats, and the metronomic bass which kicks you in the heart and feet with every bar. There is no flab, nothing that does not need to be there. This is a flash of pure electro genius whipping out across the empty void.

Drexciya: Andreaen Sand Dunes (from Neptune’s Lair) – Tresor

Every single day brings a different answer to the question ‘what’s my favourite Drexciya track?’ Today it’s this beauty. Andreaen Sand Dunes is a track I’ve been listening to a lot recently for some reason, possibly because it seems to be the one bona-fide Drexciyan classic which resides in the ‘oh yeah! That one!’ pile. I don’t know why that is. This is a stunning tune, and a perfect summation of everything that is good about Drexciya; almost zen like in its calmness, its like diving into a pool of crystal clear, freezing, mountain water on a hot summer’s day.

Ttrax: Weekend (from Technobass: The Mission) – Direct Beat

I’ve never understood why there are so few electro tunes with proper vocal. I mean, yeah, there are plenty with wonky vocoder bits, and a few which untilise snippets of other types of vox. But actual songs? Rarer than an EDM star with credibility. This is one of the few I have and, thank God, it’s a cracker. I’ve written about it before so if you want something more in depth you can look it up. It’s a simple message, but it chimes with something in all of us, something that used to be a reason for getting through the week (still is, if you’re not an old bastard like me). That simple yearning for Friday night, coupled here to a slick, wide angled, funk from Aux 88’s Tommy Tucker, adds together to a devastatingly tight and eternally truthful call to arms.

Anthony Shakir: Mood Swing (from Mood Music For The Moody) – Frictional

At the end of all this, long after the sun swells up and eats its children, after the last black hole has bled itself away through a billion frequencies, and even after the last of the stars blink out, and heat death steals the universe of its last breath, Anthony Shakir will still be thought of as one of the greatest talents of any era to emerge from Detroit. Any era. This is an outrageously serious piece of electro – even more so because it is from an artist who is not especially known for it. Stark, poignant and utterly captivating, it exists purely in that almost invisible point where dreams, hope, and reality come together to create life. A master class, make no mistake.

Mor Elian: Xeric Zula (from Persona Non Grata) – Hypercolour

Persona Non Grata was one of those rarest of beasts – a record which everyone said was great but was probably even better than that. I held out for a while but once I heard it I was completely sold. The title track is probably the most immediately accessible tune on it, but I gradually came to prefer this over Persona Non Grata’s cosmic electro. Something about Xeric Zula continues to give long after you’ve heard it for the hundredth time; harder than you expect, it’s a symphony of broken machines and rogue electronic carefully shepherded into an endless spiral of slowly evolving funk. It’s like an AI reaching for sentience and developing its own hi-tech soul. Mad Mike would be proud, and I can think of no higher praise.

Best Of The Represses – August 2018

In which the Scribe pisses and moans about things which are – mostly – not your fault, gets annoyed at the way the Glasgow/Turkish bath level humidity is making his arms stick to the desk as he tries to write, leading to an unpleasant variant of Skibberene, and debates with himself the correct way to ignore Aphex Twin advertising campaigns. One of these things, dear eletronichildren, is true. Or perhaps none of them. Read on to find out!

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (R&S)

While a small and boring section of the world continues to confuse an Aphex Twin marketing campaign with something tangible, interesting, and – you know – musical ahead of the piss-taking maestro’s newest album, R&S have sneakily put out another repress of his d├ębut, the still wonderful Selected Ambient Works 85-92. Ordinarily I probably wouldn’t cover this here (or at all), not least because I’ve a strange feeling that I’ve already written about a previous incarnation in BoTR but mostly because I assume that pretty much everyone who wants a copy already has it. I’ve got about 4 spread across different formats, including the brick-like cassette album and a CD that long ago did it’s very best to disprove the notion that the format was somehow indestructible.

So, why am I talking about it now? Well, quite aside from the fact it still contains a selection of tunes that defy any sort of easy categorisation, it’s a reminder that there was actually a time when the Aphex Twin wasn’t about the myth. Selected Ambient Works… is from an era before the stories of him living in a bank vault, before the urban legends of him terrorizing Cornish B roads in an armoured car, before he achieved an admirable level of anonymity through the creation of a massive media mirage which reflected not what he was but what everyone wanted him to be. That was a clever move, no mistake, but the knock on has long been the near impossibility of discussing the actual Aphex Twin music in a sane and useful manner.

Which is a shame because his work has often been more than good enough to do its thing without any of the concomitant bollocks, although I’ve always had a suspicion that James’ Aphex Twin music is the price he pays in order to work on other stuff free from it being dissected by tits like me. But then, I reckon at any given time half the one-off white label records by a ‘unknown artist’ are probably him on the sly so what do I know.

Look, you know the record as well as I do. Parts of it are truly beautiful, parts are alien hymns blasted out towards earth, across light years and infinite frequencies, a billion years ago, and parts are like dangerous shifting sands always ready to suck you down the moment you think you’re on solid ground. Every track on it still sounds utterly timeless because even when it was released it didn’t sound of its time. If you forced me to choose just one tune, I’d have to go for the languid, captivating, and soul stealing Ageispolis as my choice. Those slowly unfurling breaks, that bass….that bass….Somehow, when you’re talking about Selected Ambient Works, the word ‘classic’ seems far too small.

Spesimen – Infocalypse Era (Frustrated Funk)

Even veteran electro fans have glaring gaps in our collections, and for me that is found where the Spesimen records should be. Partly this is down to the fact that there were never more than a handful of releases; a slim four records released between 1996 and 2003. Even worse, they’ve now landed in that Discogs category of pricing that, while not entirely unaffordable, are pricey enough that you don’t want to throw good money at the vagaries of Discg-sharks grading. For a long time the only one that was easy to find was 2003’s Archaeology – and even then it was only because Pomelo Records have been selling the digital version on their Bandcamp.

Since then it was pretty much all quiet until Spesimen quite unexpectedly turned up a couple of years ago with a couple of tracks on a split EP on Libertine. While it’s probably harsh to describe them as a disappointment, they certainly paled in comparison to the expectation that had been building up for the best part of 15 years. And so we settled down and counted our pennies in case a decent price appeared on Discogs.

Well, thank God for Frustrated Funk, who have delved into the Spesimen back catalogue for this new release. First thing to state is that the label have gone down a route I’m not usually overly excited about, to wit: the picking and choosing of tunes from different EPs rather than just re-releasing the damn thing the way nature intended. However, I’m willing to overlook it this time because the treasures here are worth it, and I suspect there may be mitigating circumstances.

Infocalypse Era, then, takes tunes from the first two Spesimen records, which were both originally released on their own label, Infocalypse. From the debut release, 1996’s The Pupae EP, we have PSIO and Harmonik Science, and from 1998’s The Larval Stage EP we get Satellite and Astrologer. All four are good choices – no, they’re great choices – but it leaves a lot of material behind, especially from the larger second EP. It may be our old enemy, the licence issue. It usually is. But I suspect a more prosaic and, unfortunately, terminal reason: The tunes on my copy are intermittently distorted (and not in a good way) as if the record is filthy or I’m playing them through a dirty needle. The fact is the deck and needle are fine, and the record is in perfect condition. I wonder, therefore, whether the reason for the cull is simply that the original tapes or DATS are too badly degraded for any other tracks to be included. I hope I’m wrong and that my copy is just a shite press, and I pray that there is another volume on its way. But if there isn’t I’ll give thanks for what we have.

And boy do we have a treat. This is wonderful electro that sidesteps all of the prevailing tastes of the era. This is neither technobass, nor the smoother, darker, European electro-noir. It’s not Dutch squatter bangers, nor is it cheeky, cheesy, old-school fizzers.

The music doesn’t exist in a vacuum though, and there are kindred spirits sharing Spesimen’s nebula. Most obviously, perhaps, the music of Andreas Bolz, particularly in his Third Electric partnership with Gregor Luttermann, shares a similar vibe. Ectomorph’s cold funk also echoes with a common interest in precision yet abstracted grooves. And yet, Spesimen’s box of tricks seems to draw from another source, an endless well of zero-point energy constantly feeding a particularly compelling funk, and powering the strangely angular breaks into a realm where experimentalism and the commonplace become one and the same.

Regardless of my personal feelings about the lack of the other tracks, this is a superb release, and all the better for being entirely unexpected. Lose yourself in Satellites oddball, occult arms, glide above a gravity well on Astrologer’s broad back, and bounce across the surface of a strange, impossible, world with the utterly irrepressible PSIO at your side. One of the cleverest, most important, and stand out represses we’re likely to get this or any other year. Buy on sight.

Reviews Ahoy! Dead Sound – This Is Human (Null+Void Recordings); CEM3340 – Perfect Stranger (Lunar Orbiter Program)

CEM3340 – Perfect Stranger (Lunar Orbiter Program)

A first album for the shadowy electro act lands on Lunar Orbiter Program, brining with it a collection of tunes that burn through the harsher parts of the genre’s last 20-odd years without offering much new information to that which you might have gleaned from the two previous EPs. The blend of electro culled from the harder end of the spectrum, and run through a heavier lo-fi take on the basic sound than we usually hear in the genre, is immediately pleasing. As are CEM 3340’s grooves, many of which recall the likes of old-schoolers such as Posatronix and similar Detroit technobass heroes, as well as newer acts like Go Nuclear and Detroit’s Filthiest, in their floor shattering simplicity and movement. I’ve spoken before about the suspicion that the music is a little too perfect, a little too designed to push the buttons of old bastards like me, but I’ve mostly made my peace with that. When the tunes are as solid as this, who cares about anything other than the end result?

The breakbeat tracks here are every bit as grimy and thrilling as you would expect. Tunes like Shadow Of A Blond, and Story Of An Egyptian Man, are big hitters; thick bass and crunching beats; melodic touches serve to accent the pumping rhythms. It’s a template that works well throughout, even if it is occasionally a little short on true invention. This mix of new school methodology and old school kicks finds its peak on the relentlessly wriggling I Can’t Get Wrong where a low slung bass holds court and the razor-edged pads hold you at knife point.

When the album deviates from the breaks, it moves onto less certain ground. Jammin’ In The Dark, and Platform Discovery pitch themselves towards the more Body Music end of the proceedings and lack the fizzing energy which make the pure electro hitters so fine. Tormented Man struggles under a thick bass that isn’t nearly as precise as it needs to be for the task at hand, and the tune ends up orbiting the sand-blasted landscape of the sort of wonky, vageuely weird techno that flickered briefly in the 90s. Not a bad tune, just underwhelming compared to the high promise elsewhere in the album.

Dead Sound – This Is Human (Null+Void Recordings)

Dead Sound’s previous work has mostly been found in the world of harder techno, and scattered across a host of like-minded labels such as Perc Trax, Gynoid, and DSNT, but this first release on Null+Void reveals a far more rounded and looser sound. While it’s interesting to see what established electro acts take from elsewhere, we don’t really tend to talk about what other genres take from us; This Is Human provides some interesting insights to that conversation.

Of course, it’s not all electro, and the one straight-up techno piece, title track This Is Human is a fine, borderline-sleazy knockabout replete with a frayed, gurning, vibe which lollops pleasingly in subterranean shadows. Neither builder nor peaktime, it simply bounces back and forth, happy just to entertain itself. It’s a lot of fun, and there seems to be less and less tunes we can say that about these days.

From the point of view of our usual geekiness, though, it’s the other tracks which offer something closer to home. First Line is both the most serious and the most evocative. Perhaps it’s the way it skirts around the edge of a loose take on IDM, but it feels like a gateway rather than the journey itself. Having said that, there is something about its slow build and it’s retrained box of sounds and tricks which emphasises a particularly anxious tautness that manages to both energise the track and pick up the slack left by the underweight beats.

I Want You feels at first as if it should be flickering around the same neighbourhood as First Line, but instead it pulls at loose threads of classic electro and weaves them into new fabrics with which to dress up a tight, noirish, mover. This is a great tune, sounding as it does like the theme from some bleak Scandinavian thriller about murderous shenanigans set against a high-tech back story. Luckily, it doesn’t overdo the vibe, and locks it all down with some fine, very low slung grooves. Fair, finally, goes for broke, dragging in something of This Is Human’s joyful wobble with a rolling breakbeat and coming out at the daylight end with a smile on its huge, daft face. And, like the rest of the EP, what it might lack in a bona fide stand out moment, it makes up for with simple and effective funk.

The Long Player – Looking Back At Underground Resistance’s Interstellar Fugitives.

It can be difficult, in this internet saturated era, to remember a time when finding new music wasn’t always easy. Great tunes heard in the club could all to easily vanish into the ether without you ever knowing who they were or even what they were called. DJ’s, in a time of white labels, were not always very forthcoming about what they were playing, and although a good record shop could sometimes help to cut through the thick smog of confusion, disinterest, and elitism, even their knowledge could be down to the mercy of the occasional savant-like gonk with an encyclopaedic understanding of music.

Compilation albums offered a way for the average idiot to join the dots and connect the differing strands until something suggestive of a complete picture began to emerge from the fuzz. At their most basic a comp was simply a collection of tunes, often the bigger numbers that you had probably heard a million times. In the very early days, house compilations – acid ones especially, for some reason – were almost identical; the same tracks, the same artists appearing over and over with little regard to anything other than cashing in on a particular vibe. At their best, though, they illuminated not only the artists but the labels too, and provided a portal to a larger world. They were instructive as much as entertaining. And throughout the nineties, as the various scenes and genres developed so did the role of the compilation. They moved on from simply being a bunch of tunes brought together on the same records and became something of an artform in themselves.

Underground Resistance’s Interstellar Fugitives album took this to a new level entirely. In its most immediate form, Interstellar Fugitives was a sampler of the various talents who had hooked up with both the band and the label itself over the years, and from that simplistic point of view it can be seen as a jumping-on point, a place for those new to UR to get themselves initiated into what the label was all about. The truth, however, was a little bit more complex.

First released in 1998, Interstellar Fugitives was perhaps the definitive document of an electronic phenomenon then at the height of both their importance and powers. There had been other compilations on the label before: 1992’s Revolution For Change had brought together a number of explosive tunes by the original Banks-Mills-Hood line up that still holds up to the test of time even though its more British/European rave energy now infuses the collection with the retrospective air of a world long vanished. 1995’s Electronic Warfare – built around the fire-starting call to arms of the title track and expanding out into a stellar remix EP (and a later reissue which included the peerless X2 by Banks’ Electric Soul guise) – was a true landmark of nineties electro and technobass; a double EP which explored not only UR’s fury but their more playful and soulful side.

What set Interstellar Fugitives apart from those other releases was the way it brought several important members of the UR into the light. While Mike Banks had always been the driving force of the outfit – even in the days of Jeff Mills and Robert Hood – the fact was that it had always been a collective, a family of like-minded individuals who each brought something unique to the music and to the label. Interstellar Fugitives afforded an opportunity for many of us of to better get to know some of the other members.

Several of them needed little in the way of introduction. By the time of the album’s release Drexciya were every bit as big and important as UR, perhaps more so. James Pennington AKA Suburban Knight was, like Banks, a brilliant producer whose career straddled Detroit techno’s first and second waves. His first release, The Groove, having arrived on Derrick May’s Transmat back in 1987. Others such as Gerald Mitchel were long time Banks collaborators, and an important member of the collective, particularly in a live setting. DJ Rolando, UR’s tour DJ (amongst other things) would go on to have a major breakout hit the following year with Jaguar – a tune that, for a variety of reasons, achieved a certain notoriety (but that’s a story for another time). He would also go on to mastermind another important UR document – the mix CD The Aztec Mystic Mix.

Even the other artists, those who are not perhaps as ‘box office’ as those listed above, are not here to make up numbers. Marc Floyd, operating here as Chaos, is a real great of Detroit technobass, with a slew of essential releases across a number of labels. Chuck Gibson remains a fairly low-key name, but here, as Perception, his addition to the line up adds something thrillingly different and unexpected.

This was more than just a collection of artists. This was UR opening the door on their family, on their community. In fact, this is probably one of Interstellar Fugitives‘ most important factors. Since their inception, Underground Resistance had been about far more than just the music, and their sense of community was one rooted in Detroit’s inner city: a real place, with real people, and real lives. Often across various electronic scenes the concept of community is one which is virtually meaningless. It frequently has no purchase beyond the immediate, and no sense of itself beyond a rather banal and often fairly selfish connection between a handful of friends or like-minded individuals. With Underground Resistance though it was far more than that; it was the foundation of their music, the guiding hand which shaped their philosophy and sound. It’s a reflection of black, inner city communities, their lives and their struggles; it’s about supplying school bags and books to kids; it’s about positivity and strength; It’s music as a form of direct action.

All this fed into the sense of militant-ism which UR remain known for, and shaped their outward image: the bandanna and face masks, the real personas anonymous behind a carefully created image of underground techno warrior-monks fighting a guerilla war against a dangerous and shadowy establishment. Some of it can also be seen in the vistas of Drexciya’s expansive afro-futurism – an entire universe of myths and legends and stories which fed back and forth into the music. But where Drexciya’s world view was perhaps always as subversive as that of UR, it also seemed less concerned with the day-to-day; it promised a utopia of sorts. UR promised no such thing. It was far more direct, the sense of direct action dialled up. In certain ways it was a mirror of what Public Enemy had done a decade before, except here the politics were accentuated with an even stronger visual identity which tied in perfectly with the various guerilla and science fiction motifs.

On Interstellar Fugitives this manifesto was underscored in the cover art itself, particularly on the rear panel where Chuck Gibson’s artwork rendered the contributors along those very strong, strident, and militaristic lines. He took the artists and recreated them in a way that was reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoon superheroes – dangerous but honourable men fighting for something larger than themselves. The accompanying text reads like the charge sheets from the forces of darkness bent of stopping them. Mike Banks becomes one of the ‘shadow warriors (special forces); Drexciya become UR’s ‘aquatic assault unit’ skilled in ‘beach head preparations’. Much of it is tongue-in-cheek; often playful, but in a way that never detracts from the seriousness which underpins every conceit.

Of course, none of this would matter if the music on Interstellar Fugitives failed to live up to the high standards expected of it, but it does so with ease. While later revisions would add tracks, remove others, the original 1998 press of twelve tracks perhaps remains the definitive document of the Underground Resistance collective at their high water mark. Although each track explores differing forms of Detroit techno and electro, as well as drifting out into other, less easily defined areas, and all make great work of individual aesthetics, every one of them echoes with a shared, almost communal ethos and dedication to a particular approach.

At the album’s heart is a deep, intuitive reinterpretation of soul music. And while it might not always be evident, it shouldn’t really be surprising. Banks’ interests in soul, and gospel, had long been part of his personal musical canon. UR’s The Turning Point, released a year earlier in 1997 had taken soul, funk, and gospel as the record’s cornerstones, and Banks’ had reinvented them for the techno age. Where others had similarly delved into these genre’s riches, The Turning Point altered their basic DNA, and emphasised the way their kindred energies had a role in the development of Detroit music. Soul, in particular, remains one of Detroit’s greatest gifts to the world, but it was one where it’s obvious links with techno often remained hidden away and unremarked upon. On Interstellar Fugitives the sound of soul is altered beyond almost all recognition (its most noticeable appearance, if it can even be called that, lies on an uncredited Al Green sample within the wandering funk of Gerald Mitchell’s Soulsaver), but the meaning, that of emotion, place, and humanity, is at the album’s very centre. It informs every groove, every bassline. It provides the futuristic machine-funk with a tangible and solid essence. It understands that soul is both a physical music as much as a spiritual experience.

Perhaps in keeping with this, the music on Interstellar Fugitives remains accessible and welcoming, which is no mean feat considering the differing moods and tempos spread across the album’s six sides. The biggest tunes, Banks’ own Moor Horsemen On Bolorus 5, and Nanny Town, are hard, sinewy, blast of electro which stomp in at 150 and 155 BPM respectively. Yet it is a testament to their craft that neither feels as fast as that. While they both shift themselves at velocities which melt flesh, they refuse to fall into the trap of believing that faster is heavier. Both are strengthened by a lightness of touch, and by making much of a broiling funk which deftly draws you away from their weight. Moor Horsemen… in particular weaves elements of otherness into its explosive movement, the whip-like melody of African flute dousing everything with atmosphere until the tune develops its own narrative; it feels like your witnessing the terrible majesty of a Maghreban sandstorm rising above the Detroit skyline.

In fact, these two tunes feel like outliers against the rest of the material; as big and important as both of them are, they feel almost like book ends. An important role, for sure, and one which serves to emphasise important facets of the collectives work, but their fury, as playful and deceptively warm as it might be, serves to guard the deeper explorations contained elsewhere.

These deeper tunes, in particular the trinity formed from Aztec Mystic’s Mi Raza, Perception’s Mirage, and Andre Holland’s Unabomber, are subtle variations on the central theme. Mi Raza is the most open of the three; a twisting, rolling exploration of next generation funk as much as it is tight, spiky electro, it works its magic through a careful emphasis on a particularly un-electronic sense of movement. The beats are little more than sketches, but they echo something of the straight ahead swing of far earlier Motown music, and these ghostly memories drive a tune which angles itself towards a larger understanding of where electronic music is able to go. In 1998, as with so many of the tracks on the record, it sounded like the antithesis of contemporary techno, being less interested with cutting itself down to appease the constraints of predominately club based music, determined instead to explore the extreme edges of what a musical form based in both physicality and sound could be. Mirage is a similar case, but it lacks much of Mi Raza’s innate warmth. It is far more compressed; rain-swept and colder, it builds itself around swirling pads and Gibson’s ethereal vocals and slowly grows in tight, righteous rage. Unabomber barely moves. It’s a whisper on the edge of night, and it is interesting now to see its shadow across a number of modern records. Its sense of place and understanding of shade and contrast is a forerunner of the angry experimentalism of the likes of Vatican Shadow.

Drexciya’s entry, the wobbling Aquatacizem is perhaps the only tune on the album that feels out-of-place. There is something about it that lacks the natural soulfulness of the other. I’ve wondered before whether this is perhaps down to a clash of philosophy, that Drexciya’s world view was already sufficiently different to that of UR for it to really make sense to have Aquatacizem included here. Musically, it’s a strange piece – pitched somewhere between electro and ambient, and ending up sounding like an abstract of both. In some ways, it’s barely there, haunting the edges of the communal experience as it does. It is rare for Drexciyan material to crop up outside of their own records, and this suggests reasons as to why that might be.

At the album’s heart though is one of the very finest tunes to emerge from Detroit in any era. Marc Floyd’s work as Chaos has always been something for the heads more than for general consumption. His electro is shot through with a strong and profound psychedelic colouring; the tones and textures helping to create something within the genre which remains almost unique. Later releases, such as Dot Dot Dash on Metroplex, and The Safety Is Off, would emphasise this to an even greater extent. Dot Dot Dash especially is a high point for Detroit electro, and is fascinating for the way it harks back to a time when the music was allowed to be playful and full of fun and charm.

Afrogermanic may not emphasise such things in the same way, but isn’t required to. The title sets its stall out perfectly, and is perhaps a reference to Juan Atkins’ old maxim that techno is the music you would get if Kraftwerk and George Clinton were trapped in a lift together. What makes Afrogermanic so special is it is neither of these, and yet it draws heavily on both traditions. Beyond that it falls in a shadowy hinterland between electro and techno – a place where the conceits of genre can forgotten and room made for the actual point of the tune. Its closest sonic kin is not to be found in the music of Mike Banks, or any of the (at the time) other members of UR, but in that of the former member Robert Hood. While sonically Afrogermanic is very, very different from Hoods stripped down minimalist techno, it has exactly the same approach. Afrogermanic has been pared away until all that is truly left is the funk and the vocals, resulting in a track which is simply a burst of soul upon a snarling groove. it is tight and it is insane. And it is the absolute distillation of everything Interstellar Fugitives is about.

UR would release a follow-up to Interstellar Fugitives a few years later. While Interstellar Fugitives 2 – The Destruction Of Order has many great tunes scattered across its vast 2 CD form it is a very different creature. Released originally (I think) for the Japanese market it is far closer to a traditional label sampler. What it does show clearly though, is that the Underground Resistance of the new millennium was not the same as in the nineties. It no longer felt as tight a collective as it once did, and the record (or CD in this case) no longer has that documentary feel. Neither does it feel like a manifesto. Its musical remit is broader, perhaps, but the lack of clear focus, of a unifying and central ethos means that it is almost incapable of reaching the same heights.

This is perhaps unavoidable. The nineties were a high point not only for Underground Resistance but for Detroit techno. While both label and genre have done remarkable things since then, you can never really go back to the glory days – at least not the same ones. Not only do things change, but so do our reactions to them. There has been a growing sense over the last few years that UR’s earnestness, their values, and their music do not quite fit in with a scene that seems increasingly narcissistic and self-absorbed, that the very things which once made them so incredibly important now render them a little beyond the pale and of-their-time. Maybe so, but I think anyone with an eye on the ways of this world can sense that maybe, just maybe, some of these values and ideas might be about to have their place again. Interstellar Fugitives they might be, but if ever we needed a dose of righteous electronic fury, it’s right now. What better place to start with the manifesto, and the soundtrack, to a revolution of change?