The Long Player – Jeff Mills: Live At The Liquid Room

Now that we have access to almost every bit of music ever made, in countless different forms, it can be difficult to remember how important ideas like mix CDs once were. Although they are still released today, they have the feel of boutique object d’art; often beautiful, frequently interesting, but seldom vital. And as that vitality has diminished so has the role they once played within electronic music.

In their hey-day, in the handful of years which fell either side of the millennium, they were often the best and most permanent link many of us had to a larger, brighter world. Not all of us grew up, or studied, in a place where the indistinct spectres of Detroit or Berlin played. Nor did we often have a record store where we could spend hours soaking up vibes and knowledge. It’s difficult to glean an understanding of electronic music from hanging about in a provincial Our Price. And besides, the manager would probably call the police if you’d still been there three hours later.

Mix CDs were a form of education. They allowed you to see how everything moved together. They introduced you to new music and new artists, and strengthened your ties to those with which were already familiar. And for those of us pounding away at learning the basics on a pair of nasty belt-drive decks they were both inspiration and aspiration, allowing you a glimpse into a world where the music and the mixing was far beyond the leaden, wonky, hellnoise which farted out from your bargain brand speakers to torment the neighbours deep into the night. They gave you something to aim for, and the knowledge that, with a little bit of skill and a lot – a LOT – of practice, you might eventually be capable of something that might not be in the same ballpark, but might just be from the same game.

Most of that was an illusion, of course, because even back then your average mix CD shared something in common with the beautiful works of DJ art we still get nowadays: Most of them were about as close to being indicative of a particular DJ’s true talents as that old provincial Our Price was to Berlin’s Hard Wax. They were not the outpourings of white hot sets taken straight off the dance floor and shoved onto a disk. They were groomed and refined, hard edges polished away to perfection, trains wrecks carefully placed back on the rails, scratches and pops euthanized before they could pollute innocent ears.

In some ways, modern podcasts, no matter how deeply thought-out and sync-buttoned, retain an immediacy that most mix CDs would be pushed to emulate. But that really wasn’t the point. They quickly became a place where DJs could present an idealised form of themselves, playing the way you imagined that they imagined themselves playing. They would drip with magic, with post-recording effects, and trickery, and the music would be pulled in new and unexpected directions. My favourites from the era, Kevin Saunderson’s X-Mix entry, and Derrick May’s Mix Up volume, are peerless. But they’re not what you’d hear if they played in the tiny subterranean sweat-box that filled your techno daydreams. Jeff Mill’s Live At the Liquid Room, though: that was different.

The set was recorded in the autumn of 1995 in Tokyo’s Liquid Room venue, a place which still elicits a sense of the exotic and the mythical. This, as much as anything, probably plays up the CD’s mystique. You could be listening to a burst of radio frequency from Voyager, relayed over two dozen light hours, such was the remoteness of it. I’m sure there were more than a few people who looked up from the sleeve and felt a tingle of silly, naive, wonder that techno had landed in Japan, off all places, on the other side of the planet. And that sense of suddenly being connected with a far larger musical world lingered long after the music had faded.

As for what Mills played on, I don’t know for sure. I assume it was his usual three decks and 909 drum machine. Mills has always been a fiend for bringing his own beats along to the show, and it’s difficult to imagine his insane jumps in musical logic, his unique sense of timing, finding a true outlet on anything less than a triple turntable set up.

What there wasn’t was studio trickery. All of the magic belongs to him. As anyone who has ever spent time with his mixes for Detroit radio, performed under his guise of The Wizard, knows, Mills’ sonic shadow is sharpened by a thousand influences and styles which share little more than a tangential link with the sounds he is now inexorably linked to. The quick cuts, the spins and crossfades all have their roots elsewhere. Hip hop, disco, electro. It’s all there, feeding into the accretion disc of chaos that surrounds the absolute control at the mix’s heart, and accenting the way the groove and rhythm pulse and morph as it unfolds. There are drops in tempo, wild changes in direction, and sudden introductions and exits, all of which heighten the music’s proximity to collapsing in on itself. Not that it ever does. That’s part of the beauty.

The mixing has been occasionally commented on over the years. There was no post-production band-aids applied, and the mix is presented as-is. Mills’ mixing is often rugged and fast, by some accounts often eschewing the safety net of headphones in his speed and understanding of the music. Whenever memories of the record’s little dinks of imperfection are brought up, they merely serve to remind how brilliantly Mill’s organic yet utterly technical style pays off.

Some people have claimed that Live At The Liquid Room represents a sort of Detroit techno exemplar, but I don’t think it does. By the time Mills recorded the set, he was nearly five years removed from his time in Underground Resistance, had lived in New York and Chicago, and been a resident at Berlin’s famous Tresor club. That Detroit provides the foundation is inarguable, but the rest is from a different place altogether. This is techno, not as the child of a particular city, but as a global phenomenon, a transcultural burst of movement which owes as much to Chicago, or Berlin, as it does to its true home.

Even Birmingham is represented, with cuts from Surgeon’s earliest release. Magneze still blisters the skin, and reminds you that the club Surgeon will always be connected to, House Of God, deliberately sought to provide a counterpoint to the waves of high-tech soul emanating from across the Atlantic. That is an attitude which finds a kindred spirit here with Mills, and it can seem as if he is also, deliberately, seeking to step away from Detroit’s familiar sound, to push the idea of groove and funk onto an entirely new plane.

It’s littered with the sort of moments that would define other mixes. The CD is arranged into three segments, but the music erupts fully formed right from the start, with the dark clouds of Mills’ own Utopia rolling across the floor before being parted by the lolloping groove of The Extremist. The early part of the mix is beyond just being fun; it’s a genuine lesson in DJ’ing. The pulverising run which begins with Magneze, and ends, finally, with Ian Pooley’s mix of Wicked Wipe’s Rock Da House, remains forever fixed in the minds of a lot of us as What Techno Is. Not a list of sounds and synths, of cavernous and hollow kick drums and theory, but a riot of energy and emotion, and if your heart and soul don’t kick over a little bit when he drops in The Bells, I doubt you’re human.

In the second segment, the sudden arrival of Derrick May’s Strings Of Life, a euphoric sunrise after the bleak fury of DJ Skull’s The 187 Skillz, resets so much more than just the tempo, and afterwards the music seems to twist with a lighter touch. Well, for a little while at least. And in the background, so deeply buried in the sound it feels like part of the set, are the echoes of the crowd going mental as they encourage Mills’ music and the music, in turn, goads them on. It lends the whole thing an immediacy – and intimacy – which is difficult to emulate, and you sometimes wonder whether or not the set would feel the same if it had been recorded the following night, with a different crowd, a different atmosphere, channelling the madness.

A sequel of sorts eventually arrived, in the form of 2004’s The Exhibitionist CD. It was another astounding display of the DJ’s craft, but it lacked something, particularly in direct comparison to the earlier release. While it remained enthralling in its choice of tunes, it often felt airier, lighter, and missed much of ..Liquid Room’s elemental stomp. It wasn’t of course, a full-bore club set, but a much more thoroughly planned workout.

I drove at least one friend clean mad with Live At the Liquid Room. He still gets a far away look today, and visibly shakes, when I mention the CD to him. I was obsessed by it, playing it every opportunity I got. Often we’d be together in the car, and I would crank it up all the way, not really paying attention to the fact it might have been the eighth or ninth time that week. There were others, a Relief Records mix, a bunch of bootleg tapes of various Detroit and Chicago DJs found between stacks of ubiquitous happy hardcore mixes on rare journeys to record shops in Glasgow or Edinburgh. It was always Live At The Liquid Rooms which won out, though. Always.

Familiarity breeds contempt, and I’m lucky nobody ever tried to make me eat the damn disk. If a telling metric of how much you love a record is how many times you’ve played it, how well you know it, then Live At The Liquid Room is my favourite record of all time. I have no idea how often I’ve heard it. In the car; burned to tapes and played on my Walkman; on Ipods in the gym or in the mountains. It has been an ever present for what feels like a lifetime, and I sometimes feel that if I just had all the records, I could preform the mix perfectly, so familiar am I with every little movement, with every inflexion. It would be like a shadowy, ghostly muscle memory, guiding and fuelling my weak skills.

Many DJs these days talk about ‘the journey’, of educating the crowd, or of transformative experiences. But it doesn’t take you very long in the company of Live At The Liquid Room to realise what a crock of shit they’re making up. This is a real journey, an exhausting and exhilarating ride through the talents of a man playing right on the edge. And where other mix CDs from the period are beginning to sound more and more of their time, that won’t happen to Liquid Room because it never really felt of its time back then, either. This is not an album of tunes, snapshots taken at a particular moment in the history of Our Thing, but a narrative of frequency and emotion, and a testament to the fantastical shapes and colours they create when combined. Jeff Mills knows that such things are universal, and the only time they can exists is right here and now.

There is something utterly fitting about the fact that one of greatest celebrations of electronic music ever released should be a dance floor mix taken from a club. For all the amazing music released under the banner, it says so much that very, very few studio albums have ever come close to explaining so succinctly, and so vibrantly, what this music means to so many people as Live From The Liquid Room so effortlessly manages to do. And this is its true important: It is a manifesto, and a statement, of what techno can be when we loosen our grip over it, and let it take us over instead in all of its brutal, uncompromising, and life affirming beauty. It is a moment of rare grace and violence, and one that likely will not, can not, ever return. Cherish it.

A Word From Our Sponsor

So…how’ve you been?

Firstly, you might have noticed a change to the blog’s name. Whether we’ll keep it or not remains to be seen. As for why it changed, well, that’s a little bit more involving. Sort of.

When I first got into electronic music, it was still the aural equivalent of the wild west, a frontier of sound and thought where there were few rules and fewer expectations. It was a period when there was little interest in the codification and labelling of an entirely new world of sound. There was techno, yes, and house, and a widening cosmos of other genres, but they were fluid things, rarely remaining in one place long enough for anyone to say “Yes, this is what they are. This is their realm” With any degree of certainty. It was one of the things that made the music so alive.

At the heart of all of that was the concept of the underground; a spiritual, political, commercial, and artistic ethos which informed almost everything that was good to be a part of. As Thomas Aquinas said of the concept of time, “I understand it perfectly until I’m asked to explain it” and, likewise, the idea of the underground remains frustratingly, tantalisingly, distant once you attempt to verbalise it. We think about it obsessively, here in Our Thing; we hold it up as The Light That Guides, and yet we often fail spectacularly when we attempt to put it into words.

And it has got harder, particularly since the term, like so much else, has been co-opted by people who are its very antithesis. It has now become little more than knowing, smirking, argot; a currency with which to purchase credibility. A few years ago DJ Nippledick (might not be his real name) from childrens entertainers Swedish House Mafia upset a lot of people who should have know better when he suggested that what the word underground really meant was ‘amateur’. And you know what? He was kind of right.

At the same time as the word was appropriated to confer fool’s gold upon superstar DJ’s who are so far from the underground they might as well be clouds, it was being used by another legion of far less successful but equally talentless hacks to bestow the idea that their failure to make decent music, or make a mark, was somehow a deliberate political act. The underground became a shield for second-rate work which fouled up our drinking water as badly as the superstar DJs did. And the amateurism fed into something else, something worse; we began to see the slow disintegration of a mindset and a way of being, and the importance of the art and the artistic – and the cultural and social impact they could have – began to vanish right along side them. It wasn’t about standards – it was about meaning. All of that washed away by a flood of people who saw no reason to care about the music, nor its place in things, and who were only interested in what they could get out of it. And as the life-giving things dissolved, as we became inured against the slow march of the mediocre, the vultures descended to pick the bones clean.

The underground is dead. It is dead and stinks so badly that every time someone starts to talk about it in earnest, a thousand other people begin to feel sick. It is dead because they killed it, yes, But it is dead because we let them. We let them proliferate their cynicism and their greed. We let the Boiler Rooms, the Resident Advisors, the God knows what else, waltz in and take what they wanted, and sell it back to us while we pretended that EDM was the Bad Guy. EDM isn’t the bad guy, it’s just shit pop music, like the shit pop music they had in the 90s. It has nothing to do with us, and yet we pretended it did. And while we were moaning about American college students playing with glowsticks, the bastards snuck in and did one on us. We were told it was how things were, that it was progress, and that we should talk about the good stuff instead of focusing on the bad. That to raise issues was to somehow counter-productive. Well, screw that.

It isn’t the greed which should made you angry (well, it is), nor the rampant commercialisation, but the way in which a thing that belonged to all of us has been privatised, sold off, parcelled out to those who can afford to pay for the franchise. Homogenised parties stretching across continents because the best way to maximise profits is through one-size-fits-all. The revolution probably won’t be televised, but it will certainly be live-streamed, and if you want the sound at a decent bit rate, it’ll cost you a tenner a month. In the meantime, we’ll continue to be preached to by activists in conjunction with their running shoe partners, hear about how underground Our New Favourite DJ’s (TM) latest fragrance is, and marvel at the countless identikit festivals which seem to only exist so a small band of DJs can make money for their agents.

You are being sold a turd, you rubes. Stop pretending you’re not.

The hypocrisy, the bullshit, the rampant and sleazy desire to line one’s pockets are beginning to both sicken and bore me. I might not get angry if you sell your soul to the Dance Music Devil for a few quid, but I probably won’t have any interest in your career afterwards. Likewise, I will no longer tolerate people who stand up and proclaim their politics, and their ethics while falling over themselves to find on-brand sponsors, or bite their lip when commercial concerns might be threatened.

Through it all, though, there are those who are doing it right. There are those who are making a career, making a living, and making art without compromising themselves or the thing they love. It’s not impossible to hold onto your ethics and your beliefs. It’s not impossible to live in dance music without being an adjunct of virulent late stage capitalism. There are more than a few, in fact. Cherish them and the music they make because they need us as much as we need them.

So that’s why I’m changing the name to the Independent Electronics Commission; it’s no longer about mainstream and underground, it’s about commercialisation and independence. In fact, it always was. And when it comes to this scene, rather than being on the inside looking further in, I’d much rather be on the outside looking out.

Cheers for still being around. We’ll be back soon. Probably.

And Another (Electro) Thing: Part 1

Even though virtually all modern music is essentially an artificial construct which runs on fads and momentary, almost random, changes in taste and direction, electronica has a habit of taking it to an extreme. It’s always been like this; no scene, no movement within the larger framework seems destined to last more than a couple of years before a Darwinian need to evolve kicks in. In many instances this is a very good thing: a natural (well, sort of) method of ensuring that nothing gets too stale, that nothing outlives its welcome. For a form of music which is largely about movement, and has embraced both technology and concepts of forward thinking philosophy (well, sometimes…) to the extent that electronica has, this rapid evolutionary nature keeps it fresh, and keeps it vital.

That’s the idea, anyway. It hasn’t always managed to do that. Generational changes within electronica are, perhaps unsurprisingly, much the same as they are in other genres. The first port of call always seems to be to raid the past but rarely does that mean exploring themes or narratives. More often than not it is simply reduced to dressing up in older styles. After all, its much easier to wear the classic trainers than to understand why people might have wanted to invent them. Sometimes a classic sound is all you want. That’s fine (although you have to ask why not just listen to the classic records if that’s what you want) but there is something regressive about this which as odds with electronic music.

Luckily we’ve always had producers who get this, who are obviously fascinated by something other than the most obvious facets. Both house and techno have benefited enormously from these people. They swim in the deep currents of tomorrow when everyone else seems content to tread water in the kiddy pool. Without them we would have had no acid house, no Detroit techno. No breakbeat. No Jungle. Without the desire to deconstruct the music to see what goes where, and how it all fits together, we’d have been left listening to vague variations on an early crop of Chicago house until everyone got bored and faded back into metal, or pop, or jazz, or wherever the hell it is we all originally came from in the first place.

My major kink is, of course, electro. As a genre, electro weathers change better than most. Where house and techno often seem overly willing to augment their own natural evolution with whatever fluff is floating through the hive mind at the moment, electro takes its time. Yes, it changes, but it is more gradual. It measures twice and cuts once. I think it allows the music a longer gestation, a stretched out development, which helps the music develop a strength of meaning and belonging which is increasingly rare in some of the other electronic scenes. Of course, there are factors which influence this, not least the fact that electro as a scene exists as a far smaller concern than either of the two dominant electronic genres thus allowing the back and forth of ideas to work without a lot of extraneous noise. For all the exposure that the recent resurgence brought us, the column inches in the big danced music journals, the bandwagon jumpers proclaiming their endless – although hitherto unnoticed – love of electro, the surge in records and pod-casts and publicity, the scene has probably not grown that much. I say this with the weight of past evidence. This isn’t the first time the outside world has sat up and said ‘wow, there is electro. Would you look at that?’ and it won’t be the last. In all those prior occasions we’ve never really seen much in the way of a permanent shift. Why should this one be any different?

If I’m honest, though, I have concerns about long-term viability – which is essentially an ugly way of asking whether enough people care about electro. A long while ago now Jeff Mills said that techno was a music for an ageing audience. I don’t necessarily think he was entirely right – for one thing, large chunks of it seem to have ended up as the music of choice for those sort of vaguely angry young men who, not too long ago, would have been smugly telling you why their love of god-awful Scandinavian death metal meant their taste in music was more finely developed than yours – but it’s a point which has always been worthy of discussion.

What really worries me about electro right now is not that it is a music for an ageing audience, but that it is a music for ageing producers. Such a large amount of contemporary electro seems to be created by a relatively small handful of producers who have been doing this forever. This isn’t an attack on any of them. In many cases the people I’m thinking about have created – and continue to create – art which occupies a place of particularly high praise in my brain. I’d no sooner be without their music than I would be without new work by Juan Atkins or Luke Slater.

A smaller scene, one that is top-heavy with producers who practically invented many of the sounds we now think of as electro, has probably helped keep the scene at a certain level. It’s certainly helped create a feeling that electro is something ‘purer’ than many of the other genres. But I fear it fosters a sort of siege mentality, one where new ideas are slow to be accepted (both by the people making it and those of us listening to it). It elicits an air of elitism where music is accepted if it follows particular rules, particularly if it is being created by those who have’t really paid their dues yet. It’s so easy, when in a minority, to believe you’re the ones in the right; it’s you against them. It cements bonds, but it also ingrains dogmatism.

It doesn’t help that the influences are often very particular – especially when we think about newcomers. Not every electro record has to sound like an out take from Drexicya’s back catalogue, nor does it have to pretend to be Kraftwerk, or technobass. And yet, that is what we hear over and over. Donald and Stintson took, I think, the Drexciyan sound to its logical end point, and it’s interesting to note that neither of them seemed to feel compelled to continue down that road with their solo material. Likewise, Kraftwerk haven’t actually done anything interesting in over three decades. The constant harking back to a long gone time and sound makes no more sense in an electro framework than a rock band deciding they’re going to start playing skiffle.

There is a real danger here. What ultimately saw Detroit techno weaken as a major force wasn’t that the guys who lived and died for the music started to make worse art, it was that in the hands of other people it became a template of sounds and chord movements which were utterly divorced from the world and the urgency which created it. It became Detroit-techno-by-numbers. Anyone can go out, by some gear, and copy Drexciya’s scratchy rhythms but it doesn’t follow that you’re going to understand why the weird pulses of grooves work.

Electro can stand to be a broader church, both in terms of influences and personnel. My worry isn’t anything to do with popularity. To paraphrase Paul Theroux, at times electro feels like owning your own dragon. Something unique and private and awesome. But for its survival it needs to open up and branch out. It needs to take what it can from elsewhere because as wonderful as its relative isolation can feel, the shallow gene pool will eventually lead it either to extinction or into a tiny, closed away world where it is at best an irrelevance.

You know what, though? It doesn’t have to be like that and, if you look hard enough, you can see the fresh shoots of new growth breaking through the earth. In part two I’ll look at some of the stuff that makes me smile for tomorrow. When that’ll be I’m not sure. Hopefully not very long. Cheers.

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.

Detroit Techno World Cup Special!!!!

How the mighty have fallen…..

First off I’d like to apologise to anyone who isn’t football obsessed for today’s focus. Actually, no I wouldn’t. If you don’t like football, I’m sure there’s some dreary, drone based, support group you can join for the next month. The rest of us will hunker down and just love one of the greatest things in the world; it’s life in miniature, it’s tribalism and art and science and beauty all in one perfect package. It’s about hopes and dreams and possibility. Drama. Elation. Heartbreak. And no matter how much money is thrown at it, no matter haw far it seems to get from its original sound, meaning, and context, it never stops being wonderful. In short, football and Detroit techno are the same damn thing.

Ok, settle down sports fans, because here is the Detroit Techno World Cup XI. And my God that’s a line I never imagined I’d write.

Let’s get a wee bit technical: We’ve gone for a good, fairly modern 4-2-3-1 here. Consideration was given to a low block because some of our stars are getting on a bit and we couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t collapse with exhaustion as we tried to pull off the gegenpress or something equally knackering but exotic sounding. In the end though we decided just to rely on silky passing, chattering percussion, and sultry synths. That should do us, especially should we come up against teams like the well organised but rather dour and funkless Central European Techno All Stars. Some of you will probably be taking to Twitter to condemn me for leaving such luminaries as Theo Parish (neck injury from wearing a too-heavy jazz hat) or Gerald Donald (wanted to play for Germany as Heinrich Mueller), on the bench but I’m the manager and I’ve gone for the blend of veteran know-how and up-and-coming, blossoming skills that Detroit is known for.


1: Goal Keeper – ‘Magic’ Juan Aktins

The foundation of any team. The sturdy, eternal presence at the back. We need someone who is both reliable and inspirational, someone who can keep his shit together when the dainty-haired EDM lightweights are swarming towards him, someone who can pull off something remarkable even after he’s done bugger all of interest for ages. In short, we need Juan Atkins: Our goalkeeper. Our number one. Our Captain.

2: Left Full back – Mgun.

Defenders are a weird breed. Until recently full backs got about as much kudos from Proper Football Men as minimal techno semi-deities got from everyone else for playing empty, truncated sets in art galleries. All that’s changed; nowadays the position is about as important as you can get, and we’ve turned to up-n-coming techno don Mgun to lead the charge down the flank, ask those difficult questions from left field, and rampage around with his socks around his ankles, and a untucked t-shirt flapping in the breeze. Like his football, his tunes may sound a bit raw and unkept, but they disguise an innate understanding of just how far you can push the motor city sound before everything falls apart.

3: Right Back – Moodyman

We’ve got one full back bombing down the wing, so we’ve gone for a different sort of presence on the other flank. Someone who brings a calm sophistication to his game. Unhurried perhaps, and relying on brains over muscles even though he might occasionally slip an ankle cracker in there when you least expect it. Folks, who better than old Moodyman himself, Mr Kenny Dixon Jr. God, I can’t believe I’m writing this stuff.

5: Centreback (left) – Omar S

Oooh, central defenders are a difficult breed, aren’t they? Should they be there to clean up the mess, or lead from the back, building attacks from nothing and feeding passing up and out? Quite frankly I don’t know the answer but I suspect it’s a bit of both, so we’ve dragged in Omar S and his blend of bubbling housey grooves and techno snarl to hold the line and kick it forward. If the opposition reckon they can get past him they’ll in for a surprise. A player hitting his peak and a sure starter in the team for years to come.

6: Centreback (Right) – Suburban Knight.

With Omar S providing the light and the dark of the Beautiful Game’s defensive arts, let’s partner him with someone a bit different, someone who’s stripped down, precise talents afford him a laser guided focus when it comes to knowing just where to be, and when, and how much pressure to bring when he gets there. Why, that sounds an awful lot like either Milan legend Paolo Maldini or the music of James Pennington – aka Suburban Knight! That’s the defence done. On to midfield!

4: Defensive Midfielder – Mike Banks.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the true midfield general, the sort of player who is as comfortable putting in outrageously accurate passes as he is bringing a little bit of vigilante justice to the punks on the other team. He needs to be half sergeant major and half mob enforcer. Above all, though, he needs to know his shit inside out, and use his knowledge to see every possibility of every move. Who better than Underground Resistance’s Mike Banks, the man who virtually reinvented Detroit techno in the nineties, and turned it into something far harder, visceral, and relevant. Like a techno Andrea Pirlo, Patrick Viera, or Xavi He’s the beating heart of the team. He’s also our vice captain.

8: Central Midfielder – Seth Troxler

Ooop! I see this surprise inclusion into the starting XI is kicking up some heat from the old guard. Fair enough, but I think every team needs its Troxler, with cockiness hanging off the frame of his undoubted talent like a too-loud shirt draped over skinny shoulders. We might bleat on about Detroit techno and football in the same way – demanding it sticks to the philosophies it came from, but we all secretly love it when the twinkle-toed wonderkid slaps into the game, his talent buoying his arrogance, and getting in every ones face. With Banks beside him, keeping an eye, this should be the chance for our young star to shine. Christ, how many more of these do I have to write?

11: Inside left – Robert Hood

We don’t do wingers anymore. We want them to be more of a threat, spilling in from the wing, leaving space out on the flank for Mgun to bomb past. I think we need someone with pace someone who can change direction in a second, veering between cutting edge minimalist techno one moment and explosive, gospel tinged house the next. Someone who can shoot from deep in the underground and score hits in the bigger, wider, world. Well, that sounds like Robert Hood to me, titan of Detroit’s second wave, and our tricksy inside left. Good Grief. I’m so sorry for this.

7: Wide right – Jay Daniel

With Dixon Jr rolling up behind and keeping shop, our wide right has the opportunity to run riot between the flank and the box. Who better than one of Detroit’s next generation brats, Jay Daniel. Bringing a refreshingly unrestrained sense of what’s possible, the unpredictability of his tunes, and the way they blur meaning between techno, house and something altogether looser, should allow him break down even the most stubborn defence.

10: Attacking Playmaker – Jeff Mills

The most special of all positions, the home of Maradona, of Totti, of Zola. Unbelievable players all. But our number ten shares a kindred spirit with a player of a slightly different sort. Like Messi, Mills reads the world through strange angles, seeing lines and shapes where no one else can. Whether it’s the directness of his earlier work, or the expansive vistas of his more recent, Mills reads the game with alien eyes. If Mike Banks is the beating heart of the team, Mills is the soul.

9; Centre Forward – Derrick May

Tricky one. Do we go for the sophisticated talent of a Carl Craig type? What about the snarling, emotive brilliance of a Claude Young or Alan Oldham sort? All good, as would be Kevin Saunderson’s never-ending, snake hipped, movement and dribbling. But let’s face it, We have to have our star, our prima dona, our brilliant confusion of talent and ego, our talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo: Yes, sports fans, it has to be Derrick May.


Theo Parrish, Kyle Hall, Claude Young, Keith Tucker, Gigi Galaxy, Daniel Bell, and K Hand.

Well, that’s that. I reckon they’re good for the semi finals at least. What do you think, readers? Actually, please don’t tell me. Let’s just forget I ever wrote this, yeah? Cheers. I’ll get some reviews up soon.