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?

Review: Lab Rat XL – Mice Or Cyborg (Clone Aqualung)

Like everyone else, I’m a sucker for anything Drexciya related, but I’ve begun to grow a little anxious about what could possibly be described as the ‘Drexicyan Heritage Industry’ over the last year. While it hasn’t quite hit the same level of recycling you see with some big-name rock bands, where every demo and out-take is lauded as evidence of burgeoning genius, you might still be forgiven for wondering whether there is really that much more which is worthy of being dug out of DATS and released in a pretty sleeve. Some of it for the third time.

Like I said though, if it’s Drexciyan related I’m probably gullible enough to buy it. That hasn’t really been a problem so far; the quality of most of the re-releases has been as high as you might expect. There has been the occasional number which remains more interesting for the background it provides (a bit of the ‘Burgeoning Genius’ syndrome) such as James Stinson’s Hyperspace Sound Labs as Clarence, but mostly we have been pretty well served.

It isn’t the record’s first time under repress – it was last spotted in 2008, with the vinyl being followed a couple of years back by the digital version – but it has arrived at a time when there is a lot of great electro getting another day in the sun, and interest in the genre’s past is on the increase. Lab Rats XL’s Mice Or Cyborg carries some added interest for being work by the actual duo as opposed to solo work by one of the two, and forms a neat triangle with their Abstract Thought, and L.A.M projects, falling somewhere between in terms of tone and mood.

Let me get this said: Mice Or Cyborg is a decent record. It displays a breadth of nuance and ideas in a way which has perhaps become a little rare in the genre today, and it does so without losing sight of a central and overarching ethos, one which guides and glues everything together. It also weaves its experimentalism deep into the fabric of the music, making it feel as integral to the tunes as the beats or the grooves, instead of relying it to provide a meaning all by itself.

I’m not sure that’s enough, though, to make it a great record. If this had been released today by a new act we’d maybe be hailing it as pretty special. Unfortunately Stinson and Donald’s work as Drexciya colours the reaction. Whether or not that’s fair is a difficult question to answer, but it’s difficult to avoid the comparisons. This works in both directions, however, as some of Lab Rat’s issues are also to be found in Drexciya. With both there is a tendency, at times, towards the meandering, to locking down a movement for just a little too long, pushing it into that region where the heat begins to dissipate. With Drexciya it’s rarely an issue; often it tightens other ideas up, and provides a genuine springboard from which they can push outwards and upwards, but here it occasionally betrays, warming a suspicion that maybe some of the material is a little lacking in anything else.

It’s not that the tunes feel unfinished, more that they haven’t quite reached that level where they can be left to guide themselves to a truly meaningful ending. Lab Rat 2, for instance, wobbles out into the world upon a squat 4/4 beat and a finely worn bass line, but it never seems to have enough energy to propel itself beyond an initial judgement, the delicate chords which should tone the piece forever swamped by the repetitive insistence of the bass. Similarly, Lab Rat 5 frustrates and not only with the irritatingly stop/start nature of the rhythms, but also in the way it feels as if it has been designed to be obtuse, constantly feeling on the verge of pulling everything together before once again yanking away any sense of completeness.

There are elements to the music, however, which saves the album from falling too far out of the light. Its way with melody, the way it lies at the heart of the most potent moments, allows a glimpse not so much of burgeoning genius, but growing maturity. It tempers even the rawer moments, and often combines with grooves in ways which surprise. Likewise, the whole of Mice Or Cyborg is filtered through an air of introspection, giving a sense of lived-through world-weariness and adding a warm sense of soulfulness which helps bind things together.

And when these elements combine, the album becomes much more interesting; even more so when it seems to be deliberately sidestepping any solid comparisons with Drexciya. Lab Rat 3 is a beauty of a track: a long, drifting paean to a far more Kraftwerkian take on electro than we tend to expect from this pair of minds. A long machine hymn which returns time and again to simple motifs and movements, layered with a lazy, quiet, charm, it evokes a rare sense of serenity and gentle wonder. There is a sense of Stinson’s Other People Place work at the root of it all, but it remains woozier, less inclined to douse its robotic soul with more human touches.

The strongest tracks are found right at the start, where the mood of exploratory mischief is at its strongest. Lab Rat 1 defies easy categorisation in the way it brings its submerged grooves together with melodies that are sometimes jazzy, sometimes strangely alien, like creatures calling over a silicon landscape. Lab Rat 6 feels closest to the Drexciyan ideal, lithe and stark, breathless and compressed, it is darkly affecting, and quickly draws you into to its grasp.

Is Mice Or Cyborg essential? No, probably not. Originally envisioned and released as the last part of their ‘Drexciyan Storm’ sequence, Mice Or Cyborg doesn’t really feel like a logical end-point. None of the six tunes really feel like a final word, and even the good ones can’t quite escape the thought that their better qualities had been echoed previously, and to better effect, elsewhere across the duo’s insanely exemplary oeuvre – both together and in solo work. Does it remain an interesting and important record? The answer is yes, mostly, although some of the lustre which could be present in that answer is scuffed by the fact that this is not an album from their early and formative years, but from right at the end when they should have been at their peak. It doesn’t really come close to the highs of Dopplereffekt, or The Other People Place, and it doesn’t even begin to suggest anything of Drexciya’s off the scale majesty.

For us Drexciyan geeks it will always carry an importance far beyond the reality of its offerings, but for anyone wanting evidence of Donald and Stinson’s talents, there are far better places to be looking. Buy it for what it is, definitely, but be prepared to search elsewhere for what it isn’t.

Best Of The Represses – March 2017

Drexciya – Grava 4 (Clone Aqualung)

It’s Drexciya. Don’t really know what else there is to say, so I’ll say it again: It’s Drexciya.

OK. Look. There are actual reasons why you should buy Grava 4, chief amongst them is that it really, really was the end of, well, I was going to say era but that makes it sound like the death of Britpop or something. It was the final gleaming of something which lent fresh meaning to a genre already growing lazy and formulaic despite being less than 15 years old. And although it perhaps lacks something of Drexciya’s early, rougher, musical journey, listening to it now is a profoundly exciting and unsettling experience which reminds you once again how much further Donald and Stinson had moved beyond everyone else. Whether it’s the sleek, soulful electro of 700 Million Light Years From Earth, the signal from deep space which is Cascading Celestial Giants, or the low slung, prowling, Powers Of The Deep this is Drexciyan electro refined and widened. There have been countless imitators but no one ever sounded like Drexciya because the moment you try to copy them, it just turns to dust. Just buy the album.

Sueno Latino With Manuel Gottsching Performing E2 E4 (Dance Floor Corporation)

I loved Sueno Latino way back when, but I’m a little more ambivalent about it nowadays. Perhaps that’s because I heard it so many times. I don’t know. It’s still a great tune, and one of those big numbers which no box of records is probably complete without, even though that begs the questions of why you wouldn’t already have it. Ah, but such logic is not for fans of the repress…

Anyway, I guess the track you favour is tied into the era you first heard it. For me that obviously means the take by Big Derrick May, and his version probably remains the best known, at least to those of us who were kicking around in clubs when techno and house really, really began to explode. The three other version here are all pretty good, each of them providing the tune with different qualities and different angles. But no matter what mix does it for you the best, all of them rely on the tune’s undoubted daybreak warmth and light for their soul and emotional centre. Aside from Dezza’s take, my personal favourite here is probably the Winter mix – a loose, freeroaming and gigglingly lopsided slice of happy-go-lucky simplicity and sunshine. As fine an example of all that was good about Balearic house as you’ll find. And as an added bonus every track comes with a free aviary of loons. Much loonacy in fact. Ho Ho!

ERP – Lunar Ruins ( Harbour City Sorrow)

Fact – if it hadn’t been for electro labels, the state of represses in 2017 would be shocking. They have collectively done us proud so far, which is a damn sight more than I can say for the rest of the ill-bred family. Frustrated Funk offshoot Harbour City Sorrow have been doing some particularly impressive work recently when it comes to reprints, and the return of this 2011 release by ERP is especially welcome, seeing as – by even his unusually high standards – it’s a pretty damn fine record.

ERPs’s track record when it comes to deep, engulfing electro is well known, but this is something else. Title track Lunar Ruins, and Into The Distance are both spectacular bursts of deadly yet soulful alien-machine music, organic but disciplined and so deep that your feet will never touch the bottom. But the real stand out here, I think, is Mimosa Canopy, where the breaks are replaced with a tight, grooving 4/4 that acts as a springboard for some of the most gorgeous bassy noodlings you will have heard in quite some time. It’s a track which touches on the stellar themes of Juan Atkins, Drexciya and a host of others, but emerges from the wormhole as something exquisitely, uniquely, fresh.

Friday Night Tune: Drexciya – You Don’t Know

Considering that the real world is currently displaying pronounced and classic symptoms of going absolutely aff its nut in a very, very bad way, it’s hardly surprising that music seems to be responding by trying to celebrate all the things which bring us together in a spirit of real unity. This is obviously a good thing, and is to be applauded. But when the question is reduced down to a purely musical one, a question of taste, I’ve always been just as interested in the things that separate us.

Even before electronic music became a theme in my life It was something I’d noticed. At one point everyone I knew, people with matching tastes and interests, and similar ways of looking at the world would go crazy for bands like Jane’s Addiction or Faith No More. I couldn’t get my head around them. With Jane’s, Perry Farrell’s hackneyed Junkie Messiah act seemed designed to deliberately obscure the fact the band were little more than just another big stage rock act hungry for alternative kudos. With Faith No More it was even less subtle – and that’s saying something. I couldn’t imagine Faith No More existing without the oxygen of MTV’s cynical need to cash in on the rock underground; something which looked different from the Bon Jovi’s and Guns N Roses which dominated the era but were really just the same old same old with slightly more vivid videos.

When I first moved to Glasgow in the mid 90’s, and really began the douse myself in clubs and electronica, I already had my love for Detroit techno tied down, and devoured all the new sounds I could find. There were plenty of people around in Glasgow who knew the subject backwards – there still are – and many of them were willing instructors in these new and dark arts. The road was long, and the journey always exciting. And then I hit Drexicya. I didn’t get it.

Glasgow is one of those places that took Drexciya to its heart. Even after all this time I’m not entirely sure why that was. What I was aware of is that every single person I knew, people from whom a single world could send me scurrying to a record shop to check out their recommendations, were big for Drexciya, mental for them with a fundamentalist’s zeal. Not me, though, this wasn’t the Detroit techno that I knew mattered. This was something else entirely.

The music seemed scratchy; crackly beats and percussion that seldom seemed to be part of the same tune. Riffs and melodies, alien and angular, stabbed from the speakers with seemingly little regard for how they interplayed with the fractured, broken and apparently crude rhythms underneath. It was as if someone had taken a hammer and saw to the music of Kraftwerk and Juan Atkins, battering at it until it came apart, leaving only smashed, torn parts behind for rebuilding into something less than it had once been. And every single person I knew kept telling me how amazing they were.

I never grew to hate them in the same way I had with those rock bands from my youth. With those acts it was a case of the conventional masquerading as something edgy and new. With Drexciya it was something different, something very different, and I ever so slowly gradually came to understand what it was. There was no road to Damascus style revelation on the dance floor of Club 69 or the Subclub where I threw my hands in the air and declared that I got it now. Really it was a process of realising that those alien qualities that separated them from everything I was hearing was the point; that instead of no real clear musical ethic, Drexciya were in possession of one of the most singular artistic visions I’d witnessed. All those fractured beats, and wayward shots of percussion, the rhythms that seldom seemed united gradually began to fall into place as my brain rewired itself to those potent and unbelievable grooves. I went from refusing to care to buying the occasional record to buying what ever I could find, before finally coming to obsess over them. And aside from my new-found love for them, what also mattered was their role in opening the doors to a larger, stranger, and infinitely more exciting musical world.

Ask one hundred Drexciya fans what their favourite track is and you’ll get one hundred different answers. And ask them the same question the next day and you’ll get a different answer from the previous one. For me it changes so often there can be no definitive way of responding. Some days its Black Sea, one of the finest techno tunes ever created, on others it will be the brutal, static burning neo-rave of Devil Ray Cove. Sometimes it’s the wild Snoopy dance of Sea Snake, or the endless Futurist vision of Wavejumper. Today it’s You Don’t Know, partly because it’s what I’m in the mood for, partly because it’s the first Drexciyan tune I really fell in love with.

Yeah, I know. You’re thinking: ‘Oh, Jesus, he’s going on about Drexciya again.’ Well, there are constants in life, and that’s one of them. That something so important to me was nearly missed because I thought I knew better is a lesson I don’t want to stop learning. Beyond that I’m still making up for lost time. And so often, unfortunately, that turns out to be the only time that matters.

Friday Night Tune: Dopplereffekt – Infophysix

I hadn’t heard this in years, and it might have been even longer if I hadn’t heard it in a supermarket recently. Yeah, I’m serious. The ability to customise ringtones has been less of a blessing than its inventors probably imagined. Everyone has been stuck on a train, in a lift or some other freaky, claustrophobic space totally at the mercy of whatever cacophony of wank some self defined ‘wacky’ soul has decided to subject us too. For years it was that bloody frog thing chirping out its inane, insane bollocks to everyone cursed by having to maneuver around modern life. The idea that you could use music took off slowly. It wasn’t easy at first, and even now it’s probably quicker to throw a few quid at someone to do your thinking for you. Personally, I’m sure I annoyed a few people when I had Didgeridoo by the Aphex Twin on my phone. I certainly scared more than a couple of pensioners with that one.

But hearing Infophysix uncoil across the aisles from someone’s smart phone was a real moment of unexpected excitement. Not so much for the weird location, but because I was suddenly reminded of how much I love this track, and Dopplereffekt’s music in general. For those of you who don’t know the history, Dopplereffekt was the (at first) side project of Drexciya’s Gerald Donald, and were a band almost as era defining in their own way as Drexciya had been. While the main act were heavy in their take on Afrofuturism, and their own alternate reality, Dopplereffekt were wired on themes of science, mixed into a far tighter Kraftwerkian step than was common at the time. More robotic than Drexciya, perhaps more intellectual in the music’s meanings than the bulk of the far more up-front techno bass that was doing the rounds, Dopplereffekt were – perhaps paradoxically – a breath of fresh air in the way they seemed to mine electronica’s past. They were, to coin a phrase, less Afrofuturistic than retrofuturistic.

The thing about Dopplereffekt’s music, particularly back then, and especially in comparison with what Drexciya and the technobass crowd were doing, was that it always felt lighter and more playful. Well, maybe not always, but there was a certain attitude on display when it came to tracks like Pornoactress, Scientist or Speak and Spell which was very much at odds with the over serious nature of a lot of techno and electro of the time. Other tunes, such as Sterilization or Superior Race may have been a little more brutal with their themes but the music – replete with those mentioned Kraftwerkian influences subtly altered for contemporary usage, and with an extra dose of Donald’s trademark funk – tended to push worries about context to the side. Even if you understood them in the first place.

Infophysix is perhaps an even rarer thing, and of all the electronic music to come out of Detroit I can’t think of many tunes which were more poppy. It’s a summery track, breezy and immediate in its effect. The only other tune I can remember being as straight up fun is Drexciya’s Sea Snake, another track with builds itself up with a happy-go-lucky atmosphere. Infophysix is a slightly different beast, though. While it seems warm and flighty, it’s a potent brew of skyward melodies and scattering beats which carries a wistfulness not often found in electro, often a colder, less organic genre than most. Even more astounding to me is that I still think after all these years if you had dropped a diva’s warble over the top, you may well have had a major hit there.

Dopplereffekt have been frustratingly quiet in recent years, although a scattering of releases since 2013 have given rise to hope something – anything – might begin to happen again. Electro itself is hitting a high it hasn’t come close to equalling since the 90s, and with interest in Gerald Donald’s various guises, in the work of his partner James Stintson, and in Drexciya, perhaps at a greater level than it has ever been, maybe now is the time to show the young pretenders how the old master rolls.