Friday, June 27, 2008

mnml ssgs mx05: luke hess (FXHE, berettamusic)

given the recent discussion, it is most appropriate that the latest installment of the ssg series comes from a detroit artist, luke hess. luke is part of the beretta music crew out of detroit, who have been pushing some really strong sounds over the last few years. like all contributors to this mix series, hess' productions have a very distinctive and unique sound that have attracted us. his records, on FXHE especially, suggest that he is going to be exploring some really interesting directions. we look forward to discovering where he takes us. in the meantime, here is a great mix he put together. like our previous contributor shed, who incidentally did an amazing remix of hess' 'believe & receive', luke is also in a summer mood.

mnml ssgs mx05: luke hess presents summer sounds

1. ruanda - marko furstenberg
2. perfect moment - efdemin
3. shalom dub - luke hess
4. a req - marcell dettmann
5. amity - sven weisemann
6. octagonal - luciano
7. dolido's groove - ripperton
8. massai mara - mahias kaden
9. platte - luke hess
10. te vi el hojaldre - sistema
11. 520 - matthew styles
12. 5 - circunbalation
13. magnat - urban force
14. debajo - alexi delano
15. just a track - efdemin
16. catobolism - efdemin
17. in the mist - argy
18. just dance - mr. v

download here

more info on luke hess at his myspace.

much thanks and respect to luke for taking the time to put together this mix for the ssgs. so enjoy hess and next week ssg mx06 will be from mike parker...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back to Detroit (part 4 of a 3 part series)

Continuing on with our debate over Detroit - music/myth/origin - we now have a 4th part to our 3 part series. Cliff Thomas from the Submerge crew has provided us with a view from Detroit. Thanks to Cliff - and everyone in the comments sections - for contributing. To cap things off, later in the week the next ssg mx will be from a Detroit artist, Luke Hess. Anyway, now over to Cliff:

I don’t claim to be the “be all, end all” authority on everything Detroit Techno. In fact I wasn’t listening to it at the very beginning that much. But I do come from the Detroit area and I am an artist for Submerge Recordings and Wallshaker Music so I have access to a different perspective on the subject than most. I’m a member on some forums that tend to discuss this subject on a regular basis. On discogs forums my screen name is “sgt” where I run a forum on Detroit Techno called “It’s That Detroit Shit……”, on I tend to hang around the production forum mostly under the name “Torque” and in the techno world I produce music under the alias “The Plan” and “Thought Criminal”.

There are a few points that I’ve seen people try to make in this type of discussion that I take issue with. One of them being “Techno was created at the same time all over the place, so why does Detroit get all the credit?...” and “Techno would have happened somewhere else if it didn’t happen in Detroit”. Of course there are even more silly things than that I have heard stated but I’m going to save you an even longer read by just ranting on these two statements alone and I should be able to answer them both together. So let’s get started…..

People in Detroit in the beginning never had any interest in what the hell the music they made was called. It’s the press that took a statement by Juan Atkins back in the day to the effect “This is Techno Music” when he was asked to describe the music he was making and ran with it. I think for some reason people think techno just popped up in Detroit the same way it came to their city, with big parties and allot of hype. Back then there was no hype, it was just music. People like the Electrifying Mojo picked up on some of the local electronic stuff and thought it was funky so he played it on his radio show in Detroit which it seemed just about everybody listened to it and before long people wanted to hear it at the club and dance to it. Some people like to look exclusively at what was happening at legendary hangouts like Derrick May’s Music Institute where allot of great advances were made in the music. People tend to forget about the more humble places it was gaining ground like in the Cabaret parties in the neighborhoods all over Detroit where dj’s like Jeff Mills got their start. These places were allot more rowdy and dirty and were held in the lower class neighborhoods in Detroit. Not everybody that was involved was from Bellville and not everybody was middle class and absolutely nobody gave a crap what the music was called. These were places you would hear “Rock Lobster” from the b52’s played next to music by Juan Atkins, Kraftwerk, Parlaiment Funkadelic and house music from Chicago. Everybody would hang out, get drunk, jit and get into fights all in the name of having a proper night out in the D and maybe having a moment away from the hell that was going down on the streets and the people they knew that were not going to survive the Crack epidemic at the time. To them it was all just funky music they could dance to and it was a form of escape. In other places that had money they would probably have picked the better equipment at the time. The music from here was created mainly on the cheap stuff which had allot to do with the sound. This music could not have come from any other place but Detroit and it has nothing to do with any kind of myth. It was not handed down as a grand ideal to anybody on a silver platter from the Gods, it was just an expression of Detroit culture.

Growing up in this area was not like growing up in Berlin, Paris, Chicago, New York or London. Detroit is completely unique in many areas. Detroit first off is one of the most racist areas in the US. Just like Berlin had the Berlin Wall Detroit has 8 Mile Road which granted isn’t exactly the same but it seems to hold the same function. On the other side of 8 Mile is are the shiny white neighborhoods and all the money of the white community that abandoned the city after the ’67 riots and the black community has had it made clear to them over the years that if they cross 8 mile they’re going to have trouble from the police. This division runs deep in Detroit and the mentality seems to have affected everybody, both sides view the other with suspicion. In a way it seems like a racial version of a cold war that has never stopped. This is somewhat ironic because besides the condition in the neighborhoods we have all experienced the same culture. Almost everybody comes from a family that is tied into employment with the big 3 car companies, whether it be for the big 3 themselves or for many of the smaller factories in the area that make parts for them or the businesses that cater to all the auto workers. Everybody listened to the same radio stations, everybody follows the Lions, Tigers, Pistons or Red Wings. Everybody’s laughed at the same goofy ass commercials from Mel Farr (Superstar), Howards Jewelers where a guy in beard dresses as a woman and tries to tell you about his latest sale on jewelry or the Wonderland Music commercials where this dude would just be smashing drum sets and guitars while claiming he’s slashing prices. Everybody woke up on Saturday morning ate smurfberry cereal (which made your shit turn blue BTW) watched cartoons and kept sitting in front of the tv to watch Sir Graves Ghastly sit up in his coffin and introduce the next horrible B rated horror flick he’s going to play like “Night of the Lepus” (Which gave me nightmares when I was a kid because we had pet rabbits at the time) and other movies about science gone array like “The man with two heads” etc…. and the “creature feature” which was where they played Godzilla movies to death. Our culture here seems to be fascinated by strangeness and failed science experiments. Maybe because in a way everybody feels like Detroit itself was a failed experiment in a way.

With all this stuff being thrown at you as a kid all you could do is bury yourself in comic books and fantasy material while your parents were working their 14 hour shifts at GM. This is why I think music acts like Parliament Funkadelic and Kraftwerk caught on here because they took you to another place and let you escape the thought of your entire society going to shit around you. Escapism is what drove the sound and concept of Detroit Techno and still does. Nobody was thinking of what people would do on the dancefloor, they were thinking of what would happen when all those robots that took our parents jobs at the Ford River Rouge car factory would do when they revolted against their makers. This is why I think that Techno could not have happened any other place but here. Revolution runs deep in Detroit and it goes back to the days where people were getting shot trying to form auto workers unions. Later we had the black community revolt with the ’67 riots. Detroit Techno is the product of another revolt against all of our local society at once by people that refused to accept what they saw as the truth so what they did is try to create another world that they could escape to. Of course later it turned out that people here weren’t the only ones who felt that way and the music caught on. It’s the press that felt the need to tack on a genre name to it so they could package it and sell it.

The problem lately seems to be that people are having a hard time looking past the name to hear the music. If that refers to you, it’s your fault, not Detroit. Apparently those are the kind of people that need the “Myth”. To the people here it is not a “myth”, it’s just music and a way to get away for a minute. It just so happens that the people that do make this music here have allot more time to sit back and become very adept at putting what they think into musical terms than most. It’s probably because there isn’t shit else to do but make music. I’m sick of hearing people bitch and moan about Detroit getting all the credit, well they should god damnit, everybody else got all the money. How many Techno legends in Europe drive around in beat up pickup trucks? I’m guessing not a whole lot. Yeah some Detroit artist get payed pretty good to go play at some clubs overseas off of the music they made, so what, all the club owners and record labels over there have made a shitload more off of it then they could ever dream of and when they come back to Detroit the average joe on the street has no idea what the hell techno is. What more do people want? The music never stopped coming from here, people never ran out of ideas and there are plenty of new artists to listen to. Maybe not as many new artists as Berlin or some shit but god damn, this city only has about 800,000 people or something and if you look at history in electronic music Detroit has a pretty good batting average when it comes to hot tracks. Contrary to popular belief artists in Detroit don’t have much of a superiority complex. Yeah they might fly over for a night and rock the club but all of them know that feeling when they get back on the plane of dread when they know they have to come back to Detroit and be just another dude back in the hood. You won’t find many elaborate studios here. Most of them just have one or two pieces of equipment in their moms’ basement they can afford. I say if Detroit can’t have the cash at least give them the credit. Most of them would gladly trade you for the cash if they could. So if you’re an artist and you’re mad about all the credit coming to Detroit you should just come and live here for a while and see how long you last. I know a legend or two from some other places that tried that and didn’t last much longer than a year. Respect came with a price.

Being from the Detroit area hasn’t done me allot of favors monetarily. I don’t make enough to quit my day job. What it has done is give me the opportunity to become involved with some other very good artists and learn allot which is awesome in itself. These people have earned the respect they get and even though it would probably work in my favor to downplay what they did so maybe I wouldn’t have to exist in their shadow being from here I’m not about to make the claim that what they did didn’t matter hugely. Genres that are more popular right now like trance and minimal owe their lineage to what was done by Detroit artists and they are still affected by what is being done here now as we speak. Detroit isn’t done making music and if you think it’s over it’s only because you chose to look away for a minute, there is allot more to be said by new and old artists here alike. Sub-genre names aren’t real and if you rely on them to tell you what’s cool then you need to get a life because it’s all just Techno. Ignore the hype and keep your ears open. Techno is music about the future so when it was made should be of no consequence. If you like Techno most likely at one point or another you’re going to come across Detroit stuff because Detroit has made a whole lot of it. Just forget the bullshit and enjoy the music…….

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Detroit: Myth Hating, Myth Creating [Part III of III] {Detroit Techno City}

Still with us? As a quick recap, this is the third part of a three part series on Detroit: the music, the myth, and, in Thomas' case, the place itself first and foremost. For this third post, Chris and I sent Thomas (Pipecock) Cox our draft posts in order to elicit a reply. The result is less a response and more of an affirmation of love. In any case, here it is, the Detroit of a Detroit lover...

Pipecock's piece:

When I was first introduced to techno music, it was during the heyday of hard, banging techno in the early summer of 1998, almost exactly 10 years ago. I went to an all techno party in my hometown of Pittsburgh to hand out flyers for an event I was throwing with the intention of sticking around for just a short while and then checking out some other things going on that night. As I wandered outside into the already bright day around 8am the next day, I realised that techno music was not what I had previously thought. Seeing artists like Vapourspace, Christian Smith, John Selway, Alexi Delano and others made me realise how ridiculously diverse a night of one genre of music could be. Techno never really took hold in Pittsburgh in the 80s, so there was no independent scene based around it. It was always in the context of raving that it was presented. Seeing a party based around the genre alone, it became obvious to me that this style was beyond simple rave music. I began buying mixes and a few vinyls here and there from artists like Thomas Krome, Ben Sims, Chris Liebing, and Surgeon. This variety of techno was right up my alley as I was mainly into harder dance music like drum and bass, hardcore, and early breakcore. Due to my new affinity for techno, I volunteered to drive up to Cleveland a few months later to hand out flyers at an event called "Phunktion" which featured deejays Adam Beyer, Cari Lekebusch, Joel Mull, and Christian Smith over two nights. Little did I know that they would all pale in comparison to one of the greatest deejay sets I have ever seen. On the first night around 3am, a black man dressed in all white hit the decks like a whirling dervish, playing music like I had never heard and mixing it fast and furious. The music was not techno like I was used to, the sounds were electronic but far more elegant and beautiful than hard and pounding. I swear he never let a single record play for more than 30 seconds. The man was Derrick May.

After watching him play for hours with smooth intensity like I had not previously witnessed, my idea of techno changed. I still liked the harder stuff, but I began seeking out records like Derrick played. This led me to "Nude Photo", Basic Channel, Shake, Laurent Garnier, Drexciya, Underground Resistance, Recloose, Dan Bell, and Aril Brikha. As I grew increasingly disillusioned with the constant "progression" of UK dance music, I found comfort in the references to all the other music I liked in techno. Jazz, reggae, soul, funk, pop, it was all in there but twisted up into a cohesive sound that still sounded more fresh than the music that sold itself as being "futuristic". I began exploring other sounds like broken beats and house, and I continually noticed many references to Detroit music. My mind was being twisted by Marc Mac, Titonton, John Tejada, and many others all of whom were clear about the influence of Detroit music on their own. The discovery of Theo Parrish in particular really helped me to understand the importance of Detroit as he played music from all over the map, much of which came from the 313.

I missed the first three because of my crappy job that required working weekends, but when the opportunity finally arose for me to attend DEMF in 2003 I jumped on it despite being almost completely broke. This was my first chance to witness a celebration of the music I was increasingly in love with in the place where it came from, and it affected me deeply. Seeing the reaction of the hometown crowd to the 3 Chairs set in the tent on Sunday night was especially intense, it was not anything like what I was used to seeing. Every subsequent trip to Detroit has revealed more and more about the city and the people who live there, each bit another piece of the puzzle of techno music. At some point I realized why Detroit was so important to dance music: techno culture IS Detroit culture.

If you read mainstream dance music media, it will tell you that techno is about hedonistic Berlin nights, hyper-intellectual futurism, wild drug binges on Ibiza, glowing blue cubes, the newest production software, and a plethora of other scenarios. None of this is true in the least. Techno is DIY electronic punk soul music, nothing more and nothing less. It is made mostly by black people living inside the city of Detroit, people who have been influenced by the culture that exists in that forgotten void.

The stories about Electrifyin' Mojo are almost stereotypical at this point, but to truly understand what that means to the music one needs only to visit the city. One Sunday morning while I was eating breakfast at the Clique restaurant on Jefferson Ave. downtown (the best breakfast spot I've ever been to!), I found myself tapping my foot along to an odd choice of Muzak. It took a second to recognize due to the lack of context: it was Paul Hardcastle's "Rainforest"! This was followed up by choice disco-funk jams by Rick James and others. This constant influence can even be heard in the music of hip-hop producers like Jay Dee whose tracks were chosen by Laurent Garnier for his "Detroit Perspective" mix for the Kings of Techno compilation and Waajeed whose mix CD for 555 Soul included "techno-influenced geek music" as he calls it in the liner notes. Regarding the famous Derrick May quote about techno's origins "it's like George Clinton and Kraftwerk are stuck in an elevator with only a sequencer to keep them company", people forget that it is as much George Clinton as it is Kraftwerk. Each was equally important to techno music, the electronics without the funk is not techno music. The history of Detroit music before Mojo is no less important, some of the most intense jazz, funk, soul, and even rock music recorded has its roots in the seventh city and can be heard in the music of musicians like Carl Craig, Moodymann, and Anthony Shakir.

Mojo certainly influenced the selection of music, but it was Jeff Mills aka the Wizard whose mixing style has defined techno deejaying techniques. His quick mixing and cutting on the radio in the 80s influenced nearly every producer and deejay who would go on to invent techno music. Mills' style is also what influenced many deejays outside of Detroit like Richie Hawtin and Surgeon. This has been a constant through over 20 years of techno no matter what the subgenre of the week is. The futurism of Juan Atkins and Jeff Mills, while different even from each other, is often confused with being the essence of techno music. In reality, those are just the distinct visions of two of the most prolific and popular Detroit artists which have been ripped off and

Car culture is techno culture. Detroit is huge, due to it being home of the US auto industry. The factory jobs and pride in their own work led to everyone owning a car. This is reflected in the earliest Detroit records, from the catalogue number on "Sharevari", Cybotron's "Cosmic Cars", Model 500's "Night Drive Through Babylon" to Mad Mike financing Underground Resistance through his street racing and Omar-S' well publicised love of racing. Derrick May, DJ Assault, Theo Parrish, and many more have a widely known love of automobiles, which influences them and also their music. Driving in Detroit is not like driving anywhere else, possibly the only comparable place I have driven are Germany's Autobahns which were influential to Kraftwerk, yet another connection between the 313 and the robots.

Detroit's economic conditions since the race riots in the late 60s have a huge impact on the sound of techno. Aside from the auto factories obvious influence, the exodus of businesses and white people to the suburbs left the inner city to fend for itself. A drive through Detroit's business districts reveals countless thousands of independent black owned businsses. Combined with the musical legacy, the founding of labels, distributors, clubs, and record shops by the techno artists themselves had a fertile ground in which to grow. In Detroit, it is never expected that someone else will do something for you. No wonder the artists from the city have such a fiercely independent streak! It is also obvious why Detroit artists take offense to the watering down of their music: in a city where you have to fend for yourself to make ends meet, seeing people cashing in on a weaker version of your creation is seeing people take food out of your family's mouths.

To assume that techno could have been created anywhere else on the planet is erroneous. It almost seems like techno exploded out of nowhere in the mid-80s, years after the records by Cybotron and A Number of Names that predicted the sound. What really happened was that the artists involved simply distilled their experiences and influences of living in Detroit into music, and not surprisingly it came out sounding like a cohesive whole. The personalities of each artist gave them a special sound, while the overall culture made those sounds work together. Sure, a debt is owed to many artists outside of the city, especially Kraftwerk and the early Chicago house producers, but props and respect is always given to those who deserve it. Sadly, those props are not always returned by those who should! Notably though, Kraftwerk performs the Underground Resistance mix of their song "Expo 2000" in their live sets, giving love to Detroit even though it was they who influenced Detroit, not the other way around.

Techno no longer belongs exclusively to Detroit, but the people who make real techno music all have some understanding of how to properly combine funk and electronics. From popular artists like 4 Hero through to the underground cats at Delsin, the Detroit aesthetic lives many places. A huge number of artists rip off the sounds, but miss the feeling. I know some people look down so-called "ghetto tech", but really it is techno music much more so than 99% of what is out there calling itself techno.

Every trend in techno has roots in Detroit music, even acts such as BT and Deep Dish were involved with Carl Craig before setting off down the progressive house and trance paths. The harder end of techno was all based on the music of Jeff Mills and Robert Hood. Electroclash leaned heavily on Detroit artists like Adult and Dopplereffekt because Detroit is one place where electro never went away. Whether you attribute the current trend of mnml to Basic Channel, Richie Hawtin, or whomever else, they all owe their sounds to Detroit. These fads come and go, but there is always Detroit right smack in the middle of each one. And when they go away, Detroit remains. Just like it always does.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Detroit: Myth Hating, Myth Creating [Part II of III]

And here's part two, folks, this time from me (Pete).

In 1995 I was a noise rock kid, proudly listening to Fugazi, Shellac, Slint, June of 44 and the like, guiltily listening to Tool, Primus, Pantera, Nine Inch Nails and Prince, and covertly listening to different kinds electronic music: the single of the Prodigy’s ‘Voodoo People’ that I’d bought behind my friends’ back, and a cassette of Rotterdam hardcore that I purloined from a friend whose older brother was a ‘raver’. In a way I’d grown up with electronic music: be it the 8-bit themes of PC classics like Captain Comic, the endless series of Sierra’s ‘Quest’ games, the rap music of Public Enemy, Run DMC, NWA and Tone Loc that had been my first cassette purchases, or the Stock Aitken and Waterman hits of Kylie et. al. that I would dub off the radio each week. During this period of pop awakening that occurred via FM radio countdown shows and ABC’s Rage, I was also introduced to my first explicit understanding of ‘techno’: Technotronic, Black Box, Snap, Dr Alban, M People, and even Prince. I mention the wee purple fella because, retrospectively, I think the ‘Batdance’ medley was the track that had the single greatest impact on my musical development. Yes, really. But I enjoyed them all indiscriminately, until I realised – approximately with the onset of pubes, puberty and the first rising boils of seething self-consciousness – that ‘Mr Vain’, ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Spin that Wheel’ just weren’t cool. At that time, it was all about flanelletes, undercuts and long hair, earrings, and grunge… egad.

1996 marked the turning point at which my musical development curved back into techno, or, at the very least, drum machine music. Somehow, the grunge and pimple-induced stigma attached to listening to machine-generated beats (excepting Big Black, Ministry and even Nine Inch Nails) had lifted, thanks, not doubt to the general crossover success of the Chemical Brothers (and their fantastic albums Exit Planet Dust and Leave Home). On a more personal level, I also became confident of expressing a more strident, less fearful assertion of my own idiosyncratic likes and dislikes. The album that clinched it for me was Tortoise’s first (and still amazing) self-titled album. Hearing it as a teenager, stoned out of my gourd as it played loud on my father’s high-end hi-fi during a short parental absence, I realised that something entirely different was possible. Dance music in its pop forms had been with me for years, but what Tortoise were doing completely blew my mind. Then came Don Caballero, Six Finger Satellite, Trans Am, Rome – thanks mostly to my trust in Thrill Jockey and its associated others. There followed the second epiphanic listening: Mouse on Mars’ Autoditacker. The same friend who had dubbed me copies of the Chemical Brothers (one album each side) had it playing round at his place when I arrived for a coffee. ‘What the fuck is this!?’ I demanded. I bought it the next day, then quickly discovered Oval, Autechre, Aphex Twin, 2 Lone Swordsmen, and so on… Armed with pocket money from working graveyard shifts at a service station, a non-skip discman, a voracious curiosity and the earlier (and much, much better) incarnation of All Music Guide as my rough map, I plunged in. I’ve been happily lost ever since.

I mention all this at length to make a short but (for me at least) fundamental point: this was all techno to me. Public Enemy, Technotronic, Rotterdam hardcore, the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers, Tortoise, Mouse on Mars – I filed all these cassettes (then later CDs) together in a cluster beside my speaker that was always understood, though never named, as the techno group. I listened to ‘I’ve got the Power’ with the same ears as I listened to ‘Batdance’, ‘Pump Up the Jam’, ‘Fight the Power’, ‘Spin that Wheel’, Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ and even the Outthere Brothers ‘I like to Move It’. For my ears, what Warp, Sonig and Mille Plateaux were doing with these ideas in the second half of the 90s was just blowing the first half through a transdimensional psychedelic particle accelerator. In other words, it was like somehow, using computers, they’d figured out how to feed drugs directly into the music.

Having left high school, I plunged into the world of 18+ venues in Melbourne: pubs, bars, live venues and, of course, clubs. The egotism and stagnant formulas of every group of Steve Albini wannabe noise rock motherfuckers had me cheesed right off that whole scene. Incidentally, they’re still at it ten years later – check My Disco, if you don’t believe me. Obviously this is a very compeling formula for some people. Hey, I guess I’ve been listening to minimal techno for ten years now, so who am I to talk? But meanwhile, away from the Travis Bean guitars, the Big Muff pedals and the Rickenbacker basses, it was the dance kids that were having all the fun. I thought, ‘I know techno, techno is fun, let’s do some techno.’ So of I went to a whole bunch of different big box raves with the same ‘everything’s techno’ mindset: Eat Static’s goa trance, that was techno. CJ Bolland was techno. Speedy J, the Speedy J of A Shocking Hobby, that was techno. Even drum’n’bass as various as Aphrodite, Storm, Krust, and LTJ Bukem? Yup, all techno to me. House? House I disavowed. House I repudiated. To me at this stage, house was beyond the pail. It was too feminine, too disco, too camp, too cheesy, too gay – although all the while I nursed a secret, raging love of Crystal Waters’ 100% ‘Pure Love’, and if you’d have asked me to distinguish between house and techno, I probably would have come up with something as profound as ‘techno is like house, but good! House is like techno, only cheesy and camp.’ Etc…

While all these things were percolating through my head and filling my weekend hours, techno in Melbourne was going gangbusters. And chief among these parties, at least in terms of perceived prestige, were the Innovator parties. At about this time, I’d just got my hands on a CD-R copy of Derrick May’s Innovator double CD, with all his classic tracks on it. Who was this guy, and why was he so innovative? Was he as good as Autechre? As weird and talented as Aphex? So I went to a few of these parties, and began to sense that something different was afoot. Gradually, as my exposure to this whole scene and sound increased, I was given to understand that my personal, inclusive, idiosyncratic soundmap of techno was wrong. The strong sense was (a la Crocodile dundee’s knife scene), ‘That’s not techno. This is techno.’ The sense was like ‘they’ had tried to tell you that techno was something white, something cheesy, something commercial. Something soulless. But here, so the counter-narrative would have it, was ‘high tech soul’, made by real, oppressed black people (dreaming of space from a post-industrial ghetto). It was, so the riddle ran, a music so unquestionably authentic that to present an opinion to the contrary would invoke an accusation of ignorance, or even heresy, followed by a lecture on the Belleville Three. For white kids from the Melbourne suburbs, this allowed them to be righteously proud of aligning themselves with a noble tradition, which, in turn, allowed them to make peace with the fact that they all grew up listening to…. Technotronic, Snap, and M People, of course. Is it any different to the quiet joy of the Vanilla Ice fan who discovers Ice T and Ice Cube? He who ended up in Wu Wear often began with Twelve Inches of Snow. Never, ever underestimate the power of guilty pleasures in shaping musical taste.

Six months later I was finally coming to terms with a guilty pleasure of my own. I had started listening to house, after a triple conversion: the first was thanks to the house section on Juan Atkins’ still fabulous Master Mix. The second came from a CD copy of Carl Craig’s collection of Paperclip People singles The Secret Tapes of Dr Eich – five dollars in a bargain bin that changed my life. Thirdly, and perhaps most consequentially, was Herbert, whose Lets All Make Mistakes mix introduced me to Perlon, DBX, to Theo Parrish, to Isolée and to Green Velvet. Herbert, I owe you buddy. Anyway, around about this time I began to get the inkling that the history of Detroit was far, far more fraught and entangled a history than the hagiography that had been presented to me. I realised that both Innovator and Hi Tech Soul were brands of Derrick May, and that maybe, just maybe, he (and perhaps even Mad Mike) had some pretty kooky, probably self-serving, and maybe or even totally bogus ideas about who had the right to say who and what techno was. I stopped feeling bashful about ‘my techno’, and started feeling pissed off. I began to get the impression that if Derrick had his way, he would even have trademarked techno, along with innovator and high tech soul. I got the impression that Derrick May was a dick.

With this scuttlebutt in mind, I kept working into the catalogues, back in time. The further and deeper my retrospective colouring and shading of the histories went (and this is still and will always be a work in progress), the more I realised that everyone who’d bought into this whole Innovator thing had been sold a pup: having discovered P-funk, early electro, Kraftwerk, YMO, the Talking Heads, Eno, David Bowie and others, I realised that all the parts were there, lying around. Techno was an invention of Korg and Roland Corp, if anything. I became sure that, although it would never have emerged in the shape it did without Detroit, it would have emerged nonetheless. While the best of the early Detroit records were wonderful creations, no doubt, there was no ‘moment of creation’ – there was no formula in them that you wouldn’t end up arriving at if you had been listening to electro, Italo, krautrock and disco and you owned a synth and a couple of drum machines. The creative, mimetic feedback loops had been in active motion since the early 70s, and it was knowledge that was there for anyone who cared to check. In fact, it would take (and it does take) concerted, repeated acts of active forgetting in order to not acknowledge that. I also realised from this that my own personal mutant genealogy, my map of ‘techno’ was no less biased and discriminatory, not less selective and ordering than theirs – the difference was that I wasn’t insisting that mine become the orthodox account that everyone else had to swallow and regurgitate (without chewing).

So why do it? Why the need not only to claim being an innovator, but to have invented a whole kind of music? This is hubris in the mouth of anyone but Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Little Richard, or Jimi Hendrix. So why? Well, because you need to, and you need to because you’ve become deeply invested in your myth. The anthropologist Mary Douglas said it best, so I’ll quote her here verbatim: “Institutions create shadowed places in which nothing can be seen and no questions asked. They make other areas show finely discriminated detail, which is closely scrutinised and ordered. History emerges in an unintended shape as a result of practices directed to immediate, practical ends. To watch these practices is to establish selective principles that highlight some kinds of events and obscure others is to inspect the social order operating on individual minds. Public memory is the storage system for the social order.” I felt, and I still feel, that just such a thing had happened in the creation myth that has become Detroit techno, and that continual investment in this has strangled the creativity and dynamism out of the style, turning its proponents into a bunch of cantankerous, conservative has-beens who demand dues and respect on behalf of things that happened twenty years ago. Innovator becomes necessary because of an absence of innovation.

At this point, you can’t avoid talking about America in a much larger, broader way, and I say, (as an outsider who’s never been, and who doesn’t know what it’s like), that if I’d grown up black in Detroit and seen suffered discrimination, neglect, a lack of opportunities and been left vulnerable to arbitrary acts of harassment and even violence (often by the police who are supposed to be there to serve and protect me) I’d probably be pissed and bitter as well. It seems to me that the another reason the bitterness has become entrenched is because Detroit techno has always been seen as a minor music in the US, made by a group of producers who never got the respect, sales and money that others working hip-hop and r&b received. Like their city, they feel discriminated against, they feel like they’re not recognised and respected (to the point of abandonment) and because of that some of the key players have become defensive and antagonistic. But what of the shithead fans in Switzerland, Sweden and Australia who have insisted on spitting bile in the name of their prophets? Interestingly, no, perhaps crucially, this kind of defensive, antagonistic, toxic bitterness has not affected producers like Carl Craig, and from my distant point of view this seems like it’s for two reasons. The first is because CC was never so invested in the myth – he never needed it. And this connects to the second reason, namely, that CC is still relevant, and he’s still relevant because he’s growing, changing, and creatively developing, something that cannot be said of May, who (in an act of monumental irony) is re-releasing Innovator. The distinction between the two artists might offer an object lesson in two possible ways, two different struggles: May’s path of closure (seal the myth and man the barricades), or Craig’s path of continual development and openness. I know which path I’d take.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Detroit: Myth Hating, Myth Creating [Part I of III]

Today the SSGs crew and one respected guest are beginning a 'conversation' (of sorts) about Detroit: the techno, the myth, the love, the hate. The immediate beginning of this back and forth began in the wake of this year's DEMF, but Chris and I have been flinging around all kinds of ideas and sentiments for a while now. What we did was this: both of us decided we'd write a piece explaining the position and function of myth in Detroit, and how it's affected people's perception of place, music and innovator. Chris then went off and wrote his, and sent it to me as a word document. Then, without reading Chris' piece, I sat down and wrote my version (the first reason for my bracketing of the word conversation), partly so I we could get my thoughts out and down, and partly as a pseudo-scientific experiment... and, indeed, the results were surprising, as you'll see.
Having done that, we then sent both our docs to Thomas 'Pipecock' Cox, who read and responded. Here's where you come in... there's a lot of text to get through here, which is why we've split the post up into three. What follows today is Chris' post. Tomorrow I will post my (Pete's) response. And the day after, Thomas' response to both of us. As we feel these are kind of the three necessary pieces of the puzzle, we'd prefer if you commented once all three are up. I for one won't be engaging in the comments section until that time. Anyway, 'no more words' - on with the show!

Chris's piece (Part I of III)

I have long been deeply ambivalent about Detroit techno and the myth that surrounds it. Like presumably most people reading this, I was strongly influenced by Detroit sounds, but at the same stage, this was generally towards the harder side of things. Jeff Mills was my man in Motown. I quickly gravitated towards the sounds emerging from Berlin (Tresor), Birmingham (Downwards) and New York (Synewave). Detroit undoubtedly had its place, but it was not as determinative or central as these other sounds. Over the years, I have found myself feeling increasingly frustrated, if not negative, towards Detroit and the never-ending claims that this is where techno was invented. For me, this statement has always sounded incredibly facile and ridiculous, and if anything, the constant chest beating and myth repeating was to cover up for the fact that Detroit simply isn’t the same creative force or centre that it used to be.

Over the last few months a number of things have forced me to question these increasingly entrenched prejudices of mine. First, fellow ssg Pete strongly encouraged me to go back to Juan. And for the first time in ages, I did. And Juan is indeed the man. He may now be a shadow of his former self, but that former self did some pretty amazing stuff. Second, I got hold of Subculture’s fantastic mix CD, which has some serious Detroit cuts (including Mayday’s insanely good ‘Wiggin’). While listening to these classics it really hit me that I had got so caught up in hating the Detroit myth, I had started to forget how good the original music that started the myth actually was. So basically, this made me start to think more about this myth of origin and how it functions.

When people tell me that Detroit ‘invented’ techno, the question I ask myself (as a pseudo-social scientist) is: ‘Would there be techno today if there was no Detroit?’ My answer is most definitely: ‘Yes’. There were clearly enough influences, ideas and sounds coming out of Germany, the UK, other parts of Europe, Japan and even Australia (thank you Severed Heads) for something like what we now call ‘techno’ to emerge. Would it have developed in the same manner and shape as it actually did? Of course not. Clearly Detroit played an incredibly strong and influential role in how the music emerged and changed over the last couple of decades. But this is not the same thing as Detroit ‘inventing’ techno. No one – not Juan, or the Belleville 3 or whoever – and no place – not Detroit, Berlin or wherever – could ‘invent’ techno. It is too diverse and multifaceted a phenomenon.

So the question is: why the myth? Why must people keep on shouting and shouting ‘put your hands up for Detroit?’. Well, I can understand why people in Detroit may need the legacy. With no disrespect to the city or to the sound, Detroit ain’t what it used to be. Detroit simply isn’t the same creative force that it was in the 80s and 90s. The centre of gravity has shifted. So in this sense perhaps the myth operates to make sure Detroit stays central and stays relevant. But I am not sure that even this explains it. Because those that hold onto and propagate the Detroit myth most strongly tend not to be those from Detroit, but are – for lack of a better term – outsiders: people from all parts of the world who build Detroit up as the epicentre, the only place where soul and feel in techno is possible. And it is this part of the myth that I really don’t understand.

I am now firmly of the feeling, based partly on my own experience, that the Detroit myth of origin actually detracts from, and ultimately is a great disservice to, the music that has come from Detroit. If you go back to much of the early stuff, Juan Atkins and Jeff Mills especially, what you see is an almost obsession with the future, with looking beyond, with pushing and expanding boundaries. The Detroit myth, however, is completely antithetical to this kind of thinking, as it is totally backward looking and regressive. It creates a past that never existed and wants the future to replicate and revisit this nonexistent past.

Where does this leave us? I think what we need is a break from the myth making and myth hating; moving beyond the polemics and trying to appreciate Detroit in perspective. As Pete recently observed elsewhere (and I really think he is on point here) is that so much of the discussion in techno is binary. The Detroit myth is the perfect example of that. If you don’t worship Detroit as the origin of our music, you are a techno infidel! (Ok, well that is a bit extreme.). And I think trying to move beyond this myth would also be good for Detroit. Why keep highfiving Derrick May, who hasn’t done anything for 20 years, when you’ve got guys like Omar S and Luke Hess making amazing music right now?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The final days of Yellow

If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo over the next six evenings, I strongly suggest finding the time to pop by Club Yellow. Because after this Saturday, the world famous club will only be a memory. As I wrote back in February, Yellow, which has been an integral part of Tokyo's electronic music scene for the past 16 years, is closing down.

For its final week the club has invited some of its most well-loved mainstays to help draw the curtains. Tonight (in fact the party is happening even as I type) Yellow sees the last of its jazzier nights, with Tomoyuki Tanaka (from Fantastic Plastic Machine), Shinichi Osawa, United Future Organization and other local jazz/funk DJs taking to the decks.

On Tuesday night Yellow tips its hat to its Detroit fans, with Derrick May on the wheels of steel.

Wednesday night has Yellow going back to its classic House roots, with New York DJ Danny Krivit spinning and a live performance by vocalist Rochelle Fleming (of the Philadelphia vocal group First Choice).

Yellow has its final night of minimal techno on Thursday, with Fumiya Tanaka (quite frankly Japan's best techno DJ) reviving his Distortion parties (which lasted from 1994 to 1997) for one night only.

The club's penultimate event on Friday features Laurent Garnier, who has played at Yellow regularly since 1994.

The very last piece of vinyl to ever be spun at Space Lab Yellow will be played by Francois K, who first appeared at the club in 1992, and has played there about 26 times. Entry for this final night is a whopping 10 000yen, which I suspect is Yellow's way of making sure the club isn't ridiculously overcrowded ... although I'm sure that it will be anyway, with every clubber in Tokyo keenly aware of the historic nature of the impending closure. In fact I'm strongly considering going myself. Sure, the entrance fee is rather hefty, but as well as being integral to Tokyo's electronic music scene, Yellow has played a huge role in my personal history and relationship with electronic music. Saturday night is Yellow's funeral and wake all rolled into one, and if I miss it I'm sure I'll be kicking myself forever ...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

mnml ssgs mx04: shed (soloaction/ostgut/delsin)

*updated download link*

For the 4th installment in our ongoing series, we are very happy to present this lovely mix of classic house records by Shed. Shed is an artist we've been following for a while, as he continues to build an impressive and distinctive sound, releasing records on Delsin, Styrax Leaves, Ostgut and his own Soloaction label. We are particularly looking forward to hearing his new album, which he tells us about below. Can't wait. In the meantime, here is a q&a with Shed, followed by the great mix he has put together for us. While it may not be summer down under (from where I am writing this), these sounds did warm my heart. Enjoy.

Ssgs: Tell us a bit about this mix.

Shed: It is summer, that’s why I thought I'll do an ease house mix. Some good house music records arrived at the shop and they remind me of the time around ‘96 and ‘97. That was a good time and that why I thought I mix it. Summer and House music belong together.

Ssgs: The mix has some real classics in it. What have been some of your most important influences?

Shed: In the mix it is very obvious. Saunderson, Chez Damier, Carl Craig....

Ssgs: I have to ask, why the name ‘Shed’? Where did it come from?

Shed: It is derived from ‘shedding the past’. This is my motto.

Ssgs: Can you explain the intent and thinking behind Soloaction records? Where did the idea and motto (‘being forced to take action’) come from?

Shed: It is my own. I'm doing it alone and only for myself. I'm responsible for everything. And that gives me the possibility to do what I want.

To enjoy this feeling - you have to take action. Nobody does it for you.

Soloaction is sleeping at the moment, but on Subsolo something will be happening. A new ‘A Made Up Sound’ is coming along in July.

Ssgs: It seems like there is a real new sound emerging around Berghain and Ostgut from artists like Dettmann, Klock, Radio Slave and yourself (amongst others). What do you think? Is something different happening in Berlin? Are you consciously contributing to the development of this sound, or is it more organic?

Shed: There is not something different happening in Berlin, but there definitely is at Berghain/Ostgut. It is organic, it is a family.

Ssgs: What are you working on at the moment?

Shed: At the moment some things are finished. I still need to put my hands on my new live set to make it better.

Ssgs: What is the future for shed?

Shed: Tada! An album is coming up in September. I found someone who I can trust and where I feel secure. It will be released on Ostgut Ton. Of course. Some remixes are coming too.

Big thanks to Shed for taking the time to answer these questions and for putting together these wonderful house sounds.

Shed presents The Holy 35 Degrees Hit Mix
Recorded live in Berlin in the afternoon.


1. eargasmic 4009
2. definitive 018
3. kms 048
4. slowhouse 003
5. dansa records 1104
6. strictly rhythm 12342
7. djgenesis 002
8. king street 1017
9. underground 150
10. kms 060
11. tresor archive 006
12. cajual 206
13. sex trax 010

More info:
soloaction records
shed homepage

shed myspace

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

herr dettmann for the win

while fellow ssg pete may regularly write reviews for RA (check here for his excellent take on the move d and benjamin brunn album), it is something i had to stop doing a while ago because of time constraints. saying that, i've come out of retirement to review marcel dettmann's mix berghain 02. you can find the review here.

basically, the CD is as good as we all expected and hoped it would be. my only complaint is that i feel two of the classic records he mixes in don't quite fit, and their inclusion lacks the spontaneity found in his livesets. i know pete disagrees with me on this point, and i am guessing quite a few others will as well. to back up my position, i'd strongly suggest having a listen to this recent set of his posted below, which has plenty of classic records mixed in seamlessly. my feeling is the old school mixes with the new school much better in this set and others i've heard, than it does in berghain 02, where it feels like the risqué rythum team and kevin saunderson records are a bit forced. hell, even if you still disagree, it is a new dettmann set, so it's a win-win.

marcel dettman @ zenzero 24.04.2008
*two things to note*
1. it is a .rar consisting of two mp3 files. the password is:
2. it is recorded in italy BUT there is no MC. rest easy guys and gals.

to summarise: enjoy the set, get the CD, thanks to RA for letting me do the review, and much, much respect to herr dettmann for coming through with the goods.

Monday, June 9, 2008

words with pawel/turner (orphanear/dial)

a while ago we started thinking we starting wondering what the hell was going on when the peeps over boing poum tchack! posted an interview with bvdub about the time we were organising a mix with him, and then exactly the same thing happened with pawel. we reached the conclusion they probably weren't reading our emails, they just happened to have the same (ehem excellent) taste we do.

pawel, better known to some as turner, has been putting out amazing stuff for a long time now on ladomat 2000, dial and more recently, his new label, orphanear. while we've been signed up members of the fan club since his earlier dial releases, his 2 releases last year 'gabriel' and 'jujuy & salta' really caught our attention. for me, both records were highlights of 2007.

anyway, as part of the ssg mix pawel plans to do for us, he also did a short q&a. we've been sitting on this for a while as we were going to post it with the mix. but there has been a bit of a delay, so we thought we might as well put it now for everyone to enjoy. a ssg mix is on the way from pawel, but we'll have to wait a bit longer. we are really looking forward to hearing what he comes up with. in the meantime, enjoy the interview and for more info check his myspace, discogs and orphanear records.

Ssgs: I feel like, more than any of the other Hamburg artists from Dial, Smallville etc, that you're operating as a songwriter, even when the songs are 'tracks' strictly speaking. I wonder what you think about that.
Pawel: Actually I started with dance or "track-oriented" music, when I first released stuff as Keni Mok and Turner. Somehow the Turner project then developed more and more into a singer songwriter thing over the years. That´s why I started Pawel, to seperate the more minimal house and techno oriented stuff that I do into a new project. Except Hendrik (Pantha Du Prince), who did music with the band Stella before, most of the other artists on Dial, such as Pete (Lawrence), Dave (Carsten Jost) and Phillip (Efdemin), were always focused on their particular club oriented project on Dial, although everyone of them listens to "track" and "song" oriented music as well. So maybe there will be some more "song-oriented" side projects of the other Dial boys in the future, such as the infamous ambient guitar project "Bordeaux".

Ssgs: My first introduction to your music was with the version of 'Been Out' that appeared on the Sonar compilation from that year. After that, I didn't hear any of your work until I started exploring Dial. I discovered Pack of Lies and Disappearing Brother at the same time, but it was the former that really moved me - it was strange and interesting to hear 80s pop approached in this context. Tell me a little about the creative process of making the album, and your 'turn' back toward more groove-based music since that time.
Pawel: A Pack Of Lies was some kind of an experiment for me in several ways. I didn´t use to sing on my records before, except on the track Been Out, and I didn´t thought about doing something that could be understood as a pop album, before. I worked on a soundtrack for a movie, just before I started to do this album and a lot of the sounds, such as the skipping guitars and synthesizer sounds that I used for the soundtrack, found their way to A Pack Of Lies.
After this album I decided to split the dance oriented and the song oriented part into two projects, Pawel and Turner. The first result was the Turner album Slow Abuse, where I used nearly no drums at all. Parallel to the album I started to work on new Pawel tracks that have been since then released on Dial and Orphanear.

Ssgs: What do you think is integral or essential to your music (in terms of approach, intention and style)?
Pawel: The thing the interests me most in music generally is uniqueness in style, sound-aesthetics and way of composition. Music that you haven´t heard before in that way, that´s what I try to achieve as well.

Ssgs: What is the purpose/concept/intent of Orphanear? What are you seeking to do with the label?
Pawel: I wanted to be able to release future Turner records on my own, that was one of the main reasons to create Orphanear. Also, I was thinking about starting a new label that includes all from minimal house and techno to experimental pop music for a long time. Besides that, Dial was getting bigger and more artists were starting to release their music on it, which makes it more difficult for all artists involved to have their music released immediately after it is finished. So Orphanear is just another channel to get our music out there faster.

we'll post the next ssg mix in the next few days...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

ssgcast update

ok guys, looks like our ssgcast has been far more popular than we expected. we signed up to jellycast, which supposedly gives us up 25gb of downloads a month. and now it seems like we have already reached the monthly limit. while i'd like to think it is because we are incredibly popular, i am not completely convinced (the stats don't add up). nonetheless, it means that for the time being the only way you can get the 2nd and 3rd ssg mixes is via shareonall. i'll try and get this fixed up before the next ssg mix, which will be sometime next week.

in the meantime, here are the shareonall links:
ssgmx02: norman nodge
ssgmx03: benjamin fehr

also, just so this post isn't a complete waste, here is some extra for you. plenty of people have been raving about donato dozzy's podcast over at RA, and rightly so. dozzy is something special - he has such a unique, distinctive feel to him. we tried to get dozzy a while ago to do a mix for us, but RA beat us to the punch! nevermind, the important thing is that there are some new dozzy mixes for us all. to celebrate, here are two more from dozzy, which many may have missed. both are, as you'd expect, great.

donato dozzy @ blueroom, roma 21.04.07
donato dozzy @ radio 1, Berlin 02.06.06


Friday, June 6, 2008

sweet as honey...

while some readers might be starting to get the impression that ostgut is about the only label we listen to, believe it or not, this is only partly true. another label of recent vintage which we've quickly fallen in love with is smallville records. much like ostgut, the immediate thing which stands out about smallville is the quality of the releases. you can feel, see and hear the warmth, care and attention to detail that has been put into each record. another important part is the beautiful packaging, with the distinctive, playful artwork of stefan marx always catching the eye. the picture above is from the cover of smallville's latest release: 'songs from the beehive' by move d and benjamin brunn.

in a recent post i mentioned how much i was enjoying 'honey', the lead-in ep to the full length lp, which has just been released. having now heard the whole album, much to my delight i can say that 'honey' is only a sample of the delights that can be found in 'the beehive'. i need to think more about it, but this is probably my favourite album of the year so far. it has been on repeat since receiving a copy. it has an incredibly warm and inviting vibe throughout which has completely won me over.

i should say that i've been a long standing sceptic of artist albums in this genre. they work so incredibly rarely. the most common problem is that while there might be good individual tracks, the whole fails to cohere. this is a pitfall move d and brunn avoid, and i think it is the key to why it is so good. the album sounds like it has emerged from a series of jam sessions between the two - all the tracks have a very organic, natural feel to them and match well. some have more groove, others are more ambient and introspective, but all come from the same sound palette. actually, i am getting my analogies confused here. they all emerge from the same beehive. there, that works better.

and something to sweeten your tastebuds: a livepa from half of this duo, benjamin brunn. it is not quite the same sound as what you can find on his album with move d, but there are some similarities and overlap, especially with the last two or three tracks from 'the beehive', which happen to be my favourites. regardless, it is a lovely set and definitely worth checking:

benjamin brunn @ westwerk, may 2008.

my suggestion is simple: go and get yourself some honey. it tastes so sweet...

*EDIT* pete has written a really fantastic review of the album over at RA.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

mnml ssgs mx03: benjamin fehr (catenaccio)

last week we were bouncing around ideas about who to approach for a ssg mix, and a name that soon came up was benjamin fehr. so we contacted him. and lucky for all of us he responded immediately with a promo mix he had recently put together.

fehr is someone who we've been keeping a close eye on following his 'truth & consequences' ep and some other really excellent productions on his catenaccio label. his sounds are deep, twisted and distinctive, which are all the more refreshing when the scene abounds with bland conformity. often i'd be loathe to quote anything from a promo sheet, but in this case, i think it is more truth than hype: his productions 'deny the standards of minimal techno, instead focusing on a very personal appreciation of its unique nature. benjamin fehr cares about electronic music.' have a listen and discover more about the 'groove noir' sound he is pushing. the mix is an hour of deep and twisted sounds, just like his productions.

big thanks to fehr for the mix. keep an eye out for two new releases on his catenaccio label: a split ep, 'gruppenzwang prt I', and one from fehr, 'my favourite shop is me' (dave described the latter as sounding like 'a drunk akufen'). you can hear some samples at his myspace.

mnml ssgs mx03: benjamin fehr

pep gaya - darker - klitekture 05
butane - vaguely defined - green water ep - rregular19
jichael mackson - 1000 bugz - stock5 07
paris the black fu & jack cousteau - fog dust vs detroit
heib - flatliner - senior solution management 03
ellen allien - go - marcel dettmann remix - bpitch
ds - jens zimmermann remix - snork enterprises 05
mr. static - west coast booty - karloff 25
dealta/aquatic - skipper - meander 02
o. deutschmann - siem reap - vidab 04
portable - don't give up - cassy remix - sud electronic 10

and get ready for the 4th mix in the series which is from shed (soloaction records) and will drop sometime next week. in the meantime, enjoy the darkness of fehr...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Wolfgang Voigt is a gas gas gas

Imagine you are deep in a primeval forest, fir trees towering overhead. The little sunlight that filters through the thick canopy is already growing dim as dusk approaches. What had looked so beautiful mere moments before begins to take on a mysterious, almost sinister aspect. Twigs and fir needles snap beneath your feet as you turn, looking for a path. Somewhere nearby you can hear the burbling of a stream. And echoing through the trees, from somewhere far away, comes the sound of a muffled yet insistent beat – the rave at the heart of the forest. Welcome to the sound of GAS, Wolfgang Voigt’s ambient masterpiece.

Most people know Voigt as the godfather of Kompakt, the Cologne based distribution powerhouse and home of melodic minimalism. As a producer Voigt has been rather quiet, releasing little since 2000. For much of the 90s, however, Voigt was incredibly prolific, exploring different styles of electronic dance music under a plethora of aliases (Discogs lists 32 of them). As Mike Ink he explored acid, while his classic Studio 1 series is some of the tightest and most minimal techno ever pressed onto vinyl. Other pseudonyms saw Voigt exploring noisy sawtooth techno and inventing Schaffel. But for these ears Voigt’s most sublime productions saw release under the name GAS; four out of print albums released between 1996 and 2000 on Mille Plateaux that are on the eve of a well-deserved re-release by Kompakt, (accompanied by a book of Voigt’s related photography released by Raster-Noton).

GAS tracks are built around loops of orchestral string samples that have been slowed down (and sometimes reversed) and stretched out so far as to become unrecognizable drones. (Voigt has always been coy as to what composers he sampled, but Wagner, Alan Berg and Arnold Schoenberg are usually namechecked.) A muffled kick drum, beating out a pulse in 4/4 time, usually underscores these long gliding drones. Other sounds hiss, crackle, burble and pop as the drones loop over and over, sometimes graceful, sometimes mournful, but always hypnotic.

In this 1999 interview with De:Bug (translated into English), Voigt himself described GAS as, “Music without beginning and without end, cushioned contours that fall softly into the space, that seem to overrule temporal schemes. GASeous music, caught by a bass drum just marching by, that streams, streams out through the underwood across the forest soil.”

The sound is often described as ambient (I did so myself in the opening paragraph), but the word isn’t entirely accurate here, as for many people this means, “relaxing music to chill-out to.” While many of the tracks have a stately beauty to them, others are dark and eerie. Tracks four and five of Zauberberg (Voigt never named the tracks on his GAS albums) are downright sinister, and would clear a chill-out room in moments.

Special attention should be paid to the artwork of GAS, as it reflects something about the nature of each album. The fact that Raster-Noton is releasing a book of Voigt’s photography emphasizes the importance of the artwork. GAS, released in 1996, features an abstract, splotchy yellow cover that on closer inspection reveals … well, nothing but more yellow splotches (and a few red ones). At this point the project still seems to be taking shape for Voigt, and the vague nature of the cover reflects this.

Everything suddenly snaps into focus, however, on 1997’s Zauberberg, graced with a photograph of a forest taken with a blood red filter. This is the forest at its deepest and darkest, and the album sees some of the most sinister GAS tracks.

The trek through the forest continues on 1999’s Königsforst, but this time the forest is bathed in an amber light. There is a hint of darkness on track four, but the stately march of track five and the light, gentle, beatless loop of track six suggest dawn has arrived.

On Pop, the final GAS full-length released in 2000, the artwork reveals the forest finally bathed in clear sunlight; there are even glimpses of blue sky visible through the leaves on the back cover. The music is similarly light, and five of the seven tracks are entirely beatless. And when the familiar GAS kick drum comes in on the final track, it no longer feels heavy or oppressive – we’ve finally arrived at the rave in the heart of the forest, and it’s a beautiful, joyous thing.

For those who haven’t heard GAS before, the upcoming re-releases present the perfect opportunity to become familiar with what I truly believe is one of the most sublime chapters in the history of electronic dance music thus far. I know that sounds like I’m overstating things, but I’m really not. This is some of the most incredible music I’ve ever heard. I was absolutely stunned the first time I heard GAS, and every time I hear it I fall in love all over again. See you in the forest …

Postscript: Some overly detailed info about the re-releases, which kinda reveals how obsessive I am about GAS …

Details about the re-releases are a little confusing, with new information found here changing things since the first news reports came out. It seems Kompakt has pushed back the release of the four-CD boxset and the double-vinyl to June 10.

We also know more now about the double-vinyl release. It is strictly limited and, “The vinyl features one extended-edit track from each of the albums per side.”

Meanwhile, checking the May 22 news at the Raster-Noton website reveals that the 128-page book of Voigt’s GAS related photography is “coming soon.” Additionally, the Raster-Noton site reveals that the CD accompanying the book does not include Voigt’s 20 Minuten Gas Im November (recorded for Raster-Noton’s 20' To 2000 series), but instead features five tracks taken from Voigt’s “treasure chest” recorded between 1989 and 1998. Confusingly, the site says that, “4 of the 5 tracks have never been released or played before” but then goes on to say that, “all tracks [are] previously unreleased.”

Finally, there’s an excellent feature on Wolfgang Voigt that talks quite a bit about GAS in the May issue of The Wire.