The 'Mojo' (mofo) reader's guide to techno
(or 'How I learned to stop worrying and love techno, and rap')
by Aaron Goldberg (November 1999)
'...The counterculture of the '60's was rural, romanticized, anti-science, anti-tech. But there was always a lurking contradiction at its heart, symbolised by the electric guitar. Rock technology was the thin edge of the wedge. As the years have passed, rock-tech has grown ever more accomplished, expanding into hi-tech recording, satellite video, and computer graphics. Slowly it is turning rebel pop-culture inside-out, until the artists at pop's cutting edge are now, quite often, cutting edge technicians in the bargain. They are special effects wizards, mixmasters, tape-effects-techs, graphics hackers, emerging through new media to dazzle society with head-trip extravaganzas like FX cinema and the global Live Aid benefit. The contradiction has become an integration..." taken from Mirrorshades - Cyberpunk anthology, written by Bruce Sterling.
I thought I would start this little review with a pretentious statement made by someone else to help demonstrate the ideas I am trying to put across. I just think that it's about time Mojo and other codgers acknowledge the awesome power of the 'new' American soul music called techno. These connoisseurs of fine music need to fucken put Juan Atkins/Derrick May/Jeff Mills and Eddie 'Flashin' Fowkles on magazine covers, billboards, cocktail napkins and such- these guys are the true sonic geniuses of our modern era. Fuck REM. Fuck Radiohead. Fuck Oasis. Fuck grunge. Put down your bong, turn off your Bob Dylan live 1966 re-issue CD and put away your Beach Boys boxed set. Get over the fucking Aphex Twin. It's time to wake up motherfucker, and show how open minded you really are.
You will find that most of the artists I am reviewing here are African Americans from Detroit. Not all the techno from Detroit is good, in fact I personally think that Carl Craig is so hideously over-rated, that it's a crime that most mods believe he is the master of this sound. Similarly, I have not chosen any Derrick May output, since, well, he hasn't really done much, and besides, he talks to much. Most of the CD's I am going to review here were made within the last 2 years. They are as fresh and pure as anything done by the MC5, Stooges, Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders. They go beyond contemporary hip styles like 'indie rock,' 'no-depression', 'post (it notes) rock' and 'international garage rock'. It might be cliched but I can only describe these records as modern soul recordings. Not post-modern. Not retro. Modern.
See you covering this shit in 10 years time.
Moody Man A Silent introduction (Planet E records)
This piece of electronic soul is a true masterpiece of music in any way, shape or form. Moody Man is actually Kenny Dixon Jr, one of the 'new school' of techno producers, and A Silent Introduction is his first full length album as an artist. The cover has a weird photograph of Kenny himself, looking like some sort of Afro-John Lennon(!), this bloke has grooves which could easily cause you to dislocate yr lower vertebrae. With its tempo sitting in warm confines of the 4/4 house beat, Moody Man makes a sound that is as pure and smooth as a blow job on a Sunday morning - concepts that would tickle the willies of you. The 2nd track on the CD - "I Can't Kick This Feeling When It Hits" - takes a sample from Chic, slaps down a deep-deep kick & beat, and washes down the concoction with a sonic wash that wouldn't sound too far off the 'ecstasy' sound of Spacemen 3/Spiritualised. By the time the perfect rhythm has peaked, you haven't realized that you've gotten of yr arse and you're dancing, even if it is like a grooveless spastic. There are tracks on the CD, that I know, many listeners will say "gee that sounds gay" - the dippy jazz of "The Third Track" or even "M Traxx" and "Music People" - but for dance pop, they still work better than anything by Armand Van Helden. Before you can say "but I thought he was...," you will have your mind fucked and twisted by the minimal squash of "Oceans," the filtered fuck of 'In loving memory' and the concrete ugliness of "Dem Young Sconies." For you 'purists' - which most of you Mojo motherfuckers are - slap your willy around to the mod-Gospel of "Answer Machine" or the jazz-fusion of "Sunday Morning" Listen to this fucken' CD, which is already two years vintage, and you will get some idea of where dance music will be heading for at least the next 8 years, give or take.
Underground Resistance Interstellar Fugitives (Submerge)
Sonic hackers from the black dimension, Underground Resistance have a reputation and mystique that is unparalleled in modern music in 1999. Mind you, most of it could be total bullshit, because despite all the symbolism and intellectual posturing, if you don't have the music, you don't have shit. Fortunately though, Underground Resistance deliver everything, just the way you want it. They got the mystique, the reputation, and most of all, the fuckin' sound!
Everything about this record is dark, from the artwork, to the slogans written all over it, to the sounds on the disc. Opening with the brooding John Carpenter movie soundtrack track "Zero is my country" by Chamelion, this CD never lets up with its love of the sounds of 'electronics.' When we talk 'electronic,' we are not talking about Autechre or fucken Vangelis. We are talking about fluid Afro-'electronics' - like Sun Ra jamming on the Concert for the Comet Kahoutek, Herbie Hancock on Sextant fucking with that ARP, or Glandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambatta 'boom-chucking' away in the early '80's. Take my point - the 2nd track on this CD, "Maroon" by Suburban Knight, starts off with some sort of piss-take on some fucken retarded beat from a Prodigy track. There's a simple tight bassline (played on real bass), and then some of the funkiest and fucked free form electronics I have heard since, well since the previous mentioned artists.
Most of Interstellar Fugitives is made up of wobbly electro ("Nannytown," "Afrogermanic"), but most of it is underpinned by that sick, incessant, hypnotic, poly-rhythmic free-form electronics that are as awe inspiring, primal and just plain affecting as any sonics made by 'real' instruments. There is also a dark brooding drone that this crew seem to put together that is so unnerving but beautiful at the same time ("Mirage"), you'll think "hey, that's sounds sorta familiar!" Which gets me to my final point - Underground Resistance sounds cooler than Sonic Youth!
Model 500 Mind & Body (R & S Records)
Model 500 is Juan Atkins' main creative project. In my opinion it's about time all those clueless motherfuckers that sit on the high horse of music writing/criticism/turd mining - and any other fucking lazy old fuck who continues to write about Bruce Springsteen box sets and fucking Bob Dylan nose picking stories, and fucking how good Beck is, and about how generous the fucking Beastie Boys are, and how important fucking Guided by Voices are - give him the cudos and repsect he deserves as a groundbreaking and revolutionary artist.
OK, now to the music. Basically Juan Atkins is credited as being the 'godfather of techno.' It is not hard to understand why. Basically the guy can do everything and anything in his own - how do I put it - rockin'/electronic/ambient style. The guy has an incredible back catalogue of music that is as timeless and mighty as anything done by previous African American godhead artists like Sun Ra, George Clinton and even Pharaoh Sanders - and a definitive box set of his work wouldn't be a bad idea in anyone's books. Model 500 though is probably where I would personally point 'serious' music listeners to first. The first Model 500 album - Deep Space - sounds like the most beautiful, sensual and exotic girlfriend you never had. Unfortunately I don't own that album either, so I'm suffering.
Mind and Body is the 2nd album by Model 500, and Mr.Atkins is exploring different genres, most notably 'jungle' and 'dub'. Despite the obvious stylistic reference to these genres, Atkins has taken them and basically applied his own deeply humanistic formula, and created another fucking sonic masterpiece. Opening with electronic-shock-sonics on the track "Psychosomatic," you think, nah, this is crummy techno shit. It's not until you're halfway through the track "Everyday," the part where the track mutates into some sort of hip-hop-dub-techno-excursion, that everything clicks, and you're saying, "gee I'm a fucking idiot, why didn't I discover this music 5 years ago?" (Why am I still smoking pot and occasionally shooting up?). By track 3 - "Incredible"- you finally understand 'drum n bass' and 'techno,' you start to realize that techno is a REAL form of music, and that when you hear the masters do their shit, you start to realize that this music is as dynamic and soulful and humanistic as the best jazz or dub or psychedelic music. You start to worry less about the future, and more importantly, you start tell your friends that Juan Atkins is god.
Niko Marks & City Boy Players feat Mr. Eddie Fowlkes (SSR/Crammed Disks)
This fucker came from out of nowhere, and gave me such a 'clup in cop' that I think I lost a few million brain cells in an extremely pleasurable way. I'm still not sure if City Boy Players are 1) a full funk band, 2) a partial funk band, 3) techno smart arses pretending they're a funk band or 4) all of the above. I mean there's a picture of some black dudes on the back that look like a band, there's a photo of a band playing live, but none of the songs are credited to a band on the liner notes. Maybe they're a studio production job, that play live? Fuck, who cares!!! Anyway CBP is a project of Mr. Eddie 'Flashin' Fowlkes, another fucking under-rated legend from the Detroit music scene. How do I describe this CD... Very housey? Nah, its busier and looser than house. P-Funk? Not that either because its sparser and more electronic. I can't really describe this album. Maybe it's like a more digital version of Jestofunk? I don't care either way - this album is fucking great. It's got funk, and house, and soul, and lots of jazz, and electronics and fucking great sounds that are modern and most of all 'fresh.' The track "Freeman=Free Man," named after their bass player Freeman Spells, has a bassline that is so fluid and funky, that I guarantee you, it will have you in fucking traction! "Get Up Ma People" is pure P-Funk with fucking Stevie Wonder and techno mixed into the same pot. This album is full of feel-good funky delights, the kind of stuff you really have to look for, or have a good friend with taste, point out for you.
Other notable 'electronic' music that doesn't necessarily come from Detroit
DJ's Z-Trip & Radar Live at the Future Primitive Soundsession Volume Two (unknown label) Everyone will tell you about those abstract-turntablistic new-skool big-beat chemical-blah-blah spastic trips. They'll munch on about how good that bloke is from the Beastie Boys, about how that DJ Shadow album is the best thing since falafels in Telv Aviv, or about how cool it is to listen to Mo'Wax records. Good luck to those sort of people, because quite frankly they will have absolutely no idea that this little DJ mix/scratchadelia CD is the possibly the best thing that has come out of this genre since Terminator X spoke with his hands over 10 years ago. DJ's Z-Trip & Radar are two very fucken' fly guys from Phoenix, Arizona of all places. Their two tracks on the Bomb DJ's Return of the DJ Vol. 2 set - 'Private Parts' & 'Rockstar' are simply superior examples of the form on that said record. These guys don't need to win those dumb DJ awards to prove their worth - they are just simply that fucking good! Literally, this album is the SHIT!!
Full of old skool breaks (LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, Run DMC, Licensed to Ill period Beasties -you know, the stuff that got you into rap to begin with), mixed with prog rock (Pink Floyd), hard rock (Aerosmith, the Who's "Wont Get Fooled Again" scratched into a block rockin' mix that the Chemical Bros could only dream about!), and finally some '80's art-yuppie action via Talking' Heads "Once in a Lifetime' cut and scratched into a groove as pure as a bottle of Evian! In many ways this CD plays like my own personal journey through the music I grew up with a kid, and DJ's Z-Trip in Radar have somehow scratched and mixed everything into a brew that rocks, moves and shakes in all the right places. A must for lazy radio DJ's and house parties - Live at the Future Primitive Sound Sessions Vol. 2 is guaranteed to rock your world!
Dr. Dooom First Come, First Served (Funky Ass Records)
Keith Thornton will be remembered in future generations as maybe the Bob Dylan or Dostoyevsky or even the Larry Sanders of rap. You may say to yourself 'what is this wanker on about?' What I'm trying to say here is that Keith is a master of language. Keith is the kind of guy that seems to LOVE the sound of words. Keith makes music out of words and their 'lyrical flow.' If you took away the music behind most Kool Keith records, you would still have killer tracks. Half the time I don't know what Keith's talking about. I don't care what Keith is talking about - I just like to hear him talkin' and rhymin' and cussin' and making up all these completely mental scenarios that are disturbing to some, but I find them incredibly funny and entertaining and plain fucking - cool! After listening to any Kool Keith album, literary minded shmendricks and spoken word boffins will collect all their lousy Lydia Lunch and Rollins and fucking Kerouac tribute CD's, pour lighter fluid all over them, and gleefully watch the fuckers burn! It's like when Keith talks, bullshit walks. Ah fuck! Some of his music is a bit dodgy, but on the latest Black Elvis CD, the man has just... Ah fuck! He's a genius and legend, and fucking icon. What else can I say?
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