Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Vintage Year for Techno

While rummaging around in The White Noise Revisited cellar the other day, I came across a bottle of the 1993 vintage and upon uncorking it and inhaling, my nose was assaulted by the heady, metallic aromas of techno. Yes indeed my music-loving hombres, 1993 was a brilliant year for the techno arts. I can support this statement with four words – Black Dog Productions' ‘Bytes’, and back it up further with three more: Orbital’s ‘Brown Album’. However, I’m going to focus on three less vaunted long players to really add weight to the proclamation.

F.U.S.E. - Substance Abuse
F.U.S.E. - Dimension Intrusion

‘Dimension Intrusion’ was the fifth in the series of ‘Artificial Intelligence’ albums released on Warp during the early 1990s. Recorded by Richie Hawtin under his F.U.S.E. (Further Underground Sound Experiments) moniker, it was actually released on Plus 8 before Warp licensed it. I’m sure my brother will crawl down the wires and bite my ears off for making this statement, but I actually think ‘Dimension Intrusion’ is Hawtin’s best album - far superior to his efforts as Plastikman. It contains some of his finest banging acid techno (‘F.U.’ and ‘Substance Abuse’), alongside deft moments of sparkling electronica like the title track and ‘A New Day’, which were more representative of the ‘AI’ sound Warp were championing. ‘Slac’ is the slo-mo jackin’ acid oft repeated under the Plastikman guise, and the epic ‘Theychx’, which features speech samples from George Lucas' 1971 debut movie THX 1138, is an exercise in understated bleepy ambient wonder. ‘Mantrax’ is another gem, a driving, acidic groover with soft percussion and harmonic chords. But it’s ‘Substance Abuse’ that is the standout. It’s an absolute monster – like the doom-mongering older brother of Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’, with an equally thunderous bassline, but replacing the euphoric "Ecstasy!" chant with the cautionary "Overdose!". I wouldn’t say ‘Dimension Intrusion’ is underrated, as I know lots of people who, umm, rate it, but it is often overlooked, especially in favour of the other albums in the ‘AI’ series. Dig it out or hunt it down - it’s a blinder, make no mistake.

Buy F.U.S.E. 'Dimension Intrusion' from Bleep
F.U.S.E. discography
Plastikman website

Luke Slater - Mauve Violin
Luke Slater - Colonian Space Unexplored

Before Peacefrog soundtracked adverts for televisions with folksy ramblings, they used to release albums like Luke Slater's brutal ‘X-Tront Vol. 2’; the aural equivalent of being thumped to death by a man with fists made of hammers. Rough, raw and heavy on the drums, the nine tracks present on the CD (there was a limited vinyl release that included an exclusive ambient 12”) don’t bother with any subtleties. My wife was in the room when I was burning this CD onto my computer and she expressed her objection to this sort of music, proclaiming it the sort of “male techno bollocks” that used to ruin her night when it was played at raves back in the day. It’s hard to disagree with this assessment, but I have to confess my undying love for this sort of soulless, pounding death-by-techno madness. Of course, Mr Slater has demonstrated a fine ear for melody over the years, recording under various guises, but on the ‘X-Tront’ series melody wasn’t really on his agenda, with the exception of the odd tune in ten. ‘Mauve Violin’ sounds like it could be hippy new-age nonsense, but it’s verging on the gabba. The only accompaniment to the distorted drums and percussion is what sounds like a computer malfunctioning and some ear-shredding bleeps. ‘Colonian Space Unexplored’, a co-write with early collaborator Alan Sage, is slightly more refined and funky, like electro on steroids – all clattering percussion and manipulated drum noise.

Search eBay for 'X-Tront Vol. 2'
Luke Slater discography
Luke Slater website

Hardfloor - Lost In The Silver Box
Hardfloor - Trancescript

The German duo of Oliver Bondzio and Ramon Zenker released their debut album, ‘TB Resuscitation’ in 1993, following the success of the truly immense and epoch-making single ‘Acperience 1’ with which they made their name. Dedicated to the inventor of the Roland TB 303, each track on the album followed a fairly rigid blueprint, wringing every last drop of life out of the device, which was originally marketed to guitarists for bass accompaniment while practicing alone. ‘TB Resuscitation’ is really a retro acid house record, a nod back to 1987 when the likes of Phuture and DJ Pierre were pioneering the acid sound. Bondzio and Zenker’s major accomplishment was managing to inject their repetitive, one-dimensional music with gallons of soul, humour and creativity, causing sensations in the listener ranging from madness to sheer euphoria. They probably worked in an atmosphere akin to being in intensive care – a small room, surrounded by bleeping boxes, yet somehow emerged with their sanity intact, enjoying a lengthy career in the industry that is still flourishing today. ‘TB Resuscitation’ featured the ubiquitous ‘Acperience’, but also tracks like album opener ‘Lost in the Silver Box’, which is a more severe take on their craft, with thumping drums and the 303 tweaked to make sounds ranging from birds tweeting to a lion gargling gazelle guts. ‘Trancescript’ is a funkier effort, following the usual pattern of building to a crescendo with a series of layered melodic acid lines. It should only work in a club environment, but there is something about the way they construct their songs that makes them just as suitable for home listening. The great thing about the music is that repeated listening reveals different patterns and sounds. The fact that it can also cause the onset of insanity is by the by. Yes, it’s formulaic but it’s a formula that works, and ‘TB Resuscitation’ is an absolute classic.

Search eBay for 'TB Resuscitation'
Hardfloor discography
Hardfloor website