Thursday, April 16, 2009

Liberation Through Collaboration

Mike & Rich - Vodka

Back in early 1996 when rumours of a collaboration between electronic behemoths Richard D. James and Mike Paradinas first reached my ears, I was so excited you would have thought it had just been announced that a re-animated Albert Einstein was getting together with Professor Stephen Hawking to finalise plans for a teleportation device. The reality was something far less highbrow - as Mike P revealed of their union: "With Rich it was ... fooling around pissed and on acid".

So not the groundbreaking, experimental electronic-fest everyone was expecting. Instead we got a couple of equipment-obsessed techno boffins getting mullered on vodka and acid in a studio and concocting some cheesy tuneage, though the resulting album, 'Mike & Rich' ('Extreme Knob Twiddlers' was a subtitle), is an underrated, joyful affair. Of the process itself, Mike P said in an interview with the brilliant Milk Factory website: "It started round his (Richard's) place and we just did this track. I think we both enjoyed working together, it was quite a laugh, so we carried it on. We were serious about the music though - it's not a pisstake, just elements of joy."

Many critics saw Mike P as the dominant force in the recording process, and the free-jazz keys of opener 'Mr Frosty' were certainly evocative of the music he produced under his Jake Slazenger moniker. Throughout, the playful synths and odd samples recall prime Rephlex-era µ-ziq material. But this simplistic view doesn't allow for the fact that (according to Mike P) the sessions were partly inspired by the unreleased Aphex Twin album 'Melodies from Mars'. Plus I can't imagine such a strong personality as RDJ would have been subservient to another producer - it's far more likely that he felt suitably liberated by the collaborative process, relaxed by multiple vodka shots, off his face on acid, and in the mood to create something a little bit different from his usual output. The crunchy techno of 'Vodka', with its off-kilter melodies is very Aphex, and 'Winner Takes All' recalls 'Cow Cud is a Twin' from the 'I Care Because You Do' album, while also being reminiscent of contemporary Luke Vibert's output as Wagon Christ.

'Mike & Rich' has aged pretty well considering and the cover is an absolute classic. Seeing the youthful Mike and Rich enjoying a game of Downfall is a reminder of more innocent times.

Squarepusher/AFX - Freeman Hardy & Willis Acid

Luke Vibert sent many a fan boy's pulse racing when he disclosed (again in an interview with The Milk Factory in 2003) that all of the electronic music scene's powerhouses have worked together at some point. "(Me and Richard) do work loads. Nearly every time I see him, we make music together. Same with Squarepusher. We’ve done tracks with Tom, I’ve done tracks with Mike Paradinas, everyone’s done tracks together." But, unfortunately, it appears that not many of these collaborations will ever see the light of day as they simply aren't good enough - too unfocused, sprawling and messy to be worthy of a proper release. Though tantalisingly, Vibert said that he might give some of them away via the internet - as far as I'm aware, this hasn't happened yet.

However, one track that did make it into the public domain was a collaboration between Tom 'Squarepusher' Jenkinson and RDJ under his AFX guise. Recorded to celebrate Warp Records’ 100th release and named after the popular high street shoe retailer, 'Freeman, Hardy & Willis Acid' marries some mournful Aphexian melodies to jazzy, rolling Squarepusher d'n'b beats. Then the ante is upped as the drums go all splattercore and it finally delivers on the acid promised by the title with some vintage squidge. With Warp celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, perhaps a few more collaborations between the old school heavyweights could be on the cards. Here's hoping...

Buy 'Mike & Rich' from Boomkat
Mike P's Planet Mu website
Aphex Twin fan resource/forum at WATMM - strictly for the hardcore fanboize - you have been warned!
Squarepusher MySpace
Warp Records website