So, there's a buzz around noisy, industrial techno right now.
Okay, great. This happens every so often: especially since Ancient Methods appeared, then more regularly since the arrival of Blawan in 2010, and recently pretty much every time Regis so much as farts. This time round it's around the release of the Perc album The Power & The Glory and some brain-blistering live shows that he's been doing for its launch – and thankfully, this time discussion tends to focus on the most important thing. This is absolutely amazing music for dancing until you sweat your kidneys out.
Not that there's anything wrong with discussing techno - as has been the tendency lately - in terms of its outsider status, its dystopian visions, its ability to conjure up images of rust and dust, and so on and so forth. All that is fine, but it all does have a tendency, if it's allowed to go on unchecked, to lead to people standing around in clubs looking like they're plotting a high school massacre, rather than being there for the party. It's nice to be reminded that the industrial tendency is about proper banging, jagged-edged face-rippers first, theory second – and it has always been that way, if you knew where to look.
Some context: I'm old enough and raddled enough to remember the early nineties, when Lenny Dee, Beltram, Aphex Twin, Planet Core Productions, Frankie Bones, Adam X, DJAX-UP Records, Underground Resistance, DJ Producer, monstrous Cologne acid - and on and on - were still part of a more generalised "rave music". Even Ritchie Hawtin was part of this. His Cybersonik and FUSE guises making as furious a racket as anyone. Despite its heads-down, no-nonsense approach, this stuff was as creative as anything else going on in the rave spectrum, and each new tune could make your head spin with its fresh approach to kickdrum distortion, and ugly riffing.
Back then the hard techno DJs would play alongside more breakbeat-orientated ones, and even the latter's proto-jungle was still completely shot through with the spirit of the ugliest, meanest Dutch, Belgian, German and US snarlers. As the great splintering of dance music became irrevocable circa '93, brutal techno was a part of the clubbing choices for a load of general ravers, not just shaven-headed I.T. students. Pure, The Orbit, Eurobeat 2000, Lost, Club 69, House Of God – just to mention the top British clubs – were among the most important and beloved in the country for a long while, and were furious sweatpits one and all.
The mainstream narrative is that club techno became stuck in a (literal) loop of imagination-bereft Jeff Mills impersonation and, by about 1997, was more or less creatively bankrupt, and would die away until the rise of minimal in the new millennium. But plenty of people held a torch for techno that could be both ridiculous, and ridiculously creative. The people I had got to know carried on putting out furious music and throwing hilarious parties, and have continued to do so right through the 2000s. Sativa, Test, Coin-Operated, Monox, Plex, Bangface, I Love Acid, Ugly Funk - not to mention all kinds of raves across Poland, Ukraine, Scandinavia and Germany - all kept the flame burning bright, with a strange, chemical stench.
It's not even like it was that obscure. Half of electroclash itself, especially at the Nag Nag Nag end of the spectrum, was basically industrial electro-techno. Jamal Moss released the mindblowing My Life as a Skinny Puppy EP with Steven Pointdexter in 2003, and since then even a hip label like Numbers has released dark techno god Lory D. Meanwhile, the techno scene happily absorbed influences from dubstep, grime, northern bassline, electroclash, warehouse electro, ghetto house (actually, for everyone who currently buys into the Dancemania revival and tells you they've always been into it, it was the hard techno scene more than any other that always supported that sound) without losing its core identity, and is frothing with creativity still.
It's telling that Fun in The Murky (incorporating Bleep Radio), which is probably the biggest online hub for this stuff, didn't even start until the early 2000s, and some of my very best partying experiences of the last decade were had at Ugly Funk and Coin-Operated nights in probably-not-entirely-legal venues on London's grubbier outskirts. I guess the hype spotlight moved on - to electroclash, then dubstep and minimal, and probably as a journalist I'm guilty of contributing to this – but one of the things that's often forgotten about dance music is that it's notabout the shock of the new, it's about the shock of the now. At 3am, nobody cares whether a formula has been done before or not. They care about whether a tune can still make soup from your brain or not. Hard, industrial, distorto-wonky techno has always been able to do that.
Yes, it's brilliant that young producers like Blawan (and Pariah, together as Karenn) and Happa are making music that sounds, in the words of my friend Bashford, "like eating metal crisps". It's great that people are paying attention to it, and that it's actually reaching big festival and club crowds. But don't get it twisted. Just because they've caught a media wave doesn't mean there's some sort of new movement underway. It's always been there. There are an endless flow of astounding releases on labels like Don't, Ugly Funk, Horror Boogie, Rag & Bone etc., by producers like Neil Landstrumm, Michael Forshaw, Ben Pest, Jerome Hill, Paul Birken, Scott Robinson, Luke Sanger, TSR, Jason Leach (Subhead) and more, if you care to find them.
The man like Ibrahim Alfa has a compilation Oyabun Trax Vol 1 due out in a month that features young, mental producers from across Europe, who manage to combine the joy of electronic creation and true rave spirit with being punk as fuck. So enjoy the Perc album and shows – they're worth it – but if you do, perhaps try digging a bit deeper, and you might find the same thrills are more readily available than you think.
Joe Muggs likes to write in that Old Man Yells At Cloud kind of way. You can follow him on Twitter here: @joemuggs