13 years ago today, James Stinson, one of the most singular figures in electronic music passed away. Though he's best known for his work with Gerald Donald as Drexciya, Stinson was prolific and responsible for creating some of the most mind-warping luscious techno, electro, and even house, that's likely to ever exist.
With the confluence of sonic and mechanical technologies expanding around the same time, the association between electronic sounds and 'the unknown' has existed since the possibility of either being explored became a reality. Drexciya's vision took this to another level, creating an alternative underwater reality and solar system, and giving them their own soundtrack. Initially starting off with harsher dancefloor-oriented Detroit electro, over time Drexciya moved into more forward-thinking realms, exploring melody and sound to an end that few have been able to better or recreate with the same level of mastery. Stinson and Donald were connecting visuals to sounds, creating worlds that were incomparable to anything else produced before or since, in terms of sheer quality and the totality of aesthetic.
Though specific details on many of Stinson's projects are thin on the ground due to few interviews or general information about many of the releases being provided, fans such as Drexciya Research Lab have tirelessly tried to decode messages and meaning from the music. The sleeve notes of The Quest tell the tale of Drexciya, an underwater colony which was founded by the children of pregnant African slave women who were thrown off ships. This myth is something which would go on to form a major part of their output, musically and artistically.
Chiefly it would influence one of the most interesting aspects, the so-called 'Storm Series' that Stinson hinted at in the rare interviews he granted. It consists of seven or eight records which were said to make up a violent storm. Made in a burst of creativity in roughly a year around the turn of the millennium, these explored a plethora of different ideas, but with that unmistakable Drexciyan flair.
His ability to create melodies and sounds which invoke are pretty much unmatched in club music, even to this day. With a back catalogue so strong and vast it can be difficult to know where to dive in. So here, in no particular order, I've taken on the immensely difficult task of picking out 10 essential James Stinson tracks, from Drexciya and beyond.
Drexciya - Lake Haze
Stinson brought electro to places that nobody else could and "Lake Haze" is pretty much the perfect example of this. From probably my favourite Drexciya record Harnessed The Storm, it's intimidating, vast and otherworldly, leaving you feeling like you're being sucked away by the powerful currents of an unforgiving ocean.
L.A.M. - Toxic TV
One of the very earliest Stinson and Donald releases, Balance of Terror by L.A.M (Life After Mutation) shows the roots of the Detroit duo. "Toxic TV" is absolutely relentless, and though, with some exceptions, they mostly moved away from this side of their sound, it's easy to see how that submerged feeling that inhabits a lot of their music developed from here. It's also just a total banger, no question.
Drexciya - Powers of the Deep
For me this goes hand-in-hand with "Lake Haze" in how it manages so clearly to paint the image of the underwater world that Drexciya strove relentlessly to realise. From the incredible Grava 4 album, it transports you to somewhere between the darkest reaches of the cosmos, to the deepest dwellings of the ocean. This is escapist electro in its purest form.
The Other People Place - Sorrow & A Cup of Joe
"Sorrow & A Cup of Joe" was one of the last things Stinson ever recorded. A departure from most of his other material, he instead created one of the finest laidback deep house records ever recorded. "Only moccachino, make me feel alright" are the only words spoken in the track but they have an astounding emotional impact. It's impossible not to get sucked in by the unassuming, almost blues-like charm, and the knowledge of it being released so close to his death adds a whole other dimension of poignancy to it.
Drexciya - Neon Falls
Following on from "Sorrow...", this my favourite track under the Drexciya umbrella. The track is at the tail end of mammoth collection The Quest — the record which probably gives the best idea of what their music is about. The synth melodies are light and airy but they're offset by a delightfully forceful drum pattern. One of the most euphoric Drexciya tracks out there. Custom built for an all-nighter in the middle of the ocean.
Elecktroids - Midnight Drive
"Midnight Drive" is from 1995's Elektroworld, and feels like a bit of a precursor to the sounds that Stinson explored with The Other People Place. Though the exact identity of who was involved in the record's creation is unknown, Stinson's fingerprints are all over it, from the melody to the vocals. It's some of the most Detroit sounding electro that he was involved with but it is, undoubtedly, a classic of the form.
Lab Rat XL - Lab Rat 3
The lack of track names for Mice or Cyborg, which was released posthumously in 2003, was down to the untimely passing of Stinson. Even by Drexciyan standards, it's a pretty dark and sludgy record, but "Lab Rat 3" feels like it had the most soul to it. Maybe it's the bassline or the searing cold drone underneath, but it's one of the most gorgeously intense pieces in the whole Stinson catalogue.
Drexciya - Surface Terrestrial Colonization
Though they had been releasing music for a while beforehand, Neptune's Lair was Drexciya's first album proper. It's also probably the weirdest record under the Drexciya name, and clocking in at over 20 tracks it can be a bit intimidating and impenetrable at points. "Surface Terrestrial Colonization" wouldn't sound out of place on a Sega Megadrive game but it still has a groove and a hook that will worm into your brain.
Transillusion - Do You Want to Get Down
One of the more dancefloor-friendly choices, "Do You Want To Get Down?" is the closer of the excellent The Opening Of The Cerebral Gate. It's a heady and trippy loop jam with a pretty terrifying vocal sweeping in occasionally. It's a total mind warper and shoulder roller and a steadfast reminder that Stinson was about making you move as well as think about the possibilities of a life underwater.
The Other People Place - You Said You Want Me
In reality, any of the tracks from Lifestyles of the Laptop Cafe, one of the finest records Warp ever released, could easily have made it onto this list. The album is the most complete and realised full-length that Stinson recorded and "You Said You Want Me" epitomises what makes it so great. The forlorn vocals and the chords woven through it compliment each other to create something which is blissful and emotionally stirring.