Electric Independence

It seems that more and more labels are looking to the past to get a clearer vision of the future.

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Dec 1 2003, 12:00am



Seeing as most of the minimal techno movement has completely punked out on taking things to the nex nex, and the ironic 80s retro-futurism shtick flooding the underground has worn itself a little thin, it seems that more and more labels are looking to the past to get a clearer vision of the future. Besides the essential Cabaret Voltaire comp (The Original Sound of Sheffield 78/82) that came out awhile ago on Mute, there are a bunch of hot, new retrospectives/re-releases/un-releases that are hitting the shelves and are worthy of a listen.

Topping the list is the latest full-length out of Detroit’s Ersatz Audio camp. It’s said that to know where you’re going, you have to look where you’ve been, and it seems the folks down at the Ersatz (AKA electro luminaries Adult.) know when it’s time to give props to the old school. First off, let me clarify that when I say, “giving props to the old school,” I’m not talking about those generic electro DJ mixes that drop “Planet Rock” strictly for “old-school cred.” I’m talking about lovers of the genre who dig deep and get their hands all dirty and shit trying to find that elusive and dusty rare-as-shit French import 7” from 1982. In this particular case, with N.O.I.A. Unreleased Classics ’78–’82, Ersatz have struck gold and are about to share this musical nugget with the rest of us. Two years ago, the influential Italian synth-pop group N.O.I.A. re-recorded ten of their earliest never-before-released tracks, and Ersatz jumped at the chance to release the album for the first time on CD and double 12”. With melodies and choruses that nod to a certain pioneering four-man German electro group, N.O.I.A. managed to develop a unique, upbeat pop sound that’s strangely contrasted by rather dark lyrical subject matter. As relevant today as it was two decades ago, and will be two decades from now.

Gomma Records, who’ve already got one solid retrospective comp under their belts (the excellent Anti-NY CD that featured tracks by Rammelzee and Basquiat’s band, Grey) are about to unleash another no-wave compilation gem on unsuspecting ears. This time they mine the fertile territory of Germany’s experimental music scene circa ’77–’83. After Can and Kraftwerk (in Northern Germany) and Giorgio Moroder and Amon Düül (in Munich) showed the world what the future was gonna be, masses of new German bands began experimenting with different styles of music: Psych rock freaks jammed with new-wavers, and early punks played along with disco kids, creating some of the best German new wave funk, lo-fi trash-disco and hobby-rock this side of the Mudd Club. Eighteen of those tracks are captured on Teutonik Disaster. Highlights include Carmen’s “Schlaraffenland” (a German synth-pop version of The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar”), Explorer’s Devo-esque track “Rabbits,” and the John Lurie/Lounge Lizards-ish no-wave brass attack of Klick’s “Blauer Lumumba.”

Eskimo Records’ excellent (if not slightly somber) mix Serie Noire: Dark Pop + New Beat, brings together some influential and almost-forgotten classics from disparate scenes of the early to late 80s—from the lo-fi tribal/electro of the Pool, to prog-rockers Alan Parsons Project, to Factory Records’ Section 25—and weaves them together in an hour-long synth-driven journey (the inclusion of John Carpenter’s “The End” from the Assault on Precinct 13 soundtrack is pure genius). On the whole, a great, well-researched comp for lovers of dark synth atmospherics and for fans of Dutch labels like Bunker.

Also count Rephlex Records “in” on the rare-reissue tip, as they’ve recently made the original soundtrack of the 1988 dance-culture classic Stakker Eurotechno available for the first time ever on CD and vinyl. Considered by many to be a pioneering video in the realm of bedroom digital production, the soundtrack (featuring Brian Dougans of Future Sound Of London fame) is an acid lover’s paradise, with squelchy 303 and pounding grooves. Far from an exercise in nostalgia, Rephlex’s release of this influential soundtrack is more like a labor of love. Even if the entire 21-track album clocks in at about 25 minutes, it’s perfect for anyone looking to own a slice of dance-music history.

New York forward-thinking label Carpark kicks off 2003 with Wanna Buy a Crapark?, a solid compilation featuring thirteen tracks (and four videos) from a selection of audionauts flying the Carpark flag (Marumari, Greg Davis, Kid 606, Dinky, Ogurusu Norihide, Signer, etc). While most of the tracks are of the laid- back, abstract folktronica nature, tracks by Kit Clayton vs. Safety Scissors and Freescha mix it up and get a little more rambunctious. Specially priced to move, and if you haven’t already picked up a Carpark release (like the absolutely necessary Casino vs. Japan album), this is a great chance to discover a great label.

Jan Jelinek has always been a high-concept kind of guy. As Farben, he gave eager listeners his own reduced take on digital soul music. As Gramm, he explored the idea of minimalism in a dancefloor context. And under his own name, he created new groove patterns by shifting linear loop fragments on the critically acclaimed Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records (~Scape). With his latest effort, La Nouvelle Pauvreté (~Scape), Jelinek has decided to throw away the idea of the singular, seamless concept-album (which he sees as being both “the cornerstone and weak spot” of the scene) in preference for a more open-ended musical approach. The results are absolutely stunning. Instead of exhausting a single musical idea, Jelinek offers up a smorgasbord of styles and influences that fit together like a delicate sound puzzle shifting and floating as it plods along to subtle microbeats. In his efforts to lay bare the source material and composition, Jelinek throws in his own whispered voice as an instrument, pitching and morphing it with an effect reminiscent of Supercollider’s Jamie Lidell but with more subtlety. While La Nouvelle Pauvreté may be his most varied work to date, it somehow manages to sound like his most complete, making his previous efforts seem like rough drafts. This is true future music.

Also recognizing that a lot of electronic musicians are sadly putting process before all else, Dan Abrams (AKA Shuttle_358) manages to create a unique musical world on Understanding Wildlife (Mille Plateaux). Bare as an arctic landscape and complex and varied as a cloud molecule, Understanding Wildlife is a rich and fascinating effort that will surely please those looking for an intimate quiet listen.

Minimal-techno stalwarts Stewart Walker and Geoff White have formed like Voltron on Discord (Force Inc.), and have come up with one of the most infectious minimal dancefloor efforts since Akufen’s “My Way.” For those of you who may not remember, Walker was responsible for one of 1999’s best techno releases, Stabiles, while White put out a solid effort, Questions and Comments, in 2001 (both on Force Inc.). On Discord, the two bring their strengths to the fore. At times slick, dubby and atmospheric, and at other times straight-ahead and pumping, this record will surely find its way into a lot of people’s crates and Discmans.

RAF AND VINCE
 

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