Sunday, February 26, 2012

The roots of Detroit techno

So chatting to him, post "Unity" it seems Damu's been working on a bunch of new material, some of which is inspired by current techno. When he mentioned this, I instantly thought of the parallels between his colourful sound and the euphoric sweeps of classic techno. So I thought I'd put together a playlist of Detroit classics to share with him to see if he found something he liked.

Once I'd shared it with him, well, I thought I'd share it with you guys too as the idea of someone hearing World 2 World EP or "Desire" for the first time via this blog is really what it's all about for me.

I have a mixed relationship with techno, especially Detroit techno. I began listening to it in about '96. But as I outlined in my Resident Advisor chat with Todd, two factors separated me from daily consumption of it. Firstly was the realisation that I'd mostly been working backwards through techno, not forwards, and so when I'd unearthed all the main gems, it became a law of diminishing returns, literally in some sense, given Jeff Mills and Robert Hood's pioneering of minimal techno.

Secondly I fell in love with London, became massively inspired and influenced by its surroundings, multiculturalism and pirate mindstate and began to find techno as a scene uninspiring culturally as well as musically.

On reflection, when I look back to techno, my feelings coalesce into two camps.

Things I don't miss from techno:

  • The rhythmic stiffness, lack of offbeats, corrupted rhythms
  • The reliance on straight 4x4 kick as the primary driver
  • The purist mentality and how it feels disconnected from multiculturalism
  • Minimalism as an end unto itself

Things I will always love & cherish:

  • The sense of pure, epic synth-driven euphoria (quite distinct from the drug-tainted chemical chords of trance)
  • A love of detailed, mid and upper synthetic melodies
  • An attuned sense of abstract texture, space and detail - esp from Basic Channel (though they're not from Detroit, obv).
  • A spirit of an unbeatable underground movement

The Playlist:

Model 500 "No UFO'S"
Model 500 Night Drive [Time, Space, Transmat]"
69 "Desire"
Carl Craig "At Les (studio version)"
Rhythim Is Rhythim "Strings of Life (Original Mix)"
Derrick May "Icon (Montage Mix)"
Rhythim Is Rhythim "It Is What It Is"
Underground Resistance "Jupiter Jazz"
Galaxy 2 Galaxy (Underground Resistance) "Hi-Tech Jazz"
Galaxy 2 Galaxy (Underground Resistance) "Journey of the dragons"
World 2 World (Underground Resistance) "Amazon"
Red Planet "Star Dancer"
The Martian "Firekeeper"
The Martian "Voice Of Grandmother"
The Martian "Windwalker"
Reese "Just Want Another Chance"
Suburban Knight "Art of Stalking"
Robert Hood "Minimal Nation"
Robert Hood "Detroit: One Circle"
Robert Hood "All day long (b2)"


Ben White said...

One thing i think that separates techno from 'London' music is that while both types of music scream futurism (albeit possibly in different ways) it seems to me that techno (and Underground Resistance spring to mind as the strongest example) has a really interesting way of putting across a story through their whole presence - artwork, track titles, sleeve notes that ties in with the music in a way that most 'nuum music has never bothered.

The only I can think of on the UK side of things are the less 'road' stuff - Blunted Robots, Skull Disco, so maybe there is something interesting there. Maybe the growth of the MC

Skinnybones said...

I think there is something quite puzzling about Detroit Techno. On record, it's all about dystopian vs utopian visions of the future, leaving the shackles of cultural/ethnic specificity behind in favor of an "advanced human" race, all differences ironed out by technology.

But when heard live or DJing, Detroit Techno cats throw down some of the most pluralist sets out there. Check out fearless mixes by B. Calloway and your head will be spinning. Or even early radio mixes by Jeff Mills under the name The Wizard: Hip-Hop vs Electro vs New Wave vs Industrial vs Techno. Or clock a live Los Hermanos set and you're in for a salsa party.

As for the too-stiff 4x4 beat, Mark Flash's broken techno is a good antidote, as is Carl Craig.

"There will be people who will say 'You can't mix this with that' and you will say 'Watch me'" from UR's "Transition."

ultra spaceman said...

once again early frankfurt techno sidelined hopefully not forgotten. ie.early Mover, makes any 'dark' dubstep sound like a kids party. Early on, the rhythmic stiffness you mention surely defined the sound and created the tension. It wasn't meant to be fun.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your blog!
I'm a Detroit artist and your list gave me a heads up on a few gems I didn't know.
I've been experimenting with a more live experience of techno that is less preproduction and more live improvisation, but focusing on the classics. Exactly what Jazz musicians do with "Standards".
Even got videos online to inspire the audience to stay in the room with me, and not retreat to iphone oblivion whil doing other things (see K Of 7 or Orange).
Thanks for the knowledge and support of this great artform,