As current events help repopularize Outkast hits, is there anything we have learned from techno? Perhaps that all good things come in loops, and history is no exception. With the growing popularity of what the modern electronic community dubs electro (whatever sounds ’80s gets called this, be it Italian disco-influenced, New Wave-tinged, industrial beats or breakdance nostalgia), what was once the music of the future is making a strong comeback.
Local artists such as Adult., Dopplereffekt and Ultradyne, labels such as Ersatz Audio, Puzzlebox and IT continue to find global audiences and prove the international staying power of this music. New CDs on foreign labels such as DJ Hell’s International DJ Gigolos, Viewlexx (Parallax Corporation’s debut album just released) and Psi 49 (Rother’s Little Computer People LP) show that this isn’t just a local sound. But what of the source? Most people hear the word electro and think of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” and other breakdancing gems from the era when hip hop and techno had not yet separated. But it’s the more minimalistic, futuristic Detroit exponents of this sound that have made the greatest impact on shaping the global resurgence. Let’s investigate the roots of this modern phenomenon:
CYBOTRON/MODEL 500/CHANNEL ONE
The definition of the sound. Taking inspiration from the synthetic bass lines of later funk (Bernie Worell’s bass line on “Flashlight,” the Zapp synths and voices, etc.) and Euro-synthetic slickness from Kraftwerk and Yello to the techno pop of Ultravox and Gary Numan, Juan Atkins and his collaborators beamed our sound into the future. Timeless standards such as “Alleys of Your Mind,” “Cosmic Cars,” “Clear,” “No UFOs,” “Nightdrive through Babylon (Time Space Transmat)” and “Technicolor” made as much impact on Detroit in the ’80s as Prince. The best versions of these songs can be hard to find, but Carl Craig just collected three of them along with a number of other tracks that helped define Detroit’s electronic progression on the UK import Abstract Funk Theory.
Bridging the ’80s and ’90s eras of electro, AUX 88 helped to define the dance-floor side of Detroit electro. Keith Tucker and Tom Hamilton of AUX 88 first started working together as a Model 500 cover band and advanced their sound through a modern techno approach to production. Almost single-handedly defining what would become the ghetto techno bass line style (numerous ghetto tech anthems to this day exploit the technique), they tapped into the Detroit street side of this music like no one else.
A mysterious duo who found equal inspiration from Juan Atkins, Kraftwerk, Thomas Dolby, Aphex Twin and Black Sabbath. The first great rule-breakers of Detroit techno, something electro would come to be known for. Their sounds ranged from aggressive aquatic beats to analog proto-jungle to blown-out New Wave and other unique hybrids, releasing records on Underground Resistance, Submerge, Rephlex, Warp and later Tresor. Drexciya defined the new approach to electro, ushering in an era of individuality and weirdoes getting involved in making quirky tracks. There would be no Gigolo, no Jedi Knights, no I-f without them.
FROM ANOTHER FUTURE
MAERSKMUSIC brings exponents of the modern experimental electronic scene to the new performance space at the Museum of New Art (MONA) on Sunday, Oct. 14. Artists featured are from NYC’s Carpark Records and Germany’s Tom Lab: Japan’s audio-visual wizard Takagi Masakatsu, Austin’s Inkblot and England’s Jon Sheffield. The MONA is located inside the historic Book-Cadillac Building, 1249 Washington Blvd., Mezzanine Level (corner of Grand River and Washington Blvd). Show time is 8 p.m. For more info: about the artists, www.tomlabel.com; about the show, MAERSKMUSIC, 313-832-3806, or Museum of New Art, 313-961-2845.E-mail Pitch’d at firstname.lastname@example.org