During the Nineties, electronic dance music (aka techno) plunged from obscurity into the commercial scene, bringing with it a bevy of bands that often existed only long enough to produce one record (often just a 12-inch single) before changing their name for subsequent releases. This made it exceedingly difficult to follow any particular musician, unless one was following the scene with meticulous focus.
This tendency still exists today, with many musicians making it abundantly clear that the emphasis should be on the music and not the performer.
Keeping this sonic focus in mind, here are some examples of 21st Century techno music.
AUTECHRE: Confield (CD on Warp Records)
This 2001 release by Autechre delivers 62 minutes of electronic music that are decidedly not for everyone.
Autechre (aka Booth and Brown) is responsible for definitely the strangest example of modern electronic dance music to be found on this planet. Autechre's music is intensely deviant, almost to the point of inhuman alienation. This is not always a bad thing, and especially not in the case of Autechre's music.
The electronics (and it's all electronic) are over-crisp and thoroughly mechanized. While melodious keyboards are present, extremely artificial sounds and nerve-wracking E-perc (not overly savage, but demonstratively unnatural) chitter and swoop like a surging wave of unearthly sounds. Pulsations just beyond the periphery of the central mix provide unsettling distractions.
This music maintains a rigid dedication to remaining unclassifiable. It's far from atonal or chaotic, but it's also dubious dance-fare. Strong compositions set it outside of cyclic repetition, but the band's unusual approach results in a bewildering fusion of tuneage generated with the application of noises utterly unknown to normal human perceptions.
JERRY BONHAM: Interpretations II (double CD on Spundae/Mute Records)
This release is actually a collection of various artists, mixed by West Coast DJ Bonham into a trance extravaganza of a total of 144 minutes.
Included bands are: Motive (featuring Mark Hunt), Lovesky, Smart Alex, Second Hand Satellites, Lypid, Guillaume La Tortue, Chiller Twist, Freelance Science, Chaos Factor, Two Right Wrongans, Jerry Bonham, Minders, Brian Stillwater, Cass, Starecase, Loafer, Murph, Mad Dogs, JSJ, Souldriver, and Slacker.
Although generally falling into "techno dance" territory, much of this music possesses distinct rave tendencies that step-down the frantic pace, allowing melodies to unfurl as sinuous and engaging compositions. The result is a conglomeration of hypnosis with a solid edge and siren beat. The tuneage is quite enthralling and delivers entertainment as strongly as it does a trance environment.
While some of these bands utilize vocals, they are more in the style of loose words and phrases, hardly verses that tell a story.
Since this is presented as a Bonham release, let's example his track in more detail: Vibrant techno with serpentine E-perc cycles that establish a foundation for surging electronics and peppy harmonics. Sparkling, but not distracting; danceable, but not hyper.
VICTOR DINAIRE: En Trance (CD on S+M Records)
This 2001 release is actually a collection of various artists, mixed by Dinaire into a trance extravaganza of a total of 75 minutes.
Featured are tracks by: Plug 'N' Play, Zolex, The Green Martian, Sean Dexter, Yves Deruter, Return of the Native, DJ JamX Joins B.I.A., Bodyshock, Push, Lunatic Asylum, Fire & Ice, and MC Vyper.
Expect overt Drum & Bass structures, peppered with lively electronics and vocals (the style of voice runs from demonstrative declarations to whispered urgings to sampled phrases). Admittedly, there are only three instances of vocals among these tracks, the rest of the music is manifestly instrumental...and drenched with superlative power.
The rapid-fire electronics are so pulse-driven as to become almost symphonic as they belt out frenzied melodies amid the forest of versatile E-perc and deep bass punctuations. The mixes are heavy-handed, exhibiting relentless enhancements to the basically cyclic overall structure found in techno dance music.
Fans of the old Harthouse style of techno will find considerable joy in this collection.
KINDER ATOM: Mmmm! (double CD on Hypnotic Records)
Kinder Atom is: Gerald Belanger, Chris Drost, and Heiki Sillaste.
The first disc of this release features 73 minutes of peppy electronic techno music. Hordes of E-perc rhythms cavort with rhythmic abandon while electronics and slippery keyboards establish engaging melodies. The tuneage churns with dynamic verve, cooking with super-cool sensibilities and playing the rave routine with slick results. Tribal gone urban collides with sneaky technological urges. Add some sultry fem vocals, then tweak those voices into robotic chipmunk range.
The second disc of this release features 57 minutes of dub remixes (by Shine and Benji Perosin, Trigg, Heiner Kruse, Frank Heise, and the members of Kinder Atom) of material from the first disc (specifically, a pair of versions of "Ladies", a retake of "Left Leg", and six different dubs of "Illegal"). These tracks are exposed to overt Drum and Bass stylings, with rap-heavy vocal overtracking, transforming these techno tunes into deep jungle.
ORB: Cydonia (CD on MCA Records)
This 2001 release features 69 minutes of the latest dose of modern dance music by the Orb (aka Dr. Alex Patterson), joined in collaboration by Thomas Fehlmann and Andy Hughes. Also featured are contributions by Kris Weston, Simon Phillips, Guy Pratt, and Robert Fripp.
During the Nineties, the Orb maintained a solid presence at the forefront of the techno rave genre. With this (long-awaited) new release, the Orb has mutated its trippy signature sound with the over-prominent presence of lyrical content. These vocals are not non-verbal or sampled stylings, but actual "vocals": coherent words strung in lyrical verses in a very traditional sense. While some may find this lyrical normality disturbing and even distressing, others can look forward to witnessing the Orb's foray into potentially commercial territory with this CD.
Meanwhile, the music retains a distinct Orb flair, with lazily swimming electronic textures and sinuous E-perc rhythms. Keyboards and synthesizers cavort with sedate purpose in conjunction with trembling special effects. While definitely not ambient compositions, these tracks stray pointedly close to dance tunes while never taking the firm leap into the thick of an active dancefloor.
PLEXUS: Plexus (CD on Mother West Records)
Plexus is Allen Towbin, Ernie Adventoivich, and Tobias Ralph.
This CD from 2002 features 52 minutes of exciting breakbeat jungle with a touch of NYC intelligence.
Rapid E-perc (and a fair dose of natural drumming) plummets the listener into a frenzied soundscape full of savage notes and surging melodies that are literally dizzying in their insistence. Slippery electronics slide with joyous abandon amid this bevy of growling bass tones and drumkit percussives. There is a notable electronic cleverness going on, fusing old school sensibilities with a very modern structure that enjoyably defies classification.
Compositionally, this music starts in techno territory, but swiftly bursts from the constraints of that genre, exploring a dance mood that blends modern jazz and contemporary electronics with a forward-thinking determination.
There's also a decidedly aggressive edge present in this music, carrying it far beyond standard techno fare and into a wondrous new territory where bands are not afraid to go intense for the sake of intensity. This is not street music, nor is it urban--this tuneage is set on an investigation of savage realms beyond the concept of civilization, where sound and intellect blend to bring into existence a teeth-grinding yet hypnotic experience.
The addition of piano on "Telephone Noir" produces a stabilizing effect, bringing this tune back to very human regions...despite the unworldliness of the melody. While the presence of Middle Eastern vocal strains lend "Asia Minor" an exotic flavor, injecting a dervish influence into this frantic track (which is reprised in "Tube's Asia Remix).
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Future Groove Collective (CD on Mute Records)
This 71 minute CD release from 2001 features eleven techno dance tracks trance-formed into a continuous mix by Force Mass Motion (aka Mike Wells). These tracks are sourced from 12-inch dance singles.
The bands included are: Arrid, Vic 20 & Sinclair, Tungsten, Aircom, Inertia, Polaris, Grayson Shipley, and Mike Wells. Some artists, like Arrid, Vic 20 & Sinclair, and Polaris, are present twice on this collection. In fact, some of these are actually two examples of the same song, but presented in alternate remixes.
Expect strong Bass & Drum structures, densified with electronic keyboards and surging electronics. E-perc rhythms pound out with choking thickness, arranged in compulsively appealing tempos that drive right to the dance-center of the human brain. Various vocal effects (consisting of sampled snippets and pulsing exhaltations) are frequently present, enhancing the driving melodies with their unearthly cries.
The result of this seamless flow is quite entertaining and certainly possessed of maximum dance factor.
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