20 Xmas Gift Ideas For Crate Diggers: Techno & Electro (Part 3 of 5)

If you have been browsing through the crates labeled Techno in the past couple of months there is a great chance you’ll end up with empty checking account by the end of the exercise. There’s really too much good techno music been released right now and quite a few classics come back in “fancied-up” packages after a long time being available for crazy buck via private collectors and traders. If selling your kidney is not an option here’s the Top 3 techno plates to carry you through the winter: compilation of top-notch Detroit electro, 90s techno-funk reissue and the forthcoming new album from modern electronic music auteur. 

Drexciya “Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller IV 2013 | Clone

Final instalment in the Drexciya anthology program on Clone

Final instalment in the Drexciya anthology program on Clone

Electro in its original mid to late 80s form is the only electronic style that have never underwent the proper revision. Apart from the occasional tributes (Dave Clarke’s stunning entry in X-Mix series for Studio K7! In 1996) or the slightly deviated forms of the genre found on the scattered solo and collaborative works by Gerald Donald under the various pseudonyms (most notably Japanese Telecom, Dopplereffekt, Der Zyklus).

It’s great to see then that in 2013 we had unexpected return of the genre originator Juan Atkins with his not entirely satisfying Moritz Von Oswald collaboration and represses (not official it seems) of musician’s innovative early work as Cybotron (new copies of “Closer / Techno City” on clear vinyl are up for grabs this month). Gerald Donald have also resumed production work with the brilliant new Dopplereffekt EP “Tetrahymena”, full-length with DJ Stringray as NRSB-11 and repress of Der Zyklus late 90s Kraftwerk-facsimiles.

We shall see if all these activity will ultimately lead to the veritable revival after 2013’s all-encompassing fixation on jungle and pirate radio. Meanwhile for all the fans and aspiring producers there is an indispensable piece of electro history in the form of the final Drexciya compilation courtesy of Dutch imprint Clone.

In December the label and its main sound engineer Alden Tyrell will complete their beautifully curated Drexciya reissue program with the fourth entry in the “Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller” series. The previous issues have been universally lauded for their flawless sequencing and superior remastering job by Tyrell. Not to mention the fact that it is the only affordable way to get hold of this cult duo’s rare 12-inch releases.

“Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller IV” may prove to become the most valuable of the bunch primarily for its well publicized inclusion of the five (!) previously unreleased tracks. These are going to complete the appropriately titled sequence of tracks “Unknown Journey I-X” scattered around first 6 plates. The rest of the set deals with the duo’s early 90’s output lifted from their classic run of EPs on fellow Detroit imprint Underground Resistance and their distribution company Submerge as well as British techno stronghold Warp and Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label.

Gemini “In Neutral 2013 | Chiwax (Originally released in 1997 on Substance)

Gemini's second album "In Neutral" gets a new lease of life on German label Chiwax

Gemini's second album "In Neutral" gets a new lease of life on German label Chiwax

Now here’s the saddest story of Spencer Kincy known to many Chicago dance music lovers as Gemini. Indisputably one of the brightest techno/house producers and dj’s to appear from the 2nd wave of Chicago’s dance producers. Accomplished not only for his ridiculously consistent and considerably large legacy of dance 12”s, but also for his impeccably crafted LPs. Those were all released almost back-to-back in the last years of the 90s.

It is difficult (and useless) to try to figure out what really went wrong, but legend has it that Spencer had some sort of a major nervous breakdown episode while stopping over for dj-gig in San Francisco somewhere around the dawn of the last decade. This unfortunate event was followed up by musician’s disappearance with subsequent rumors of Kincy living on the streets and spending nights in the shelters supposedly back in Illinois. Needless to say that any music production, contacts with the booking agency and numerous labels releasing his work (among which are Green Velvet’s Relief / Cajual, UK veteran techno-label Peacefrog, Carl Craig’s Planet E and many others) have ceased.

Terry Mathew from Chicago’s 5 Magazine took it his duty to conduct the research and collect the facts in his write-ups for publication’s website after receiving archived folder(s) with Gemini’s master files and some of his rare live performance recordings from an undisclosed source. Those are still up and can be read for further details and bizarre accounts of producer being completely out of his mind filing lawsuits against some of the US biggest governmental agencies.

More important is the fact that without any assistance of sophisticated marketing campaigns (Daft Punk & Boards Of Canada variety) Gemini’s music somehow managed to creep back into the minds and playlists of new generation of djs and producers. Without any doubt this has been partially instigated by the endless revival and repackaging of Chicago’s rich vaults of early house music. In recent years we saw Soul Jazz’ massive undertakings of “Acid Mysterons” and “Acid: Can You Jack?” compilations, Strut’s anthology of Cajual Records, recent 5CD-megapack “Acid Rain” curated by Terry Farley and the constant supply of Chicago’s most obscure gems on Jerome Derradji’s Still Music. There has also been a full-blown reactivation of Dance Mania and a much-needed remastering campaign of the entire Trax back-catalogue.

On the output side of the equation younger breed of producers managed to build reputations and/or jumpstart careers on decades-old production techniques (sometimes without any alterations to the formula). Some of the best-selling dance plates are coming from the new labels that constructed their whole identity around a carefully curated reproduction of a particular Chicago sound strains and anti-design aesthetic of the hastily managed mid-90s enterprise.

One of such labels is Berlin’s Chiwax, which proudly wears its heart on its sleeve. Some of their previous releases dealt with well-known classics from Robert Armani and Parris Mitchell. This year the label kickstarted the series of Spencer’s much needed represses. Starting with the two 12-inches compiling some of Gemini’s most infectious dance productions on Cajual and Classic and following up with Kincy’s second full-length “In Neutral”.

The album is the quintessence of Gemini’s inhuman capacity to derive the most irresistible groove from the most minimal of means and the insistent repetition. Gently chiming sound palette and modal-jazz chords are most immediately reminiscent of Carl Craig’s impressionist-techno of “More Songs About Food And Revolutionary Art”, while the rhythms are locked into hypnotic funk a-la Kenny Larkin’s “Soul Man”. 

Matthew and some other journalists expressed a very pertinent concern that this wholesale reappraisal is legally and (even more so) ethically questionable when the author is obviously alive, but quite far from the right state of health and mind to claim his (at the very least financial) part in the proceedings. As we know only too well from Still Music sleeve notes and frequent stories of abuse and shady business practices in Chicago’s dance music this is far from being the first time it happens.

Actress “Ghettoville” / “Hazyville 2013 | Werk Discs

One of the most anticipated releases in electronic music Actress' "Ghettoville" gets joint release with his debut album via Werk Discs / Ninja Tune.

One of the most anticipated releases in electronic music Actress' "Ghettoville" gets joint release with his debut album via Werk Discs / Ninja Tune.

Darren Cunningham is arguably the most consistently fascinating and idiosyncratic of the producers that seemed to emerge from the creative eco-system established around Britain’s last great dance music inventions: grime and dubstep. Affiliated into the triumvirate of England’s new canon of dance music mavericks together with Burial and Zomby, Actress however is musically quite remote from any of the genre signatures that animated aforementioned producers’ abstractions.

His production style from the very beginning had preciously little to do with UK’s bass-rich, soundsystem-inspired urban club music of the mid-00s while even the most stubbornly original individuals of the crop (i.e. Peverelist, Shackleton) began with a very discernible set of coordinates in 2-step, hardcore, jungle and garage.

Nonetheless musician ended up being labeled and tightly allotted based on geography, timing and associations with certain individuals and labels.

It is quite possible that Cunningham is quite oblivious and/or indifferent to all of these, which his career trajectory kind of proves. Beginning with viscid and staticky techno-grid of “Hazyville” he steadily moved towards increasingly uncategorizable (sometimes) dance beats-assisted exercises in futuristic sound design and experimental music. If something was ever constant in producer’s output it must be a generous application of bitcrush filter and a fervent dedication to the unbendable afrofuturist spirit and tradition in the late XXth century music.

As a result Actress’ music can be more readily heard soundtracking abstract art installations rather than a club night. Last year’s LP “R.I.P.” completely dispensed with any notion of functionality morphing into some sort of perversely tuneful sound-collage fantasia assembled out of the barely recognizable debris of electronic music’s various strains of the last 60-something years.

The artist’s only transmission of 2013 came in the form of 3-track EP “Silver Cloud”, partaking even more introspective direction with its pitched down beats, circling loops of static noise and mournful guitar phrases embellished with sampled harp accents. Which leads us to the “long-in-the-making” 4th album “Ghettoville”.

Trying to predict its content is a futile enterprise, which is further exasperated by the unnecessary example of slightly pretentious self-mystification found in the press-release for the record. Now traditional Twitter “track giveaways” by the artist himself, as interesting as they sometimes are, proved to be rather unreliable indicator of upcoming sound development. Despite the common title pattern Ghettoville won’t likely to continue or trackback to Hazyville’s ideas either. It is however natural, if a little wishful, to expect that after a prolonged run of innovative longplayers it’s going to be interesting.

Even if the album falls short of expectations the full edition jointly released by Actress’ Werk Discs label and industry-veteran Ninja Tune in early 2014 will contain debut vinyl outing of the canonized “Hazyville”. Not least of all, the box will have legitimately gorgeous design and a bonus 32-page “artbook” (whatever it might be, but judging by Cunningham’s unfailing taste level this may prove quite accomplished)