Natural electronics

Jan 31, 2001 at 12:00 am

For a music based on an obsession with the future and advanced technology, Detroit techno has been moving ever so slowly into that future. Techno, by definition, is music made from technology, founded with an ideal of always finding something new and inventive to say as man melds (or fights) with machine. It‘s a simple premise that transcends both race and social class, but not just anyone can sit down in front of a machine and speak through it. Since the music’s inception in the mid-’80s, Detroit has been at the vanguard of technological expression, producing some of the world’s leading electronic talents and innovators, with some of the biggest impact on the ever-evolving sound of electronic music. Yet, in the past few years, Detroit’s techno dominance has begun to slip, largely because it’s not keeping up with new technology. Detroit was already very slow to grasp the powers of sampling, and perhaps the most dividing technology of all is computers and computer music.

Detroit still has an obsession with the ‘80s, this coming through the music in so many ways — from Adult.’s Nausea, to the recidivistic radio mix shows, to the uncanny juxtapositions within Kenny Dixon’s music — it’s in every part of Detroit music. What has this ‘80s fetish taught us? “This is the electronic music postapocalypse; finding good music is like finding gasoline in Mad Max,” according to Theo Parrish.

One such fossil-fuel relic is the music of Jan Jelinek, best known for his Farben (German for “colors”) project on Klang. It’s full of inspiration from Detroit minimal techno pioneers and made exponentially more futuristic by the ingenious use of computer-generated textual clicks and errors to create electronic funk of the highest order.

In an amazing cultural volley, Shake’s newest release, Natural Electronics, on his own Frictional Recordings, responds to the Klang computer sound and refines it with a level of class only a Detroit originator could add. Not content with the seeming stasis in techno, Shake is tired of “techno artists only paint(ing) with one color” — instead, he opts to paint with a variety of tones. Taking the clicks and whirs of the German sound, the broken beats of 2000 Black and warm chords of house, Shake again comes up with an innovative amalgamation in tracks such as ”Assimilated.” In “My Computer is an Optimist, Still,” Shake shows through deft use of filtering just how original and strange the ‘80s can sound, almost like an instruction manual for those stuck in the past. He has added a slight glitch to his sound, but the pure organic flow still stands out, making Natural Electronics a truly fine record.


The cycles of culture keep getting tighter; innovation is now being expressed through original-sounding hybrids. There’s the jungle-inspired R&B of Timbaland influencing the post-drum ’n’ bass sound of 2-Step (aka UK Garage), the techno sound of bounce moving into dancehall (as yardbounce), and the Afro-funk and Brazilian influence on the emerging broken beat sound.

Witness the power of Kenny Dope’s mixes of the Brazilian Groupo Batuque, to Jazzanova’s ever-fresh minimalistic recontextualizations, to the never-ending surprises on Dego’s 2000 Black label. Coming from someone who helped invent jungle/drum ‘n’ bass and later proclaimed its death, it’s fantastic to see that this man still embraces Detroit. Recently invited by Underground Resistance to participate in Millennium to Millennium (its statement on taking soul to the future) by remixing “Amazon,” Dego also has used World to World-inspired tones in his collaboration with Roy Ayers, coming shortly on the 2000 Black compilation being issued stateside by Planet E.


Another cycle of culture gets completed as the popularity of “Jaguar” fulfills the UR prophecy and leads to Underground Resistance being the first Detroit artist to work with Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk’s latest single features three mixes by UR. Finally Kraftwerk, which had so much impact on Detroit techno, is being impacted and influenced by Detroit techno. Here’s to future-past.

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