[Editor's note: After this story went to press, Metro Times learned that Squarepusher will not appear as scheduled on Aug. 18 show at St. Andrew's. Please contact the venue (313-961-MELT) for more details.]
Journey into the metaphysical realms where all genius is recognized; stare out the window of your train and you’ll see it, looming darkly over the treetops, partially obscured by the purple and black blossoms of storm clouds, the haunting visage of Squarepusher, painstakingly carved into the rock of electronic music’s Mt. Rushmore.
If Aphex Twin is electronic music’s Birth of the Cool, then Squarepusher is its Bitches Brew. Endlessly experimental, helplessly schizoid, a slave to all that bleeps, burps, screeches and screams, Squarepusher has been infiltrating alpha waves and sizzling synapses since his 1996 debut, Feed Me Weird Things. Luckily for America’s impressionable youth, easily zombified and susceptible to sudden bouts of strangeness, Squarepusher has remained safely across the ocean, spinning his spazzed-out, jazzed-out monstrous drum ’n’ bass within the confines of European borders.
But now he’s coming to Detroit.
Mothers, keep your children at bay, sequester them to their rooms, chain them mercilessly to the pipes under the sink. Square will change them, they will come back senseless, drooling, dangerous, evil, talking in isolated syllables and bleating randomly.
Squarepusher was born to human parents (reports of this are inconclusive) and dubbed Tom Jenkinson. His father was a jazz drummer, and he grew up in an atmosphere punctuated by John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. These influences have obvious resonance; while Jenkinson’s music is as jungle-influenced as a spider monkey, his amphetamine drumming style is more akin to Max Roach and Art Blakey than any electronic guru. Only the free experimentation of jazz’s progenitors could give rise to such an erratic approach.
His music itself is hard to write about — words struggle against his sounds like birds in prehistoric tar pits. Sometimes his music can be beautiful, languid, even charming. But don’t get too comfortable, never get too comfortable, because the next track he spins might make you feel weird, soul-poisoned, brain-sick, your arteries dried and hollow, crawling with busy, chirping ants (which, under Jenkinson’s influence, is quite pleasurable). It resists definition like warfare viruses resist vaccination. Perhaps Richard D. James said it best, “Tom is … playing the holes without the flute.”
Squarepusher’s new album, Go Plastic, is an android’s equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Filled with what has been labeled “drill ’n’ bass,” as well as samples spliced into infinitesimal portions, the 10 spastic tracks will alienate as many as it will enslave. The leadoff track and deranged equivalent to a single is “My Red Hot Car,” the only toned-down song on the album, possibly influenced by the newfound British fascination with rhythm and blues and two-step. “Greenway’s Trajectory” is pure chaos, certain to send the weaker audience members into spasms of delirium and dogs into catatonic states with its higher-than-high frequencies. This is an album to fear.
Oh, yes, he will not be alone.
Squarepusher will be joined by neo-techno cohorts Plaid. The duo of Ed Handley and Andy Turner have been fighting the good fight for years, originally under the moniker Black Dog Productions. Using sound bytes as their swords, bass sputterings as their battle-axes, Plaid charges upon the barbaric hordes of faceless corporate DJs, while bellowing indecipherable war chants. Their new album, Double Figure, is both playful and minimal, a hybrid of Autechre and an organ monkey. With tracks such as “Eyen,” “Squance” and “Tak,” the boys are pushing atmospheric boundaries with music as indecipherable literally as it is sonically.
Can Detroit handle these three maniacs? Judging by the warm reception given to Autechre and Tortoise at this year’s DEMF, it seems so. Because sometimes, in the dead of Detroit’s night or the soft break of its dawn, you can almost smell it, a little madness in the air, a madness born in the ashes of Devil’s Nights past, growing and spawning through mysterious means, uncontrollable and unconfineable, a constant, toxic presence that cannot be stopped, only channeled and focused by innovators such as these.Joshua Gross is a freelance writer from New York. E-mail him at [email protected]