New traditionalists

"Has the future happened yet?" asks electronic duo Year of the Robot in the technopop tune "Retina of Silicon." Judging by the song’s robotic tones and syncopated synth machinations, it’s a moot question. Along with an unaligned group of such Michigan musicians as Adult., Godzuki, Ron of Japan, the W-Vibe, C3, 4FR, and the various button-pushers and knob-twiddlers of a mysterious organization calling itself the Detroit Electronica Coalition, Year of the Robot explores the early years of synth-pop with a decidedly Year 2000 take. As Yearling Doug Shimmin, who started the band with Colton Weatherston about a year ago, explains, "It’s been slowly evolving. When we first started, we had these very minimal backing tracks, where we did a lot of improvisation."

Since then, they’ve ensconced themselves in the studio, working on perfectly executed examples of techno-pop like "Operating System," with its Eno-esque choruses, and "Controller," a dance-beat collage that nods to modern electronica. Occasionally, they’ve emerged for a live performance, exposing audiences to their retro-futurist pop stylings. In a way, they’re picking up where techno started out and driving backwards. As Weatherston says, "We use a lot of the elements of the sound of Detroit techno, but we’re definitely putting our own spin on it."

It’s a vertiginous spin that follows the paths of past conceptions of the future of sound: early electro, the new romantics, even some of the synth-pop infiltrations of the Top 40. Going back beyond Kraftwerk, Weatherston mentions the Beach Boys, no strangers to the pursuit of pop perfection. Shimmin has even coined a humorous and appropriate moniker for Year of the Robot’s novel approach to the traditions of the electro-pop genre: Brand New Wave.

As a former member of the Immigrant Suns, Shimmin is no stranger to notions of tradition in music. As he concludes, "I came from a band that played traditional songs that were set in the 1700s and 1800s. Now, Colton and I are traditionalists, but based on music from 1978 to 1984. I mean, we’re not afraid of the Thompson Twins."

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