As someone old enough to remember the days before the digital music democratization but just a tiny bit too young to have experienced the magic of the Berlin post-wall-techno-revolution, for quite some time there have only be two important music labels for electronics: Ninja Tune and Warp. As much as we might moan about drowning into a state of invisibility with our own music, simply from the pure amount of supply out there, it’s always helpful to take a step back and remember how different the musical landscape of experimental music was 25+ Years ago. It almost seemed as if the top distributors of “intelligent dance music” would have passed artists and releases to each other, depending on the bpm mood of their average listener. Everything on the 90bpm landmark for the dope heads came from Ninja Tunes, at 120bpm Warp Records stepped in for the more conscious braindancer and when computer science was as far as making breakcore possible, the gap was open for Planet-µ. (This, of course is less science and more of a blurred polaroid of the 90’s.) Of course there where other labels, but our world was still so small and therefor these ones became the cornerstones that thrived the music of tomorrow.
So why care about this now, at this very moment? Well, there are two reasons: One, Warp Records finally warped their entire back catalogue onto Bandcamp, what gives me the possibility to make a BMC-List. And second, they just used some of their powers to drag you away from Bandcamp back to their very own platform veteran Bleep.com with a Boxing Day Sale. 50% of on their digital catalogue is just a great chance to fill some gaps in your Warp Collection. Which is exactly what I just did. (You might have maybe missed that deal when you read this, because this whole article took longer than I expected). I’m also guessing, I’m not the only one spending a lot of time in dim light behind concrete walls, right now. With not much else left than traveling in memories of brighter days.
And so, like many others before me, I grab the opportunity to share my perspective on this milestone of electronic music history. Deliberately not as some Top-10 kinda list, as I know there is an army of hardcore AFX/BOC/AE fans out there who wouldn’t share my views (…and shouldn’t have to). Instead I rather take on a totally subjective position and take a look back on some albums that actually had an profound impact on me at well remembered moments in time. And maybe one or two of them are part of a collective subconscious, who knows?!
Autechre - Amber
Back in my teenage years there still was a very strong urge going on to decide which sonic subculture you wanted to belong to. And while I was still soaking up all these diverse influences of a blues playing father, my punkrock brothers and my hip hop homies it took some persuasion to get me into this cold, technical stuff called IDM. Weed definitely helped. And so I remember this moment like not many other stoned situations: Sitting on the backseat of a friends car late at night and perceiving Autechres Teartear for the very first time on full blast. This piece of music was the most terrifying blank peace of paper ever to encounter. Cold, mechanical, full of everything that stroke against my naive believe of “true music” but still a catalyst of strong emotions I had not experienced from music before.
This was not only my starting point into experimental electronic music, but also the moment I realized that there is a kind of music that isn’t more, but just very different from all that music that makes us feel understood, belonging or emotionally confirmed. A kind of music that pushes us into the unknown infinite spaces of our subconsciousness. Often visualized with images from space, but actually digging for unknown places right inside us. And that’s still – also in the process of making music myself – the decisive force in electronic music. It’s not purely a direct channel of emotional expression, which is enjoyed and shared with others. But more of an opened dialogue between you and the pure sonic possibilities of machines (good ol’ “men vs. machine” cliche).
Boards of Canada - Twoism
While I was still busy figuring out all of these Autechrian fractal sonic landscapes, Boards Of Canada where a little bit more kind. Instead of diving into sound in their most abstract shapes, BOC provided us with associations. Their music was quite literally boiling over from them. Experiencing their music was like finding an old box of Polaroids in the cellar. Warm and earthy, like walking over the dry gravel of a country road and smelling the musty pond nearby. But this approach alone wasn’t totally new. There was something else to it. I guess, besides the total mystery of how exactly they managed to uplift these sonic landscapes, there were always some kind of hidden messages. As there are in memories too. The things we banish from our past to make room for everything we joyfully look back to. Something I just recently understood in it’s full potential with the help of a wonderful little DIY BOC documentary by the name This Is Hexagon Sun. But while this one decodes a lot of the hidden messages in BOC’s music there’s also the purely emotional level. And this is where Twoism stands out from their other releases (at least from my very subjective perception). Twoism skillfully combines the naturalistic soundscapes that made them famous (Sixtyniner), with sadly optimistic elevator music for office buildings (Iced Cooly) into a frightening mechanic force of nature (Basefree). A force they later went back to on their last Album Tomorrow’s Harvest, which still scares me so much that I’m not able to make it past the first one or two tracks.
Plaid - Double Figure
When I had my first introduction into the world of Plaid with their Double Figure album I was totally puzzled. There were so many things going on I learned to despise in my naive belive in musical taste, and yet I’ve instantly became hooked by these playful melodies and glitchy sounds. It was a courage for melody that soon should spread all over the place with artist like Kettel, Proem or Ochre jump on the train. But Plaid pefected this sound with Double Figure very early on. They were telling stories instead of handing over big chunks of cotton candy and the complex sound design still had a tiny bit of a raw charm. Like a beautiful rainbow, this whole spectrum of sound was never ment to last. It was just there and you never knew how much of it would outlast the signs of time. But Double Figure certainly did.
I still remember that Plaid were performing live quite regulary in the early 2000’s. It was just on of these acts you would always stumble into and I also remember one of my early gigs on the second floor at Maria am Ufer (R.I.P.) where Plaid was playing the Main Floor. It was funny because they would always come with some big sound concepts, like playing Dolby Sourround sets, just to fail on the technical possibilities on site. At the end they were just playing their tunes, one after the other, in stereo. So for me, personally, their legacy still is the creation of the perfect electronic home listening music. Because the sad truth is, once you reach perfection in electronic music, everything to come is just sound design.
Aphex Twin - Drukqs
Whenever musical genres like Glam Rock, Big Beat or Minimal Techno vanished and got replaced by something new, in retrospect it always seems like there was one defined moment in time to declare the death of a genre. If we would have had this moment in Intelligent Dance Music it would have been Drukqs. It was the perfect IDM album even though at a first glance it was quite complicated to understand it as an album at all. The odd contrast of pseudo accoustic instrumentals and hyper complex breakcore masterpieces just didn’t seem to belong together at first. But in effect you would just listen to it again and again, because both sides where just too beautiful on their own to be put aside, and before you could figure it all out you inevitably felt in love with it and it became the one IDM album we could all agree on. In this sense it was also one of the last great albums of the CD era, I guess. The last time we performed the great braindance unitedly, everyone in his own brain but interconnected trough the shabby connections of a 56k Modem. The death of IDM, only that we just kept going afterwards, everyone in his own niche of breakcore, acid and whatnot.