JEFF MILLS, Twilo
Village Voice, June 8th, 1999
by Simon Reynolds
Doyen of minimalist techno, Jeff Mills is famed and feted for DJ-ing
with three turntables. His virtuosity involves taking ultra-minimal tracks (often just a beat and a two-bar loop) and montaging them together until the result sounds like... a marginally less minimal techno track. "DJ tools" rather than stuff to listen to, these records only really become music when Mills is crosshatching their most urgent passages together.
On the Sunday before Memorial Day, Mills played a rare New York gig, thrilling
a Twilo crowd evenly split between club kids buzzed to have an extra night to party-hard, and techno purists for whom this former member of Underground Resistance is the very definition of "subcultural capital". Dry ice made it hard to see what Mills was actually doing, and it probably requires a DJ's familiarity with the mixer to really detect when his three-turntables-at-once mode is operating full-tilt. But what came across (very) loud 'n' clear was the ferocious physicality of Mills's aesthetic, and the expertise with which he simultaneously sustained and modulated the intensity, avoiding the usual diminishing-returns syndrome of shellshocked numbness.
As the model of an "educational DJ," Mills avoids the obviously crowdpleasing--
not just rave dynamics, but anything that might connect techno to "normal" pop. So the first human voice (barking "work that body!") came 90 minutes into his set; for melody, you had to wait another half-hour. Yet this particular crowd seemed perfectly pleased with Mills's austerity, fervently greeting slight fluctuations or the jolting intrusion of a new track into the mix-scape. Denied overt tunefulness or conventionally "lovely" instrumental textures, you become engrossed by the different densities of abrasion, tantalized by the harsh sensuousness of hi-hats like aluminium feathers against brushed steel and snares that dwell somewhere in the adjectival interzone between squelchy and scratchy. (When the timbral palette suddenly shifted circa 5-AM from hairshirt to silk, exfoliate to caress, the release
was almost orgasmic). Above all, the Mills experience is about energy, the exaltation and deployment of pure dynamic forces. At its frequent peaks, it feels like your veins are infused with liquid lightning.