Tuesday, March 11, 2008

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Psychotic Reactions: Give Peace A Dance Volume 3 (CND Communications)
Melody Maker, May 9 1992

by Simon Reynolds

A couple of weeks back, an erudite, enigmatic Backlash correspondent called TT put forth the proposition that Techno is no better than country music ; it merely reflects its audience’s worldview, offers no intimation of the possibility of change. Certainly the way hardcore is used suggests that it’s squarely in the working class tradition of letting loose at the weekend, after slogging your guts out all week working for the Man. If you wanted to take the extreme pessimistic view, you could see Techno as the dehumanized leisure counterpart of dehumanizing work, robot music for robot people (the word robot comes from ‘robotnik’, or “worker”).

But I reckon there’s potential in hardcore to become more than just a safety valve for wageslaves to let off steam with. Hardcore fans talk appreciatively of “mad sounds”. But “mad” also means angry, as in “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore”. Techno literally rages, in the same way that a storm or the sea of The Young Gods rages.

There’s an abstract anger in techno (the dancing’s more like shadow boxing than getting on the good foot) that reminds me of the apolitical aggression of rap before Public Enemy articulated it and channeled it towards fighting the power. At the moment, Techno’s all about “getting it all out of your system”. But what if it changed to getting it all into and against the System?

This CND-sponsored double LP of hardcore trax is a tentative step towards the politicization of techno. The sleevenotes play around deftly with the concept of “oblivion”, contrasting everyone’s right to find their own way of losing themselves with the involuntary oblivion of nuclear annihilation. But the writer is fully aware that techno is not the most promising medium for the dissemination of agit-prop. Titles like Apollo 440’s “Blackout” illustrate that hardcore is more about amnesia and groovy braindeath than awareness and enlightenment. 1992’s version of rave is a reaction to different, grimmer drugs and a different, grimmer reality than 1988 rave. The blissful entrancement of acid house ahs given way to hardcore’s concussion and autism (desirable states to be are “cabbaged”, “monged”, “sledgied”). PSYCHO SLAPHEAD’s eponymous track comes in an “asylum mix”, and that word’s meanings nicely bring out hardcore’s paradoxes: asylum is a place of esacpe, but it’s also somewhere lunatics are confined and allowed to rage harmlessly. And the track’s an absolute bedlam of sonic gibberish and rhythmic mayhem.

Psychotic Reactions is dominated by manic trax and loony tunes. THE HYPNOTIST’s “Ride” is a pure speed-rush, synths that sound like a brain fizzing and bass like a heart trying to leap out of its cage. Tracks like APOLLO 440 and DOC SCOTT’s “Surgery” make Electronic Body Music funky like a mutha by replacing the genre’s stiff, Teutonic stomp with hyped-up hip hop breakbeats that sound like the funky drummer playing at thrash-metal speed. SET UP SYSTEM’s “Fairy Dust” is an eerie swarm of bleep particles and a squeaky, rubbery synth-vamp that sounds like a brain eraser.

It’s not all mentasm madness. There’s a spiritual side to some techno, where futurist vistas evoke a utopian tomorrow. PIED PIPER’s “Kinetic” is a beatific Nu Day Rising of swirl-round synth and Andean pipes. ORBITAL’s “Open Mind” is even more minimal but not as hymnal as “Chime”. Like LFO, Orbital’s music casts a spell not so much melodically as texturally: their sound is a polyphony of tactile surfaces, you feel like a blind man in a fabric shop.

UBIK’s “The Truth Vibration” is sacra-mental, a digital dervish-dance. Best of all is HOLY GHOST INC’s “Jihad”, a whoosh like a brain inundated with serotonin, a bassline as agitated as a shrew on the brink of a coronary, French gibberish, tons more weirdness. The mystic title chimes in with the pagan theme in rave that runs from A Guy Called Gerald’s “Voodoo Ray” and 808 State’s “State Ritual” through Ubik’s “Pagan” to Aphex Twin’s “Didgeridoo”. It suggests another parameter for techno: the Dionysian freak-out, the rave as a carnivalesque holiday from reality before the resumption of ordinary, orderly life.

But whether it’s the future sound of “Apoplexy in the UK” or just the latest twist on proletarian youth’s “culture of consolation”, it doesn’t really matter. Hardcore Techno is an exhilarating furore that makes perfect sense to anyone who’s ever raged along to the Stooges or the Pistols, Black Sabbath or Black Flag. And this compilation is a regular (cata)tonic.

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