Sunday, December 11, 2022

"Electronic listening music from Warp"

A round-robin retrospective on Artificial Intelligence, Warp's landmark compilation - now 30 years old, Jesus, and being commemoratively reissued - convened by Daniel Dylan Wray, for The Quietus. I am one of the voices corralled. As you can imagine, the colloquy contains a fair amount of complaining, from various angles, about the term / genre / discourse "Intelligent Dance Music" a.k.a. IDM, which the comp unintentionally launched. "Electronic Listening Music", as flagged up on the cover itself, would have made for a much better, more neutral and non-inflammatory term (although even there's a subliminal hint still of a "music for the mind versus music for the body" dichotomy, with the implicit suggestion that people who are dancing are doing so mindlessly, they're not really listening). 

There were a few responses of mine that were not used, and being a waste-not-want-not type (a child if not of the era of rationing then of someone who lived through rationing, which lasted up until 1956, right?), here are those morsels.

Asked about the argument that IDM is a white cooptation of back music, I offered this demurral:  

"I didn’t really feel that was a factor. After all, there is a huge European history with electronic music – Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Eno. A lot of postpunk and industrial. And a Japanese history too, with Ryuichi Sakamoto and YMO. But also with most of the IDM artists, they would be the first to acknowledge being inspired by Detroit techno and the early Chicago acid and so forth. I think there was a commonality felt with figures like Carl Craig and great respect for Underground Resistance and so forth.   

"Where that became more of a thing was a bit later when you had the first-wave IDM artists adopting jungle’s breakbeat science techniques and then exaggerating them to the point where it was daft and undanceable. And there was a bit of attitude that irritated me then which was “look at us, we’re taking these ideas much further than the Junglists, who are all sheep, pandering to the dancers and the deejays”. It was an odd combo of coopting and arrogance. In fact, they weren’t taking the techniques any further than Dillinja or DJ Hype, they were just making them dysfunctional."

Quizzed about being "involved" in the IDM List and whether it was a real musical community. 

"I wasn’t involved really, I don’t think I ever commented in a thread. But I checked it out, I subscribed to the list – just to see what people were talking about and how they talked about it. Being a student of discourse and fan rhetoric, I was interested to see how this unexamined superiority complex manifested in terms of judgements about which music mattered and why.  

"I liked a lot of that kind of music – pretty much all the big names in IDM I thought were great or very interesting, and many of the smaller artists. Some of it is among the most beautiful music ever. I think its strong suit was melody and emotion. Well, you had interesting textures and sounds and atmospheres, but particularly melody and emotion was what it had to offer. If it had been called “emotronica” (admittedly a ghastly word!) then that might have been better. Not that hardcore dance musics are devoid of emotion, but it tends to be quite primary-color, unsubtle emotion, whereas in  Aphex and Boards of Canada, et alc, you have a subtle palette of feeling – it can be poignant, eerie, mystical.

And finally, thoughts on the legacy of Artificial Intelligence

"As I mentioned, I don’t think it’s that great a compilation, as a collection of tracks. There’s some good things and then as often with comps, the guest artists offer things that are maybe not their best work.  It wasn’t a record I played more than a couple of times, I shouldn’t think. It’s more the throw-down of the title and the iconic cover image – it all added up to this big statement that Warp were making. Along with some of the things that were building in ’92 through to early ’93, the release really opened up a whole area of music that just grew and grew. Up to that point, you’d a few really excellent techno/house albums – 808 State’ 90 and Ex:Cel, LFO’s Frequencies, Ultramarine’s Every Man and Woman Is A Star. But it didn’t necessarily seem like a massive zone for the future. A lot of techno artists stumbled when it came to the album.   But then I think with this comp, coming out at around the same time as Selected Ambient Works 85-92suddenly it seemed a whole new space of possibility opened up. 

From Artificial Intelligence's liner notes 

Autechre's formative influences - almost all black music but as much electro and Miami Bass as house or techno

Whereas Aphex Twin's earliest come from elsewhere altogether (Tomita!) (I was wondering who the hell Phonic Bod was and it turns out to RDJ's very first alias!)

B-12 'fess to completely Angloid roots

The Black Dog go even further back - to heathen  times! (Their more recent canon is entirely postpunk / avant-funk / industrial) 

The Orb, as you'd expect, place their sound amid a jumble of ambient, acid house, Krautrock, and dub lineages 

Here's a "Contextual Mix" that Autechre created to go with the anniversary of Artificial Intelligence - what sorts of music were happening around that time - 92-93


Ed said...

This bit is amazing, and hilarious:
"Steve Rutter: Warp reached out to around half a dozen artists. We got this fax saying everyone's meeting in the pub, it's about the electronic music movement or something. It was really vague. We met in this pub and there was Aphex Twin, Black Dog, A Guy Called Gerald, it was almost like this fabled meeting. It was a room full of introverts and music bods who had no idea who each other were or why they were there."
"We got this fax..." lol.
Bound to be a pivotal scene in the three-hour Aphex Twin biopic. Timothee Chalamet in his most demanding role yet


Yes that is funny thing to picture.

A Guy Called Gerald was there - but he's not on the album, right? That intrigues me - certainly would have to make "intelligent techno' less white at its conception.

Matt M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt M said...

I was kinda aware of Warp but I never bought this album. How would you relate all this to Trance? Listening to it now, it feels like there is a big overlap - but can't remember whether there was at the time.


The only two in that line-up that get anywhere near trance are Speedy J and Richie Hawtin.

But trance was positioned around this time as the more intelligent dancefloor option, and thus contiguous with Electronic Listening Music. If you weren't going to chill out, then - it was felt - you should listen to this stuff. Trance could be hard - it could be banging - but it didn't have a cheese element, or the crazy samples and chopped-up breaks that people found confusing. I should say "trance at this point", because later on it became just about the cheesiest, most sentimental and soppy dance music of them all. But in 93 it had that cold, serious, slightly sinister aura, and no samples from pop songs or old children's TV shows.

To me, the hardcore / darkcore / jungle tekno was way more interesting musically and emotionally - chaotically dense, a mad clash of incompatible moods - than trance, which was very clean and metronomic.

Matt said...

Interesting distinction. Part of the reason AI didn't land with me was that I was still an indie kid in 1992. It was these 2 compilations that really got me into dance music in the summer of 1994:

iguane said...

of course, melody and feels, and that’s why I could do it before I got to the floor.

Aphex, Black Dog into Plaid, Mouse on Mars. (Not Autechre, tho’, notice, too chilly for soppy lil chap that I was). you might even go from say ND ‘bryter layter’ to say MoM ‘glam’ or even BD ‘bytes’ with a fairly smooth transition in bedroom mood texture lol, (hence folktronica subgenre later I guess).

But I dropped all that stuff when I got there, it never worked as complementary chill out stuff to the club night. 1st I was fascinated to find that all the ‘primary colours’ dance stuff was very much meant to be like that, in expectation of the social hubbub going on under it, this ontic, primary, social other-thing to fill out or complete it, thus it it was not deficient art as such, it *knew* to leave room for body and event.

And 2ndly a plea for Detroit: the best of it seemed to occupy an affective place somewhere in between the slight sentimentality of Brit idm, and dancefloor functionality / primary-colours. In a sense then not Carl Craig (love early 12”s, not those somewhat overpraised albums) but say best of Derrick, Juan, Shake, Kenny…it’s still dancefloor stuff, but the funktional need imposes certain fructifying limitations, where say over-reliance on melody, chord changes would make it too cheesy (& trancey), and yet and yet it’s so very much mood music, and very much contemplative, but the moods are hard to place, eerily unresolved, seem to come from liminal zones, liminal times and places - the decayed car yard in the gloaming, the green flares of the foundry lighting up dawn, the smogged skyway 300yrs hence - all that nice shit (and all slightly cliched visual associations now I guess but you get back to the tunes it’s all there fascinatingly again). so there’s also a far more interesting project there perhaps, of trying to connect an inner landscape of feeling with environmental experience, and closest correlated might be early Cabs, early Ubu, and ‘Low’, rather than anything else explicitly influenced by them (as idm was, and so much dullard European neo-Detroit techno beyond that).

Thirdform said...

part of the issue with defining early trance is that it can mean several things at once
A)the housier end (brit prog house of sasha/digweed, oakenfold, which is way cornier and soppier to my ears than 93 chipmunk ardcore.) Paul Van Dyk in Berlin is one of the main guys to link that sound back to what was happening in Germany, and was pioneering/ahead of the curve for the white Euros and Brits, even if I think his music is absolutely diabolical. But then again, I am Asian...
B)Sven vath type frankfurt technotrance, starts in 91, (more ebm-indebted and consequently more cold.) Basically over by 95-96 as it gets re-absorbed back into proper techno. This is the kind of music your Colin Dales, Favers, Dave Angels were playing, when they did venture there. Paralleled by the early hard trance of Bonzai, Pure Dance etc. The Belgians were particularly raging hardcore/acid heavy on this front, check the work of Danny Casseau as trax-x which is pretty extreme and is barely trance, hanging on by the thinnest of threads. Also, protect system - arachnophobia. Pure gloomcore quasi-trance! Jones and Stevenson - First Rebirth is probably the best trance track ever made and it is basically archetypical 93 belgian hardcore, Wagnerian pomp on a bad acid trip. Although it is not representative of most hard trance, which is probably what makes it great.
c)or the germanic/Italian rave hardtrance in 94-95 (absolutely not played by any of the UK/euro techno djs) which you get with labels like EDM, Spaceflowerer, United Ravers Records, some Suck Me Plasma, etc. In essence, a more teutonic version of happy hardcore, so absolutely cheesy by definition. Instead of the E-xtatic pianos you get angel choir stabs.. Played by the likes of M-Zone, Mark EG at northern/provincial happy hardcore raves. I don't like this music so I can't give you in depth recommendations unlike pearsall, but it pretty much all sounds like this record, give or take 20-30 bpm+.

Another one is Legend B - lost in Love, which still retains the 303s from the techno trance sound, but the burning mercurial corosive textures are totally annihilated, to be replaced by something squiggly and cuddly.

Thirdform said...

to add:
on A) one track which I think exemplifies how prog house of 92-93 sounds way cheesy to my ears is this one from Spooky, archetypical ShitBrit

It lacks the actual classy restraint and fine tuned cavernous production of US garage of the time, instead being rave lite and whimsy.

It also illustrates why the back room of jungle clubs played bumpin garage. You can already begin to here how this sort of sound is more a just-4-u-Surrey take on house.

on B) part of the reason why I think (and this is a tentative guess on my part) that frankfurt trance was seen as a form of more intelligent music is because it came through the same import channels for the UK techno djs. There was not much floor burning dancefloor techno in this country until 94-95, with the exception of people like Luke Slater, Russ Gabriel, Universal indicator/Kosmik Kommando etc. For sure, there were outliers on Rephlex, Praxis etc, but some of those tunes are still weird by contemporary techno standards.

Based on set lists (so anyone who was there, correct me if im wrong) the north London, Bandulu type infinite sound really takes off in 94, same with the high speed detroit indebted Stockwell sound of Dave Angel.

So where as your Vaths and Taniths quite logically followed their ebm techno into techno-trance, it was an import phenomenon for most of the UK jocks in 92-93. Ironically, this is why I prefer UK techno djs to german techno djs on the whole, they are much more prone to bringing their attitudes from soul, hip hop and pre-92 ardkore.

Thirdform said...

also also, this interview with Loftgroover ended up joining up some of the dots between the UK/Euro interaction of the early 90s for me.

I doubt you'd get Tanith Rapsodising about being a funkadelic fan in the 80s, (I mean he might have been, I don't know) but it doesn't really fit with the mythos of Sterm und drang Prussian brutalizm. Berlin and South London are distinct, after all.


Holly Dicker has (had?) a radio show! I'll have to check out her chat with Lofty.

One of my most vivid memories of being a dance journalist in the '90s is journeying to this godforsaken part of South London where Loftgroover lived. I always forget the name of the particular bit but if I could be bothered to go to Google maps I could work it out. It's right next to a kind of giant rent in the urban landscape, an enormous sprawlzone of rail tracks, train yards, sheds, sidings, strewn here and there with Unidentified Industrial Objects. It was a particularly ugly day, overcast and grey... there was a kind of fog-smog that made visibility poor, and as I sat on the top deck of the bus I stared out at what felt for all the world like Mordor in Lords of the Rings. Smoke belched out of chimneys jutting out from this massive rail track hinterland which stretched as far as the eye could see. After what felt like interminable journey I got out of the bus and walked a little ways to this characterless crescent of new built semi-detached houses - one of which was chez Loftgroover. We talked in his living room, which contained kiddies toys and domestic wotnot. The deadened, color-leeched vistas from his windows seemed like the right mise en scene for a chat about gabba and how there were outposts of support for it across the UK in remote bits of Wales or Cornwall.