“The Kings of Electro” [LINER NOTES] November 14, 2007Posted by rocketsciencemedia in Press Releases.
Ask anyone to give you a definition of rock’n’roll and the chances are you’ll get an answer that adequately explains the whys and wherefores of Elvis, The Beatles, The Clash and co. The same applies to hip hop, punk rock and country and western. Why, even the mere mention of the word grime to the man or woman on the street will have them waxing lyrical about Dizzee Rascal and tower blocks in east London.
With electro it’s different. Electro is the forgotten component of not only dance music, but music per se. Not so much the black sheep of the sonic firmament, but the errant sibling unable to sit still due to an inherent restlessness, drive and hyperactivity.
The reticence that surrounds this irresistible musical force is often attributable to the fact that when people are asked for their memories of electro they automatically think they’re talking about hip hop or techno. But this should be a cause for celebration, not silence. For a time, electro and hip hop were interchangeable terms, one fed into another.
The same with techno. In fact evidence of electro’s willingness to adapt and change surely lies in the fact that a lot of what was once regarded as techno is now called electro. But not before it went from being electro to techno mind.
Confused? Don’t be. Electro, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Electro remains music’s secret weapon, emerging, stealth-like, every few years to inject its enduring characteristics into those forms which may be tiring, laboured or have plain eaten themselves whole.
Electro is a broad church: it runs the gamut from the extravagance of Human League and Depeche Mode to the stark minimalism of Model 500 by way of Richie Hawtin and I-F. Electro is linos in shopping arcades, bodypopping, breakdancing, and graffiti as much as it is European body music, Belgian new beat, Italodisco and the camp flamboyance of electroclash.
This compilation gives ample evidence as to why. Curated by two of electro’s greatest exponents and champions, Trevor Jackson and Alter Ego, Kings of Electro is a thrilling tour (de force), traversing decades, continents and numerous aesthetical styles. If you really need convincing that traces of electro’s DNA can be found in every strand of ‘dance’ music to have evolved in the last quarter of a century here’s where your conversion begins.
Of course, electro did not suddenly appear from nowhere. At the beginning of the 1980s, it might have sounded as though it was beamed down from some impossibly futuristic spaceship located in another dimension, but its roots can be found in more humble, though no less astounding, locations.
The icy studied cool of Kraftwerk, Bronx block parties led by DJ Herc, the P-Funk experiments of George Clinton and his band of brothers and the adventurous edge of disco were all midwives in the birth of electro. But it was one piece of technology in particular that helped usher in this new dawn.
The Roland TR-808 drum machine gave electro its defining characteristic.Its incendiary and innovative synthetic sounds signalled a complete break with what had gone before. Indeed ask Trevor Jackson which sound for him encapsulates music and he’ll chew your ear off about the 808’s bass kick.
In the UK, soul boys and jazz funk heads were overnight recast as Luddites due to their withering portrayals of this new technological sound, but resistance was futile. Thanks to groundbreaking DJs such as Greg Wilson, Tim Westwood, Colin Faver and Eddie Richards, the music spread like wildfire. It’s fitting therefore that Jackson, who was getting his kicks first hand from these prophets, should guide us through the first years of electro.
From the industrial electro of Chris & Cosey to the digital reggae of Junior Wilson, Jackson’s set guides us through 19 of electro’s many stopping off points in the 1980s. The Face proclaimed that the music was ‘The Beat That Won’t Be Beaten’ in a cover story from 1984 and they were right.
Hitting on seminal producers such as Mantronix (here helming the Just Ice cut Turbocharged), Thomas Dolby (responsible here for Whodini’s mesmeric Magic’s Wand) and John Robie (the quasi high energy pulse of C Bank’s One More Shot), and then mixing it with electro go-go (Tilt’s Arkade Funk), proto bleep (Energize’s aptly titled Report To The Dancefloor) and the Motor City contribution (Juan Atkins No UFO’s, under his Model 500 nom de plume), this is stirring, not to mention diverse stuff.
Oh, and did we mention Hashim (the enduring Al Nafyish), Trevor’s favourite record, It’s You by Mr & Mrs Dale and one of electro’s greatest breaks, lifted from Pleasure Boys by Visage, and here played out in its entirety? No, well you’ll get it.
Germany’s contribution to the development of electro can never be understated. Indeed as house, techno, electronica and drum’n’bass et al, all took root in the UK, German beat scientists kept tampering with electro’s hard drive. Alter Ego, Jörn Elling Wuttke and Roman Flügel, know this better than most. As such their mix is the perfect accompaniment to Trevor’s adventures in hi-fi.
Here, minimal lo-fi productions from Dopplereffekt (Cellularphone), Pysche (Neurotic Behaviour) and Low Res (Amuck) rub shoulders with Mu’s oddball electro (Chair Girl) and Azzido Da Bass’s still explosive Dooms Night. It highlights electro’s grand donation to the genesis of techno – choice cuts appear from Kenny Larkin (Colonize), Robert Hood (Minus) and Richie Hawtin (Kricket from his Plastikman guise) – as well as the mutant strands of electro house (Chicken Lips’ dynamic He Not In), its more salacious offerings (yes, Detroit Grand Pubahs we are talking about you) and the majestic M4 from Maurizio, in Roman and Jöern’s estimation a track that came to define much of German electro.
Above all, across both mixes, the emphasis remains on electro’s reliance on hybrids and malleability, its playfulness and its ability to incorporate a thousand differing styles along the way. Over the last 25 years and more, electro has undergone many transformations: it has touched upon electroclash, which for all its knockers gave dance music a much needed shot-in-the-arm, segued into techno, helped define hip hop, provided a blueprint for acid house and given producers as varied as Lindstrom & Prins Thomas, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and Burial the scope to explore their musical terrains.
Electro is always with us. It’ll never go away.