Friday, December 31, 2021

 Deserving But Denied: 33 Number Twos That Should Have Been Number One  


It's obvious that you can't rely on the pop charts as a mechanism for tabulating the comparative excellence of  hit records.  But the charts are actually not much better at displaying how popular a pop single is.  Because the volume of releases from the industry and the amount of purchasing power out there in consumerland both fluctuate with the seasons,  a Number One single in an off-peak period--like the post-Xmas lull of January--can  have sold less than any of the Top Ten's singles during busier times of year. The chart placing of a record is also affected by pure contingency--what releases by heavy-hitter groups  just happen to go out at the same time.  (Tough luck for all those Sixties greats who happened to release a single the same week as the Beatles or the Stones).  This list honors those  fantastically fine and/ or epochally significant singles that were cheated by some historical quirk or other  from fulfilling their true destiny: getting to Number One. Upon investigation, these injustices turned out to be so numerous that the List of Ten format had to be overspilled thrice over, even after leaving out many fabulous  #2 singles


The Who, "My Generation", November 1965.

It stands to reason that the Sixties was a cruelly competitive time.  All the genius and creative energy around  meant that many classic singles-- Dave Clark Five's "Bits and Pieces", Petula Clark's "Downtown", the Troggs's "Wild Thing"--fell just short of the top spot.  But it seems particularly unjust that The Who's defining anthem of mod frustration and pride never went all the way. Indeed a measure of the Who's distant third stature c.f. Beatles and Stones was that they never would score a #1 at all.

The Beatles , "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever", February 1967.

Arguably the Fab Four's greatest double A-side and conceivably the world's first concept single (both sides addressing the theme of nostalgia and helping to kickstart psychedelia's cult of childhood), this release nonetheless ended the Beatles unbroken run of Number Ones  (eleven in all) that went back to 1963's ''From Me To You". Perhaps "Strawberry Fields" was just too trippy for the general public? For a similar fate befell the equally out-there Magical Mystery Tour EP ("I Am the Walrus" etc) at the other end of 1967.

The Kinks, "Waterloo Sunset", May 1967.

One of a number of 67-defining singles--see also Traffic's "Hole in My Shoe"--to stall at the runner-up spot, "Waterloo Sunset"'s  shortfall is particularly poignant because the song constitutes the summit of Ray Davies's achievement as a songwriter (give or take the indian summer that was 1968's The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society).

The Jackson 5, "I Want You Back," February 1970

Anybody looking to prove that the universe is a botched creation ruled over by a callous, vindictive demiurge need only point to the shocking not-actually-Number-One-ness of this pop-soul cataclysm.


Don McLean, "American Pie", January 1972.

As if somehow always already a "golden oldie", this was a monstrously prolonged radio hit, and Zeitgeist-wise it distilled the early Seventies mood of melancholy retro-spection. But despite sixteen weeks on the chart it never actually topped them.

Gary Glitter, "Rock and Roll (Parts 1 & 2)", June 1972

Massive in discos, the almost-instrumental  "Part 2" was what drove Glitter's breakthrough single to the very edge of pop's peak.  At once lumpen and avant-garde, the missing link between the Troggs and techno,  this controlled stampede of  caveman chants and dead-echoing guitar doesn't actually sound anything like the Fifties rock'n'roll it purports to resurrect.  Next year's "Do You Wanna Touch Me" and "Hello Hello I'm Back Again" also stopped one place short, before "I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am)" finally put Glitter and genius producer Mike Leander where they belonged.


 T. Rex, "Solid Gold Easy Action" (December 1972)

Number ones galore under his belt, Marc Bolan can't complain about his treatment at the hands of the UK Chart. That said, despite the Beatles-level fandemonium of  "T.Rextasy", several of his best tunes-- "Ride A White Swan", "Jeepster" (held off by Benny Hll's "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)"!!!), and "Children of the Revolution"--swooped to #2 but never scaled pop's summit. Likewise "Solid Gold Easy Action", Marc's strangest single of all, with its jolting beat, enigmatic title and the sculpted hysteria of its chorus.


The Osmonds, "Crazy Horses" (November 1972)

Surprisingly hard rockin' tune from the Mormon clan, with a whinnying synth-riff that winnowed its way into your brain and refused to budge.  Kept off the top spot by Chuck Berry's execrable "My Ding-A-Ling" but the Osmonds could take consolation from their own Little Jimmy's subsequent annexation of the Xmas #1 with the execrabler still "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool".


The Sweet, "Ballroom Blitz" (September 73)

From its deliciously campy intro patter ("are you ready, boys?" etc) to its frisky Bo Diddley beat,  "Blitz" is the definitive Sweet monstertune, but--despite entering at #2 and hovering there for three weeks-- it stayed stuck.  Oddly, the same chart position was reached by its immediate predecessor  "Hellraiser" and immediate successor  "Teenage Rampage"  and the latterday ultra-classic "Fox on the Run". Sole Sweetsingle to go all the way:  "Blockbuster".


Sparks, "This Town Ain't Big Enough For the Both of Us" (May 1974)

Branded  into the memory-flesh of anyone who saw the Mael brothers perform  it on Top of the Pops, this torrid, swashbuckling fantasia was fended off the pole position by the Rubettes's sickly "Sugar Baby Love".  Five years later Sparks tried to restore some cosmic balance with the would-be self-fulfilling prophecy of "Number One Song In Heaven" but despite killer Eurodiscotronic production from Giorgio Moroder, to no avail.


Hot Chocolate, "You Sexy Thing" (December 1975)

As quintessentially Seventies as Sparks or Sweet, these hardy hit parade perennials paused poised at #2 for three weeks  (thanks to the juggernaut that was Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody") with this risqué slice of Britfunk. Errol Brown's delivery of explicit (for its time and context) adult content like "now you're lying next to me/giving it to me" and  "now you lying cross from me/making love to me" flushed many a pre-teen cheek even though the song spoke of things  beyond our ken.  Touchingly, the "miracle" Errol believed in was apparently his missus, Ginette.  Consolation prize for not making it all the way: rereleases and remixes have made "You Sexy Thing" the only song to be a UK Top 10 in the Seventies,  Eighties, and Nineties.


Wings, "Silly Love Songs" and "Let Em In" (summer 1976)

Culminating with bestselling-single-of-the-Seventies "Mull of Kintyre", 1976/77 was Macca's most successful post-Beatles phase (with the possible exception of 1983/84, but the latter period was nonstop drek). This brace of winsome confections from Wings At The Speed Of Sound confirmed everything the detractors (from Lennon on down) said about Paul's sweet tooth and miniaturist craftsmanship. But you'd have to be pretty hard-of-heart to resist their considerable charm, plus the metapop of "Silly Love Songs" cannily deflects all critique in advance with its upfront and unashamed candour.


Heatwave, "Boogie Nights" (February 1977)

This sublime shimmer of discofunk hovered at #2 on both the UK chart (where it was eclipsed by Leo Sayer, god help us) and the Billboard Hot 100, appropriately enough given the group's Transatlantic line-up.  Heatwave's British keyboard player and "Boogie Nights" songwriter Rod Temperton went on to pen "Rock With You", "Thriller" and other hits for Michael Jackson.


Sex Pistols, "God Save the Queen" (June 1977)

Punk folklore maintains that conniving by the authorities kept this act of sonic sedition off the top spot to avoid the treasonous insult to Her Majesty during the Silver Jubilee.  On one of the rival UK Top 40 charts, the #2 space was, in an Orwellian twist, blanked out altogether, turning the Pistols into an unband and  'God Save the Queen' into an unsingle, unrelease, unhit.  Meanwhile Rod Stewart's "I Don't Want To Talk About It" / "First Cut Is The Deepest" sealed over the cracks in the British polity by maintaining its emollient grip on #1 for a fourth week.


Elvis Costello, "Oliver's Army" (February 1979)

Costello's  one true pop moment  (his only other top 10 hits were cover versions,  "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" and "A Good Year For the Roses") so it's sad that this Abba-influenced piano-rippling number didn't climb to the highest height.


Squeeze, "Cool for Cats" (March 1979") and "Up the Junction" (June 1979)

More New Wavers not getting their proper dues. Touted as heirs to Lennon-McCartney, choonsmith Chris Difford and wordsman Glenn Tilbrook narrowly missed #1 twice  in the spring-summer of '79 with the cheeky disco-flavored "Cats" and the poignant Sixties-evoking social realism of "Junction".


M, "Pop Muzik" (April 1979)

One of those hits so inescapably dominant that you have to rub your eyes in disbelief when checking the Guinness hit singles guide and discovering it never actually made it to  #1.  Robin Scott's proto-pomo metapop celebration was naturally a wow with radio deejays (as it was calculated to be), which doubtless explains the aura of ubiquitousness that clings to this tune.  But Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes" stopped its rise.


Adam and the Ants, "Antmusic"  and "Kings of the Wild Frontier" (winter 1980/81)

Adam and his merry minions at their most witty ("Antmusic") and thrillingly tribal ("Kings"--ooh that double-drummer polyrhythmic intro). In consolation, the Antman would subsequently make it to Number One three times (most notably with the autumn-of-81 dominating "Prince Charming") before his star faded.


Ultravox, "Vienna" (January 1981)

Can't say I was ever a huge fan but as a synthpop-era defining slice of pseudo-Mittel Europa pomp, this deserved better than to hover beneath Joe Dolce's "Shaddap Your Face" for a full three weeks.


Laurie Anderson, "O Superman" October 1981

With  Radio One's evening deejays and then daytime jocks too falling into lockstep with John Peel, this vocodered oddity by downtown New York performance artist/experimental composer Laurie Anderson joined the grand British tradition of novelty hits. But despite the cod-surrealist spectacle of  an interpretative dance by Top of The Pops's resident leggy troupe (there being no video and Anderson having declined to perform) "Superman"'s climb was halted.


Altered Images, "Happy Birthday" (winter 1981)

Seventeen weeks on the charts and three of them at #2,  this irresistible bounce 'n 'shimmer of fizzy glee was a chart topper in all but hard unforgiving fact.  With the gorgeous "I Could Be Happy"  they tried the classic trick of releasing a follow-up that contains the same keyword in its title (see Pete Frampton's "Show Me the Way" and "Baby I Love Your Way") but never hit as big again.


The Stranglers, "Golden Brown" (January 1982).

Only their second hit single about heroin (the first was "Don't Bring Harry," their sick-and-twisted offering as  Xmas single in 1979) but it sure would have been nice'n'sleazy if they'd gone all the way with this beguiling waltz-time oddity.  A fitting capper to the Stranglers career as New Wave's most prolific hit machine. Alas…


Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Welcome To the Pleasuredome " (March 1985)

Not so much on its musical merits: a grand glistening Horn production of cinematic funk, it's a lot of record but not a lot of song. But getting a record-breaking four number ones with your first four singles would have been just reward for Frankie and ZTT having brought some tumultuous eventfulness to an otherwise fairly barren 1984.

Salt-N-Pepa, "Push It"  (June 1988)

Golden age hip hop at its most hooky and instant, the electro-pulsating groove  resembles a funked-up  Devo (hark at the titular echo of "Whip It"!) but the raunch of the vocals makes Salt-N-Pepa comes over like the female equivalent/equal of Rick "Superfreak" James.


Deelite, "Groove Is In the Heart" (September 1990)

So omnipresent that its charm turned to irritant in record time, it's almost impossible to believe this wasn't Number One. Apparently, it was.  Sales-wise "Groove" tied with the reissue of Steve Miller Band's "The Joker," so an arcane rule of chart tabulation was invoked and "The Joker" was granted the supreme position because its sales had gone up the most from the previous week.


The KLF, "Justified and Ancient" (December 1991)

Although Bill Drummond  made it to #1 with the Timelords (and then published a manual on how to have a number one single) and then again with the KLF's "3 AM Eternal", it's still sad that his greatest feat as pop conceptualist and mischief-maker--getting Tammy Wynette to sing "they're justified and they're ancient/and they like to roam the land" over a house beat on TOTP--was not appropriately rewarded.


The Prodigy, "Everybody in the Place" EP (January 1992)


Hardcore rave classic thwarted by the Wayne's World spun off rerelease of "Bohemian Rhapsody". Gah!


Shut Up and Dance, "Raving I'm Raving" (May 1992)

What is it about ardkore rave and the number two? See also: SL2's marvelous "On A Ragga Tip" the month before and Smart E's admittedly ridiculous "Sesame's Treet" later that summer. "Raving I'm Raving" went straight in the charts at #2 and might have gone higher if it hadn't had to be withdrawn on account of its hefty samples from Mark Cohn's AOR ballad "Walking In Memphis".


Pulp, "Common People" (June 1995)

Britpop's finest four minutes: Pulp's epic anthem brought class struggle back to the pop charts, the honed wit and keenly observed economy of the lyric confirming Jarvis Cocker to be the best wordsmith of his kind since Morrissey. It entered at Number Two but was barred from full triumph by Robson and Jerome's "Unchained Medley."


 T2 Ft Jodie Aysha,  "Heartbroken" (December, 2007)

The North Rises Again.  Flagship tune of the vibrant "bassline house" scene (a UK garage offshoot based in Sheffield, Nottingham, Leeds, Huddersfield, and other North Eastern cities) the deliciously pop-frothy "Heartbroken" crossed over big-time, but in the end proved unable to breach the barricade of banality that was "Bleeding Love" by X-Factor champion Leona Lewis.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Miles Davis


Black Beauty: Miles Davis At Fillmore West
In Concert: Live At Philharmonic Hall
Dark Magus: Live At Carnegie Hall

The Wire, October 1997

by Simon Reynolds

“Can the ocean be described? Fathomless music…” intones Conrad Roberts in a slightly hokey paean to Miles midway through Live-Evil’s “Inamorata”. I know what he was getting at, though, vis-à-vis Miles Davis’s early 70s output. No music makes me feel more inadequate or induces a stronger feeling of temerity--for ‘description’, however floridly imagistic, always seems like a reduction, and ‘explanation’ can only ever be a foolhardy projection.

In his brilliant 1983 essay ‘The Electric Miles’, Greg Tate argued for Davis’ early 70s music (still languishing in critical neglect when Tate wrote) as a sort of simultaneous culmination/dissolution of the jazz tradition. 15 years on, it’s tempting to align the electric Miles with aesthetic kinsmen outside the jazz lineage: the ‘oceanic’ tendency in post-pychedelic rock that encompassed Tim Buckley’s Starsailor, Yoko Ono’s Fly, Can’s Tago Mago/Future Days/Soon Over Babaluma trilogy, Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom, John Martyn’s “I’d Rather Be the Devil” and “Big Muff”. To varying degrees, all this music was animated by the same impulse that drove Miles, a quest for a “One World” music, a fissile fusion of jazz, funk, rock, Indian music, electroacoustics. To varying degrees, all this music shared the same split methodology that underpinned Miles’ Teo Macero-produced studio albums of that era: freeform, unrehearsed improvisation followed by extensive studio-as-instrument post-production and editing in order to sculpt jams into coherent compositions.

As with the aforementioned avant rockers, chromaticism--rather than melody or harmony--is what the electric Miles is all about. David Toop notes in Ocean of Sound how Stockhausen inspired Miles to organize his music around “textural laminates and molten fields of colour”. But it was Jimi Hendrix who hipped Miles to the chromatic potential of distortion and effects processing; during this period Miles played his trumpet through a foot-controlled wah-wah unit, guitarist Pete Cosey deployed an arsenal of effects pedals, and percussionist Mtume spiced the polyrhythmic paella with exotica like log drums and kalimba. As a result, Miles’ music of the early 70s is as livid as a tropical disease, as lurid as the patterns on a venomous snake, as lysergic as his own cover art (Mati Klwarwein’s Afrodelic fantasia, Corky McCoy’s Fauvism-meets-Blacksploitation street scenes of superfly guys, true playaz and fine bitches in hot pants and high heels).

Getting back to Miles’ kinship with the post-psychedelic starsailors and aquanauts, the music of Dark MagusOn the CornerAgharta, et al offers a drastic intensification of rock’s three most radical aspects: space, timbre, and groove (by which I something altogether more machine-like/mantric than jazz’s free-swinging drive). Making what he imagined was a sideways shift towards the pop mainstream (ha!), what Miles actually achieved was a culmination of rock’s trajectory towards kinesthetic abstraction, a.k.a the textured groovescape.

The music on these four double albums seem like excerpts from some continuous monster jam that lasted from 1970-75, when an understandably shagged-out Miles collapsed and retreated into coke-addled hermithood. Black Beauty and Live-Evil are both from 1970, and feature the instrumental line-up of the In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew era (Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette et al). The music is a darkside counterpart to Can’s halcyon flow motion universe. Miles’s ocean is no coral-reef arcadia or wombadelic paradise, but altogether more murky and miasmic, full of rip-tides, treacherous currents and chthonic undertow, not so much Jacques Cousteau as EA Poe (as in “Descent into the Maelstrom”).

It’s a realm of grace and danger. On Beauty’s “Directions”, Chick Corea’s Rhodes keyboards dart and dilate like shoals of poisonous jellyfish; Dave Holland’s bass sustains terrific tension (although his sound seems monotone and two-dimensional compared to the plasma-morphic, pulse-sculpturing of Michael Henderson--the missing link between Larry Graham and Bootsy Collins--on the later albums). “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” begins with the brontosauran heavy rock gait of Mountain, swiftly comes to a seething roil -- like magma in a caldera -- then subsides into an amazing drumless interlude of itchy-and-squelchy insectoid interplay. Lacking the grotto-like recessive depths of the Macero-sculpted studio version, “Bitches Brew” is over-run with scrofulous, scurrying detail, then unravels into a post-fever stillness of necrotic ambience. On Live-Evil, highlights include the discombobulated, three-legged falter-funk of “Sivad”, the eldritch timbre poem “Little Church”, and “What I Say”, which shifts from strident freeway boogie (imagine James Gang jamming with Art Ensemble of Chicago) to an amazing drumspace interlude before careening back onto the two-lane blacktop.

By 1973’s In Concert, Miles’ group was the On the Corner ensemble that included Michael Henderson, guitarist Reggie Lucas, drummer Al Foster and electric pianist Cedric Lawson. The album was a stop-gap release, offering loose and intermittently inspired versions of “Right Off” from A Tribute to Jack Johnson, the awesome sitar-laced acid-funk of On the Corner’s “Black Satin”, plus previews of “Rated X” and “Honky Tonk” from the next studio album Get Up With It. Even the Corky McCoy artwork reiterates the ghettodelic imagery of On the Corner, testifying to Miles’ determination to reach out to a young audience of black funkateers.

Throughout this period, Miles was infatuated with Sly Stone’s music; in the sleevenotes for Dark Magus, saxophonist David Liebman tells of how Miles made him listen over and over to one track on Fresh. From the Family Stone’s polyrhythmic perversity, Miles seems to have derived a model of musical democracy. But by Dark Magus, Miles and co-conspirators had gone several steps beyond Sly’s utopian funkadelic commune or Weather Report’s genteel “everybody solos, nobody solos” equality; this music was far more turbulent, closer to mob rule or flash riot. By this point, conventional structuring principles have long since been smelted down by the infernal heat generated by the ensemble, leaving just riffs, vamps, blips and blurts of sound, and irregular escalate-and-ebb dynamics that resemble the feverish struggle between a body and a contagion, or a soup shifting between simmer and boil. This is a music strung out between spasm and entropy.

In mob rule, there are no ringleaders, but certain troublemakers stand out from Dark Magus's crowded mix: Pete Cosey’s writhing spirals of lead guitar agony; Mtume’s rattlesnake lashes of percussion and random eruptions of drum machine that recall Can’s “Peking O”, Reggie Lucas’ scalding, staccato rhythm guitar, etching itself into your brain like a branding iron. And of course, Miles’ slurred, smeary trumpet, breaking out across this music’s flesh like weals and blisters. Miles sounds poisoned, like he’s siphoning pus from a soul-turned-cyst.

“Can the ocean be described?” was Roberts’ rhetorical question. I think of chaos theory (Dark Magus as demonic Mandelbrot?) and Deleuze & Guattari’s rhizome (“musical form, right down to its ruptures and proliferations, is comparable to a weed”). I think of post-Deleuzian cyber-feminist Sadie Plant’s description of the information ocean as “an endless geographic plane of micromeshing pulsing quanta, limitless webs of interacting blendings, leakings, mergings…” I reckon Miles was half in love with, half in dread of the ‘female’ will-to-chaos, the mutagenic, metamorphic lifeforce, exalted by Plant in her book Zeroes + Ones, that’s why Miles’s misogynist nickname for oceanic flux was “bitches brew”. I think also of the Afro-diasporic baroque that is wildstyle typography, then remember Greg Tate got there first with his description of Miles “scribbling blurbs of feline, funky sound which under scrutiny take on graphic shapes as wild and willed as New York subway graffiti”. Finally, I think of the word “protean”, which derives from the name of a shapeshifting sea god. That’s what Miles was, in his electrifying Electric Period: a Modern Proteus.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

RIP Greg Tate (Flyboy in the Buttermilk review, 1992)


Flyboy In The Buttermilk: Essays On Contemporary America

The Wire, spring 1992

by Simon Reynolds

One of the most intriguing phenomena in recent years has been the rise of the "postmodern Black". From hardcore punk rastas Bad Brains, through the Kraftwerk influenced Afrika Bambatta and Derrick May, to rap's strange infatuation with heavy metal (Motley Crue-fan Ice T's Body Count) it's become apparent that racial tourism is no longer just a one-way traffic, with whites spoiling the black scene(ry). As a staff writer for Village Voice, Greg Tate has spent the last decade formulating a critical language to deal with this anything's-up-for-grabs state of play. (He's also been a co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition, which really got the crosstown traffic goin' on).

Tate's writing is produced out of interesting tensions: between his academic/radical background and his yen to be down with street culture, between his gung-ho fervour for African-American art and his fondness for some white artefacts (his fave LPs of last year included My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, and bizarrely, Van Halen!). The most crucial, productive tension comes from his desire to build a bridge between Black cultural nationalism and post-structuralism; Tate wants his criticism to be proud-and-loud, but not to succumb to any fixed notions about what constitutes "authentic" Black culture. This is probably why Miles Davis is such a totem for him, Miles being the example par excellence of the Black artist who could incorporate white arthouse ideas and riffs (Stockhausen, Buckmaster) into his groove thang, and make them bad to the bone. Miles is the paradigm of the Black innovator (see also: Hendrix, Sly Stone, George Clinton, Jean-Michel Basquiat) who fused the superbad Stagolee tradition with an intellectual sophistication that white high culture couldn't deny. Their threat lies in being 'neither one thing nor the other': they're neither naively, instinctively passionate (the trad, racist idea about Black creativity) nor do they conform to the arid, restrained proprieties of white highbrow culture. Tate sees "signifyin'" -the ability to disguise meaning, to appropriate and remotivate elements from hegemonic culture - as a survival skill intrinsic to the Black American tradition.

Tate inscribes this "neither/nor" factor in a style that mixes in-your-face Blackness with po-mo riffs. Sometimes the onslaught of 'muhfukhuh's and 'doohickeys' can be a little alienating (possibly the point!). The idea is probably similar to the old Lester Bangs/Richard Meltzer notion of rock'n'roll writing that throbs like the music. Tate wants to write with the swank of a Bootsy bassline, and more often than not succeeds. Some of his neologisms are inspired: I particularly like "furthermucker", an inversion which manages to combine the swaggering Stagolee persona and the far-out cosmonaut of inner/outer space tradition, thus becoming the perfect term for Miles, P-Funk, et al.

A hefty portion of Flyboy In The Buttermilk consists of stimulating essays on Black culture--theorists like Henry Louis Gates, writers and artists like Samuel Delany and Basquiat. There's even some pieces on the occasional, honorary Caucasian, like novelist Don de Dillo, who's acclaimed for documenting the paranoiac death throes of white American culture. But for Wire-readers, the most interesting essays are about music. In some of his earlier pieces, Tate has yet to shed reified notions about musical "Blackness". In the 1982 piece on Clinton's Computer Games, he's flummoxed (as an unabashed Santana fan well might be) by the phenomenon of Black kids turning onto electro's "Monochrome Drone Brainwash Syndrome beat". At this point, he seems to share Chuck D's view of disco as soul-less, "anti-Black" shit. This notion of Black music as hot, sweat, funky and frictional, is uncomfortably close to the white stereotype, and it's a fix that Black youth have being evading throughout the Eighties. I wonder what Tate thinks of acid house or Detroit techno?

Elsewhere, though, Tate acknowledges that Bad Brains were most authentic and innovative when playing ultra-Caucasian hardcore thrash, but totally jive when they tried to play roots reggae. And in his piece on the Black British but not "Black" sounding A.R. Kane, he acclaims their radically polymorphous swoon-rock for opening up the possibility for a Black avant-pop that isn't "in the pocket" but out-of-body. 

The Kane boys acknowledged only one influence, Miles Davis, who coincindentally is the subject of Tate's best two essays, "The Electric Miles", and the elegy "Silence, Exile and Cunning". The former is the best piece on Miles' most feverishly creative, least understood phase I've yet encountered, with Tate anticipating the now emergent critical doxa that the late Sixties to mid-Seventies albums constitute the alpha and omega of furthermucker music, pre-empting Can, Eno/Byrne/Hassell, Metal Box, even dub and late Eighties freak-rock. Miles and his floating pool of players explored "a zone of musical creation as topsy-turvy as the world of subatomic physics". Tate's metaphors are vivid and precise: "He Loves Him Madly" is an "aural sarcophagus", Dark Magus sees Miles "scribbling blurbs of feline, funky sound which under scrutiny take on graphic shapes as wild and willed as New York subway graffiti". To say that he's mapped only the surface of Miles' planet, not probed the demonic, unclassifiable emotions that seethe at its volcanic core, is no diss to Tate, only a tribute to the inexhaustible nature of the music, of how far we still have to go (there will always be "further" when it comes to Miles).

An excellent book.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

A Guy Called Gerald



Melody Maker, March 25 1995

by Simon Reynolds

     In many ways, Gerald Simpson has the absolutely stereotypical profile of  your average art-core junglist.  Steeped in early '70s jazz-rock (Herbie Hancock,  Chick Corea, etc), Gerald flipped for electro (Afrika Bambatta, Mantronix), then tripped out to acid house and Detroit techno. 

  His first creative efforts were in the Hit Squad, a Manchester hip hop collective from whose cadres 808 State coalesced. Gerald was briefly a member of 808 (who, non-coincidentally, were also fusion freaks), and actually co-wrote their biggest hit "Pacific State".  By then, Gerald had his own thing going, having scored a Top 20 smash with "Voodoo Ray".  This slinky aciiied-samba reappears in drastically remodelled form as "Voodoo Rage", on Gerald's brand new, unspeakably brilliant album "Black Secret Technology". It turns out that the song was always meant to be called "Voodoo Rage", but Gerald didn't have enough memory in his sampler and had to chop the "g" off!

 After "Voodoo", the logical thing for Gerald would have been to follow all the other Detroit buffs up the funkless cul de sac of 'electronic listening music'. Instead, after a frustrating period signed to major label Sony, Gerald discovered the glory of the breakbeat.  Originated by James Brown and the Meters,  sampled by hip hop producers, breakbeats are what enabled a generation of post-rave producers to move beyond the 4/4 monotony of house, into the multi-tiered, hyper-syncopated rhythmic psychedelia of drum & bass.

     "Originally I was into drum machines, I used to hate breaks. But then I discovered that with a sampler you don't just have to take a break and loop it, you can chop it up into segments, recombine it, enchance and stretch the sounds.  Basically you can turn a couple of hits into a whole drum solo!"

     Metalheads' Goldie had contacted Gerald, dragged him down from Manchester to Rage, London's legendary 1991/92 ardkore club. Gerald realised that hardcore was an emergent subculture that was totally British, and he wanted in.

    "The whole vibe was totally different to what was going on in Chicago.  I realised there was no point in me trying to sound like American house.  Jungle was also like touching ground with my own personal roots, 'cos my parents are from the West Indies.  For me it was like 'I'm still a real person, I've not been castrated by Sony'. Cos they'd wanted me to make Hi-NRG style music."

     Gerald's first efforts were ragga-influenced tracks like "28 Gun Bad Boy", but gradually he evolved towards the art-core end of things. In early '95, the term 'jungle' has already been outmoded by the music's onward and outward diffusion. That familiar matrix of influences, fusion/electro/Detroit, is pushing 'jungle' in all manner of astonishing directions--the cyber-jazz strangeness of Photek and Alec Reese, the hyper-soul 'hardstep' of Hidden Agenda, the lambent aqua-funk serenity of LTJ Bukem and his cronies.  On "Black Secret Technology" Gerald dabbles and daubs in all these different shades of the state-of-artcore spectrum. But his stuff is still too weird to get played at Speed, Bukem's Thursday Night salon for the drum & bass scene's inner circle of cognoscenti.

               *                   *                   *

The critic Andrew Ross recently asked where (given US rap's current reliance on '70s funk, its old skool nostalgia) had hip hop's "rage for the future" gone? The answer is: Blighty, where phuturism is alive 'n' KICKIN'.  From Tricky to Goldie, from Earthling to Droppin' Science, Britain's first generation of B-boys have come of age. And the striking difference about trip hop and art-core jungle vis-a-vis US rap, is that race is not the crucial determinant of belonging. Instead, what unites da massive is a shared attitude towards technology, an impatience to reach the future (hence Omni Trio's "Living For The Future", Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse "We Are The Future", Red One's "The Futurist", ad infinitum).

     From the orgasmatronic rapture of "Energy" to the cyborg paranoia of "Gloktrak", Gerald's new LP is virtually an essay (non-verbal, bar the odd sample) about the bliss and the danger of techno-fetishism. The title, "Black Secret Technology", expresses this ambivalence perfectly.  Gerald heard the phrase on a TV talk-show about government mind-control via the media, where some kind of witch-woman used the word 'black' to denote  malign sorcery.  But Gerald detourned the word to evoke the science-fiction fantasies of black pop's maverick tradition--Sun Ra as Saturn-born ambassador for the Omniverse, Hendrix landing his kinky machine, George Clinton's Mothership taking the Afronauts to a lost homeland on the other side of the galaxy, Afrika Bambatta's fetish for Kraftwerk and Nubian science, Juan Atkins and Derrick May's cybertronic mindscapes.

     At this fraught fin de millenium moment, technology appears both as instrument of domination and of resistance; machines can both castrate and superhumanize you.  Gerald belongs to a subculture based around abusing technology (jungle's all about doing things with machines unintended by the manufacturer) rather than being abused by it.  And it all goes back to his childhood.

    "I got a tank for Christmas and it played a tune, and I just had to know how it worked. I took a knife but I couldn't get these mad screws to open. So I heated the knife on the oven and sliced through the plastic, and ripped the tape recorder out. I just had to know!"

     Gerald still has that small boy's confidence about technology. As with a lot of post-rave producers, there's something vaguely auto-erotic verging on autistic to his techno-fetishism. When I ask him if he ever feels like a cyborg, in so far as his machines are extensions of his body that give him superhuman powers, he frankly admits that working in his studio, "it's like your own world and you become like the god."

     Like a lot of art-core producers, Gerald's eager to extend his dominion from the aural to the visual; he's hungry for the new frontier of virtual reality.  He dreams of a machine that "could convert sound into visuals.  You'd feed a sound in and the computer would turn it into an image on a screen.  Then you'd manipulate that vision and turn it back into sound. There's still scope for new things using sound. But hooking into the visual would make it even more interesting.  Epecially for kids nowadays, who're into computer games."

     On the album, "Cybergen" is all about an "imaginary drug that's basically virtual reality. The vocal goes 'it takes you up, down, anywhere you want to go.'. It's a drug where you're in total control of the experience: if you wanted a steel globe floating about, then going purple, you'd have it. Then the vocal says 'it's too late to turn back now', and that's making the point that it's no use saying we can't cope with this technology, that it's going to ruin society. Cos the technology's already here.  You either cope with it or you're lost. Kids today are already totally hooked into it. Kids today are frightening! I grew up with records, and now I know how to manipulate records.  When today's kids grow up, they'll know how to manipulate the visual side of it."

     So do you think people will lose interest in music?

    "Yeah, sound will just become a small part of it.  I can't imagine a kid today just sitting down and listening to an album. It's progression, innit?"

     Feeling like a fogey, I quibble: isn't part of music's magic the way it makes you come up with your own mind's eye imagery?  Gerald's chirpy response is that with CD-ROM you'll soon have the power to create your own graphics.  But, I counter feebly, who actually has the energy for all this inter-active self-expression?

       "Not people who grew up in our era. But kids today, given ten years, they'll be on it."

     People from 'our era', even those who are getting on-line, feel a deep anxiety about the digital revolution. The sense of being outstripped by technology's exponential development has even penetrated the subconscious: once, schizophrenics imagined loss-of-control in terms of demons and incubi, now they rant about microchips implanted behind their eyes or satellites irradiating them with a brainwashing beam.  But Gerald is gung-ho about technology's empowering potential. He takes a boyish delight in the sheer "deviousness" of the ever-escalating, techno-mediated struggle between Control and Anarchy.

   "There always ways around it. Say if someone was scanning into this room with a directional microphone and listening to us, we could scan them back and find out their exact location.  Your phone can be bugged, but you can get devices that scramble the signal.  When we were at school, we used to fiddle fruit machines.  They always came back with some new trick to stop us, but we always got round it. We'd find ways to get credits on space invaders' machines. It was like, ghetto technology!"




Juice Box JB2 

by Simon Reynolds

    Technology promises "total control".  But there's a deadly ambiguity here: who's the controller, who's controlled?  Technology serves the secret agendas of corporations and government agencies as easily as it empowers individuals and facilitates resistance. When it comes to state-of-art gadgetry, we're all potentially in the position of Gene Hackman's surveillance expert in 'The Conversation', who ends up f***ed over by the very machinery at which he's a virtuoso.

    Jungle--the most relentlessly digitalized music on the planet--grasps the double-edged sword of technology with both hands.  Jungle oscillates between auto-erotic fantasies of man-machine omnipotence and paranoid anxiety about the invasive, manipulating capacity of technology.   In the junglist imagination, technology figures as both orgasmatron (a pleasuredome of artifically-induced sensations) and Panopticon (the  terrordome in which every individual is constantly under Authority's punitive gaze).

     With "Black Secret Technology", Gerald Simpson puts an Afro-futurist spin to this technophile/technophobe ambivalence.  The title aligns Gerald with the black science fiction tradition that runs from Sun Ra, P.Funk and Lee Perry, through Afrika Bambatta and Derrick May, to Goldie and Jeff Mills. Gerald's music actually sounds like a virtual jungle, a datascape environment that's sensorily intoxicating yet teeming with threat. Breakbeats coil and writhe like serpents, samples morph and dematerialise like fever-dream hallucinations, itchy'n'scratchy blips of texture/rhythm dart and hover like dragonflies.  This could be heaven, this could be hell... Either way, this jungle is a terrain where the natives, the tech-savvy, have the advantage.

     "Black Secret Technology" divides up into fairly distinct utopian/dystopian sides. First comes sheer bliss: the mellow jazz-goo of "Darker Than I Should Be", the lover's rock idyll of "Finley's Rainbow (Slow Motion Mix)", the mystic vapors of "The Nile" .  "Energy" hymns neurological overload, oozing druggy textures and ooohing angel-voices over a bassline as stealthy and spring-heeled as a panther.  "Silent Cry" is even better: its music-box chimes, bittersweet vocal pangs and sombre synths instil a mood of piercing poignancy, like Aphex gone jungalistic.

     Then darkness falls. On "Cybergen", the vocal samples are hideously twisted and extruded, like the human soul bent out of shape by the technology-driven pressures of the late 20th Century.   Kicking off with "you're gonna be a bad muthafucker" (sampled from the cyborg-building scene in 'Robocop') and named after a sub-machine gun, "Gloktrak" is Gerald's most brutally disorientating track to date: eerie, almost MBV-like drone-swathes waver and contort over squelchy blocs of Cubist rhythm and a pressure-drop bass-lunge so stomach-jolting it'll have your lunch leaping up to greet the daylight. 

     Finally "Voodoo Rage" jungalizes the aciiied-tribal anthem that first made Gerald famous.  The original's "oooh-ooh- hoo" chant is relocated to a dense thicket of slimy polyrhythms. Juxtaposed with torturously timestretched (literally like a Medieval rack) vocals, the chant's serene 1989 rapture contrasts with the absolutely 1995 tension-and-dread of its new context; it figures as a tantalising echo of the communal release and utopian dreams that rave culture once offered, but that are now long-lost.

     "Black Secret Technology" is all about the danger of bliss and the bliss of danger. Emotionally (narcosis vs. vigilance) and sonically (melting ambience vs. jagged drum & bass), Gerald's music embodies the contradictions of the present. It's absolutely NOW, absolutely ESSENTIAL.           


a separate, earlier MM interview with Gerald, from October '94

A Guy Called Gerald

Melody Maker, October 8th, 1994

by Simon Reynolds

You could be forgiven for thinking that A Guy Called Gerald, the genius behind 'Voodoo Ray', had disappeared off the face of the earth. In fact, since his deal with CBS went sour, Gerald Simpson has being working deep underground. He started up his own label, Juice Box, and developed the digital-tribe vibe of 'Voodoo Ray' in an unexpected direction: hardcore junglism.

Gerald has this year issued a series of astonishing cuts such as 'Nazinji-Zaka' and 'Darker Than I Should Be'. 'Nazinji' starts with the declaration, "The first rhythms came from Africa", which is a big clue to Gerald's thang. The leap from 'Voodoo Ray' makes sense because jungle is Afro-futurist. Like dub, hip hop and ragga, it has the hallmark of African music. The complexity is rhythmic rather than melodic. Or, rather, the rhythm IS the melody. Gerald's tracks take the jungle mesh of polyrhythms, cross-rhythms and counter-rhythms to new levels of insane detail.

"I use five or six loops, add electronic percussion, pan 'em across the speakers and feed 'em through effects," he explains. "If people are gonna pay five quid, I'll give 'em their money's worth! I try to create as many dynamics within the music as possible and I have a personal rule that the samples must be masked beyond recognition."

Another key word for Gerald's aesthetic is cyber-black. Check out 'Gloc', the sinister, fucked-up flip of the jazzy, ultra-smooth 'Darker Than I Should Be'.

"The samples of 'You're gonna be a bad motherfucker' are from Robocop. It's the scene where they're rebuilding the guy as a cyborg after he was shot up. It fits, because the track is a remix. It's like I rebuilt it and armoured it with effects."

The sci-fi theme is continued on Gerald's forthcoming LP, Black Secret Technology, a title inspired by a programme on government mind-control via blipverts and other subliminal techniques. It also communicates a "Say it loud, I'm cyber-black and proud" message. But before the album, there's a new single, 'Finley's Rainbow', which is totally different to anything he has done before. It's jungle, but instead of drawing on ragga, the sources lie in the skankin' rhythms of roots reggae and the ethereality of lover's rock, all whisked by an irresistibly effervescent happy hardcore tempo.

As part of the intelligent/ambient vanguard, Gerald is making music which doesn't get played out that often, as pandering, play-safe DJs spin only proven crowd-pleasers, all obvious soul choruses, ragga chants and bouncy B-lines. Nevertheless, Gerald, who is about to collaborate with MC Navigator from Kool FM and has invited Goldie from Metalheads to remix 'Voodoo Ray', remains optimistic about the scene.

"So long as no one gets sucked in by the majors, it will keep progressing. People will realise they can't carry on sampling direct lifts from other records and become more creative."

Friday, November 12, 2021

My Bloody Valentine - published and directors cut version of the Loveless review - Melody Maker, November 1991


In his entertaining memoir about working at Melody Maker, It's Too Late To Die Young Now, Andrew Mueller - reviews editor at the time of this review's publication - recalls page after page after page of my Loveless paean unspooling from the fax machine (I would have written it in New York, where I spent about half my time in those days) and his dismay at the sprawling, overripe thesis that unfurled before his disbelieving eye balls. Which he then steeled himself to cut back to manageable proportions. 

However inspecting my original review (see below), I can detect one paragraph - which admittedly does get a bit fanciful with talk of koans and bodies-without-organs and Tantric sex - that got cut out. And the odd purplish half-sentence elsewhere. 

Apart from that one errant para, the review is a relatively restrained emission, by the standards of MM at that time.  It does actually tell you what the record sounds like, indeed describes it almost track by track, and provides a legible verdict, indeed quite a measured assessment, along the lines of "bloody good - could have been even better, mind".

The portion that underwent Muellerectomy reappeared in The Sex Revolts along with even more Deleuzian / Zen Buddhist / Uncarved Block of androgynous energy-flux froth added. 



(director's cut - the Fax Machine Edition)

    It was always going to be one of the year's most momentous and anxiously awaited records. Where their 1988 peers have either turkeyed-out (S. Youth, Buttholes, Loop) or gone into inexplicable hibernation (AR Kane, Young Gods), only My Bloody Valentine have upped the stakes with each of their sporadic releases. The hope was that the sequel to "Isn't Anything", when it deigned to turn up, would unfurl a whole new frontier.

    And that new frontier is sorely needed. While MBV have been semi-absent, they've also been omnipresent, as an abused, near-exhausted influence. While there's a grain of truth in the assertion that the Scene bands don't sound that much like the Valentines, it's not for lack of trying. All the Scene bands conform to the vague model that MBV coined - dazed-and-confused guitar-blur, swoony vocals, lyrics about the chaos of desire, etc. But it's equally true that not a one has come close to the MBV sound, that sensual turmoil that seems to seethe and smoulder under your skin. Instead (exempting only 50 per cent of Slowdive and Moose) the Scene groups make bliss bland, offer rapture-by-rote. Those of us who are a little harder to please, have been hoping that this LP would shame the imposters back into oblivion.

    "Loveless" isn't, quite, the record to do that. But it does reaffirm how unique, how peerless they are. On "Loveless", My Bloody Valentine are the same as before, only more so - more lustrous, langorous, inchoate, phantasmic. Whatever umbilical cords that still tied them to the Velvets/Mary Chain lineage or the Byrds/Husker Du/Dinosaur continuum have now been wholly severed. Where your Rides and Chapterhouses are easy to dis-assemble into their constituent parts, MBV are an amalgam, an alchemical brew, a simmering alembic of all-new sound. They've never been more them.

    Throughout "Loveless", MBV sound pregnant, like their music is about to metamorphosise to a higher state that they themselves can't quite conceive,  just as a liquid doesn't know what lies ahead when it's on the threshold of turning into gas. "Loomer" isn't 'rock' so much as magma, a plasma of sound that barely conforms to the contours of riff or powerchord. "To Here Knows When" , too, hardly qualifies as rock: the rhythm section is a dim, suppressed rumble; there's no riff or chord-sequence, just billowing parabolas of unfocussed sound (sampled feedback, actually) and a tantalising Erik Satie melody that fades in and out of earshot; Bilinda Butcher's vocal is at its most pallid palimpsest and eclipsed. "To Here" remains MBV's most suicidal song - commercially, obviously, but also in the sense that the group as human entities are dissipated, dissolved, drowned.

    The phrase "to here knows when" sounds a bit like a 'koan', those paradoxes that Buddhists meditate on for decades until enlightenment strikes. Sticking with the Zen analogy, I'd say that MBV play tantric mantras. A mantra is 'a song without an author': on "Loveless", MBV's physical presence as players is even more absent than on "Isn't Anything", the group are just the faintest membrane, a feather on the breath of God. Tantric refers to a Zen sexual discipline, where intercourse is sustained indefinitely at the  brink of orgasm, leading to an out-of-body, transcendental experience. On "Isn't Anything" and the preceding EP's, MBV went beyond the thrust and grind of phallic rock, to reach a polymorphous state of omnidirectional sensuality: a state that's been called having "a body without organs"

    All of "Loveless" is suffused with an apocalyptic, pre-orgasmic glow, the the sound of an annihilating intimacy. MBV music is a smelting, melding crucible of love in which every borderline and boundary (inside/outside, you/me, lover/beloved) is abolished. Instead of the normal perspective of rock production (bass here, guitar there, voice there, with the listener mastering the field of hearing), MBV are here there everywhere; they permeate, irradiate, subsume and consume you.

   "When You Sleep" is drowsy, dozy, heaven-scented pop that seems to be about hovering over the beloved, made dizzy by the newborn vulnerability. "I Only Said" is a cauldron of scalding sweetness, turning on a wincingly exquisite motif (sampled feedback again). On "Come In Alone", a similar motif is the only distinct, focal element in a asphixiatingly lovely bliss-bath; sluggish rhythms succumb like limbs in a viscous quagmire; overall, the effect is like drowning in honey. "Sometimes" is an aftermath ballad, Kevin Shields' vocal huddling forlorn in a crater overshadowed by a looming precipice of grunge. "Blown A Wish" is yet another Ecstasy-blitzed bower, sickly and soppy enough to give even Liz Frazer tooth-ache, while Bilinda's hyperventilated 'oooh's and 'aaaah's sound like she's got hummingbirds in her stomach. It's swoony, but in the end, it's too much: like staring into lover's eyes whose pupils are so dilated they're like black holes pulling you to your doom. "What You Want" is another symphonic maelstrom, that ends as a New Age haven of looped, lyrical flute sounds, like the gold at the end of the rainbow.

    Despite its title, "Loveless"  is very euphoric, very blissed, apparently devoid of a dark side; the jagged, Sonic Youth-y edges that previously hinted at voodoo, id-energies have been smothered in soft-focus miasma. And yet, and yet, the bliss gets to be scary, suffocating, and that's the fascination, the edge. MBV offer an appalling nirvana; you're subsumed in a primal "we", an overwhelming here-and-now, that has you gasping for air, aching for open space. After all this muggy amorphousness, it's something of a reprieve to hear the punch and (relative) clarity of the closing "Soon". The subsonic churn of the bass and drums locates a primeval funk groove midway between rock and house; the glazed mesh of guitars and vocals like spectral emanations, are implacable and impenetrable, even as they penetrate you, pass right through your body like a ghost.

   If there's scope for criticism here, it's that while My Bloody Valentine have amplified and refined what they already were, they've failed to mutate or leap into any kind of beyond. "Soon" and "To Here Knows When" are the most radical moments on the album, and remain signposts to the future: the first posits an under-explored avenue of funk/noise fusion, the second proposes absconding from rhythm into ambient drift. Throughout "Loveless", MBV teeter on the brink of the beyond. You can sense a scarcely imaginable infra-rock coming through their songs like a flame burning through a sheet of paper. You can hear this future explicitly in the inter-song doodles and a track called "Touched" - tantalising glimpses of where MBV could be at already.  The prologue to "When You Sleep" is an eerie mosaic of overlapping drones that sound like a brain effervescing on an overdose of Ecstasy. "Touched" sounds like the muzak of the spheres: a whale singing the Delta blues is intermingled with what sounds like Radio 2 heard from a wireless at the bottom of a swimming pool. I'm a little wistful that MBV didn't devote a whole side to such ear-baffling studio sorcery.

   But no worries, My Bloody Valentine have delivered. Quibbles aside, this is the mutha-lode: along with Mercury Rev, "Loveless" is the outermost, innermost, uttermost rock record of 1991. All you need.


Sunday, November 7, 2021



dirctor's cut, Details, 1992 

by Simon Reynolds

2021 preface: below is the first substantial article I did on techno / rave, and probably the first deeply reported piece journalism I ever did, courtesy of the budget of the men's magazine Details, who actually sent me to Belgium (as well as Sevenoaks!). (They drew the line - plus deadline was approaching - at paying for a trip to LA so that bit is a tad second-hand and broad strokes).  (Big up to Jon Savage, originally assigned to do the piece but had to drop out and recommended me as his replacement). In the course of doing it, I interviewed many more people than are actually quoted, including several figures whose enormity in the scheme of things was not quite as apparent then as it would be now. Even those quoted, the bits used are a fraction of the actual interview. (Along the way I also met briefly a shy-seeming Jeff Mills). This was written in spring '92, so I'm still figuring out the scene, taking information on trust from people who weren't necessarily reliable guides. And I've yet to have my "breakbeats are the phuture" revelation. Still it's a relief to see how much I've got right here. You may recognise some bits that get recycled later in Energy Flash - and in a sense this is where that book begins,  doing it gave me a map of the scene and early inklings of how it worked, why it mattered, what it might become. 

Midnight, Saturday, and we're prising our way through a jungle
of hyperactive limbs, exploring the maze of murky catacombs and
fluorescent grottos that is The Labrynth, a hardcore techno club in
North East London. The ultra-violet radiation makes teeth glow with
an eerie, extra-terrestrial hue. It also highlights the dancers'
Ecstasy-ravaged complexions unflatteringly. 

First thing you notice is that every other boy is wearing a
woolly bobble hat, despite the fact that it's like a sauna in here
and that 80 per cent of body heat exits via the your head. The
next thing you notice is that an awful lot of kids here seem to
have flu. Why else would they be rubbing Vicks VapoRub on their
necks, or surreptitiously passing around tubes of nasal decongestant
spray? In fact, it's another drug enhancement technique; the
menthol fumes increase the Ecstasy buzz, and the tingly feeling of
the ointment on the skin helps to bring on a "rush".
The Labrynth's denizens are young, proletarian, mostly white
kids from the East End and from Essex, a county on the periphery of
London. Along with the North of England, Essex is one of the UK's
techno strongholds. Although both are very much part of rave
culture, techno is quite different from house music: it's almost
entirely non-vocal, and has little relation to disco or black pop
tradition. There are many kinds of techno, but right now the style
that's all the rage is "hardcore", which is fast-paced (130-140
beats per minute compared with house's 120 b.p.m.), bass-heavy, and


Next on the itinerary is The Breakfast Club in Central London,
which starts at 5AM and goes on until midday on Sunday, drawing a
hardcore of the most maniacally committed dancers. The clientele
are mostly male, gaunt and rough-looking. Despite a intensive
bodysearch on entrance, inside there's no shortage of disreputable
types who whisper offers of drugs: "whizz" (speed), "charly"
(cocaine) and various brands of Ecstasy. On the floor, the
atmosphere's somewhere between a Nuremberg rally and a soccer
match. Apocalyptic and bombastic, the music's an ambush of sound
and fury, cyber-Wagner fanfares, bass-quake uproar and blaring
samples.  Juddering, staccato rhythms enforce a new kind of
dancing, all twitches and jerks, like disciplined epilepsy. Close-
cropped boys dance like they' re engaged in kung fu with an
invisible adversary.  Others mold their hands into the shape of
cocked pistols and shake them in cryptic, combative patterns.
"The rush is ON", proclaims the MC in a hoarse Cockney holler.
Drugs have a lot to do with the hardcore vibe. Most tablets sold as
Ecstasy are concoctions of amphetamine cut with valium or LSD. Some
kids "neck" (swallow) as many as five in a night, at $25 a shot.
The hardcore fashion for face-pulling or "gurning", probably began
with someone afflicted by temporary ampetamine psychosis. When
you're buzzing on speed, you want to dance frenetically, to tracks
that are "nutty", "turbo-mental", "kickin'", "bangin'", "bone"
(boneheaded), tracks that come in "Nosebleed" mixes and are
broadcast over "plate-shaking" sound-systems.

 But amphetamine hasn't just whipped up the tempo, it's changed
the whole vibe of rave culture. Speed promotes megalomania and
aggression, rather than E's effusive, tactile intimacy. You can see
the difference on the dancefloor. The kids seem self-absorbed, lost
in autistic bliss. In the words of Human Resource's hardcore anthem
"Dominator": "I'm bigger and bolder and rougher and tougher/In
other words, sucker, there is no other/I wanna kiss myself".
Pleasure is expressed in a masochist slang of concussion and
cretinised catatonia: on a good night, you're "faced" (off your
face), "sledgied" (into oblivion), "cabbagded" (braindead).

Complaining that it's so fast all you can do is headbang to it,
the older rave crowd dismiss hardcore as "the new heavy metal".
Alienated by the barbarian influx of techno's young, male fans,
they're trying to institute "the garage revival", a retreat to
smooth, soulful, song-oriented house. For their part, the techno
youth detest "that garage shit" as bland, pseudo-sophisticated,
mediocre jazz-funk. Battle lines have been drawn.

    *       *       *       *       *       *       *           *

Brash, brutal, rowdy and rampant, European techno is produced
and consumed by an almost entirely white subculture. LA Style's
sacrilegious stomping anthem "James Brown Is Dead" proudly
proclaims techno's lack of soul, its severance from black music
history. But the irony is that when it first emerged, techno was
the elegantly minimalist brainchild of black Americans obsessed
with an idealised image of Europe. The story of techno begins in
late Seventies Detroit where three teenage friends - Derrick May,
Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins - were literally electrified by
the sound of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express". Kraftwerk turned
May, Saunderson and Atkins into Europhiles and Futurists,
infatuated with Visage, Ultravox, Depeche Mode, New Order - groups
whose cold, clinical precision was the opposite of black music's
fiery passion and healing warmth.

Juan Atkins was the first to make music, as early as 1981 with
the electro era outfit Cybotron, and then in 1985, as Model 500.
Soon afterwards,  Kevin Saunderson (Reese) and May (Mayday, Rhythim
Is Rhythim) recorded tracks too. May's "Nude Photo" and "Strings
Of Life" stripped disco of its flash and dazzle, turned it into a
theorem. Superficially icy and austere, the music manifested a ne w
kind of "soul", in the sheer power of the rhythms and the
crystalline poignancy of the arrangements.

But techno was always a small, neglected subculture in Detroit,
whose membership has never been more than a few hundred. Even now,
with new artists and labels springing up constantly, there are
still only two techno clubs in the area (Industry in Detroit itself and Vertigo in nearby Windsor, Canada). "There's a sceptical attitude to new things here," says Derrick May. "There's no young beautiful community bubbling. Detroit is like a ghost town".

"British techno is made for raves, so it's in-yer-face, but Detroit
techno is mind-music, it's a more isolated sound," says Richie Hawtin, co-founder of the hip, Windsor-based label +8.   Nonetheless, May, Saunderson and Atkins' ghostly, ghost-town tracks, made in a void, went on to spawn a huge British subculture.
Neil Rushton, a British pop entrepreneur who'd licensed the early
tracks, sold the idea of a "Detroit Techno" compilation to Ten Records. Kevin Saunderson's pop-techno outfit Inner City had two huge world-wide hits with "Big Fun" and "Good Life". But then, abruptly, it all started to go wrong. Disillusioned, Atkins and May dropped
out of music; Saunderson took Inner City in a disastrous "soul "
direction. But the seed had been sown. "Our absence opened the door for a lot of novices in England," says May, who's only just returning to music. "And the door was called 'bleep'."

The Nineties began with a new breed of UK whizzkids making records in their bedrooms, using cheap samplers and outmoded Analog synths (because they sound more artificial, more futuristic, than the latest digital computers), fired up by a do-it-yourself fervour
redolent of punk. Warp Records in Sheffield was a hotbed of talent, with groups like Forgemasters, Sweet Exorcist and the brilliant LFO; Manchester had A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State. But early UK techno's finest moment came with Orbital's "Chime", a  shimmering mantra of hymnal minimalism. Recorded in a couple of hours for a
few dollars, "Chime" went on to become a Top Twenty hit.

Orbital are two brothers, Phil and Paul Hartnoll, from the London commuter belt town of Sevenoaks. They represent the progressive wing of the techno underground; they record poignant techno-symphonies like "Belfast" as well as rampant floor-fillers,
and are one of the few groups who improvise when they play live. Sadly, their exploratory approach became marginalised as the hardcore mentality solidified in 1991.  These days virtually any musical illiterate can cobble together a white label 12 inch by
tossing a few samples from current tracks over a looped, sped-up breakbeat. The market has been flooded with limited edition white labels, whose obscurity makes them highly-sought after by DJ's competing to to play the latest, most underground tracks,
regardless of long-term worth.  Such consumer fetishism fits only
too well, say the Hartnolls, with the hardcore scene's "work hard,
play harder" ethos, where you slave all week to pay for the
weekend's excesses, such is the inflated cost of clubbing and

"Everbody goes out on Friday night and again on Saturday," says Paul Hartnoll. "They take their so-called Ecstasy, have a totally mad time, release all their frustrations. By Monday, they're deadbeat zombies, saying 'yes sir, no sir'. All week they're just waiting for Friday. The drugs and the lifestyle subdues them into accepting the drudgery of working life".

 While the likes of Orbital chafe against the dominance of manic b.p.m., others have embraced hardcore. Altern-8's Mark Archer and Chris Peat began as Nexus 21, making Detroit-influenced 'armchair techno' that, unlike hardcore, didn't depend on a huge club system to sound good. When they started to make hardcore tracks based
around seismic bass, gimmicky samples and frenetic break-beats,
they invented Altern-8 as a frivolous alter-ego, in order to keep
Nexus 21's reputation clean. But Altern-8 took off so hugely that
Nexus has been put on hold. With their scams and their wacky
outfits (chemical warfare protection suits and gas-masks, which
simultane ously mock the idea that techno is "faceless" and turn
anonymity into a marketable image) Altern-8 are KLF-style
pranksters. Their Top Three hit "Activ-8" featured a sample of
their label boss' five year old daughter saying "nice one, top one,
get sorted" - a slang phrase for getting high on E that completely
bypassed the BBC censors. Appearing on Top Of The Pops, Altern-8
got the cameraman to zoom in on the jar of Vicks they'd put on top
of their sampler - the equivalent of flaunting a bong or coke spoon
on prime time TV.  Their latest single "E-Vapor-8" cheekily
manages to compact two drug references into a single word.

    *       *       *           *           *           *

 A pop historical analogy: in the Sixties, British groups like
The Stones, Yardbirds, Cream, listened to Robert Johnson, Muddy
Waters, etc, then created their own stylized version of the blues.
Then a new generation of bands, raised on white blues and ignorant
of the original Black American music, arose with their own
coarsened, monstrously exaggerated version of its lust and
aggression. They called it "heavy metal". In the mid-Eighties,
urban blacks in Chicago and Detroit, inspired by Kraftwerk and DAF,
created their own version of Teutonic electronic dance music. By
the early Nineties, a new generation of white European kids,
ignorant both of Kraftwerk and the disco tradition, emerged with
their own brutal, simplistic version of electronic dance. And they
called it "hardcore".

    Talk to rave culture afficianados and you start to hear the
same language that appalled counter culture veterans used to
dismiss heavy metal: techno's been "bastardised", "corrupted",
"degraded", it's macho, bombastic, a soul-less travesty, fascistic.
"I don't even like to use the word 'techno' because   it's been
prostituted in every form you can possibly imagine," says Derrick

 "It's almost as though the Detroit pioneers have spawned a
Frankenstein monster", says rave culture commentator Louise Gray.
"Back in 1988, there was a vague manifesto behind acid house clubs
like Trip and Hedonism, to do with creating some kind of community.
But the next generation of ravers only picked up on the speed of
the music. On the hardcore scene, people are shoving five tablets
of E down their throat a night, in the same way they used to pour
ten pints of beer down their throats."

For people like Derrick May and Louise Gray, hardcore techno
offers the paradox of a degraded avant-gardism, a futuristic music
that's mired in conservatism. In their view, techno can't really
progress, because it lacks any sense of its own history. Certainly,
it's true that techno is in deadlock at the moment, that there's an
intense turnover of tracks but little real advance. But for me,
what's exciting about hardcore is precisely its closeness to rock's
aggression, noise and visceral impact. There's a different vibe to
rave culture today than the heady euphoria of 1988/89.  Just as
psychedelia turned heavy in 1969/70, so rave music's energy has
turned sinister. It's no coincidence that one of the top hardcore
clubs in London goes by the name of Rage. Hardcore is a mad jumble
of emotions, a mix of the celebration of rave and the fury of punk.
All it needs is a group to take that abstract anger and make it
explicit, and you could have the birth of a new insurrectionary

Warriors in the "fight for the right to party", Spiral Tribe
believe techno is an inherently revolutionary music.  A shadowy,
nebulous collective, Spiral Tribe organise illegal parties and out-
door raves, and record and distribute their own white label tracks.
They're part of the crossover between the rave scene and the
"crusty" subculture (squat-dwelling anarcho-punks, nouveau hippies,
and downwardly mobile slackers, who got the name 'crusty' from
their matted dreadlocks and apocalyptic garb).

Hoping to interview the Tribe, I find myself in a dilapidated
squatters' house in North East London, the site of one of the
Spirals' weekly illicit parties. Ten years ago, an equivalent squat
party's soundtrack would have been dub reggae or hippy rock.  But
tonight, a thick, tactile web of techno-voodoo rhythms pulsates
through the murk. Gyrating light-beams glance off walls mottled
with dry rot and mildew, illuminating the Spirals' cryptic
insignia, or refract through the curlicues of marijuana smoke.
Downstairs in the chill-out room, assorted figures huddle by a gas
fire, rolling joints. Some snort ketamine, a drug that's suddenly
returned to favour with the seriously psychedelic wing of rave
culture.  Originally a veterinary anesthesic, at low doses ketamine
induces a sensation of disassociation and floating. Current slang
terms for the drug are 'baby food' (users sink into a blissful,
infantile inertia) and " God' (some users are engulfed in a
heavenly radiance, and, if they're at all religious, become
convinved they've met the Almighty).

A week later I finally get to interview the core members of
Spiral Tribe in the aftermath of another party, this time at a
derelict pub. Upstairs, survivors lie slumped and glazed on soiled
mattresses. On the wall, someone has aerosol-sprayed a pentagram
with the number 23 in one corner. The uncanny power and
omnipresence of the number 23 is one of a motley array of
supernatural beliefs to which the Spirals subscribe.  Expounding
the Tribe's anarcho-mystical rave creed, bobble-hatted spokesperson
Mark has the visionary gleam of a prophet in his eyes.
"We keep everything illegal because it's only outside the law
that there's any real life to be had. The real energy in rave
culture comes from illegal dance parties, pirate radio stations,
and white label 12 inches that bypass the record industry
altogether.  Rave is about people creating their own reality. Last
summer, we did a party that went on for fourteen days non-stop.
It's a myth that you need to sleep. Stay awake and you discover the
real edges of reality. You stop believing in all the false reality
that was hammered into you from birth."
"In the old days, rock bands had to go to record companies and
sign their souls away just to be able to put out a record." says
Seb, a dishevelled, saucer-eyed music student who's largely
responsible for Spiral Tribe's mutant techno, although he refuses
to be credited on the EP because the Tribe's credo is "no money, no
ego". "But now cheap technology means anyone can do," he continues.
"Just compare the music released on white labels with the stuff
released by major companies - you can taste the freedom.
Rock'n'roll had that freedom once, but very briefly, before it was
turned into a commodity. The industry turns energy into money. We
want to release the trapped energy."

 In the week I've been chasing them for an interview, Spiral
Tribe have been lying low after being the brunt of police
persecution. Following a rave in rural Wiltshire, 34 of them were
arrested, their vehicles were trashed, and the phone line they use
to publicise the location of Spiral events was cut-off. Undaunted,
Spiral Tribe are gearing up for what they anticipate will be "the
maddest summer since 1989", a non-stop conflagration of illegal
raves and altercations with the cops. Kicking it off will be "Sound
System City" on June 21 (Summer Solstice). The aim is to hold a
massive rave as near as possible to Stonehenge, the mystic stone
circle in Wiltshire. Stonehenge was a traditional Solstice
celebration site for hippies and pagan worshippers, until the
police instituted a four-mile exclusion zone around it a few years
ago. This followed a bloody battle with "the travellers", hippy
nomads who wander up and down the British Isles attending "free

In the old days, the staple fare of the free festivals was hippy
trance-rock like Hawkwind and Here And Now. But now the travellers
have turned onto rave music. "They recognise that it's free music,"
says Seb. "Last years festivals were the best attended in years,
with the widest range of people ever." The Spirals intend Sound
System City to be the culmination of this process, and the dawn of
a New Age. While they recognise that the club-based hardcore scene
is just the latest version of the working class 'living for the
weekend' ethos, they like to imagine people coming to their parties
and seeing the light. "Sometimes, people come to our parties and
say 'fuck it, I'm not going to work tomorrow'," says Mark. "Next
thing, they've sold the house, bought a vehicle, and they're
sorted." 'Sorted', in Spiral Tribe parlance, means more than just
fixed up with E, it means attuned to a new reality, 'spiral
reality'.  Like a lot of apocalyptic sects, Spiral Tribe combine
paranoid conspiracy theories with fantasies about returning to a
lost golden age. They call their philosophy 'terra-technic', which
is all about using technology to unleash the primordial, female
power of the Earth. "Like music from primitive or non-Western
cultures, techno's based on harmony and rhythm, not melody," says
Seb. "With our music and our parties, we're not trying to get into
the future, we're trying to get back to where we were before
Western Civilisation fucked it all up."

        *       *           *           *           *           *
Famous for its chocolate, lace, and political neutrality,
placid Belgium has been a major player in the techno revolution.
Since the Nineties began, Belgium has unleashed a steady stream of
hardcore tunes that have incited pandemonium on the dancefloors of
Britain, Europe, and, most recently, America. The office of
Belgium's leading techno label, R&S Records, is overshadowed by the
Gothic glory of St Baaf's Cathedral in Ghent; turquoise-and-yellow
trolleybuses cruise past the window, relics of a quainter era. In
the Middle Ages, Ghent was the centre of the European wool trade;
today it's at the crossroads of the global traffic in techno. R&S
are Renaat and Sabine Van De Papeliere, a husband and wife team
who look like any thirtysomething professional couple. But last
year, the pair sold more 12 inch singles in Belgium than all the
major labels combined. In the summer, when the Belgian Top Ten was
swamped by rave music, the disgruntled majors decided to stop
funding the chart. The result: there is no pop chart in Belgium.
The Belgian story began with a late Eighties dance craze
called New Beat. DJs started to spin house records at 33 rpm rather
than the correct 45 rpm records, creating an eerie, viscous,
trance-dance groove. At the height of New Beat, remembers Renaat,
the Ghent club Boccaccio "was like a temple. Everyone was dressed
in black and white, dancing this weird, robotic dance."  When
groups like Lords Of Acid and A Split Second started to make
records with that uncanny, slow-motion beat, they were hugely
successful in Belgium and a fad-of-the-month everywhere else. The
bubble soon burst, but not before New Beat had ended Belgian pop's
inferiority complex .  As the Nineties progressed, the b.p.m.
accelerated, as DJ's started playing techno with their turntables
set to + 8. And like with New Beat, groups started making records
at that speed: "Acid Rock" by Rhythm Device, Second Phase's
"Mentasm", T99's "Anasthesia".  Belgian hardcore was born,
characterised by what's been dubbed "the Belgian hoover" effect, an
ominous drone that sounds like a diabolic choir or a swarm of
killer bees.

For Renaat, the appeal of techno is that it's resurrected the
generation gap - it's the new noise that parents and older brothers
just can't accept as music. Even those who should know better, the
punk veterans, can't deal with it, although their complaint is
that's techno's not subversive, just mindless noise that reduces
listeners to braindead zombies. But although techno has no explicit
politics, Renaat thinks it's implictly utopian, allowing people to
create their perfect world on the dancefloor. "Because there are
no words, it leaves your imagination totally free. The way parties
are developing now, it's exciting to enter that total fantasy
wold. You can escape from everything." 

Although Belgium still leads the way with the music, Renaat says the frontiers of clublife are being pushed back in Rotterdam, Frankfurt, Berlin. He raves about a
club in Cologne where temperatures reach tropical levels and DJ 's
wear oxygen masks, about Berlin's Tresor, a disused bank vault
that's been turned into a strobe-blitzed body-bath of naked, sweat-soaked flesh. And he dreams of holding a Techno Woodstock, on the same site in the US as the original festival, but modelled on Berlin's annual rave carnival 'The Love Parade'.

The techno starting to come out of Berlin and Frankfurt is insanely frenetic and mercilessly dissonant; DJ's are talking about 180 b.p.m. as a plausible goal. Others are saying the pace has got to come down or people will be dropping dead on the dancefloor. Renaat is starting up an R&S subsidiary called Apollo that will specialise in more ambient and meditational techno, like Jam and Spoon's serene "Tales From a Danceographic Ocean" EP. But Renaat
still loves hardcore's Dionysian frenzy. His latest signings are The Aphex Twin (a London-based prodigy who makes his own instruments) and Mescalinum United (apocalyptic, industrial noise from Frankfurt).  And R&S' star producers are a pair of hardcore
boffins only just out of their teens, Joey Beltram and CJ Bolland.

  Brooklyn-based Beltram revolutionised techno twice before his twentieth birthday, with "Energy Flash" and Second Phase's "Mentasm". A DJ since the age of 12, Beltram is unusual in that he's a huge rock fan - he worships Metallica and Queensryche, and sampled
a Robert Plant orgasm on a track called "The Omen". The vibe of Beltram's tracks is as baleful as Black Sabbath and as frenzied as thrash-metal. 

By contrast, CJ Bolland typifies a new generation who never listened to rock'n'roll. Born in Newcastle, England, but raised in Belgium, the teenage Bolland loathed the sound of guitars
but loved Electronic Body Music (Severed Heads, Skinny Puppy, Front
242). Bolland's music takes Body Music's sinister, industrial
textures and replaces its stiff beats with rave music's stomping
sync opation.  His masterpiece is Ravesignal III's "Horsepower":
imagine "I Feel Love" if Giorgio Moroder has made it with
Schwarzenegger in mind, not Donna Summer. But Bolland recognises
that hardcore's reached a creative dead end. "Most new tunes aren't
tunes anymore , just a very hard kick and a very mad sound. In
Belgium, people have gotten so into the drugs that the music is
made to cause a reaction on that drug. If you hear it when you're
straight, it won't do anything for you."

        *       *           *           *           *           *

Belgian and British hardcore has spawned a thriving underground
of techno-freaks in New York, who congregate at "Future Shock" (
Limelight on Fridays) and "Adrenalin" (Palladium on Thursdays).
Initially, techno was the preserve of Italian youth from Brooklyn,
Bensonhurst and Staten Island. In the first years of this century,
the Italian Futurists worshipped technology and speed, and
prophesised a new music based around 'the art of noises'. In the
last decade before the millenium, young Italian Americans worship
the high velocity, futurist noise that is techno.

"Fifty per cent of the kids are just into the music," says
Lord Michael, the DJ/producer who introduced techno to the Staten
Is land/Bensonhurst crowd, and then lured them into the Manhattan
clubs. "They get off on the aggression, 'cos New York's a very
aggres sive city. The other fifty percent are taking Ecstasy or
acid. Some of them smoke PCP. It's wild." 

Wild is the word. At the Palladium on Saturday (a transitional night, alternating between
'happy house' euphoria and techno mayhem), a huge hole opens up in
the dancing throng. Brawny Italian American boys jostle and
ricochet off each other. These kids are slamdancing. In a disco.

"If you weren't into the music, you'd think these were violent,
angry people", says Romeo Romeo, who MC's at Adrenalin and other
techno nights. "But really it's just a way for kids to release
themselves. With techno you don't have to dance well, you just let
yourself go." Recording as The Revolution, Romeo is developing a
style of hard'n'fast rap-style vocals, that he calls "rage". Maybe
' rage' will evolve into the insurrectionary techno-punk I
fantasised about earlier.

These days, the New York techno scene has opened out somewhat,
while remaining almost entirely white (although techno seems to have a mysterious allure for Asian kids) and suburban. "Most of the kids come from outside Manhattan, from Long Island, New Jersey, New York State, Conneticut," says Moby, a Future Shock DJ and techno
artist. Moby's "Go", a moody, atmospheric track that sampled the
 'Twin Peaks' theme, was a big hit in the UK. "I'm glad it's opened
out more, because the Italian contingent were too into macho
posturing. I supported The Shamen when they played the Limelight
earlier this year, and I was looking forward to playing to a
homecrowd , but it was depressing, like performing in a

 At 26, Moby is relatively old for a techno whizzkid. As a teenager, he was a hardcore punk fan and briefly played in the seminal drone rock band Flipper. The weird thing about his
conversion to rave culture is that Moby is a Christian, straight-
edge vegan who abstains from alcohol and drugs. "I'm ascetic, but
at the same time, I love drug culture. If you look at the Sixties,
the music and the art that came out of drugs was so interesting.
Personally, I prefer adrenalin highs, and I would never encourage
anyone to do drugs. But I like being in a nightclub where 5000
people are buzzing on them. As for my religious beliefs... well,
the first rave that I know of was when the Ark of Covenant was
brought into Jerusalem and King David tore off all his clothes and
danced like crazy."

Despite Moby's Biblical precedent for raving, and the Limelight's stained glass windows, the atmosphere at Future Shock is closer to a pagan bacchanal than anything ecclesiastical. The metronomic beat and sequencer-riffs thresh and scythe, and it's
like being fed through a pop abbatoir. Young bucks with slicked-
back hair and sideburns barge into the fray, stripped to the waist
with T-shirts hanging out of the back jean pocket like Springsteen.
The pace escalates, from the stealthy voodoo throb of D.H.S. "House
Of God", through the out-of-control carousel that is The Prodigy's
"Everybody In The Place", to the epileptic intensity of F.U.S.E's
"F.U.".  At this speed, just about all you can do is
 oscillate. Or headbang. Or pogo.
While New York has a hyperactive techno scene, for real
rave culture, you have to look to Los Angeles and the West Coast.
The British idea of driving out to secret dance parties in secluded
locations could never be transplanted to New York because so few
people have cars. But LA, with its vast infrastructure of freeways
and population accustomed to driving large distances for entertainment, has proved to be the ideal environment for raving.  As with most cities, house and techno began as the preserve of a hip club scene, mostly twentysomethings with a high proportion of black,
Hispanic and gay participants. But in the last 18 months, hordes of
white suburban teenagers have turned onto techno, and parties have
swelled from select gatherings of eight hundred people to huge four
or five thousand raves. And like Britain, the scene has shifted
from illicit warehouse parties to legal, highly organised    mega-
events, complete with expensive light/video/lazer shows and massive
sound systems.

In some respects, the LA rave scene has overtaken its UK
prototype: it has its own techno radio station, MARS, and a
magazine, Urb, dedicated to documenting and articulating rave
culture. The LA scene has also developed its own ideas about rave-
enhancing drugs: Ecstasy and LSD are big there as everywhere,
but so are mushrooms, crystal meth and nitrous oxide (laughing
gas). At raves, vendors sell balloons full of laughing gas, and
there was a recent tragedy in which a gang of kids asphyxiated in
a car after leaving a nitrous oxide canister open.

For some drugging and dancing are purely hedonistic, a way of
letting off steam at the weekend. But others on the West Coast
scene see rave culture as a spiritual revolution. Perhaps because
the city was the Mecca of the psychedelic era, the San Francisco
rave scene is developing a Nineties version of Timothy Leary's
"politics of ecstasy". The idea is that hypnotic lights and lasers,
bass-heavy trance-music and the hyperventilation induced by hours
of aerobic dancing, all combine to create a blissed-out state of
"higher understanding". The next step will be "cyberdelia",
combining music with a computer-generated "virtual reality" to
provide the ult imate holiday from everyday life. 

"They're starting to call DJ's 'digital shamen' here," says Todd Roberts from Urb
magazine. Like Spiral Tribe's "terra-technic" creed, it's all about
using futuristic technology to go back to the ancient purpose of
music: communal release through ritual, non-stop ecstatic dancing.
At LA's Club Fuck, neo-pagans heavily into bodypiercing and ritual
adornment dervish-dance to the voodoo uproar of hardest-core
techno. It's an End of the Millenium freak-out - apocalypse now.



But it's soul-less, inhuman, cold...
    Feel the heat on the dancefloor, the crush of frenzied flesh,
and tell me that techno's not a celebration of human energy.

But it all sounds the same...
    Non-cognoscenti say that about metal, rap, alternative. It's
just not true.

But it's mindless escapism...
    The best things in life involve switching your brain off and
taking an excursion from reality.

But it's just not music...
    They said it about rock'n'roll, they said it about punk. Do you
want to be on history's losing side, or do you want to get down
with the future?


Kraftwerk - "Radioactivity", "Trans-Europe Express", "Computer
World" (all              Capitol), "The Mix" (Elektra)
DAF - "Alles Ist Gut", "Gold Und Liebe" (Virgin)

Rhythim Is Rhythim/Derrick May/Mayday - "Innovator" (Network)
Various Artists - "retrotechno/detroitdefinitive" (Network)
Various Artists - "Techno One and Two" (Ten)
Inner City - "Good Life" (Ten 12 inch)

Orbital - "Chime", "Midnight", "Belfast" (all London/ffrr 12 inch)
808 State - "ex:cel" (Tommy Boy)
LFO - "Frequencies" (Warp/Tommy Boy)
Various Artists - "Pioneers Of The Hypnotic Groove" (Warp)

Second Phase - "Mentasm" (R&S 12 inch)
Beltram - "Energy Flash" (R&S 12 inch)
Human Resource - "Dominator" (R&S 12 inch)
Ravesignal III - "Horsepower" (R&S 12 inch)
Altern-8 - "Activ-8", "Frequency", "E-Vapor-8" (all Network 12
Bizarre Inc - "Playing With Knives" (Vinyl Solution/Columbia 12
Eon - "Spice" (Vinyl Solution/Columbia 12 inch)
Moby - "Go" (Outer Rhythm 12 inch)
Orbital - "Mutations" (London/ffrr EP)
Various Artists - "XL Recordings: The Second Chapter" (XL)
                -  "Order To Dance" (R&S)
                - "This Is Hype!" (Hype)
                - "Technorave 2" (Network/Next Plateau)
Underground Resistance, "Riot" EP


The Aphex Twin - "Didgeridoo/Analogue Bubblebath" (R&S EP)
Jam and Spoon - "Tales From A Danceographic Ocean" (R&S EP)
Spiral Tribe EP - (white label, contact 154, Maygrove Rd, London
NW6, UK)
Various Artists - "Blueprints For Modern Technology Vol. 1" (+8)
                - "Frankfurt Trax Vol. 2" (PCP)

Warp, Network, XL, PCP (Planet Core Productions), R&S, +8, Rising
High, Underground Resistance, Vinyl Solution