Nude Photo

While I’m in this techno/house groove we should have something from Detroit and one of the originators of the whole thing. Derrick May was one of the Belleville Three (the other two being Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson). The sound they cooked up in Belleville in the mid-to late 80s was partly a result of isolation (Belleville was pretty racially segregated at the time and the three stuck together). Belleville was a rural suburb of Detroit and many of the residents worked in the car factories, well paid jobs. The black population of Belleville were a black middle class, with the disposable income to buy records and equipment. May, Atkins and Saunderson listened to Kraftwerk, George Clinton, Prince, Yellow Magic Orchestra, The B-52s. Eventually Atkins bought a synth and then taught the other two to dj. They began to play records in the clubs of Detroit and then ventured further, discovering Chicago’s house scene. Suitably inspired by the scenes in Chicago’s warehouses and clubs, and the largely black and gay crowd losing it on the dancefloor, they returned home to fuse Chicago’s house music with Kraftwerk’s mechanical sounds, with the stated intention of creating the music of the future.

Nude Photo

The second release under the mis-spelt Rhythim Is Rhythim name was Strings Of Life, one of the key records of the UK’s Second Summer Of Love. Nude Photo, co-written with Thomas Barnett, preceded it. Barnett describes driving home after a disappointing session writing with Derrick, with the idea of the ‘three Roland drum machines strategically placed on the floor of Derrick’s living room’ and how he wanted to make them join together in an ‘extra-terrestrial-midi-rain dance’. The track was created the following day. The sampled laughter comes from Yazoo. The rest comes from Derrick and Thomas.

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Various Artists

I was having a conversation online recently about the wonders of the Various Artists compilation album, which at certain times has been a real work of art. There are others I could go on about at some length but these are the three that immediately come to mind, all released within a few years of each other (and all tied together as well).

I’ve written before about Creation Records 1991 dance/house compilation Keeping The Faith but it is a perfect example, a well put together round up of similar minded artists and tracks defining a moment in time. From the opening minutes where Fluke take off on a Pan Am to Philly through to Hypnotone, a pair of Primal Scream remixes, Weatherall’s definitive remix of My Bloody Valentine, Love Corporation, J.B.C., Sheer Taft, Danny Rampling’s The Sound Of Shoom and World Unite here isn’t a duff track and it is full of great moments. The Tears For Fears sample in J.B.C.’s cover of We Love You sums up how far Creation Records have shifted in 1991- ‘dj’s the man you love the most’. World Unite by World Unite is a majestic ambient house dub excursion- bubbling synths, up vocals with an eye on the dancefloor. The only thing I know about World Unite is that it was written by Potter and Stacey. And I love it still.

World Unite

In the mid-to-late 80s Creation excelled at budget compilations, often a way to keep the wolf from the door and keep the cash coming in. At a knock down price of £1.99 1988’s Doing It For The Kids was an essential purchase- The Jasmine Minks, Felt, Primal Scream (early indie version), The Weather Prophets (their song Well Done Sonny is below), The House Of Love, The Jazz Butcher, Biff Bang Pow!, My Bloody Valentine, Momus, The Times, Nikki Sudden, Pacific, Heidi Berry, Emily, Razorcuts. It is almost the complete picture of post-Smiths indie. And completely untouched by what was already brewing that would lead to Keeping The Faith. A snapshot of a time.

Well Done Sonny

The last one is this one, Retro Techno/Detroit Definitive Emotions Electric, a 1991 double album of the futuristic sounds of Detroit, a pulling together of the work of Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, wall to wall techno classics that still sounds like its ahead of everyone else. From Model 500 at the start of Disc 1 Side 1 through to the massive drums, rhythms and bleeps of  The Groove That Won’t Stop, this is better than most ‘proper’ albums. The closing track is a sublime version one of dance music’s set texts, the unreleased mix of Strings Of Life by Rhythim Is Rhythim.

Strings Of Life (Unreleased Mix)

This could become a series I fear. Feel free to chip in with your own suggestions.

Mayday

My ears have been very much attuned to techno recently, especially the futuristic sounds coming out of Detroit between 1987 and 1989. There are lots of discussions and arguments in music about firsts, who made the first record in a particular style, who the inventor or originator was. This record, Nude Photo, made by Derrick May as Rhythim Is Rhythim, is arguably the first techno record and it is sublime, hitting the head and feet equally with its marriage of rhythm and melody, and the shock of otherness. There are arguments that Model 500’s No UFOs was first or Cybotron was. Others argue that these were electro rather than techno. It gets like that. And it doesn’t really matter I suppose.

We have spent some time this week emptying some cupboards and drawers, de-cluttering, rationalising and in some cases chucking shit out. Why I had kept hold of some things? Why had I saved not one, not two, but five old mobile phones? This was made much easier by listening to Innovator, a 1991 six track vinyl compilation of Derrick May’s work, where he invents much of the sound of the modern world.

Strings

On this Saturday morning in October, for no reason other than it came to mind last night, I present to you…. the greatest techno record ever made.

This is the unreleased mix of String Of Life, as available on the superb Retro Techno/Detroit Definitive: Emotions Electric lp, one of dance music’s essential texts. This is not techno with banging repetitive beats (not that there’s anything wrong with that, in the right time and place), nor a slightly dated late 80s club anthem. This is electronic music as food for the soul, machine music for a future that never quite materialised. As the subtitle of the album said ‘Emotions Electric’- and without vocals too.

Derrick May’s borrowed piano loop, some wood block percussion, some twinkly bits, some synth string stabs. The sum of the parts…

Strings Of Life (Unreleased Mix)

Acid Brass And (Man Ray)

One more Man Ray portrait, this time of poet and celebrity fascist Ezra Pound, looking as cool as a cucumber while contemplating a move to Italy and the policies of Mussolini. Possibly. To be fair, Ezra did say he regretted his pro-fascist words and actions later in life. Spending several weeks locked in a cage by US forces at the end of World War Two didn’t help his mental state either.

Some unrelated dance music (or dance music inspired music) from Jeremy Deller’s acid brass album from ages ago. Here the Williams Fairey Brass Band tackle techno classic Strings Of Life, Derrick May’s Rhythim Is Rhythim masterpiece.

Strings Of Life