Wednesday, May 28, 2008

the robots

Dancing to techno, I never thought about the robots. Except for this one time. But they made me promise not to tell what happened out there on the perimeter where there were never any stars and the DJs took pills and played for 7 days, so I'm not saying nothing.
But, really, it's all about the robots, it's all about the production line. It's about Detroit and the noises inside the car factories. It's about P-funk and white funk. Juan Atkins coined the term 'techno' in a song of his called 'Techno City' and what was going through his mind back then in the early 80's was a kind of Alvin Toffler/Prince/Kraftwerk scenario in which ideas from hiphop and afrocentrism blended with the practicalities of the mixer, the utility of Kraftwerks's metronome beat and the notion that cold blackness would win the urban war. It was Atkins who said that Kraftwerk were so white they were funky and his protege, the great musical innovator Derrick May, was the one who annointed Atkins as “the fire...the matrix.”
Around the time that May told me that I went to listen to Juan Atkins playing records in Melbourne. He is my Leadbelly, my Blind Lemon Jefferson. Late 90's, this was. Juan was fat and wore glasses and people complained he couldn't mix but it was never about the mix. At least now we know that.
I wrote then: ''...he’s playing beautiful records that glisten with soul and just a little bit of menace. A little twist of the alien, the subphonic. It’s techno all right and it’s going quickly crazy for us squashed up there beneath him as he does it. He drops “Bingo Bango” by Basement Jaxx followed by a bracket of samba-house; he goes through stretches of wild and deep electro; he drops “Beau Mot Plage” by Isolee. We love that. We’re mad for that. It’s Detroit in the area. Original style. He’s a big man and his glasses are fogging up but you can tell he’s a quiet man behind all the thunder of the records.''
Here then is his defining electro track from 1985, on Metroplex. 

Model 500 Night Drive (mp3)

He also recorded as Cybotron, but there was also a cooking 70's/80's electro outfit from Melbourne of the same name. They were into Krautrock, into Tangerine Dream. They were and still are desperately, brillantly obscure. Picked this one up from Bumrocks even though the geezers probably live just down the street. In, perhaps, Moorabbin. Or even Bentleigh, if they had a good royalty deal.
The fact that two pioneering techno outfits could use the name Cybotron -- and it's worth pointing out the Melbourne version came first - is a tribute to the power of the robot. The tron. The Man-Machine. We'll talk Kraftwerk later, OK?

Which brings me to Gary Numan. Here's his great track about dislocation and what it must feel like to have a kind of alien love for another creature in the uniform of authority even though he/it wants to either kill you outright or gore you for the amusement of gourmet diners.
Juan Atkins, incidentally, thought Gary Numan was "dope."

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