Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Unknown Aquazone

Drexciya 4 'The Unknown Aquazone' came out some time in 1994 and was a double pack, or 'Aquapak' as it states here, on Submerge. By this time Drexciya had obviously become a very safe bet for the Submerge/UR axis, knowing that an investment in a twin vinyl release by the band would pay off both musically and financially. I'd like to know the kind of numbers they were moving at this time, techno peaked sales wise in the mid 90's, but certainly this was their biggest musical achievement to date.This EP could also be called ‘Exploring the Unknown Aquazone’ because that is what we begin to do, not that we will learn everything about it, that is not the Drexciyan way, but will gleam more scattered detail. I will tackle the music and meaning simultaneously this time.
The opening 'Intro' track on side one informs us in a very slowed down male voice that we are "Welcome to the fusion zone". This short piece begins and ends with the famous helicopter rotor blade sample from the beginning of 'Apocalypse Now' along with an array of weird sound effects with no musical structure. The main opener, ‘Living on the Edge’, is musically shuffle-tastic, I go into the detail of it’s meaning later but it's vocal has something to tell us. Outside the repeated title we hear these phrases, "No friends, no cold, no light, no love, no wife, no patience, no race relations, one man will stand." Obviously in their view these circumstances bear some of the conditions necessary for 'Living on the Edge', but some of those words might be misheard.
Living on the Edge could be taken as the Drexciya credo as this quote elaborates, "There's nothing that's planned, there's no set course. So the mystery of the unknown is really what makes us tick. The curiosity of not knowing where we're going to end up at once this track is done, or when this album is done, and so forth and so on. We never plan our course or where we're going with a particular project. It's mainly the unknown is what makes us tick. It's like living on the edge." An instrumental version which ends slightly differently is included on The Quest.
‘Aqua Jujidsu’, spelt wrong by the way, is a bit of fun with what sounds like the classic vocalisations that go with those moves echoing round the track, which does make it sound like it’s taking place underwater. To show how open this process of interpretation is only limited to your imagination I could write some stuff about how maybe the discipline involved in jujitsu or it’s related martial arts might be a way towards enlightenment and could fit that in quite well to my thesis but in this case I think that would be going too far, but who knows. For now I’ll stick with what seems obvious, to me anyway.
‘Aquabahn’ is another fun track that would not sound out of place as a Japanese Telecom track. It also features what sounds like Gerald Donald saying “The Aquabahn” as it’s vocal element. The track itself is adventurous enough with plenty of spin back production action. Obviously the title is a tongue in cheek reference to their forefathers Kraftwerk, respect. ‘Mantaray’ has a nice groove(I know I’ve used that phrase before, but it is a nice groove!). Beyond the also obvious aquatic reference this short track doesn’t tell us much. ‘Lardossen Funk’ also sounds a bit touched by the hand of Gerald Donald in his Japanese Telecom guise and similar to the short tracks you find there this also sounds a bit incomplete. No vocals so no more information to consider beyond the title. This is our second reference to a place called Lardossa and bears out my belief that this EP is all about exploring this underwater place, so far we have been finding Aquabahn’s, seeing other sea creatures and now visiting Lardossa and sampling it’s funk.
‘Take Your Mind’ is a revealing track with what again sounds like a Donald vocal. “Take your mind to another level, feel the power of the...” The fact that we don’t get a conclusion is a tease, making us want to hear more. But we have enough information to wonder anyway. Take your mind to another level, when you get there feel the power of the...? Of the what, that is the eternal question with Drexciya and I can only here give you what I think it is.
Record one and two are broken into Fusion and Basalt Zone’s with degree locations attached either side of the label. I can’t see any reason for this beyond it being a way of identifying each record as separate entities, but what the words fusion and basalt mean in this context remains unclear. Also worth knowing but I can’t conclude much from is the ‘Defcon5 Productions’ credit which never appears again on any Drexciya release. Maybe this was an early attempt to set up a production company that would eventually arrive as the conceptually fully formed ‘Dimensional Waves’ for the Strom series.
The short ‘Intro’ track on records twos side one has a vocal that sets an ominous tone right from the off, “This species is socially and scientifically advanced and they will conquer the entire universe. Year 1994 beware.” The vocal is delivered in a slow old school Stephen Hawking voice, you know the one. They certainly couldn’t put their view any clearer than this anyway. Lets look at this more closely. The Drexciyans are both socially and scientifically more advanced than not only humans but whatever else lurks in our universe and will, in time, conquer this same universe. 1994 now becoming the year we are warned of this. Of course this is a taste of things to come and maybe this reaches a conclusion, of sorts, when Drexciya is revealed as Utopia on Grava 4. This would make their conquering of the universe a mental one with no force needed, slow yes but also sure and effective, it’s time still at hand, ready whenever we want to accept it. But time may be of the essence in making this decision, it strikes me that how close we are might be answered in the title of ‘Living on the Edge’. Time is obviously short and I guess you only have to consider our planet on the environmental level to understand how human life is under more threat than ever before. This also reminds me of their Message to the World on L.I.F.E. ‘Life is fast ending, so live.” I have gone back and included an expanded paragraph on this line in the L.I.F.E. piece but will repeat the essence of what I say there again as it does tie in well with this concept. We may be meant to read this as, life as we live/know it is fast ending for us if we have so far followed the evolutionary progress of the Storm series to this point(L.I.F.E.) so now is the time to really live anew in this knowledge. Don’t be afraid of evolution indeed.
The following mysteriously named ‘Aquarazorda’ is a suitably dark number after this declaration with a phat bass line and plenty of Drexciya signatures. Maybe my favourite on the EP. ‘Bubble Chamber’ is a bit throwaway as a track but it’s title is the second reference to bubbles, ‘Bubble Metropolis’ of course being the first, an essential element for survival here? I’ve wondered whether Drexciyans are able to breath unaided underwater or not, the forthcoming ‘The Mutant Gillmen’(an experiment gone wrong) makes me think not. This is an issue really at the core of the physical nature of Drexciyans. I would say that the original outer space species which settled underwater need some kind of aid to breath in water, unless this is their natural habitat, and even the offspring of the pregnant African slaves would also need the same aid, perhaps being slightly better adapted, like water birthed babies of the surface world. So a Bubble Chamber and a Bubble protected city might well be a convenient way to breath normally.
‘Water Walker’ as a name sounds like their contribution to the Red Planet series, this being a common title theme within the UR camp, but in reality it’s a face paced number that does all the right things to keep an adventurous dance-floor happy. It’s suitably aquatically titled anyway. The closer is ‘Red Hills of Lardossa’ which makes this double pack Lardossa central. Hills underwater, why not? This may be a massive red tinged coral reef. It’s another good track as well, in fact classic Drexciya, quite unlike anyone else. Luckily James Stinson did speak to Andrew Duke about Lardossa in 1999 and had this to say about it, "Lardossa is just another city that's on the other side of Drexciya. There's many different cities around there, and as time goes on we'll bring them forth or whatnot. It's a place on the other side of the Red Hills, it's a very calm tranquil place where things are very easy-going, there's not really that hustle and bustle and it's more or less carefree and mellow, like you're in a trance."
This EP was briefly available again in 2003 when reissued on coloured vinyl by UR and is fairly well represented on The Quest with 5 tracks. It strikes me that it deserves a CD reissue too, being of album length it would be well justified. Does it work as an album, maybe not but it’s still better than most.
Image and subtitle wise the EP is all over the place. We get abstract images on each label, including an Olmec stone head, two views of surface of water and possibly underwater heat plumes. Side 3 has it’s own message, ‘Research must continue at all costs, even if it means death.’ This of course will appear again in the artwork for ‘Neptune’s Lair’, five years later. The most interesting of these is the Olmec head which is from a mysterious ancient tribe from South America which show features of a man unquestionably of African origin.
The thank you list is interesting in that it identifies the term that Drexciya, at this point, use to define their fans, ‘to all the Aquatic Troopers around the World.” Another new Drexciya term appears with ‘the Drexciya Death Squad’, another mystery grouping for us to ponder. One name from this list is that of Helen Stinson who we would learn, after James Stinson’s death, to be his mother. Respect is also given to Aphex Twin, whose label had put out their preceding release but this kudos must have been slightly tempered for the Cornish maestro when he was misspelled as Apex Twin.
It would appear not only from the Submerge catalogue number and dates on Discogs that this came out before Drexciya 3 did, why this happened I don’t know, but I guess it makes more sense for my purposes to follow the numbers than the release dates.‘The Unknown Aquazone’ is undoubtedly a key release, it’s the first time we really get a good look at Drexciya and get to move around in it’s environment.

I’ve decided to skip their next scheduled release, ‘Aquatic Invasion’, for now, in favour of following the Drexciya 1 - 5 series to its conclusion. So that means, barring anymore Gerald Donald interviews or other detours, that Drexciya 5 will be next.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anon said...

Bubble chambers are used in particle physics experiments. I don't agree that's a throwaway track either it's got a great tough rhythm a bit like "afrogermanic" and that classic rising and falling phaser thing that give you the feeling of tidal waves.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"take your mid to another level, feel the power of the devil."

Yes, believe it. I heard it from the source.

For those who know..

neptem

2:30 AM  

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