Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Journey Home

Drexciya 5 'The Journey Home' EP came out on Warp as a 12" and CD single, their first appearance in digital. The year is 1995 and this second European label hook up signals an important development for the Drexciya producers as released alongside this EP came the first sounds of Elektroids on the ‘Kilohertz’ 12" and their friends project Ultradyne with their 'E-Coli' EP. An epic trilogy that will cost you big bucks if you want to own any or all of them today.
From quite populace roots in rave, Warp went on to usher in a new school of ‘intelligent’ electronic music during the 1990’s and continue to do so right up to today. Working with Drexciya at this point certainly put them ahead of the times. While still a very unknown and underground act at this stage, Warp were hardly seeing dollar signs with this 3 EP project, which all shared similar artwork and were marketed as a package. No, this was about getting to work with some of the most exciting producers around at that time. I'd like to know if Drexciya’s stuff was being widely used in clubs at this point or if it was selling more for home listening purposes.
Musically I'll just fly through the four numbers we have to consider here. 'Black Sea' starts out sounding very suitably titled, dark and bassy, with only a few lighter touches appearing as the tempo builds and it evolves into a fully formed Drexciya stomper. 'Darthhouven Fish Men' reminds me of some of the shorter tracks on Neptune's Lair, it's pretty full on with hard beats plus an unexpected ending. 'Hydro Theory' builds slowly and is the key track here with lots of great sounds floating through the mix. Another track that could move a dance-floor, but as ever, an open-minded one.
For my money I also get a real Neptune's Lair feel, but more fully realised, from the final track here, 'The Journey Home'. Quite an efficient number, no slack here, good bass lines, weirdly perfect. As I said I think this track signals a new template for the band, a foretaste of things to come.
Conceptually what is this all about? Well, the question is where is home? Does it mean the journey back to our, the listeners home, back to dry land where we began from on Drexciya 1 'Deep Sea Dweller' or does it mean the home of the Drexciyan's. Well so far, as I have been reading it, we have been following a journey designed for the listeners/strangers perspective. We have been visitors in Drexciya up to this point, this reference to home must refer to our own, whether we are familiar with it or not.
Lets consider the clues, such as they are, the title’s being the most we can go on. Although there is a little message to us in the text which includes '...We're Going Deep', which does suggest this journey is bringing us further rather than back. The artwork image of a squid looks to me like it came from the label, but I might be wrong, either way it only serves to push the aquatic angle and doesn’t reveal much else. 'Black Sea' is unlikely to be a reference to our own Black Sea, that mysterious landlocked region which borders some of the most volatile countries in the world. I've always seen this sea as a country in itself and can imagine that smuggling and various illegitimate traffic between these countries must be endemic there. So much so that whole outlaw families may be born and raised here, completely stateless. While this does parallel the world of Drexciya to some extent I think it unlikely that they were on this track. In the context of exploring Drexciya, as we have been doing all through the 4 preceding EP’s, maybe reaching this ‘Black Sea’ area means that we have now arrived at a point where we can begin our journey home, the nature of which I’ll get to. It strikes me that if the water is black then we are at a place where the normal laws of nature and physics do not apply.
Certainly at this point we encounter ‘Darthhouven Fish Men’ but what is their purpose and what does Darthouven Fish Men mean? The latter question might be explained if Darthhouven is the name of the region and I think a fish man might well be the term for everyone here, except the ladies. Their job or purpose might be that they are the gate keepers that explain to us the ‘Hydro Theory’ which will get us started on our ‘Journey Home’. If I’m right this is a very neat and tidy finish to our journey which is balanced by the ambiguous destination and nature of ‘home’, Drexciya leaving it up to us to figure out, for now. However by the time of 1997's The Quest they seemed to be sign-posting 'home' as Africa. This is fair enough, especially when you consider that this does not have to exclude anyone, as there is good evidence that all human life came from that continent. What's important to note here is the development of their concept from the physical to mental realm. Because of the same type of language this could well be the beginning of them conceptualising the existence of the Drexciya Home Universe, the Utopia finally revealed in 2002 on Grava 4.
There are no tracks from this on The Quest, the music for a change not being licensed from UR or Submerge, although they and God do get a thank you credit in the text. It will be interesting to see if and when Warp might ever make this available again, probably never. But it is available to buy as a download from Bleep.
That brings the Drexciya 1 -5 12” series to a close and leaves us starting out on another journey whose destination we are reassured is home. Before we get to 1999 and Neptune’s Lair there will be plenty of bumps in the road and nothing will be as clearly defined conceptually as what we have so far considered. Never the less, confusion is good also, it would be another 7 years before Drexciya themselves arrived at where they were going and in that time they would cease working, make a triumphant return and splinter in a myriad of aliases. The next releases up to The Quest do continue this story but not as clearly as before.

Get ready for the ‘Aquatic Invasion’.

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.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Arpanet Interview

Thanks to another of my readers for finding this 2002 interview with Gerald Donald about the first Arpanet album. The reason I choose to reproduce the question and answers segment of these interviews here and not simply give a link to its web page is that this site is also beginning to serve as a reliable archive for this stuff. In fact, one of the main contributory reasons for beginning this site was that I, by pure luck, had saved some of the James Stinson interview texts from pages that now only turn up as dead links. While I was certainly not the only one with this information I felt it was important that someone collect them in the one place sooner rather than later. So it’s now in the same spirit that the words of Gerald Donald are being saved for posterity in case they too suffer the same fate. I am grateful to all the writers and hope they don’t mind me reproducing their work on this non profit site. In this case John Osselaer did the necessary, which makes him probably the only person to have interviewed both members of Drexciya. In this case the page is still active so you can read the full text here.
On another Donald related issue I recently updated the AKA posting to document the little we know of his obscure Intellitronic project.

Arpanet was the predecessor of the internet. How quickly were you hooked on the net and what do you mainly look for out there?

It is primarily utilized for information gathering and electronic mail exchange, not much entertainment.

How do you think the internet and all the technology that surrounds it will develop in the future? (or what evolutions would you like to see)?

More wirelessness is certain for humans are very mobile conscious in most present day societies; eventually everything will be wireless, mobile and nanofied/microscopic. The upper atmosphere, human body and space are the new mediums, the wire is obsolete.

Apparently you are fascinated by Japanese technology. However, it was that same Japanese technology that caused the dramatic decline of the most important industry in your native city Detroit, being the car industry. How do you feel about that?

Well in this world either you move forward or you perish. American auto giants had more human concerns than practical ones. Automation is precise and does not require medical benefits or paid vacations. Sometimes you have to make harsh choices and ultimate sacrifices to sustain life. These are the laws of nature and natural selection.

How important has the Japanese technology, both the musical instruments from companies like Roland and the issue we discussed above, been for the development of the electronic music that emerged from Detroit?

Well the technology not only benefited this sphere of musical development, but it also aided in the process of the global electronic discipline. All cultures interact and exchange ideas.

You are clearly fascinated by Japanese technology and European sophistication (both probably pretty important influences on your music). Which elements of your own culture are important for you and your music?

Actually our culture was diluted with inferior ideas for nearly a millennium and we are still not bacteria free, so over time we patchworked many influences in connection with our already existent high racial spirits to create something uniquely our own, this is our new identity at present.

What is it about the Japanese that always makes them come out on top in the field of technology? (what drives them, makes this technological mastery possible?)

The Japanese believe highly in dedication to work, country and company. Perfectionism is part of their cultural ethos and this manifests itself in their material and social output. Even though they are experiencing some economic hardships at this time, they will recoil.

What's your cue in the idea that all this technology and progress alienates people from each other and from nature?

Nature itself is the greatest masterwork of technology. A man who takes his directives from nature is actually bringing togetherness through his inventions. We are all linked by technology, just take a look at the world around you and you will see.

What about people who have trouble or are even unable to keep up with all the technological evolutions, how is their future going to look like?

Well keeping up with technology is synonymous with keeping in line with the Jones, its impossible. The best thing for a person to do is acquire the devices he needs to suit his needs. There is a smart way and impractical way to upgrade.

To what extent can one consider i-mode/wirelessness as a step towards the man-machine, the interface between humans and machines?

Yes, for now people will have the internet/communication in their pocket and the goal will be achieved: mobility and accessibility.

I have a feeling the track 'Devoid of Wires' refers to the character of Seven of Nine in Star Trek Voyager. Are the Borg something that fascinates you and in what way (positive or negative)?

Sometimes it is good to act collectively and sometimes it is good to act individually.

A lot of the new technologies that have become part of our every day life used to be considered pure sci-fi a couple of decades/years ago. What other sci-fi visions do you foresee becoming a reality within the next few years/decades?

Possibly more voice command and wireless items in addition to environment friendliness.

You have maintained an extremely high level of independence and control in all your musical projects. The new technologies also include highly improved (nearly perfect?) ways to survey and monitor people. To what extent are you worried about this control over people and what are your own concerns?

Well the concerns are that we will eventually loose our liberty because tracking and data chips will eventually sooner or later be installed in all unborn generations via world governments. I will refer these yet to be born as the GPS-generation for they will be tracked anywhere on the planet by our big brothers via satellite.

What about musical equipment, do you think that will eventually also become wireless? What do you think would be the (dis)advantages of that?

It will liberate one to perform other duties in the production stages and this will be a great savior in labor necessity and research.

The Arpanet album is about the idea of wireless internet and telecom. Both the press release and the album explicitly mention NTT DoCoMo. It is very uncommon for an underground act to actively promote a brand, especially such a big company. What was your motivation to go in such detail and use this companies name as a point of reference?

This firm and its products are worthy of being documented so it was documented through waveforms and visuals.

What do you think are the main reasons holding back the US and Europe on the technological/i-mode front?

The main drawback is technical infrastructure. You need very sophisticated networks to support these new 3G and 4G phones, entire systems have to be updated and that's very expensive and time-consuming. The second reason is that the West has not been properly introduced to these innovations, but they will eventually see the light when the Japanese have moved on to the next step.

In your opinion, what are the most interesting features i-mode has to offer right now and what are the most exciting evolutions around the corner?

Well it's difficult to say because they are constantly evolving so you cannot say what is the ultimate feature or the least feature; you just have to keep your focus on their evolution. Evolution is their most interesting feature.

Nowadays we are able to communicate with people thousands of miles away, yet still a lot of people feel reluctant to communicate with their neighbors because they have a different color of skin, different ethnicity, religion,… How do you feel about that and what will it take to bring down those barriers?

That is a sociological question. I recommend you speak to people authorized to make such analysis and judgments, but basically exposure, exposure and intimacy with the world around you.

In an interview for URB magazine techno godfather Juan Atkins made some strong remarks about racial prejudice within the music industry. What are your views on this issue?

Well, our African culture is more superior when it comes to creating new forms of sound and visual. Look at past deeds and accounts of history musically and the aforementioned statement will be validated, it's very Darwinist.

Arpanet stays very close to the tradition of the very early Detroit techno/electro. To what extent was maintaining that original sound a purpose on its own?

Call it what you wish, but fundamentally it is electronic music. Placing labels on music in these times is similar to stereotyping and racism and or racial profiling. It's senseless and trivial.

Although your fascination with the digital world is clear, your music is undeniably analouge. Whats your view on the whole analogue vs digital debate in the music production world?

Well, it depends on the requirements. Sometimes digital is needed and sometimes analogue is needed. Analogue should not be underestimated nor should the digital domain. They all have disadvantages and advantages, its all technology.

What are your critera for allowing a label to release your music?

The record executive should not interfere with the scientists or their scientific work. Every one should know their position in the machine and things will work out perfectly. It's similar to church and state relationships.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Well the future is uncertain so the future cannot be elaborated on.

This interview was done in April 2002, by e-mail.
Interview by John Osselaer

Friday, December 02, 2005

Buying Drexciya

Since my request for information on where best to get Drexciya stuff online I've done some of my own research and realised that basically there is hardly anything currently pressed that bears their name. Those 2003 UR 12" were the last things and they might even be gone by now. Over at Tresor they've decided that selling MP3's of their Drexciya and related catalogue is the future. Not that you can’t turn up the odd thing here and there online too, Warpmart had the best available selection, but back stock in actual record shops can still be some of the best places to find their work in its original format, so be vigilant. The suitably titled Neptune Records also has a fair amount of in stock titles. Also check out Juno. Most of the Transllusion stuff available from this link of the Replex site here.
The next best thing is used so I've got two links, for Gemm and Ebay. But as you already know, the prices will be expensive.

Of course it saddens me that their records are not currently generally available but maybe downloads is how new people will discover their music and keep their memory and legacy alive. Perhaps I’m old fashioned but there is something missing without the artwork, vinyl, or even the CD. It strikes me now that this site must be even more illuminating to people who never got to experience Drexciya through their records. Of course some day an all encompassing reissue campaign will come their way and a new generation will be exposed to their world and music but till that time we must help to keep their memory alive.