Decks, EFX, & 909
The DJ is the quintessential postmodern artist. The DJ takes existing works of art and shapes them into a new, cohesive whole. The DJ operates at the head of the rave, the shaman in the middle of a tribal ritual. The DJ doesn’t just play tracks, he molds and shapes the mix by creating an ebb and flow, building and releasing tension. The DJ, for a short while, is the centre of the universe. This is all well and good in theory, but how many times have you actually heard a DJ rising to this lofty ideal?
Ritchie Hawtin is best known for his Plastikman project, an exploration in space in sound, repetition to infinity. More than just house, Plastikman is about an unrelenting barrage of beats often with but the barest shreds of melody. Sometimes the beats give way to streams of tone, rippling deep and black. Plastikman could sound alternatingly like sandpaper and salve, grating or soothing. On this CD, Hawtin takes the Plastikman aesthetic and applies it to DJing, this time building with precast materials more a collagist than musician.
There is no hint of warmth on this record. The melodies are emaciated, strangled by the vines of rhythm. Not only has Hawtin stripped this mix of melody, he has stripped it of any humanity inherent within. What is ironic about this is that Hawtin and this style are rooted in Detroit, home of the Motown sound, one of the sweetest ever. Hawtin has taken from Detroit not the soul of the city, but the bitterly cold textures and the mechanized thump of the automobile factories. This mix moves like a well oiled machine, not a car but more like a glowing orb floating around your head, forcing you to dance or die of hypothermia. He has taken cue from one of the Detroit greats, Jeff Mills, by going through a large amount of tracks in a relatively short amount of time — 37 in all. Mills was legendary for going through 50-60 records in one set, often using only a minute from a record before moving to the next track. This keeps the mix from becoming stagnant by constantly moving and shifting. Hawtin actually plays a few Mills tracks in this mix, paying tribute to a master of the idiom.
Hawtin starts the mix off stomping. He plays tracks by Ratio, G. Flame & Mr. G., Richard Harvey, Grain, Santos Rodriguez, and Jeff Mills. As the mix proceeds, it grows progressively deeper and darker. The mood begins to shift when he drops some of his own Orange/Minus 12″s. After the brittle Nitzer Ebb “Let Your Body Die” and the Ben Simms, the mix becomes thicker and more waterlogged. The beats grow sparser and farther back, coming near Chain Reaction heroin house territory. The atmosphere grows hazy and distorted; a thick cloud fills the virtual space. During this time, Hawtin spins Surgeon, Pacou, Heiko Laux, Savvas Ysatis, Stewart S. Walker, M., Vladislav Delay, Thor and Marco Carola. He finishes off the set with a dub number by Rhythm & Sound.
This record is the archetype of techno. It embodies most every characteristic ascribed to the style tweaked and sanded down. Tweaked, pulled, and yanked into shape; Decks, EFX & 909 is one of the most amazing things I’ve heard from the electronic camp. Experience the hype for yourself: get this album.
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