Of all the styles explored in electronic music over the past 20 years, techno has proved one of the most versatile and enduring. Though Europeans have contributed more than their fair share to this continually evolving genre, it is generally accepted that Detroit is techno’s home, its beating heart.
So with the Motor City in such steep decline over the last few years, its music holds greater importance and relevance than ever. What better way to show Michigan’s largest city is alive and kicking by taking one of its greatest exports out on the road? Carl Craig has taken up the mantle this year, and with good reason – Planet E, his label, has reached the big two zero. And as the title of this commemorative download compilation goes, it ain’t f@#&ing dead yet!
Each of the carefully chosen tracks bears out the resilience of its makers. In truth, any of these tracks could have been written in the last two decades, an observation that reveals techno’s timeless attributes, be they analogue or digital, slow or fast, jazzy or minimal, powered up or laid back.
Examples of all three are here. Martin Buttrich‘s Full Clip gathers its layers and energy in a classic illustration of how to build the ideal dance track, while Lazy Fat People‘s Club Silencio is a demonstration of what the best tracks in the genre can do, achieving a lot with little source material. The fractured trumpet motif of Jona‘s Altplano, meanwhile, reveals a sideways glance towards Bebop, inadvertently illustrating how techno as a genre can work as electronic music’s link to jazz as well as modern classical.
Tres Demented‘s Demented (Or Just Crazy) goes the other way, its selection of cut-up guttural sounds emphasising the primal nature of the dance, topped off with whooshes of noise. Following at a safe distance, Ican‘s Pa Mi Gente shows off a burst of energy and infectious feel good vibes, its funky bass line gathered from the depths, added to by a lively piano and synth team and a vocal sample fit for any carnival.
Although this selection generously showcases a number of highly respected acts and producers, at the back of them all looms the impressive figure of Carl Craig. While not a first generation Detroit technician, if you like, he hangs very closely onto the coat tails of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, the motor city’s holy trinity of techno godfathers. If anything, Craig has introduced a maverick streak to the genre, prepared to take risks by including different musical styles, adding strong persuasions of the jazz, funk, soul and Latin variety.
What this collection modestly achieves, however, is an appraisal of Craig not only as an artist but as an extremely perceptive A&R man, someone still intent on finding new talent as well as encouraging old. His own productions on this collection are headed by the epic Clear & Present, recorded under his Paperclip People moniker, and the striking Dominas, a hypnotic track that begins with the title word repeated over and over again, cutting to a blend of soothing chords and nagging cut-ups of the original vocal, strangely tense yet soothing at the same time.
Perhaps one of Craig’s most striking discoveries with Planet E, however, is the laid back Urban Tribe. When born of hip hop influences, they show percussive sensibilities with the laid back grooves of Covert Action. When these sensibilities are applied at a higher speed, though a more chaotic effect leads to manic dancefloor fodder such as Repeating Decimal, which seems to be a constant attempt to shake off its pulse and meter.
Planet E, then, can hold its head high as one of the very finest things about Detroit techno since its inception – and indeed worldwide techno. Some judicious track selection here has achieved the aim of showing what a fine body of work the label has and why it is still held in such high regard. It also hints at the fighting qualities still present in the music of Detroit itself. The setbacks may have been keenly felt over the last few years, but the signs are here that techno remains in rude health. It certainly ain’t dead yet – and if anything, appears to be going from strength to strength.
20 F@#&ING Years Of Planet E: We Ain’t Dead Yet is out now for download, with specific tracks from the compilation available separately. Label head Carl Craig is joined on tour by several of his descendents in the genre, as well as special guests, as he takes the label’s sound worldwide. More information can be found on the label website