Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Black Dog Productions - Bytes (Warp, 1993)

In the mid-to-late 80's the new sounds coming out of Detroit and Chicago inspired even stranger mutations in England.  The Black Dog released their first record in 1989, part of the initial wave of homegrown UK techno. Technically, Bytes is a compilation of material previously released as DJ-friendly singles and EPs, produced by various combinations of The Black Dog's three members under a variety of one-off pseudonyms. 

The music could initially be mistaken for the work of some Derrick May alter-ego, but there's something else going on here, a different kind of structure being assembled out of the same parts. Instead of America's pummeling four-on-the-floor, the rhythms have a kind of Afro-Caribbean intricacy, venturing into 6/8 times, polyrhythm and polymetry. Everything from acidic synth bleeps, stoned log-drum jamming, blossoming analog chords, and classical counterpoint jostle for your attention, assembling themselves Voltron-style into shambling grooves. This approach to rhythm was soon to be reified as IDM, but this is raw stuff, good on headphones sure, but not "chill," even when it's being pretty.
America's techno was characterized by its own strange futurism, but Britain's techno was truly weird, reflecting not only the Detroit-esque industrial decay of Midlands cities like Sheffield, but also the ancient landscape outside the cities: fens and heaths, deep woods, burial mounds, stone circles. There is a palpable sense of the occult here, of a ritual enacted by Crowleyan candlelight rather than the fluorescent glow of a space station.
Now that hardware-based techno is being rebooted by noise-scene veterans and youngsters who missed it the first time around, an album like Bytes can gesture at directions not fully explored by the original pioneers. Let's hope some of the new generation return to the strange grottoes first explored here.

--This review was written by John Brinker.

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