Friday, May 23, 2008

Recently Played: Basic Channel

Calling this spring a big season for fans of 90s German techno is a bit like saying that October is a big month for baseball fans, or that Will Shortz has done a lot for crossword puzzles, or that Max Brod was some help to Kafka scholars. Three crucial reissue events spanning the last couple months make this one the best times for this music since the days when it was brand new. It isn't a totally homogeneous batch of recordings, but if you're excited about one of them, you'll likely find the others interesting as well. Since I don't want to keep you from your Sally Shapiro remixes CD for too long, I'll break this up into three separate posts. For the first, let's talk about Basic Channel.

The reputation of Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald's Basic Channel project as the monolithic name in dub techno isn't something you'll often find in dispute. The fierce revival of that subgenre over the last couple years has had an incredible yield, both in quantity and quality, but it must be said that even the best of it seems to be in direct dialogue with Basic Channel or, at least, with Ernestus and von Oswald's equally great post-BC group Rhythm & Sound. Not to mention the fact that one of 2008's most lauded dubby electronic singles (and a personal favorite of mine) is a broad rework of Sebbo's sun-kissed, tribal “Watamu Beach,” by none other than von Oswald himself. Suffice it to say, the duo have cast a very long shadow.

For over a decade, the BC catalog has swayed in and out of print and, more daunting, has been obscured by the group's deliberately confusing naming schemes (“Cyrus”? “Phylyps”? “Quadrant”? “Basic Channel”? are these artist names? track titles? the name of a record label?). Still, if you knew what you were doing, it's never been too tough to find most of the group's recordings on vinyl, thanks to the duo's reverential devotion to the 12” format. Although an absolutely essential CD collection does exist (carrying the to-the-point title BCD), it's rather limited to a snapshot of but a few shades of the duo's broad palette, a palette that ranges from aggressive, dancefloor-mindful Detroit homages to blissed-out, looping narcotic drones – all of it finding an unlikely but perfect point of intersection for shimmering guitar (Manuel Göttsching's 1981 album, E2-E4, is a clear touchstone) and murky, pulsing, low-frequency percussion. BC purists, and of course the group themselves, have long held the vinyl-only 12” recordings as the genuine article, all but dismissing the edited-down music of the digital (eeeeewwwww!) CD as an indifferent concession to casual listeners. For those of us who sometimes find themselves in a galaxy far, far away from their sorely-missed turntables, this has been a situation of much frustration. Even overlooking the problem of the CD's tendency to shortened versions of the original tracks, BCD only covers something like a third of the group's catalog. In the mp3 marketplace, BCD has long been the only release legitimately available. Dubious character that I am, I'd spent the better part of a year scouring file-sharing communities for decent but hardly ideal rips from wax when, mercifully, BC abruptly and discreetly unleashed practically their whole catalog on high-quality mp3! 320kbps tracks can be had at reasonable prices from Beatport, Bleep and even Amazon, and iTunes also carries the tracks at somewhat lesser quality. It's been a full-on bonanza over here. And now that I'm typing this, I find an announcement that a 2nd CD collection, BCD2 is on the way. Even for the less devout listener, this is perfect opportunity to give a listen to this key catalyst in the evolution of today's dance music and, also, today's ambient music.

Below are two tracks for your listening pleasure, both in their original lengths. I picked two that are a little more on the blissed end of the spectrum, and less on the tense, sweaty side.

Lyot rmx (1993)
Radiance III (1994)

Notice that on "Radiance III," the pulsing bass dance beat doesn't even arrive until 8 minutes into the track! In a couple days I'll continue on with Model 500...

1 comment:

Aaron Burkhalter said...

I'm pretty sure that was the first time ever anyone was able to fit comments about baseball, german techno, Wil Shortz and Kafka into a single sentence.