‘Electro. Yo! I heard electro is back man. Break out your Speak & Spells and shit.’
- Ron Morelli, Dazed Digital 10 Things
It’s a sad fact that if a particular genre goes out of style, and DJs stop buying it, stop playing it in clubs, stop sharing it in mixtapes, then there’s less of it to go around for everyone. Producers start to avoid making anything that could be mistaken as resembling the abandoned style in question - I mean, why would you, if people don’t want to hear it any more? - and then, if there’s nothing new that’s striking or exciting coming out of the genre, as a DJ or collector, why would you bother to seek it out to buy, play, and share?
When this happens, the ones who really suffer are the forever fervent die-hards, left heartbroken, sobbing and wearing out their irreplaceable original 12"s, dreaming of the good old days: Simultaneously caught up in and left out of the inexorable feedback loop that kills their true musical love in the name of progress.
And then we just have to wait, with our unfashionable passions relegated into remission, until, for some reason or other things start to stir, and if it goes the right way it can gain enough momentum to make some some attested contemporary tastemaker and all-round cool guy decide that it’s ‘back’ (I’m looking at you here, Morelli).
This time around, the omnipotent hand of popularity has graced ‘electro’ with its touch - lucky, as it’s probably my favourite avenue of techno in existence. But I must clarify, at this point, that ‘good electro’ never truly disappeared. Even in the lowest times for the genre, it would still be possible to come across some fresh, dark, machine-funk with all the neck-snapping 808 goodness of the seminal records of the genre. It’s just that nobody really seemed to care enough to look in the right places, so the attention given was restricted to the necessary journalistic reverence paid to a few occasional releases from untouchable legends like Aux 88.
As far as I can tell, the primary wave of ship-jumping happened sometime around 1999–2003, and must have been caused by a few natural shifts, like other generally interesting developments in other areas of electronic music that became more exciting and created new subcultures. I also imagine that it is of no coincidence that this period was also concurrent with the first considerable length of time we had to suffer without a Dopplereffekt release.
But on top of these naturally occurring changes in taste, the sorry fact remains - it was, for many years, great music presented very badly. So badly, in fact, that even those types of listeners who exist purely as physical hosts for their own desires to perfect their encyclopaedic mental catalogs of culture were put off by it.
Electro’s roots in early hip-hop and breakbeat that so successfully combined with the spacey synth pads and intricate, creepy basslines just didn’t always have the same desired effect when presented visually. The result of this being that for years it remained associated in many people’s minds with a kind of visual identity that seemed to be inspired by the tackiest and least tasteful corners of the bastardisation of some kind of ‘street culture’ imagery, which unsurprisingly just didn’t stand the test of time, or taste.
Skip forward to 2011, when Clone Classic Cuts released a four-part compilation of remastered Drexciya tracks. No dodgy dated artwork here either, it was a well-deserved, beautifully presented repackaging of one of the most influential, yet often overlooked techno projects in existence.
Drexciya - Hydro Theory (Clone Classic Cuts)
This release and the surrounding hype has brought the word ‘Drexciyan’ back into such a level of popular use, a review of anything on the more off-kilter side of techno since has seemed almost lacking without it.
See also: Dopplereffekt
DJ Stingray has been a dedicated electro mastermind since it all kicked off, he acted as the touring DJ for Drexciya back in the day, and has since been spending time on his Urban Tribe project (along with Carl Craig, Anthony Shakir and Kenny Dixon Jr., no less). He’s been consistently active since the days of Drexciya, but I see it as no coincidence that he seems busier than ever these days, with a few records coming out over the last few years on WeMe, then joining the super-modern Unknown To The Unknown in 2011.
Stingray - Cryptic (UTTU)
See also: Urban Tribe
After a string of releases in (you guessed it) 2011, in March this year Gerard Hanson aka E.R.P. had two decidedly Drexciyan EPs out on Frustrated Funk. The first, a timely reissue of his 2007 record ‘Vox Automaton’, along with the all-new, wonderfully melancholic ‘Pith’. They were both instant collectables, and while that was no question down to the quality of the music as well as Hanson’s already robust back catalog, it’s also possible that the electro-priming of the two years leading up to this point helped contribute to their positive reception.
E.R.P. - Tuga (Frustrated Funk)
See also: Convextion
The Dutch influence on the movement must not be overlooked here. Prior to Clone’s responsibility for the Drexciya reissues, their West Coast Series have been putting out exactly this kind of stuff since 2009, including a series of 3 EPs by Versalife, leading up to the eventual release of his ‘Vantage Point’ album in April this year. Although his music is considerably more subdued, the album still manages to indulge in all the alluring funk of its predecessors, while remaining firmly in the new school of tasteful aesthetics.
Versalife - Normal Behaviour (Clone West Coast)
See also: Conforce
Originally released by Stuffrecords, one of the labels that would eventually become part of the Numbers agglomerate, ‘Portland’ came out in 2002 on a slightly bizarre compilation of hip-hop and breakbeat, along with a smooth and sleazy remix of Mary J Blige’s ‘Family Affair’. Reissued earlier this month to celebrate Numbers’ 10th birthday along with two previously unreleased Sparky tunes, apparently from the same session when ‘Portland’ was recorded, and a Ricardo Villalobos remix that’s 30 minutes long (of course), this kind of release demonstrates precisely the kind of creative freshening up and reimagining of classic ‘electro music’ that gets people talking about it again.
Sparky - Portland (Numbers)
With releases of this calibre finally getting the kind of attention they deserve again, there seems to be a lot less to complain about these days. Here’s hoping it’s 'back' for a while, and that we'll be blessed with more in the coming year
Words: Emma Blake