Edward Upton, aka Ed DMX, is DMX Krew, which means he’s his own krew, his own posse. He’s famous for having roped in as many variations of electro as possible in his past 15 years or so of making music, including Detroit techno, European synthpop, New York freestyle, Miami bass, Italo-disco and Marioworld chiptune. He was already ‘80s-centric in the ‘90s, his name being a reference to the infamous Oberheim DMX drum machine used on New Order’s “Blue Monday” and Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” (also notably adopted by old school hip hopper DJ Davy DMX). Yet despite his electro proclivities and credentials, DMX Krew has failed to become a household name.
Perhaps this is because his career has been so off-the-wall. Musically, much of what he has done is not too far off from the sound of pure electro—Dopplereffekt, Japanese Telecom, Ectomorph, I-F, et al.—but neither is he afraid to get his hands dirty in genres that those auteurs wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. As an electro artist who frequently records for Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label, DMX Krew has been known frequently to flirt with IDM as well, rejecting techno’s rigid structures and borrowing his label head’s cheekiness for often outlandish effects. It’s often unclear in DMX Krew’s catalogue whether he’s taking the piss or genuinely reveling in the most decadently cheesy of synth fantasias, but one wouldn’t be surprised if both were the case.
In the early 2000s, when electroclash struck, DMX Krew was present on the fringes of the scene, recording for Adult.’s [sic] Ersatz Audio and DJ Hell’s International Deejay Gigolos, as well as appearing on seminal compilations like Tangent 2002: Disco Noveau. Yet even here, despite his pop sensibilities, DMX Krew stuck out like a sore thumb because the scene’s ironic detachment was at infinite odds with Ed DMX’s pure adulation of his referents. In short, DMX Krew often makes music that functions well in and around scenes, but he seems to struggle to find one himself.
Rephlex’s latest two-disc compilation from DMX Krew is a combination of unreleased material and previously released works dating back to 2004. Disc one contains the Wave Funk EP from 2009 and a bunch of previously unheard cuts, while disc two sifts through the Collapse of the Wave Function series, some of which were released as singles and others as EPs.
As usual, there’s an innate crispness to the mix. Contrary to the post-naughts inclination towards decay and deterioration, DMX Krew does not mess around with tape hiss, warbled instrumentation or glitches. There’s hardly any scuffs here at all, and minimal reverb to boot. DMX Krew’s music, say what you will about it, is boldly upfront and has little interest in embedding a wall between technology and user. On these recordings, the machine is unquestionable and infallible overlord of the mix and remains unhindered by any human concerns. The inner sleeve of Wave Funk/Prolapse of the Wave Function is a total geek-out, showing Ed DMX behind the boards of captioned vintage analogue gear that would make many froth in envy. Wave-generating machines rule here, and it’s for that reason that many of the more dystopian cuts (“Spinal Implants”, “Metro 1990”) give Ed DMX’s obvious idols in outfits like Legowelt and Drexciya a run for their money.
This is not to say that the machines can’t have fun. “Mr. Blue”, perhaps the highlight of the unreleased tracks, is a joyous electrofunk outing, reveling in the cheese of prime Roger/Edwin Birdsong moog delight. “Metronome” kicks off disc two with a fluffy, bouncy jam that could be intertitles to some stuffed-animal-hosted children’s show. Perhaps because the aforementioned song owes much of its playfulness to him, Luke Vibert makes an appearance on the heretofore unheard “Get Down (To the Sound)”, which unfortunately is one of the blander offerings on this collection.
As is often the case with lengthy volumes like this one, the double album has its share of duds and non-starters. Some tracks even seem like mere experiments in effect-tweaking, such as “Synchroton Blue”, “Flanging” and “Clockworks”, though the latter is a bizarrely satisfying, un-canonical aside for the Krew.
In addition, rhythm has never been the main engine of DMX Krew’s motorizations, so when the faux-drums get tedious, they can trip up otherwise decent melodies, as is the case on “Zero Gravity Aerobics”. There is a surprising selection of shuffle, however, on a series of tracks deep into the second disc. Amazingly enough, these are not some cash-in on trending predilections for soca, bhangra and other elastically un-4/4 riddims in the dubstep and UK funky scenes, but rather some of the oldest cuts on here, mainly taken from the first and second Collapse of the Wave Function 12-inches. “Space” is robotic dancehall with syncopation that feels monumental for Ed DMX’s oeuvre, even if the result is a bit insubstantial. Much better are “Garden Gate”, with its crunchy staccato morse code lines, and “Thrilling”, whose bass positions it like the Son of Donkey Congotronics.
Eight bit tunesmithing seems to bear a significant influence elsewhere as well. While DMX Krew is all about gear and not hacked gameboys, it’s hard not to hear NES adventure scores in cuts like “Cherry Ripe” and “I’m Back”. Meanwhile, “Reverse Tachyon Beams” resembles chiptune with a liberal use of FX. And “Confuzion” could be read as a union of Contra and fusion music (with results that are about as awkward as you would expect from that combination).
For this reviewer’s dollar, though, the best of the bunch are those that hybridize Detroit techno with ‘80s soundtracks along the Vangelis/Carpenter/Shore/Hammer/Faltermeyer axis. “Bad Sector II” is brilliant sci-fi chase music whose manic energy is propelled by a fat bass monotone. “Neon Slime” and “Monolith” both forgo percussion altogether for delectable synth schlock and awe. And “Probability Waves” is simply a series of unsettling, high-pitched, freeform waveform squeals.
There’s other stuff that bears mentioning too, like the Analord acid of “Parking Orbit” or the lovestruck, vocodered electropop of “I Can’t Control the Feeling” (which recalls the forlorn emotional heft of DMX Krew’s own “The Glass Room”), but chances are that if you’re into phat synths, rad robotic grooves and icy, lucid melodies, there is something to love on Wave Funk/Collapse of the Wave Function. And then, of course, there is plenty else to ensure that DMX Krew will fail to fit neatly with the rest of your record collection.
// Notes from the Road
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