It would seem that we are living in the midst of something of a “Golden Age” of techno. While it is true that the genre never really went away, the attention paid to the genre has increased significantly in the last few years. While Richie Hawtin is still in no imminent danger of kicking Beyonce off the top of the charts, the number of critics who have begun paying attention to the genre again, as well as the hipsters who follow their heed, is significant. Far from being a backwater of a moribund electronic music scene, techno seems to be very much “where it’s at”. (At least, until this new French house revival that everyone’s talking about picks up steam.)
Sherard Ingram is not one of the new breed of microhouse producers that have become popular in the last few years. He doesn’t record for Kompakt, BPitch, Ghostly, or any of the other popular minimal labels that the all the cool kids seem to love these days. The man is old school—as old as you can get in techno without being a founding member of Kraftwerk. Way back in the mid-‘80s, when techno was just coming into its own as a Detroit-centric house genre, Ingram stood alongside Juan Atkins & NASA at the genesis. If you have any knowledge of techno history, you’ve probably heard “Covert Action”, from 1990, released on the Radioactive imprint—that’s him. But whereas many of the founding fathers of modern techno have eased into semi-retirement, dissatisfied with the modern state of the art, Ingram has continued to work throughout the ‘90s to the present, primarily as Drexciyan DJ Stingray (try saying that three times fast).
Ingram has resurrected the Urban Tribe moniker for Authorized Clinical Trials, released courtesy of the Rephlex label. The Rephlex label (founded in part by Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James) has been around for a while itself, continuing to release staunchly old-school and inveterately weird techno albums. As odd an analogy as it may seem on the face of it, Rephlex is closer in spirit to a label like Alligator—which is dedicated purely to the blues—than more contemporaneous labels like the aforementioned Kompakt. This is roots music for the computer class, unsullied by the march of time or the vagaries of the wider marketplace. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Which is not to say that this is merely a nostalgia trip. Authorized Clinical Trials may pay little heed to current fashion, but that hardly makes it old fashioned. Some things just never go out of style—much like solid songwriting and craftsmanship will never really fall out of fashion in pop music, hard electro beats and mind-expanding computer riffs will never be passe in techno. In any event, the album kicks like a God-damned mule. Listen to a track like “Gel Electrophoresis” and tell me you can’t feel that throbbing kick drum at the base of your spine. Or what about “T-Cell”—five solid minutes of neck-snapping momentum that sounds like it was recorded in a subterranean cavern populated by toxic space mutants?
A track like “Microwave Energies” offers a perfect example of the many pleasures to be had. There’s this noise like someone slamming a drumstick on a wooden crate, and a kick drum that sounds like its being hit in the head. Over an unceasing beat, there are any number of intricate synthesizer parts ducking and weaving in and out of each other, laying out each note with the punctuated precision of a meth-addled robot. It’s breathless stuff, immensely satisfying, and if you’ve any love for techno whatsoever you should probably check it out.
// Notes from the Road
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