John Tejada: Fabric 44

[26 March 2009]

By John Bergstrom

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Los Angeles-based Tejada got his start as a hip-hop DJ in the early 1990s.  He’s been making electronic music for more than 15 years now, since he was barely out of high school. Over the last decade, he’s become a major player on the international scene as well, with dancefloor fillers such as “Sweat (On the Walls)”. His entry in the increasingly iconic Fabric series, rolled out by the London label/club, seems especially well-timed.

“Minimal” techno, a quieter type of dance music that emphasizes subtle details over broad melodies, is the hot topic these days. Tejada, whose parents were both involved in classical music, has always been interested in texture and atmosphere. But he’s never been afraid to diversify, either. He doesn’t shy away from ambient and pure techno sounds, and records what he calls “indie-rock-jazz” with guitarist Takeshi Nishimoto under the name I’m Not a Gun. It would stand to reason, then, that Fabric 44 would reveal a broader palate and larger, more diversified scope than most minimal house mixes. In that respect, it doesn’t disappoint. Over 20 tracks, Tejada weaves minimal, Detroit-leaning, tech-house, and even soulful styles into one seamless, expansive tapestry. It’s a real showcase for Tejada’s sharp ear for detail, as well as his well-honed editing and mixing skills. It’s also a showcase for his own work and his Palette label in general. Palette provides about a third of the tracks here, and Tejada has his hand in every one of them. Not coincidentally, they’re among the strongest in the set.

The overall feel of Fabric 44 is brittle and spindly. That’s not an indictment but rather a reflection of the highly-textured mix Tejada has put together. While a lot of minimal house simply makes you forget it’s even there, from the beginning Fabric 44 has you paying attention to all the understated little details. It’s the very effortlessness of it that makes you take notice. Granted, sometimes those details are more unnerving than anything. After opening the mix with a nice, ear-catching disco siren, Dave Hughes’ “Let’s Do It” relies on a repeated grunting noise that sounds like your stomach does when it’s hungry. Namlook’s “Subharmonic Atoms” sounds exactly like its title, synthesizer arpeggios probing around in open space, until it’s rudely interrupted by the annoying high-pitched whirls of Donnacha Costello’s “Colorseries Olive B”. Then, the mix segues into WAX’s “WAX10001”, at which point an even more annoying oink-like noise dominates for two tracks. Even here, the titles are revealing. When you name your music after nondescript color samples or catalog numbers, you’re clearly aiming for the abstract over the anthemic. Early on, though, Fabric 44‘s abstraction is more distracting than it’s worth.

But that distraction rights itself and the details become ones that tickle your ears rather than rub them the wrong way. The mean, menacing bass groove of Alex Cortez’s “Phlogiston EP” is pure old-school Chicago house. Also, at this point Tejada’s own work begins to dominate the mix. Palette All-Stars, consisting of Tejada with longtime cohorts Arian Leviste and Justin Maxwell, provide a real stunner and highlight with “After School Special”. Its throbbing bass and layered LFO oscillations, along with some serious staccato synth stabs, recall all the melodrama and tension of its titular TV shows. Tejada and Maxwell then deliver the rapid-fire hi-hats and analog synth whirls of the Detroit-influenced “Benus Boats”, while Tejada and Leviste’s “M Track 1” offers a slower, more thoughtful take on the sound. This brilliant pair of tracks is about the best illustration of Tejada’s mixing and editing prowess that Fabric 44 has to offer.

Tejada continues diversifying to the very end of the mix.  He seamlessly works in a trio of decade-plus-old early techno classics. Orbital’s descending-bassline “Fahrenheit 303” is followed by the chantlike, moaning oscillator of Tejada’s own “Torque”, and a few tracks later comes the stark techno of Substance’s “Relish”. It all fits, and without sounding forced in the least. Maybe the biggest revelation of all, though, is Tejada’s “The Open”, from 2009. True to its title once more, it finds the veteran laying down expansive, soaring, chord-driven techno that could quite well be described as anthemic. It’s yet more evidence that this is one guy who’s not content to rest on any “signature sound”.

Strong as it is, even this final stretch is not without its low points. M-Core’s “Be Gene”, for example, is just boring. And LJ Kruzer’s wobbly “Huba” does an inadequate job as a comedown closer. Tejada’s effort to bring so many elements together into one mix succeeds in that Fabric 44 really does sound like a single piece of music with different sections and movements. Perhaps it’s inevitable, though, that the pieces themselves would vary in quality and impact.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/71456-john-tejada-fabric-44/