Wax Trax Mastermix 1
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Wax Trax Mastermix 1
Invariably one of the first names to pop up when discussing the roots of techno, Juan Atkins took nearly two decades to put out his first-ever mix CD. He is affectionately known as the Godfather of Techno, and this 19-track collection traces the evolution of the genre through the Detroit-based innovator's ears, retaining his antithetic and mechanical style each step of the way. Among the selections here are vital cuts from Atkins's alias Model 500 ("No UFOs") and pal Derrick May's Rhythm Is Rhythm ("Nude Photo")--the very foundations of contemporary electronic music. Essential listening. --Aidin VaziriSee all Editorial Reviews
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So, even though the album as a whole isn't what you might call a masterpiece, it can inspire one to explore those early styles. For instance, the album contains Derrick May's eighties classic "Nude Photo." May never recorded an album -- his entire career is contained in a handful of twelve-inch singles released between 1986 and 1990. All of his songs have very crude production, and simplistic composition, but he had a knack for memorable pop hooks and melodies that makes his work very enjoyable even today. "Nude Photo" was his first single, and it's the most simplistic of all, just a rudimentary house beat with some synth-strings laid on top of it. But somehow, it's the very crudeness of the production that gives the song its charm. The synths have a reedy, straining sound that conveys exactly the kind of adolescent nervous tension suggested by the evocative title. If the sound of this track inspires you to explore May's other work, you can find most of it compiled on a double album called Innovator that his Transmat label released in 1998. It's out of print now, but finding a used copy is worth the effort.
Then there's "Sharevari," one of the earliest techno songs, dating back to 1981. It's already got that electronic house beat, with an oddly downtuned bass line. The main attraction is the lyrics, which describe a wealthy clubgoer who is "smoking on the cigarette / listening to his car cassette / cruising with his hot playmate / in his Porsche 928." These and other equally hilarious lines are delivered with a deadpan French/Italian accent. Other reviewers have called it cheesy. Well yeah, but it's unforgettable. And it's very rare, too -- you can find the full version on a compilation by Carl Craig called Abstract Funk Theory, but nowhere else. This was actually the only single that A Number Of Names ever recorded, but that single also had a B-side called "Skitso" (also hilarious and wonderful) now available only on some obscure compilation called Star Funk 34.
But Atkins spices up his history lesson with a few more recent tracks. The best by far is "Lara's Theme," by a British dance producer named Bryan J. Robson. This song is a wonderful summary of the style known as "jazz-house," with a very energetic beat and deep, funky bass, plus a breathy female vocal. The atmosphere resembles a nightclub in some old French gangster movie. If you like this song, you need to find a copy of Robson's out-of-print album Sidewalk Stories, released under the name Streetlife Originals. It's the best jazz-house album ever recorded. And while you're at it, try some of his more recent dance singles under the name Solaris Heights.
That's about it for the highlights. After "Lara's Theme," the tracks lose their individual character and blend together much more. Around track nine or ten, it becomes difficult to tell them apart, and they congeal into one big pounding, rattling, shimmering mass. The individual tracks become much less interesting as music, but the album as a whole becomes better as a mix album. Some earlier reviewers criticized Atkins' mixing, but I can't really hear a problem with it. There is maybe one part in the beginning where the beats don't quite match, but later on it all sounds like one very long continuous track.
I guess my favourite parts of that long continuous track are the two tracks by Infiniti (Juan Atkins' late-nineties alias) and "Inhibitions" by Belizbeha. All three have more melodic elements, either relaxed strings or detached, sensual vocals, underpinned by a hard rhythm. It's easy to enter a kind of relaxed trance when listening to them. I don't know if they'd have the same effect if listened to on their own, but on this album, they contrast well with each other and with the other tracks.
The rest of the album is pretty non-descript. Atkins includes a couple of his own early works under the name Model 500 (including "No UFOs," one of the most well-known), but he never had quite the same melodic gifts as Derrick May, so his tracks are less memorable. Some of the other early techno selections have dated poorly, like "Disco Circus," which has really annoying vocals. And the songs all flow together continuously, so you can't just pick out one or two tracks to listen to, it's better to listen to the whole mix from beginning to end. This is really not an album that you'd listen to every day, or maybe even very often. But, if you don't know a lot about techno, it is a good choice for your first mix album, and it could spark your interest in this kind of music.