Pure & Tethered Talk
Right now it’s vital for ravers to revel in retrospect and fantasise about the future. What might seem like a reason to be down is actually a reason to step back and be grateful! In Cambridge we have a thriving scene for all kinds of music, despite complications often arising in fluctuations of the available late night venues and a lack of dedicated spaces for more niche genres and surrounding culture. Therefore it will continue to flourish further when social functions resume later this year, thanks to a stellar network of promoter and production crews from fresh to far fledged, many of whom have merely postponed their brilliant plans.
In collaboration with the consequently mentioned, Construct Sound to talk about such exciting developments, highlight worthy underground art and shower some thoughts on those brought together by social sound; looking backwards, forwards and all around us at the lights and lasers, flickering on smiling faces and smashing speakers.
Keen to contribute, Construct Sound recently kicked off a brand new project, seeing an opportunity amongst a sea of small tech-house nights for an injection of more-raw-roots in 4 to-the-floor, bringing together influences from here and Holland. I was privileged to speak on multiple matters with several of the artists powering their launch of Pure Techno on the 7th of March at The Cambridge Junction, including founders TRVLR & Green, through liaison with head of Construct, Elliot Fieldhouse-Allen. A venue that recently celebrated its 30th birthday and was born out of a requirement for facilities to support and utilise the growth of rave culture, it has since matured into a multi-arts complex that caters for every demographic with flair and runs projects as a registered charity, supporting community engagement and education in music, dance, drama plus more.
When I wasn’t deep in conversation with these interesting creatives on the night or over coffee the next day, I enjoyed mingling with an energetic crowd bouncing to tight laced minimal rhythms, expertly blended by well-seasoned selectors. Traditionally syncopated hi hats surfed the heads as the pulse of consistently rolling bass surged the floor in waves of bliss. Banging techno, as it should be. The atmosphere was friendly, as was mentioned by many of the attendees and DJs, which is a testament to the nature of a tough sound that doesn’t attract people for the wrong reasons.
With a background in the Cambridge Jungle D’n’B scene, AudioFail has landed in Techno after enjoying the club currents of Dubstep, House and related grooves during his time at university in Leicester. He has recently been getting back into production with House and Techno, so we discussed the differences in the way a core concept has branched out, the former concentrating on funk/soul sampling and the latter on more artificial soundscapes, but also the shared variety in snare and clap patterns.
It’s interesting to us in our chat how, along with a post-dubstep sound that inevitably became known as Brostep, House helped to pave the way for a multi-genre market straying so far from the ethos and sound design of its predecessors that it earns a blanket term ‘EDM’ for Electronic Dance Music. We consider it to describe no singular genre, but instead a commercial pop-orientated brand- relatively shallow and garrish, over zealous imitations of other more carefully curated, lovingly coveted, deeply cavernous styles. The majority of proponents for the latter resent this transformation of their character sound into something that can be more profitable yet hardly recognisable. In truth it all came from Techno, and will continue to mutate.
A difficult concept to define as a blanket term that holds more weight than it should, some consider everything from Glitch Hop to Breakcore to be ‘Techno’ or ‘EDM’. But these creative forms are too unique to label simply as electronic dance music, hence what the term has come to mean for the purists, producers and many history-entrenched ravers. It is similar to grouping Metal and Country into ‘Guitar Music’. You can dance to anything with a rhythm.
Joking around with acronyms, ‘EBM’ was one that Tom used as Electronic Body Music, connoting a deeper physical experience, and I used Electronic Bass Music as a reference to dub, sound-system culture, and my own preference for the sub concentrated. I’d mention ‘IDM’ as well but this article will come off pretentious enough as it is! ‘EDM’ at it’s most stereotypical has experienced quick globalisation through repurposed technicalities, heavily filling the mid and high frequencies with bolshy loops or filling these with compressed vocal hooks for their potency through tinny mobile phone speakers and full face impact/far throw on sound systems, especially festival stages. Trap music most commonly uses variations of the 808 electronic drum kit in conjunction with a triplet pattern that lacks rhythm/swing, beneath an auto-tuned rap that as the focal point. Yet the same drum kit was used in Techno long before, and the bass-kick is often used in Hardcore and Jungle still. Plenty of modern Jungle music champions an auto-tuned vocal.
Anyone that’s witnessed a free party bassline set would feel it fits much of my ‘EDM’ description with some of its lead parts. There’s also plenty more hardcore that’s certainly not over-commercialised that loosely fits the description. You’re just as likely to find glitchy vocal syllables in some scatty experimental piece as you are in some Melbourne Bounce. Sound design is a reason to value music even when abrasive, so that skews the whole concept, but what is the intrinsic value of music? We’ll dive into that later… Not to resurface I’m afraid.
I can really enjoy a classic pop sample smashed into the music I usually take too seriously, in the right place and time. People have made it big time off the back of doing exactly that, sometimes without permission, getting into trouble later. Bootlegs are currently one of the best ways to get yourself noticed in crammed physical and digital platforms. I can feel the energy of overdone risers and drops and get why they are enjoyed. There is a place for everything.
If the overground includes superficial ‘EDM’ and famous but appreciable content, the underground is less generally appealing and obscure. Sounds bad, but doesn’t sound bad. You’re just on the ground. Or you were, because we’re now falling down the rabbit hole and I’m not sure what wonderland is.
It’s undoubtedly true that whatever the divergence from Techno origins in underground 4 to the floor, the focus is for the kick and surrounding low frequency movement. Then we The contrast between a ‘Pure’ techno track and an ‘EDM’ techno track can at least be made clear. AudioFail coined the sort that they don’t represent as ‘Business Techno’, aptly non-passionate. TRVLR (The Netherlands Headliner B2B Green) was the next artist I spoke to, musing on this particular topic. From his perspective, they represent stripped back timbres and beats, progressive transitions that create a hypnotic journey, subtle changes to think on and persistent power to move on. It’s music made perfectly for the DJs to create continuous blends, opening out an elongated escapade through a computerized ether. Before you move on, marvel at their mix above. See if you can pinpoint the beginnings and ends of several tracks.
We discussed how this sound has diverted into the hugely popular peaks and troughs formula, with huge emphasis in build up and massive drops lacking care for the nuance of synthesis groove. Everything in between that and raw techno is difficult to put in a box or draw a line for the crossover. From Nico Vorkapitch (a favourite example of Green’s) to Deadmau5, the progression is clear. Then there’s the actual diversity in Deadmau5’s work. How about from Kraftwerk, to Skream and Benga, then to Skrillex? Giorgio Moroder to Avicii? Have a listen to the journey from conception to where we are now below, do some research if it interests you. This isn’t the history of electronic music. I do wonder where you find your ears pleased or displeased. You should wonder if you can truly listen to something objectively- with your ears, and not your associations. Check the first clip out for a laugh! (Disclaimer: the idea is not to show you Pure Techno, it is to illustrate the branches of the Techno tree… Purists beware, some of these links may make you uncomfortable. Spot the EDM; you better not nod your head or tap a foot to that, hipster…)
In other terms, Pure Techno is somewhat about the lack of linear structure through time. There is no excessive crescendo and drop. As for the aforementioned ‘core’- it evolved directly from early Hardcore beats, like Jungletekno. TRVLR told me of how a lot of UK Techno used to be produced between 140-150 beats per minute in the ’90s UK, a damn sight faster than the standard now. He remembered many venues would turn down the hardcore sound because of drug and illegal party associations, yet Techno was still considered civilized, so the tempo rose to compromise. This would now likely be considered Trance by most, sharing many similarities. Green mentioned how they’ve been playing together since 1995, when TRVLR gave him tips and Trance records to teach him DJing; the link is definitely strong between the 4 by 4 forms, as is clear with Hard Tekno or Hard House too.
I also asked TRVLR about other music he enjoys, because I think it’s intriguing how such distinctly robotic constructions almost always have indirect organic influences; it’s no wonder then that he recommends technically talented rock bands like Tool and Pearl Jam from his home listening. Songs that obviously communicate a lot of emotion, in every facet of composure- where the vocals and lyrics are part of the music, not the show itself. Yet pop music can also feel very deliberately emotional; not through every facet of composure, where certain components are lapse in quality.
Green referenced my aforementioned point about four to the floor dance tracks, speaking of the difference in the way feeling can be conveyed at different tempos. For him he was emotionally moved by a breadth of different moods conveyed over the 120-140bpm spectrum that Techno most usually resides in. However, we agreed that we felt trance at 150-160bpm did not as often tell such a spectrum of stories to us in that way- in attempting to pin point reasoning, lack of space in between pulse of bass was cited, and a lack of time to have chords wash over you. Exceptions were considered, of course. I almost cried with happiness seeing Infected Mushroom live, where the emotional reaction was brought out during the more traditionally musical breakdowns. There is a lot of heart-felt Dub Reggae at 150bpm, also. My mind came to Tiesto’s Adagio for Strings: a bastion of commercial trance, and a classical track now owned by public domain that helped him rise to fame, for which no dues need be paid. The sample from Beethoven makes a connection to the soul, and then Tiesto adds the body high. But the more complex emotion relies on a different piece of music, that certainly wasn’t four to the floor. This rose an understanding about the nature of a consistent kick drum formula at high tempos, as a euphoric punch it is difficult to draw away from. We’re back to the idea of peaks and troughs.
I expressed to Green that a similar thing to what he felt for Techno, I felt for my favourite sub-genres of Drum and Bass; in the different scenes set for the mind.
Though there are always some pieces that feel flat and non- communicative. Not just synthetic or robotic. Shells of could-be or would-be songs. This is a failure to express something expected, or a failure to interpret something expected… a similar story for any type of music.
It’s almost comedic that these reactions completely depend on the perspective of the listener. A tune I vibe to, brings me light, doesn’t phase another.
So I said earlier that you can dance to anything with a rhythm. What if it is purely a rhythm, that isn’t telling you anything? Sometimes the emotion can come from you, not the track. Suppose that soul can be secondary in the beat but first in the feet.
Many types of music are engineered for a dancefloor, and one might enjoy a style for the way it makes them and the crowd move, or the people it seems to attract. The key subjective component in listening to the music of course is auditory taste. Although, despite my earlier comments on lack of the quality in ‘EDM’ by comparison to its root genres, I think that minimalism helps to boil down an idea of value. For where we can remove musical theory complexity, subjective opinion on sound design prevails. Whether the elements are created, chosen, arranged and mixed well by one’s standards. When it comes to music of classical or typical acoustic/electric band instruments, the element of sound design is often mostly eliminated, other than the onboard or outboard options for processing the audio signal. However, their sound is still to a taste even before composition comes into the picture. Could you define what makes something sound good or bad to you, in a stripped back to basics form? Tune exists in the elements, not just explicit parts.
As pioneer of the Pure Techno idea in collaboration with his good friend Green, he appreciates the vast spectrum of energy flowering through bass music in modern day UK, because in The Netherlands mainly Techno and ‘EDM’ dominate the clubs. It’s exciting therefore to bring their Dutch Techno into the hot melting pot that creates the club scene here. Headliner from Voxnox Records, Lars Huismann, also seemed keen to contribute something to stir into our circuit with his unique take on Berlin Techno. He performed a 2 hour live set of his own productions for the Prime Time slot of the Pure Techno night here.
Lars comes from Metal music as a drummer, and has also enjoyed playing Jazz fusion. He came to Techno for the slow developmental process in listening experience, the beauty in simplicity with progression, and his preference of sound design.
Berlin is known as the Techno capital of the world, so whilst there’s always a wealth of musical variety in any big city, it’s again quite clear what dominates the majority of parties. We spoke of one club that still plays Drum and Bass there, and how most electronic genres like it have always had some sustained support, but no huge or sudden spikes in popularity like Urban Grime in the UK for example. The potency of being a cultural hub for mostly one formula to experiment with means the progression of Techno styles moves very fast; he credits cheap rent for facilitating creativity ‘fusions as artists collide in living spaces and studios’. As a result, lots of music with strong Techno inspiration and ethos is being made at all sorts of tempos, and in all sorts of rhythms.
We all discussed how DJing has changed from analog to digital, and the expectations have also moved on. Unless playing vinyl, the bar is often higher for harmonic blends and pace of selection for many club genres, but Techno resists that. Instead, employing their own productions through live hardware sets are met with the best support in the scene. In the relevant history of such endeavours, Daft Punk shook the world with their performances, using supercomputers on stage during their peak. Nowadays, such can be achieved with a laptop and controller, so it’s certainly interesting to think of what’s next on the timeline. Accessibility to computer tech has enabled people to present productions of epic proportions with enough on stage and real time activity to show live skills, yet only a couple of generations ago playing the synthesizer in a band was unaffordable even for personal practice. Currently there are many musicians holding their one man band in a backpack. Lars said in Berlin, such modern controller sets can be treated like concerts, and the artistry is appropriately applauded.
The mediums for this will surely evolve. Gesture controlled MIDI (a digital music data language between instruments/computers) and melodic analysis through recording to MIDI already exist. TRVLR & Green both spoke excitedly of an article that they’d read, predicting the development of telepathic music production systems. It is strange to think of accessibility again here, and how this would practically remove any requirement of musical understanding, save for the innate knowledge of harmony.
So much of the Techno experience, and indeed club music in general, relies on components other than the music itself. Advancements in sound system power gave rise to bass orientated beats, the visual capabilities of projections, lighting and decor brought escapism in a fantastical, sci-fi esque atmosphere that is somewhat essential to immersion in the idea of a rave. Imagine what augmented and virtual reality will bring to the room (or more likely, the table-top). Current circumstances have brought to our social media platforms a plethora of live-stream broadcasting that could easily develop into more immersion. Hi-tech vests (see Sub-Pac gear) have been available for some time now, designed to simulate the atmosphere-induced body vibrations felt at a gig. Perhaps it will take more and more to convince people to leave their digital zones.
In 1996, Green came up with an interesting idea for a fresh way to DJ & dance away while he was exploring the possibilities of setting up a T-Shirt design line with his brother in South Africa.
This we concluded that the people of S.A. were not ready to embrace Techno music, after they called us on multiple situations while playing Techno music that my brother were the devil and I carried his stick. this was 3 years after apartheid have been ended ., but the technology was not ready to enable it. Him and TRVLR dreamt of a Techno rave where two DJs would be not back-to-back, but rather Face2Face across a field. A coloured light system would be set up on each side as the only communication channel between the two, letting the DJs give each other cues for bringing elements/track into the shared main mix. Inviting or asking for the next move.
A front of house engineer or team would work with the stage lights at each end to accentuate either DJ taking over in the mix, monitored on their sound desk. Parts of the system are under research and development, and somewhat shrouded in an exciting secrecy. The potential to move towards Face2Face Live hardware/software sets as well would bring a level of experience currently unrivalled and a completely unique experience for raves and then festivals. One of the most oddly alluring effects of this set up is the dynamic shifts in crowd focus, with alternating directions for lighting and mixing, and a central sound system.
In tests of the idea, Green hosted a first of its kind party at his home. At the time he used a doorbell to communicate with the opposite DJ, and in return was signalled by a flashing torch! Soon after work began on a prototype lighting controller, similar to many midi pad systems used in the sound play industry. This is evolving through use into a bespoke piece of technology to carry the concept.
This is symbolic of music as a universal language. The two artists going Face2Face may never have met before, may not have any way to verbally communicate; yet they can build something intelligent together, right there and then. Everybody is present in the moment, whether they are aware of what is going on between the artists, they’re certainly aware of what is going on between themselves and the artists. They too are linked as one through the appreciation and enjoyment. This is (kind of) a point if I’ve made any- the gift of the beat, the harmony, the connection transcends all differences that I might quip, query, quantify or qualify. Even from my headphone cable to yours. Above and beyond all diversity, yet totally inclusive and celebratory of that intrinsic value. A fair microcosm of society- irrefutably debatable and infinitely complicated… produce of yearning for the euphoria of unification… produce also of yearning for progression at whatever cost. A bit whimsically, put but there’s glimmers of half-baked philosophy in my unsolicited poetry. The cost could be high.
If hyper connectivity continues to advance albeit saturate and slacken in substance, like the less serious ideas I’ve floated regarding ‘EDM’, it waters down an element of humanity. How dramatic? We’re losing connection with our planet in many ways. We’re losing connection with ourselves in many ways. The formula for music that expresses shallow ideologies instead of stimulation is just one form of media that encourages mindless consumption. Although I cannot say factually that a minimal techno beat is giving you a better ideology if it’s totally down to your own use and interpretation.
What I can ponder is whether as we rave with each other in our reality less, will we slowly lose grip of everything vital outside of our favoured surreality? No, I’m not telling you to stop showing off your DJ skills on Facebook Live, and neither will I… This is actually the start of a dystopian novel.
Supportive communities grown in Techno, Bass Music, our chosen pockets of passion and party, are not things to be taken for granted. Exaggerated use of the term PLUR (Peace Love Unity Respect) through rave culture is often laughed at, especially when it’s accompanied by trading of glitzy ‘kandii’ accessories (a USA festival tradition). Nevertheless, it is a seriously transferrable mantra. Perhaps that is exactly what we need during a pandemic. (Disinfect the ‘kandii’ at least).