Undanceable Dance Music

FOR THE LAST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, dance music has provided a sensory-heavy environment for the listener to escape into an abstract universe where the harshness of reality is abandoned for heightened states of bliss. Early on, in an attempt to overstep the constructs of any particular genre, DJs chose to play bass-heavy beats with smooth, fluid progressions that allowed audiences a quick, almost universal connection. Pioneers furthered this atmospheric approach by stripping away any semblance of the expected, removing recognizable instrumentation, lyrics and even structure from the mix. Through the use of new technology, they heightened the experience to an almost psychedelic level by employing computer-driven effects, manipulated samples and rhythmic progressions that became the antithesis to the mainstream radio anthem. It was an exploration in feeling, not face.

Lately, new experimental hybrids of electronica continue contemporary culture’s sound exploration. Collectively referred to as Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), this somewhat recent genre seeks to redefine the boundaries of the dance culture by expanding its sphere in terms of space and sound. Associated with artists such as the Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada, IDM architecturally designs sound structures with mathematical precision, splicing mutated beats, textural equations and formulated codes. Often cited as an established origin point, Warp Records suggests an alternative function for electronica in its 1992 Artificial Intelligence compilation, which calls for electronic "Listening Music" that is meant for the "Living Room." Since then, other labels have followed suit, signing a number of the avant-garde who, in some form or another, extract the rhythmic fluidity and ambient expression from the club atmosphere and reinterpret it for the domestic environment. The result is an infectious breed of undanceable dance music that elevates the listener to new levels of dimension and clarity in an everyday existence. With its calculated precision and digitized network of layering, it is an ever-present soundtrack that defines meaning through chaos, allowing the infinite to be dealt with as the finite.

Many albums of late embrace this experimental approach, covering the entire range of electronic diversity. Visionary from the start, Warp Records celebrates its tenth anniversary with a series of anthologies commemorating its right-brain approach to electronica. Most notable in the experimental realm is Warp 10+3 Remixes (Matador/Warp), which offers an eclectic assortment of artists who contribute in the name of exploration. But be warned. Remixes should not be considered a starting point for the curious observer to test drive. As with any reworked classic, think of it as a supplement, revealing a new, and in many cases, completely divergent approach to the typical "Warp" sound. Indie fans will be interested in noting that the cast includes groups such as Stereolab and Mogwai. The former is an undulating, lounge-lizard take on Boards of Canada’s "Kid for Today" which fluctuates between textures and time signatures, using their own brand of keyboard playfulness that adds a level of perky abandonment. Four Tet float an acoustic, groove-ridden jam over one of Aphex Twin’s classics so that not once throughout the whole composition is the listener reminded of his grizzly grin. Oval takes the Donkey Kong drum ’n’ bass of Squarepusher’s "Big Loada" and implodes it to the size of a pin head - but one with lots of activity. Like a miniature mic dropped into an overlooked microcosm, the remix brings to mind the magnified sound of a heated battle between two aggressive insects. ISAN approaches Seefeel’s minimalist style by downloading Ether-fuzz from outer space that cascades into an Autechre-like progression of beats and patterns. Mira Calix irradiates Seefeel’s "Air Eyes," invoking a style that is both gothic and radioactive. Other remixes recall the original’s identity so that the listener is immediately aware of its fractured blueprint. Push Button Object’s rendition of "An Eagle In Your Mind" harkens directly back to its counterpart, allowing enough of the old to filter through amidst new waves of caustic hip-hop and stiletto soundbytes. Richard Devine reworks Aphex Twin’s "Come to Daddy" with enough skill and sobriety that he might have originally composed it himself (which is always a possibility). A couple of the tracks fall short of entertaining, (the most notable being Labradford’ s unlistenable mutation of LFO, which features a deafening, high-pitched frequency rendering it useless), but for the most part it is a fascinating attempt at showcasing artists who strive to push the boundaries of the expected. This is not a pure IDM specimen to say the least, but it does succeed in capturing the same progressive luster and interactive architecture inherent in the originals, making it a noteworthy addition to any follower’s collection.

On the other hand, after a few seconds of IDM composer Michael Fakesch’s "Marion" (Musik Aus Strom), it is immediately obvious that his compositions become a trump card to the phenomenon. Representing one half of Funkstorung (meaning radio interference), "Marion" captures a sublime balance between electronic form and formula, while at the same time exuding a completely humanistic side. There is always a driver behind the wheel, it seems. Through a complex superstructure of layering and sampling, Fakesch fuses mechanized beat structures and decaying waves of sound with semi-coherent lullabies, creating a delicate style all his own. Opening with "Demon stration," the complex rhythms are like harpsichord wires, ripped out of their original environment and stretched tightly around large metallic drums that rotate toward a vanishing point. In "Rand Va," surface textures fade from one source to the next, amidst the clamor of deconstructing loops and multi-tasking environments. "Jazdrive" sounds like the freeform sessions of a jazz drummer, trapped inside the belly of a vacuum cleaner that is teetering on the edge of a cliff. Diesehle is particularly good featuring packets of sound firing into a thick wall of frothing fuzz, and showering the listener in a flood of breakbeats. As the record progresses, the listener is particularly aware of the amount of organic warmth that radiates from the chaos. "Sega," the final track, attacks with an onslaught of percussive tenacity that travels in arcs of static and bass approaching infinity in frequency, yet never actually touching. All in all, Fakesch delivers a masterpiece, boasting ten solid gems that have been created with the precision of a scientist and curiosity of a child.

Only in the IDM paradigm of cut and paste can composers like Phoenecia deliver a remarkable, forty-plus-minute EP based on a single track that has been remixed and packaged as seven separate versions. Even more twisted is that the composers credited with the release are completely absent from the record. "Odd Jobs," released on the US label Schematic, offers up its own brand of "electrotecture" with remixes by a host of IDM favorites. Although not a full-length play, this record ranks as one of my recent favorites due to the completely urban-underground vibe that is comparable to visiting a modern art museum. Through an inner connectivity that seems to be spawned from dreams, "Odd Jobs" is a Dadaist collage, full of pulsing sound fragments and audible revelations that seem to affect the listener on a subconscious level. Take the first two tracks reprogrammed by Soul Oddity, which suggest the undeniable sensation of heavy rotation through space. Using transformed 909 beats and cerebral samplings, the listener is caught up in the jet stream of thought. Autechre provide a back-masking remix that seems appropriate to the wormhole sequence from the movie "Contact," where the circumstance of a hyperreality reduces time to an insignificant level. Push Button Objects allude to a groovy, almost danceable quality that allows the track to slither between surface-hiss scratching and ionized hip-hop. Consistently worth more than the price of a single, "Odd Jobs" transcends genres and is once again a must for the IDM enthusiast.