My musical tastes have run the gamut over the course of my 41 years. From when I was a kid in short pants soaking up the day’s popular hits in the backseat of my mom and dad’s boat of an Oldsmobile, to forcing Yngwie Malmsteen’s Odyssey down anyone’s ear holes within feet of my bedroom as a greasy teenager, to discovering The Beatles’ Rubber Soul when I was 18 years old. For a few years I felt I was in a holding pattern of sorts, revisiting what I already knew and only digging artists that fit in that power pop mold I’d constructed. 1996 was a big year for me as that was the year I discovered Wilco’s Being There. The album presented as a long form piece of artistry. Sure, there’d been double LPs prior to Being There, but none of them affected me quite like Wilco’s did. Even The White Album, for all it’s grubby genius and raw individuality, didn’t have the impact on me that Being There did. Then, in 1997, I bought OK Computer and I felt I’d found a portal to another dimension. A dimension where science fiction, art, experimentation, and rock and roll seemed to collide beautifully. There was a feeling of sadness and loneliness that permeated that record. An alien entity. It was like artificial intelligence had suddenly formed the ability to have it’s mechanized heart broken.
Up to that point I’d only been a mild fan of Radiohead. Pablo Honey did nothing for me. “Creep” was whatever. I bought The Bends as my local record shop had the CD for cheap. I quite liked that record, especially “High And Dry”, “Just”, “Fake Plastic Trees”, and “Street Spirit(Fade Out)”. But there was nothing there hinting at what OK Computer was going to do to me. So Kid A comes out in 2000 and I was expecting to be blown away. Just completely have my mind blown and handed back to me a zip loc baggie. What really happened was that I didn’t quite get it. I found portions of it exciting, but I found myself waiting for the rock bits to show up. I wanted everything to sound like “Optimistic”, and I was disappointed. Not really in Radiohead, but in myself for not being able to progress along with them. It indeed felt alien, disjointed, and like art put to music -all those things I loved about their previous masterpiece- but I couldn’t crack that whole electronic music thing.
A musical spectrum that I hadn’t really jaunted through up to that point. I’d dabbled over the years. My first foray into electronic music was probably in high school. I was subjected to Skinny Puppy, Ministry, and Nitzer Eb as my good pal Shane drove us home from school. I didn’t quite get it then. The mechanical crash and tat of programmed drums, the buzz saw guitars, and the angry vocals. Oh so angry. I didn’t understand the appeal. Where’s the vocal harmonies? Where’s the emoting? The guitar solos? Where’s the damn guitar solos? I did like some of that aggression that came out of industrial music, but I preferred my aggression man made with double kick drums, bar chords, and whammy bars. Speed metal was my aggression release, not drum machines, synths, and plastic guitars.
As I got older the electronic music thing was still a bit foreign and distant for me. I did buy a couple of electronic albums in the 90s. The first was The Crystal Method’s Vegas in 1998. I think it was because of the song “High Roller”. Looking back I feel kind of dirty for buying it. In retrospect it feels like the electronic version of Nu Metal. Then in 1999, on a business trip to Billings, Montana I bought The Chemical Brothers’ Surrender. Something about that album I connected with. It wasn’t brash and in-your-face like The Crystal Method’s “jock hopped up on Miller Light and speed at Mardi Gras” sound. “Music: Response”, “Orange Wedge”, and “Let Forever Be” were all top notch songs that felt just as organic as they did machine made. With this album, the world of electronic music seemed a much more welcoming one than it had previously.
The electronic music thing stayed rather dormant after that, with the Radiohead exceptions which were still sorta “out there” for my simplistic musical tastes. Then in 2008 that same friend that force fed me Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Eb, Ministry and the like had come over one evening for one of our beer drinking endurance tests and he dumped quite a bit of music onto my hard drive for me to explore when I had time. One of the bands he left for me were Boards Of Canada. He left me Music Has The Right To Children, Geodaddi, and The Campfire Headphase. All sat on my computer for about a year before I got around to really listening to them. Once I did, that was it. It was like a light went on inside my head. The distant loneliness, the nostalgia, and the longing were all right there for me to fall into and get lost in. I got from Boards Of Canada what I got from hearing OK Computer for the first time. Those Scottish brothers achieved a level of wistfulness and melancholia with synthesizers, computers, and detached, aged voices that Radiohead did with guitars, keys, drums, and Yorke’s ghostly vocals. It was at this point that I knew electronic music could be my friend. It could affect me as much as Being There, Rubber Soul, and yes, even Malmsteen’s Odyssey.
Nowadays, I find myself listening to as much electronic music as I do anything else. I think the biggest thing for me was discerning that fine line between EDM and everything else. I’ve never been, and still am not, much of a dance music fan. The propulsive beats, the repetition, and the trance-like state it puts you in has never been my thing. I always just assumed electronic music was just dance music disguised as something else. New Order, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, KLF,….these were what the face of electronic music looked like in my formative years. None of that appealed to me(though now I quite like Depeche Mode, New Order, and Pet Shop Boys.) But once I went through the Boards Of Canada filter I realized electronic music could be more than just rave soundtracks. The electronic music I find myself gravitating towards is of the emoting variety. Not so much the visceral stuff, as much as the intellectual variety. The electronic music I listen to would be more enhanced by a pint or a toke, as opposed to ketamine or MDMA.
Pretty much avoid any drugs that end in “amine” kids, okay?
So who do I listen to? Boards Of Canada, Flying Lotus, Oneohtrix Point Never, Sinoia Caves, Thug Entrancer, Huerco S, Sculpture, Terry Riley, Jonas Munk, Popol Vuh, Rudiger Lorenz, Kraftwerk, Thieves Like Us, Washed Out, Neon Indian, Cliff Martinez’ film scores, Wendy Carlos, Disasterpeace, Pauline Oliveros, JD Emmanuel,….just to name a few. There are a lot of great record labels putting out stellar indie electronic music, too. Kemado, Anthology Recordings, and Software(all under the Mexican Summer umbrella) have a huge variety of electronic music to choose from. Anthology Recordings reissued Rudiger Lorenz’ excellent 1982 album Invisible Voices last summer. It was an album I spun for months, and still spin it on my long walks in the afternoon. Software is a label I discovered fairly recently but have found some amazing records through them. Thug Entrancer’s Death After Life, Sculpture’s Membrane Pop, Huerco S’ Colonial Patterns, and Tropa Macaca’s Ectoplasma are just a few of the many I’ve been floored by. The Software label was started by Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin, and all the artists on the roster have a similar approach to creating music. Some even border of psych electronic.
It’s heady music, man.
So it’s taking me a long time to come around, but I’ve finally found an electronic music niche that I feel like I’m a part of. It speaks to me, instead of alienating me. Where as before I looked at this genre as a cold and detached way of making music, I find it quite warm and organic now. It’s still just an artist creating art. The tools are just different. Those tubes, circuits, and patches were created with human instincts. Those square waves and oscillations are manipulated with human hands, and tuned(or de-tuned) using human ears. It’s all very,…human.
I’m not so much the paranoid android I once was. Maybe more just a stoic replicant these days.