It’s rare to meet real friends as an adult. The kind of friends who just stop by unannounced, who hang out at your place doing nothing in particular, who connect with you about art on some instinctual level, those kind of friends you meet as a kid and grow old with. They’re not someone you expect to meet in your third decade of life.
Chad Osborn, however, was one of those friends.
I met him when I moved in to my last place. He was sitting in the lobby in his wheelchair, working on his laptop, as I moved furniture into the former-boiler-factory-turned-apartment building. He said hi and that he was about to be my next door neighbor. He was wearing a Joy Division shirt and had an Aphex Twin sticker on his computer. I instantly felt better about moving there.
This city isn’t really known for electronic music of any sort, excepting dubstep nights at a local club. I had zero friends in the area who shared my love of techno, deep house, ambient, or anything else of the sort. So when I saw that my next door neighbor was an Aphex Twin fan, I was fairly excited.
Chad was the biggest electronic music geek I’ve ever known. I say this as someone who marveled in awe at his vast collection of Detroit sourced vinyl, always picking a new surprise from his crates, asking for another spin. He understood, more than anyone I knew, the way beats can work on a person, the pure lizard-brain reaction to exquisite drum programming. He knew all my favorite techno artists and he introduced me to many more.
We hung out all the time, watching movies and swapping music, having the kind of deep-dive nerdy music conversations I’d only had with other people online. We dug through the forest of LPs to find the most random, unexpected cuts. We laughed and listened to loud music with my cats. For a guy growing too old to really party, he was a good new friend to meet.
At the time, I had no idea that he was haunted by anything worse than the ever-present trail of cigarette smoke. He was just a weird guy, a creative guy, a curious guy; he was my kind of people. That photo at the top? That’s him DJing a vinyl night at Unruly Brewing.
Chad also made techno. He made pretty good techno. He made deep, unabashedly nerdy music for people who were lost in this sound world. He never tried to be hip, never aimed to be particularly accessible. He just held an abiding love for the sensuous, alien sounds of Detroit techno, something his art reflected loud and clear.
Something happens when you know an artist as a regular person before you know their art. It’s harder to separate the creation from the creator. It’s harder to appreciate the music for what it is, to accept it on the same terms as those thousands of artists staring back from 12″ covers. Something about the closeness breeds blindness to the quality. Sure, for most people this means it’s hard to criticize your roommate’s bad acoustic Radiohead covers. But for me, it meant that I never realized how good some of my friend’s recordings were until he was gone.
I’m not going to go overboard and say that Chad was some undiscovered techno god, or that his work as Systems303 belongs on the shelf next to his hero, Carl Craig. But I will say that many of his tracks evoke the core appeal of techno, the wormhole of sound that feels absolutely divorced from pedestrian, everyday reality. They’re weirdly lit caverns of extraterrestrial bass and beat formations. They’re relentless rhythm, dancing over neon synth pads in the dark. They’re just like many of the songs I get lost in every day at work while I write. They show a ton of potential.
That potential will never be fully realized, but the work left behind shows an unfinished lifetime of love for techno and talent for its creation. It will sit in his place every time I hear his music.
Truth be told, Chad gave me the push I needed to start this blog again after more than a year of inactivity. He saw that I needed this outlet, and he helped inspire my first comeback post. He was also the first person to hear my mixtapes in their rough form, offering suggestions about how to improve the flow. Without him, I don’t know if I’d be here, still writing about music.
I’m grateful to have known Chad for a few years, and grateful that I’ll know his music much longer. I never met his family, but they sounded like lovely people. I hope they find the peace they deserve. I take solace knowing that he’s at rest now, free of all that haunted him. If there’s a heaven, I hope they play techno there. I hope they need a new DJ.
Chad shared his music on Soundcloud as Systems303. It should remain available for the foreseeable future. so here’s a few that I particularly like.
First, a languid bass creeper called illogical clouds.
Next, a weirdly romantic synth slow jam called SYSTEMS303 MINI DISK SAVE 2 PROC. I think he liked the early-Warp style of track naming.
This one’s a little faster. It’s called Corrosive Temptress V.Z.
And here is his final released track, a song titled NEED 2 CHILL.
Thank you for reading.