Meltdown [mixtape]

Meltdown may come as a surprise to a lot of listeners. It’s not ambient, it’s not techno, it’s not modern, and it’s not really all that cosmic. But this set of disco-funk-electro-synth floor stompers has a lot in common with the type of music typically shared here. The relentless dance pulse, the future-synth textures, and the lonely nighttime neon vibes are all here. And like all great music, it is deeply psychedelic.

Because a large part of my musical heart belongs to house music and its endless permutations, I always wanted to explore some of the genre’s roots in a mixtape. Especially because it’s long since become sort of synonymous with a white, European audience, I wanted to emphasize the distinctly black and queer origins of the sound. That doesn’t mean there are no white folks in this set; some of the funkiest musicians to play were caucasian as can be. It just means that my ears were focused most directly on the space where disco and funk met Hi-NRG and synth pop, where artists of color were pushing music production forward in a way that the wider world wasn’t always ready for. The tracks here, for my money, feel utterly fresh while undeniably evoking their era: the years surrounding 1982, when I was born.

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Dam-Funk – DJ-Kicks

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Studio !K7’s long-running DJ-Kicks series has always been a great opportunity for artists to show off their tastes, often far broader than their own music implied. It was a chance for your favorite indie rock band to say hey, we listen to hip-hop and early drone music too! But the most interesting sets always did something more powerful.

For his entry, Dam-Funk offers a free fall down the rabbit hole of his own work by exploring artists that sharply reflect the edges of his own productions. It feels like an archeological dig into the distant past and unknown present, unearthing insight into a man whose work seemed to have sprung out fully formed so many years ago.

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Gorillaz – Empire Ants

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The second half of this song was my ringtone for over two years.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about how insanely listenable Empire Ants is.

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Drexciya “Andraean Sand Dunes”

Drexciya is an enigma of an act that left behind some of the greatest and strangest techno and electro music ever recorded. From the debut album Neptune’s Lair, here’s the first song I heard, the tune that hooked me and opened up an entire new world of sound.

I’d never known the outer reaches of techno until I listened to Andraean Sand Dunes.

It’s a pure exploration of genre constructs littering the ocean floor, an aquatic adventure full of energetic machine-funk pulses and glistening columns of light reaching down from the surface. This is techno for adventuring, the kind of track that makes me want to kick open my front door and run through the night, rather than dance at all. In other words, it’s more My Kind Of Thing.

While the production itself springs from the sounds and structures of classic electro, the music leans hard into futuristic Detroit techno, with a cascading synth repetition begging hypnosis rather than hip shaking. The bass line is as funky as this kind of music gets, but it’s sunk into an atmospheric wash of melody, dropping out for moments of pure untethered synthesizer flight. Head nodding never felt so aerodynamic.

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Despite my years-long love of Drexicya, I have never previously written about them on this blog. The mysterious duo of James Stinson and Gerald Donald may have dissolved after Stinson’s untimely death in 2002, but their legacy has only grown over the years. After a host of single and b-side collections were issued, their original album label Tresor began repressing the classic trio of full-lengths on vinyl. This is important, because it means that I was finally able to pick up a copy of Neptune’s Lair and own a piece of techno’s weirdest mythology. It’s not just an important and brilliant album; it’s incredibly easy to get into and enjoy. You can find a copy via Discogs or even on Amazon, though the latter’s price is outrageous.

Dam-Funk – Mirrors

Dam-Funk, as readers well know, dropped one of the absolute hottest albums this year with the massive Toeachizown.  He’s already my personal choice for biggest surprise of 2009, and his debut is looking at best of the year status.  Here’s the inspiringly trippy video for infectious first single, Mirrors.

Lynch-esque employment of light and shadow!  Dreamy visuals!  Laser glowing keytar action!  Yes!

[album is on sale at stones throw in either 2CD or 5LP format – peep the gorgeous artwork]