10 Overlooked Electronic Albums From 199814 de fevereiro, 2018
By 1998, electronic music had been a major force in pop culture for a full decade—long enough for rave’s rough edges to wear smooth and the underground to splinter in countless directions.
That’s especially true of Europe and the UK, where jungle had turned to drum ‘n’ bass, trip-hop was earning Mercury Prize nominations, and there was a style of techno suited to virtually every hour of the day. The United States, meanwhile, was deep in the throes of the “electronica” revolution that had kicked off in 1997—a sort of preview of the EDM boom of 2011—thanks to imports like the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and the Prodigy. It didn’t hurt that American rave culture was itself well established at that point, with local scenes fueling an array of styles ranging from West Coast deep house to Florida breaks. Just two years prior, a largely unknown French duo called Daft Punk had played its first-ever U.S. show at a campout rave called Even Further; that they made their first steps toward world domination in a muddy field in Wisconsin is a testament to America’s star-making power, even in an era when rock and pop still dominated tastes Stateside.
As for home-listening fare, Air, Massive Attack, and Boards of Canada all put out career-defining albums in 1998, each one converting listeners who weren’t already self-identifying electronic-music fans. (Perhaps it’s no coincidence that all those albums can be found on our list of the 50 Best Albums of 1998.) Everywhere you looked, the landscape was shifting. Long-players from Moodymann and Theo Parrish retooled Midwestern American deep house for the album format. Artists like Autechre and Mouse on Mars were bending the grid to their own twisted purposes, while Pole’s crackling, deconstructed dub was laying the groundwork for the clicks ‘n’ cuts explosion just around the corner. And the electro revival was in full swing, bringing back the laser-zapping sound popularized by Kraftwerk and Model 500. It was hardly the last time that a formerly futuristic strain of electronic music would turn cozy and nostalgic.
If you scrape beneath the surface of electronic music’s dominant trends circa ’98, all kinds of other ideas were bubbling up too. Here are 10 such examples worth your time.
Concept: Concept 1:VR
In the late ’90s, philosophical ravers and their conceptual projects were all the rage. Taking a break from his Plastikman alias, Richie Hawtin distilled his interest in minimalism into Concept 1, a year-long series of resolutely reduced drum tracks, one 12″ every month. When asked to remix the project, the German multimedia artist Thomas Brinkmann—known for carving notches in vinyl records and fashioning boom-tick techno out of the sounds of the skipping needle—went above and beyond. Utilizing a custom-built double-armed turntable capable of playing a single record from two different points of its grooves at once, he simply slapped down Hawtin’s platters, slowed the pitch way down, and let those double needles do their voodoo. Voilá: A readymade was born. The result is a woozy, disorienting, and hypnotic array of thumps, clicks, and seismic rumble that ticks like a time bomb in a nightmare. Where much of the era’s minimalism celebrated surfaces, Concept 1:VRtravels deep into the heart of the void.
Listen: Concept, “Track 1”
There was a time when it felt like MiniDiscs were going to change everything—namely 1998, which Sony declared “The Year of the MiniDisc.” They were more portable than CDs. They were recordable. They also had a shuffle feature. That function is at the heart of MiniDisc, the debut album from Gescom, a shadowy collective represented here by both members of Autechre and the noise musician Russell Haswell. A collection of glitches, rhythmic sketches, and ambient soundscapes, the 88-track album is best heard in random playback mode. While a handful of the tracks run to three or four minutes, most are less than a minute long, and some last just a few seconds. The infinitely regenerating series of fragments never plays the same way twice. Since MiniDisc is now available for both download and streaming, listeners can experience it just as its creators intended, with or without one of the cult-faveplayers. The MiniDisc is dead; long live MiniDisc.
Listen: Gescom, “Shoegazer”
Leila: Like Weather
Did anyone ever sing on a record on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label before Leila’s Like Weather? Certainly not like this: Instead of the jagged electro and “braindance” for which the label is best known, the debut album from UK electronic musician Leila Arab concentrates on warped R&B and trip-hop overlaid with bluesy vocals. There are a few tracks approximating the fizzy synths and futuristic baroque sequences of her labelmates, but Leila never lets listeners get too comfortable: Tucked toward the close of the B-side, “Won’t You Be My Baby, Baby” is a head-spinning slab of cut-up soul reminiscent of Terry Riley’s “You’re No Good.”
Listen: Leila, “Melodicore”
Lithops: Uni Umit
Along with Mouse on Mars’ fifth album, Glam, Jan St. Werner, one half of the duo, took to his Lithops alias to release Uni Umit in 1998 as well. Both records share a similar palette, with electronic squiggles squirming against glassy drones like amoebas in a Petri dish. The vinyl LP’s first cut—all six tracks are untitled—is a lurching affair marked by sour synth melodies and jumbled drum samples that are almost danceable. But the rest of the record eases into a kind of spongy repose, with soft tones squeezing out a steady froth of blips and burbles. There are echoes of krautrock, ambient, and even dub, but for the most part Uni Umitfeels like a riddle—an alien transmission that, 20 years down the line, remains just as mysterious.
Listen: Lithops, “Track 4”
Mannequin Lung: The Art of Travel
Long before Plug Research was putting out Dntel, Flying Lotus, and the Rhye-related projects Milosh and Quadron, the Los Angeles label was ground zero for homegrown experiments in bristly minimal techno. Label cofounders Allen Avenessian and Joe Babylon’s sole album as Mannequin Lung has held up better than many of its contemporaries. Its scratchy, elliptical rhythms are tempered by moody synths and dubby effects that lend a depth not always found in the era’s experimental techno. While the beats scan as club fodder, the album’s slightly stoned character—simultaneously soothing and quizzical—makes for excellent home listening. Strangely, The Art of Travel has been all but forgotten today; chalk it up to the label’s subsequent 180-degree shift, or to the fact that Mannequin Lung never put out anything else. But it did get a little boost last year when the UK DJ Midland used “City Lights (Mr. Hazeltine Remix),” the album’s wide-eyed closing track, for a climactic, cathartic passage of his Fabriclive 94 mix—long-overdue recognition for a record that deserves a place in the canon.
Michael Mayer: Neuhouse
Cologne’s Kompakt label officially hung out its shingle in 1998 when it released Köln Kompakt 1, a compilation of stern, minimalist techno from locals like the Modernist, Thomas Brinkmann, and Wolfgang Voigt (as Studio 1 and M:I:5). But it was Michael Mayer’s Neuhouse mix CD that best captured the wistful aspects that would become so crucial to the crew’s aesthetic, weaving stainless-steel textures and dub techno with chilly schaffel and dreamy romance. His use of Herbert and Dani Siciliano’s “Going Round,” meanwhile, makes for one of the most arresting mixtape openers of the decade. Mayer would soon become one of house and techno’s most beloved selectors with mix CDs like Fabric 13 and his three-volume Immer series, which combined his instinctive curatorial sensibility and expert mixing with a slyly counterintuitive spirit. Neuhouse is a key prequel, every bit as satisfying as the sets that followed it.
Barbara Morgenstern: Vermona ET 6-1
The Vermona ET 6-1, a home organ produced by a former East German company, is the opposite of high tech, and the same could be said of Barbara Morgenstern’s album of the same name. In 1998, while the Berlin techno scene was occupying abandoned bank vaults and office buildings, Morgenstern and her peers were redrawing the city’s map on a more intimate level as a part of the so-called “living-room scene”—a rough analogue to American punk’s house-party scene, but with fewer guitars and more synths. Vermona ET 6-1 isn’t a strictly “electronic” album; the bass and guitar of a few songs lean more toward Yo La Tengo’s turf, and Morgstenstern’s voice is frequently (and rightly!) the centerpiece. But while not as developed as her later records, it remains a winning snapshot of a moment when everything in Berlin was shifting.
1.8.7: Quality Rolls
1998 was an in-between year for drum ‘n’ bass, but Pittsburgh’s Jordana LeSense cemented her status as one of the American scene’s key voices—and rare trans icons, coming out the same year on the cover of Mixmag—with her second album, released on New York’s pivotal Jungle Sky label. The overdriven bass of “Jerusalem” taps the paranoid energy of tech-step without lapsing into screw-faced parody, while “Deep Stealth” dances on the razor’s edge between cloudy atmospheres and a concrete wall. “Relax Your Mind” goes to the contradictory heart of what made her music so thrilling, its unrelenting snares and malevolent bass balanced by a spine-tingling Rhodes breakdown.
Listen: 1.8.7, “Relax Your Mind”
Bjørn Torske: Nedi Myra
While he’s not quite as famous as Norwegian disco peers Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas, or Todd Terje, Bjørn Torske’s roots run deeper: He was making hardcore techno back in 1991. His debut album under his own name, Nedi Myra, debuted in ’98 on Russ Gabriel’s Ferox label, and while it’s not quite disco, it is an early sign of the lush, amiable sound that would soon flourish across Norway. The opener, “Expresso,” is filter-kissed deep house with a clear French-touch influence; “Station to Station” hones in on Carl Craig’s brand of spacey funk; and the slower “Smoke Detector Song” and “Ode to a Duck” make good on Scandinavian dance music’s irrepressible sense of humor. “Limb Fu,” meanwhile, draws the blueprint—or the star chart, anyway—for the intergalactic space disco that Torske’s peers would soon adopt as their own.
Listen: Bjørn Torske, “Expresso”
Urban Tribe: The Collapse of Modern Culture
Dystopian conceits in techno go way back, but to Detroiters like Sherard Ingram, Anthony Shakir, Carl Craig, and Kenny Dixon, Jr. (aka Moodymann), The Collapse of Modern Culture is no mere ruin porn. A masterpiece of the slow-motion style known as Detroit beatdown, this one-off meeting of the Motor City supergroup limns its crumbling panorama in elegiac synths, bit-crushed samples, and dubbed-out drums that dissolve into dust clouds of delay. Techno’s futurist impulse crops up in titles like “Decades of Silicon” and “Micro Machines,” but instead of the utopian promise of the genre’s first wave, it plays out with all the melancholy of a time capsule from a long-vanished civilization.