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Steve Davis' Interesting Alternative

Let Steve open your eyes and ears, proggers, to the world of electronica...

While it’s not as much fun as the Oily Way on Planet Gong (get well soon Daevid), I’ve spent close to a year of my life in Sheffield on planet Earth. I’ve walked up Division Street in the city centre on many occasions but never once stopped to investigate a record shop (now a Costa Coffee) that was to become the cornerstone of a style of music I now have a great affinity with. You see, I have a confession: I like techno. There, I’ve said it! OK, not your ‘boof! boof!’ boring stuff, but I’ve certainly acquired a penchant for the inventive offshoots from this electronica genre.

It interests me for the same reasons that many of us gravitated towards clever prog instead of normal rock, and with the right mouse operator, it can be a mind-blowingly complex offering. However, it’s probably a style of music that has totally bypassed many prog fans. Why? Well, apart from the ‘old dog, new tricks’ explanation, perhaps it’s because it has its roots based firmly in electronic dance music.

One of Yorkshire’s greatest exports, Warp Records, had a lot of input into this scene in the 90s, and when they subsequently plotted a course towards the direction of the more complex composers, embracing the likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher and Boards Of Canada, they dragged with them a new, young fanbase eager to accept this cutting-edge music. These kids were probably unaware of Jethro Tull’s existence and likewise, Warp Records probably didn’t register on the Richter scale of a 70s prog fan’s awareness, even though at one stage of their lives they may have had an appreciation of Kraut IDMers Tangerine Dream.

I do feel that prog and these inventive computer composers have a common bond, though. The arrangements are often complex, polyrhythmic and challenging, and the music is – and was – progressive and alternative.

Should you feel the need to broaden your horizons you could do a lot worse than investigate these: Tim Hecker’s Virgins (many aficionados’ record of 2013), Autechre’s last double-CD and four-vinyl effort Exai, and Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven.

None of the above really come under the techno umbrella. However, the next three artists certainly do have affiliations, albeit now moving more into the ambient genre. Recently, in Berlin, I stumbled upon Hard Wax, a sort of Warp Records shop of the 21st century (similar to Phonica Records in Soho, London), and I asked the manager for recommendations based on the above. His selections hit the spot beautifully: Surgeon’s Breaking The Frame LP, ASC’s Time Heals All CD, and Actress’s Silver Cloud 12-inch.