This is a blog devoted to music on the edge - experimental, underground, alternative, subversive, or just plain weird - new music that tries new things, or old music that broke old rules. It's a place to discuss ideas, share discoveries, to think about what makes music interesting and challenging but still good to listen to. Join in and have your say!!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Music for when the music stops - the electronic chemistry of Plastikman

In my younger days, which were a very long time ago, I was constantly befuddled at the discussions that would go on after all-night dance parties about the music that had been played. Some felt there had been too much house. Some felt there had been too little techno. Some wanted more acid (often referring to both the music and the chemical).  It meant very little to me and, at the time, I didn’t like any of it so the whole house/techno/acid balance was pretty insignificant as far as I was concerned.

I now wonder, years later and after the Road to Damascus has opened up so many different new musical vistas for me, if the music of Plastikman might have been amongst those sounds that I unfortunately allowed to blend amorphously into one another back then.

I still don’t really fully understand the different genres of dance music – or the different genres of any music for that matter – but I do know that there is something hauntingly familiar about the sounds that Richie Hawtin created under his Plastikman moniker. There is something in their ice-clad, barren minimalism, their empty, soulless, but irresistibly hypnotic beats, that conjures up for me strange, uncanny images of near-empty dance floors in the near-empty hours of the morning where a few drug-soaked figures would still be dancing.

I had always, even quite recently, thought of dance music as somehow inferior to real music – it served a great purpose, and it was great at serving it, but that was all. As music in its own right, as music to just listen to, it had, I thought, little to offer.

In a way, even looking at music in that way is missing the point – music always has some sort of place, some sort of purpose, some sort of thing that it’s trying to do: and it’s pretty nonsensical to criticise it for not being good outside of what it’s there to do. But, in any event, the criticism is kind of turned on its head here anyway. It’s not so much that you can’t take the music of Plastikman away from the dance floor – it’s more that you can’t take the dance floor away from Plastikman.

This is music that, no matter where you play it, brings the dance floor to itself. But not the boppy, celebratory dance floor, not the place where people sing along to Kylie or Madonna or the Pet Shop Boys: but rather the place where shadows creep and crawl, weaving in and out of lonely, spectral bodies; bodies pumped with energy and sweat, but drained of blood and tears.

When you hear this music, it is impossible not to see and feel those dark places surrounding you – but they entice you, they draw you into their cold, empty clutches; you are frightened by them, and yet you don’t want to escape them.

This is the music that plays when the music has stopped. In that sense, it reminds me of the third movement of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony – a piece which Mahler himself described as being like watching a dancehall from the outside looking in, where you can no longer hear the music, and it all looks bizarre, absurd, grotesque, out of normal sync.

In Plastikman you find a whole lot of things come together – the robotic, relentless beat of Krautrock, the analogue synthesizers and drum machines of Detroit techno, the trance-like rhythms of acid house, the barren economy of minimalism – but here they come together cloaked and conspiring, and forge an unholy, irresistible alliance.

My new absorption in Plastikman was spurred on by the release, only last week, of the very lavishly produced Plastikman Arkives – a massive 15 CD compilation of the original Plastikman albums and a whole lot of other remixes and rare or unreleased material, with all the production gimmickry that typical goes with these things and that somehow manages to suck me in every time.

There is just too much music in the Plastikman Arkives for me to be able to even begin to cover it in any detail here. And in an y case, it is the overall and overwhelming spell of the music as a whole that has hit me so forcefully over the past few days as I have waded my way through it all.

Plastikman is the music of electronics, of chemicals, of a robotic new age – music which, even in the darkness and the silence, never stops.

There were always times when, back then in my youth, very, very late in the night, those dance floors really freaked me out. At the time I thought it was the chemicals. But now I think, perhaps, it was Plastikman.

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