Two techno pioneers prove why they’re legends
IN THE EIGHTIES, Juan Atkins welded turntables to microphones in a digitized funk duo called Cybotron; Kurtis Mantronik did the same in the electro-rap duo Mantronix. On their very belated first U.S.-released albums in years, both techno progenitors map out witty and warmblooded directions that the music could’ve gone in had it stuck to their original blueprint.
Wax Trax! MasterMix Volume 1 is a DJ-mix CD that works as a pocket history of Motor City microchip music, explicitly admitting techno’s evolution from Seventies European disco. Lonely and barren as Detroit’s ghost-town streets after a twenty-inch snowfall, its center is a lengthy, mostly instrumental suite of songs spiraling around Saturn’s rings. But the suite’s bookends have words: A Number of Names’ demented ‘Sharevari’, considered the first Detroit-techno track ever, adopts the cheesy hooks and sleazy cruising-with-hot-Playmate accents of the Belgian group Telex’s 1979 ‘Moskow Diskow’. And DJ Assault’s recent austere chant ‘Sex on the Beach’ shows the music evolving toward songfulness but feeling more chilling than ever.
Mantronik’s I Sing the Body Electro, in contrast, has kinetic clatter galore: angular Kraftwerk robocops, jam-pumping Technotronic throwbacks, even a big-beat chemistry test called ‘Baby, You Blow My Mind’, kicking like Cream with an Aerosmith bass line. Only a couple of potty-mouth raps from tuff-girl Traylude turn clunky (Kurtis’ old foil MC Tee is missed). But mostly these are mechanical sounds that electronica forgot — cubism you can break-dance to.
© Chuck Eddy, Rolling Stone, 4 February 1999