By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
As far as musical revolutions go, the electronic one has kept relatively mum. No Stravinskian postperformance riot, no Elvis/pelvis outrage, no hormonal Beatle screamfest, no Johnny Rotten Antichrist declarations, no B-boy scratch rejuvenation. Barely any words at all have come out of the mouths of the major electronic artists, either in print, or, especially, on record, in the last 10 years.
And that's fine, because if there's one thing that gets old fast, it's the constant drivel streaming from lead singers' mouths. So if the price electronica must pay to reroute the musical flow is less mainstream attention, well, then, we're much the better for it; this revolution will not be vocalized.
England's Warp Records has spent the last decade with their lips sealed, constantly releasing singles and albums that reflect and redefine techno, furiously splitting the beat and examining its interiors. The label has been praised (or blamed, depending on whom you're talking to) for suggesting that techno has as much potential as an armchair/headphone activity as it does a dance-floor inducement -- though they've also offered some manic slabs of beefy dance-floor techno. An occasional human voice appears on their 200-plus releases (the Aphex Twin's "Milkman" is the most startling example, wherein Aphexer Richard D. James professes in verse the desire to taste the milk of his milkman's wife), but mainly humanity reveals itself in the Warp roster's ability to place a mammalian stamp on a mechanical product, a stamp as engaging as it is innovative.
To celebrate their decade on wax, Warp has just issued three double-CD releases: Warp Influences, which includes the mid- and late-'80s house and techno tracks that led to the formation of the label; Warp Classics, a collection of hard-to-find early tracks from the label; and the one we're most concerned with here, Warp Remixes, which features a slew of artists remixing some of the label's output. Said slew includes some mainstays of the remix world (Stereolab, Jim O'Rourke, John McIntire, Oval, Luke Vibert), some new innovators (Push Button Objects, Ellis Island Sound, Surgeon) and most of the Warp's current roster (Plaid, Autechre, Red Snapper, Mira Calix, Jimi Tenor, Plone; the label's most recognizable name, Aphex Twin, is noticeably absent as a remixer).
How much of Remixes is successful depends, of course, on what sounds float your boat. If you're a guitar/vocal naturalist, you're obviously gonna find yourself parched in this world. If you're a 4/4 fundamentalist, half of the 26 selections here will drive you crazy: The beat stutters and stops, jerks and readjusts itself, so you'll have to work hard to keep your body movin'. For those who prefer a combo pack, though, Warp Remixes constantly refreshes itself. No one beat follows a path for more than a track, and a boring cut nearly always gets squashed by a fancy cut.
Warp also gets much of the credit (or blame) for allowing its artists to take heretofore ridiculous liberties with their remix projects; often the personality that drove the original track is eclipsed by the ego of the remixer (Aphex Twin has been particularly guilty of this transgression in the past; Spiritualized's disastrous destruction of LFO's "Tied Up" here is a damn shame), and Remixes contains a handful of unrecognizable/lazy interpretations of brilliant cuts. In all, though, this, as well as the other two volumes, serve as a great primer for the budding enthusiast, a great scenic vista for the tourist and an essential artifact for the musicologist.