It struck me recently, as it does every day, that I have awful taste in music. I’ve been asked about it before – how does one get to the point where he’s genuinely pumped up by a 30 year old Italo House track? How does one ignore the years of anti-electronica stigmata surrounding the other music he likes? Did that Whigfield woman really say “I need you inside me tonight?”
I have something to answer for, and an explanation to give. I have a platform under my name and the ability to Post, and I consider it my solemn duty to do so for you today. Here are three albums, all of which are from God’s Genre, “Electronica,” that I apparently care about despite the shame I feel that I should have around them. I should’ve come up with a fancy thing like “The Obscure albums Joe Likes Hall-of-Fame” but I’m just getting to the prose here. This post is All Substance, No Aesthetic and I must get on with it.
Conspiracy to Dance, Urban Hype (1992)
Hot Tracks: Living in a Fantasy, Trip to Trumpton, Teknologi Part 2
The story surrounding my finding this album is long, convoluted, and involves forgotten corners of the internet, as like half of my stories do. One thing I really enjoy about the internet age is our ease of putting what was intended to be diagetic into a more personal context. Music intended at one point to be incidental turns into one’s focus with a quick Google search or Shazam. Take for example the way that hearing one Dead Milkmen song in Tony Hawk’s Project 8 and a subsequent YouTube search for their music turned the Milkmen into one of my favorite artists when I was 14.
Many of the stories of how I “discovered” my favorite artists are either much less interesting (like half of them come from the YouTube recommended videos algorithm) or long, convoluted, and involve forgotten corners of the internet, like with Conspiracy to Dance here.
The journey starts in late 2014, on a database of Homebrew Nintendo 64 ROMs.
I watched a capture of one, entitled 2 Blokes and an Armchair, which started as an AMIGA demo in 1998. I have no clue as to what it means but I appreciate it. The soundtrack in the video (which I think is a different upload than the one I originally watched) is Urban Hype’s Trip to Trumpton, which I found interesting through research into the Toytown Techno trend of the early 90s, a scene that produced The Prodigy’s Charly and Smart E’s Sesame’s Treet (the former of which I still think is a good track).
Anyway, at that time, I was also deeply into a period before I’d discovered Spotify Premium but well after I decided that I didn’t like buying exclusively one track from the iTunes Marketplace or whatever, but also after I’d decided to begin buying digital music again because there was a point between like 2012 and 13 when I wouldn’t do that. So I bought the whole Conspiracy to Dance album off of Amazon.
This album is surprisingly coherent and put together for an early ’90s techno album, in particular there are two variations of Teknologi, which has one of the best piano samples of any piano house track from that era, and they both fit thematically within the album’s beginning and ending arcs. The samples that take over at about a minute into Embolism are downright energizing, which is probably Urban Hype’s biggest strength. Most of the rest of the album overshadows Time for Trumpton, too, though it’s still probably the most exemplary track in Urban Hype’s repertoire.
Living in a Fantasy is the track I’ve chosen to embed, though, for two reasons. First of all, the piano treads a line between driving the track and living underneath the track in a way that’s quite satisfying. Secondly there’s a sample of Taylor Dayne’s Tell it to My Heart, which introduced me to that song, which introduced me to its absolutely buckwild video, about which I could write an essay of its own.
Every track on this album absolutely has some level of hype to it, it’s all uplifting in the way that fans of that genre want. I recognize it’s all… y’know… like… a well-established genre I’m supposed to feel guilty for enjoying, but I must.
I also recognize that there’s a relatively well regarded Zambian band that shares this duo’s name.
The Album, Shades of Rhythm (1991)
Hot Tracks: Sound of Eden, Sweet Sensation, Everybody
I know I say that I want a lot of songs played at my funeral. There might be like a double-cassette, 180-minute mixtape given out to people at my funeral. But the point remains:
I want Sound of Eden by Shades of Rhythm to be played at my funeral
The reason is simple: The opening piano chords of Sound of Eden are what I imagine a happy, peaceful death after a fruitful life sound like. The chorus to Sound of Eden is joyous, and though the verses are clumsy, I think that actually adds to why I love it. Everything about this song is a little clumsy, but in the way that feels so real. Considering that “Feeling Real” is a major subject area for the genre, seen here, here, and here, I think it accomplishes its purpose.
Just missing the album was Happy Feelings, another Shades of Rhythm track that features one of the clumsiest rap verses in music history, and I love it to death.
I am only embarrassed by this album because Shades of Rhythm really seemed to give genuine effort being a little more musically complex than their contemporaries, implementing more traditional song structures in their tracks and featuring sung or rapped vocals in most every song. Naturally, being a techno act first and foremost, this wasn’t the strength of any of those songs, but I appreciate the effort so much as someone who almost always oversteps the boundaries of what he’s good at and treads right into shakiness. I will almost always choose imperfect bombast over controlled brilliance.
I Saw the Future, Strike (1995)
Hot Tracks: U Sure Do, The Morning After, Wrapped Inside the Rhythm
I first heard of Strike from their only hit, U Sure Do, which peaked during the month I was born, and then was featured on the UK version of Now That’s What I Call Music 30. I found a copy of NOW 32 in a compilation CD bin at my local Vintage Stock in the summer of 2013 and purchased it. I cannot in words express how shameful this next sentence is, but it’s true: Finding that CD probably changed my life and the way I look at popular art.
I took the very American-Exceptionalist opinion that the British have awful taste in music to heart at one point. It’s one of those lies that you’re supposed to believe as an American – Everybody else has bad taste in everything so we have to export our own shit for their benefit, we would be good at soccer if only our best athletes played it, we needed to be in Vietnam and Iraq, those sorts of fibs we tell ourselves to feel a little more secure in being The Best.
Then, anyway, I discovered that not only did bombastic, lovely, flamboyant songs like U Sure Do exist, but they had success in Europe. If it was Eurotrash, then, shit, I guess I liked Eurotrash. There’s nothing that punches the way the opening of U Sure Do does. The chorus is immediately memorable and it presents a simple, maybe redundant, but still genuine idea in the way that only EDM seems to be able to pull off. Sometimes a simple phrase gets the job done, I can’t express enough how much the key lyrics of songs like U Sure Do, Lady (Hear Me Tonight), and Music Sounds Better With You mean based on that simplicity. Some emotional power can’t be complex.
It’s one of my top Electronica/Pop crossover songs of all time, along with CeCe Peniston’s Finally, Black Box’s I Don’t Know Anybody Else, and Whigfield’s Think of You, and outside of this one, that was the gayest sentence I’ve ever written.
And the rest of the album’s messy as hell but holy shit does Strike try everything in their power to make an album here. No two songs are the same here, which I appreciate. I Have Peace is like a British hip-hop song. Wrapped Inside the Rhyhthm reminds me of early Prodigy so much that when I got it stuck in my head the other day I listened to both CDs of Experience: Expanded looking for it before remembering it came from Strike. The Morning After is like an Orbital song with a chorus, and provided me maybe the most Truman Show moment of my life because there’s a sample of a bit of dialogue from The Day After saying the name of the town I live in. This is a techno act from London, and they present the only reference to Lawrence, Kansas I’ve heard in music outside of the Marching Jayhawks’ repertoire.
The number of punches thrown here outweighs the number of punches pulled here and I respect and appreciate that so much. For as shaky as some of the tracks get, they’re all genuinely memorable and I love Strike for doing that.