Musical history seems to happen when things collide, when things get mixed up – certainly in the twentieth, and now the twenty-first century. And so it is that one of the most important “Detroit techno” records ever released came out of Amsterdam.
If this were a new artist, the long string of endorsements from a who’s who of electronic music in the video here might seem like publicity fluff. But because Dutch artist Steve Jerome Rachmad, aka Sterac, has had such a deep influence on electronic music since his 1995 debut release, instead you can listen to a network of people in the dance music community, and how those influences form nodes in a neural net of musical creativity. Those networks cross national borders and backgrounds, speaking this musical genre as a common language. As the centerpiece of this docu-short, Rachmad himself is humble and quiet, a Zen-like presence on a sofa in the midst of bubbling techno celebrities, as he talks about how he clawed his way to getting anything released at all, on his first Atari 1040ST computer.
The best part of the video, though, is hearing Sterac’s musical process, often just playing directly from his head through a series of overdubs. I’m sure Rachmad was thrilled to power up his Atari ST for the first time; nowadays, a lot of us find a way to return to the immediacy of directly-recorded one-take overdubs. (It’s not so hard, of course. Just step away from your fancy editor.)
I’ve just listened to the re-release “Secret Life of Machines,” due out in June. It’s a fantastic, fresh-sounding release – unassuming and direct in the way Rachmad himself is in the interview. The dirty reality is, some 90s electronic music – even some that is considered a landmark today – really does sound dated today. These cuts simply don’t. There is this sense, as Richie Hawtin puts it in the video, of music that’s “melodic, funky, like Holland … but [is] rhythmic and beautiful like Detroit.”
I am, not very secretly, an optimist. I wonder what musical collisions may happen next – whether it’s club music or dance music or not, in electronic music as a medium. To me, the most fertile moments in music bloom when these kinds of connections and influences can form.
“Secret Life Of Machines” will arrive in phases, remastered and remixed, starting in June 2012, on CD and digital.