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Rush Hour has just released a seemingly near comprehensive set from detroit techno wizard Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir that clocks in at nearly three-and-a-half hours.
To me, this is kind of like finding the holy grail or being asked to meet a childhood hero that you realise you know nothing about at the same time. When I was about 17, I picked up the Autechre curated ATP 3.0 CD, from which much of my interest in the more explorative side of electronic music flowered. I easily found more out about and listened to Autechre themselves and that led to the devouring of the Warp Records catalogue. I also easily discovered and accessed music by Public Enemy, Dr Dooom, Jim O’Rourke and Earth, but the track that beguiled me the most was Shake’s Ghetto Futures (Go Figure), a lush and warped string arrangement that danced over a stomping breakbeat. I searched high and low for his work, but I couldn’t find anything anywhere.
A few years later, I was still finding it very difficult to find Shakir’s work (Especially Ghetto Futures, a one-off for that compilation). Much of it was released sporadically across many small labels run by industry legends in small batches that rapidly went out of print (Back to Basics, Kevin Saunderson’s KMS and Shakir’s very own Frictional Recordings) – despite existing as one of the founding fathers of modern electronic music, Shake’s work, in print, was and still is pretty elusive. He seemed to be the Thomas Pynchon of Detroit Techno. It makes sense, then, that I picked up this set with a reverence that I haven’t felt towards a musical find in a long time, and to be fair, very nervously.
The immense range of styles that this set contains is quite astounding, primarily (according to legend) made by splicing tapes together and working drum machine by hand, you can see Shakir’s palette clearly influenced the last 20 years of dance music across the board, pieces have been spread out by a huge range of successors. From tracks like Mood Swing, Roaming and Flyswatter it’s obvious where Autechre got their sound from. On the first two, the rhythm bounds along, punctuating and spurring on a dreamy pad phase. The pieces move between three or four simple elements that couple and uncouple in a dreamy but driving manner. Flyswatter mainly features an irritating buzz, that as the piece progresses somehow becomes an interesting tone, punctuated by cut up beats that reverse and playback in a manner that is as disconcerting as it is catchy.
Elsewhere, other roots can be found in Lay Back (In the Cut) which to my ears sounds bang on for an early influence to Bonobo and the Ninja Tune camp, harps drip around, mirrored by chime bells, underscored by a head-nodding hip-hop beat. The whole track is beautifully euphoric and suggests the joy Bonobo saw in the sound, long before it became safe-for-TV-commercial fare.
There are several tracks that seem to reference and critique the demonically repetitive nature of regular dance music, and play on this to make huge stomping tunes; The Floor Filler, The Fake Left, Go Right Plan and most directly One Beat (Just Won’t Do).
Perseverence is a wonderful surprise. The story is that Juan Atkins created Detroit Techno by mashing the sounds of Kraftwerk with Parliament and the Yellow Magic Orchestra, which to my ears means he generally took the shorter, more structured Kraftwerk songs (especially the Model) and blended them with some of the rhythm and humour of P-Funk and YMO to create Model 500 and Cybotron. The same links can be drawn very clearly from Perseverence, though here Shakir much more directly recalls ‘Tour-de-France’ era Kraftwerk and George Clinton’s other band Funkadelic, in their more spaced out, psychedelic Maggot Brain era incarnation, as well as the hugely diverse range of rhythm employed by the YMO. Added to this is a very complex use of rhythm phasing usually assocated with the work of Steve Reich.
My reverence was deserved – this collection is incredible. It is densely packed with a diverse range of material that for rhythm addicts and electronica musos should be standard issue, but ultimately I fully recommend the set to anyone even halfway interested in electronic music. There’s a great deal to get through, so I’d recommend pacing yourself, but there is much to learn here. Rush Hour deserves a huge thank you for making this material available to the general public; an artifact that not only shows the transition between the different styles of dance and electronic music over the last 20 years, but also the inner workings of one of its most inventive, if reclusive, creators.