With Astralwerks celebrating their twentieth anniversary, that ever-nagging itch of nostalgia creeps back with full force. Looking through album covers from their early catalogue, my mind is thrown right back to a weird time when I would pop on Air’s The Virgin Suicides or The Chemical Brother’s “Block Rockin’ Beats” single, all while I acted out fictional space-duels with my Boba Fett and Darth Vader action figures. Yes, in some ways I was like any other child from ages seven to ten, and in other ways I certainly wasn’t.
Being already turned onto music by at least the age of five, when my parents taped the three-part Beatles Anthology TV documentary, I spent much of my childhood glued to the radio, recording my favorite songs and DJs to cassettes. My older brother and I shared a room during much of this time, so our interests often overlapped and we eventually shared enthusiasm over the same songs, artists and genres. We mainly stayed at one station that played a healthy mix of what was popular during the ‘90s and classic radio hits going back to the ‘70s, but usually repeated the same playlist over and over (which is why I can’t disassociate Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” from Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic”, as they often followed each other on this station). Then one day we either lost the radio signal or we finally got bored of hearing “The Macarena” three times a night (somehow it seems so weird now to think that this was once played on the radio) and we flipped the dial and came across a channel that was playing things we had never heard before. It played electro songs, tracks that were built out of samples taken from other songs, movies, TV and other sources. We found this to be both hilarious and absolutely fascinating. One of these first songs we heard was Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You”, which was followed by “The Rockafeller Skank”, another monster hit by Slim, tracks by The Chemical Brothers, Moby, Primal Scream, and Daft Punk amongst others. The songs were catchy, exciting, addictive and completely beyond anything we had heard previously. The entire concept that these artists could create great songs without really singing or playing any instruments (as far as we knew at the time) totally obliterated our little adolescent minds.
We soon became obsessed with every type of electro music that we encountered (which, at the time we only referred to as “techno”). Every time we heard a song by any of the artists we already knew, we recorded it to tape, even if we had it dubbed twelve times already. We jotted down all of the names we heard and looked them up in the library and at any place that sold CDs. After a few months of this, copies of You’ve Come A Long Way Baby, Dig Your Own Hole and Better Living Through Chemistry were laying around our room.
Before I had lost all of my baby teeth, my older brother and I were grabbing anything that bore the Astralwerks or Skint records logos, trusting that whatever music lay within would be something great. Through this and our first forays into internet searching (as well as staring at those lovely full-color label advertisements that announced new releases that were packaged in some CDs at the time), discs by The Future Sound of London, Cassius, Les Rythmes Digitales, µ-Ziq, and Lo-Fidelity Allstars suddenly joined the regular rotation.
(Lifeforms by The Future Sound of London)
After some time though, the local Target and Kmart seemed to no longer stock anything new or different by electro artists. We also found ourselves constantly thwarted by the dreaded Parental Advisory stickers, which we grew to loath and despise. Then at some point we moved to a creepy gated community surrounded by cotton fields and tar-paper shacks in rural North Carolina, far from any place that carried the music that we desperately wanted. During this time, we branched into the other genres that interested us and spent time focusing on other activities. Yet we became even further engrossed with the electro CDs we owned, playing them to death, as we had no other choice.
Barely nine months after our arrival in the desolation that was Sanford, NC, we departed and moved to southern Minnesota. After a few months living on the outskirts of a tiny prairie town that was built to house workers of a giant silo-complex, we finally settled in a town that wasn’t too far from Mankato, which is where we made the glorious discovery of a CD/record store known as Tune Town.
Our musical starvation was over! Tune Town featured an amazing selection of everything and at incredibly low prices. Here I picked up on psychedelic rock and rare releases from a real plethora of other genres that I have since become a giant fan of. The discovery of this store coupled with some 24 hour streaming electro online radio station that we found, our music library expanded to a maximum breadth. Not only were we then finding releases by other greats in the world of electro music like DJ Spooky, Röyksopp and Boards of Canada, but also more obscure names like Lemon Jelly, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Orion and Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia to name a few. We also divulged into other sections of the electro spectrum, like industrial, ambient and plunderphonics (mostly thanks to Some Assembly Required, a kick ass show on 770 Radio K) with groups like Negativland, Emergency Broadcast Network, John Oswald, DJ Shadow, People Like Us, The Tape Beatles and The Avalanches.
(Telecommunication Breakdown by Emergency Broadcast Network)
While at Tune Town, we pilfered the free box that was set near the door, which always contained great promotional posters by groups we liked. This is how, at age eleven, I had the wall at the foot of my bed plastered with multiple pieces of artwork that advertized Air’s 10,000 HZ Legend. I can still vividly remember listening to the otherworldly sounds of Dead Cities and ISDN by The Future Sound of London while staring at the futuristic, window-filled chromatic canopies perched high off of rock pillars over an immense desert landscape, feeling transported to this futuristic world where digital technology and ominous environments meet and become one.
Now, more than a decade later, I have moved several more times, gone through high school and college, immersed myself in countless other music genres, hoarded hundreds upon hundreds of records, tapes and CDs and far too many MP3s, and have even been published as a music writer. Yet I still own all of these electro albums. Time to time, I find myself returning to these CDs like as if they were old friends. Even though I unintentionally stood out and was even ridiculed at times, all through my elementary and middle school years as being the only kid who listened to Keoki or The Micronauts, I feel that I am better for it. Even back in those days, I knew that if I liked something, specifically in terms of music, I shouldn’t be ashamed and I shouldn’t change due to what my peers. I suppose in a way, that’s why I’m here, writing about music (and more specifically, the kind of music that I’m writing about!)