Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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If you like techno you probably know more about it than I do, because liking it means dancing to it, which I haven't enjoyed enough to stay up past my bedtime and try again. More than house, disco, or mashed potato, techno is dance-specific. Designed for the humongous sound systems of clubs permanent and floating, it isn't live music, album music, or even singles music. It's DJ music, intended to be segued, cut up, and otherwise fucked with by someone whose job and art involves exciting a room full of dancers by any means necessary. And since it tends to consist of foregrounded beats rendered in timbres and registers associated with mechanical or electronic rather than human agents, it's not exactly nonuser-friendly. But I never let that sort of thing stop the fan in me.

Dance music's exemplary recorded longform has always been the compilation, but most early techno comps left me as cold as the music they collected. The ice-breaker was Only for the Headstrong: The Ultimate Rave Compilation (ffrr) (ffrr), followed by Rave 'til Dawn (SBK). The distinction between rave and techno often seems mostly semantic, but the grand climaxes, soulish samples, organlike textures, and chorale-style chants and cheers ("So what do you say to the DJ?" "Fuck you") of these collections all provide a rush that translates in the living room (and doesn't power Only for the Headstrong's skinnier-sounding volume two).

The same rocklike surges make Utah Saints (London) the first single-artist techno album an outsider can take home to his or her stereo. Typically enough, the band comprises two rather weedy-looking British lads who sometimes sound weedy as well (as on their slightly earlier Something Good EP). But from their Kate Bush and Annie Lennox samples to their almost Philip Glass-like gift for high-energy trance, their techno projects something like full-blooded life. These "songs" are aural machines meant to get your adrenaline pumping. If you still request Free Bird, forget 'em. But if you learned to love Boy George and Pump Up the Jam, take the next step.


Choice Cuts: MTV Party To Go Volume 2 (Tommy Boy): for the old-fashioned dancers in the crowd--you know, rap fans and such. Pete Johnson: King of Boogie (Milan): for dancers so old-fashioned they're lucky they can still walk, these mostly solo piano performances show off the right-hand figures where bass-based energy got started.

Playboy, Jan. 1993


Dec. 1992 Feb. 1993