Its early doors for 2022 but we might already have the reissue of the year on our hands, in the form of Neil Ollivierra's masterful debut LP as the Detroit Escalator Company - a truly era defining album that set the benchmark for Ambient Techno for years to come.
Techno evolved enormously from its date of conception through to the mid 90s, but one thing that always remained within its DNA was its ability to move the mind with exciting displays of melodics, thrust together by inventive programming and a pitch perfect ear for density and layering. A perfected blend of meandering keys that occupied the space between technological ramblings and glittering, cosmological skies, via human intervention and the City of Detroit we were able to witness a musical revolution that indefinitely shifted perception of what felt possible within Electronic Music. The original Detroit sound was rooted in the belief of blending enriching key progressions with dense, poly rhythmic percussive patterns, either high tempo or gently undulating, and here the first strains of the genre would begin to take root. As UR set the framework for the harder and politically motivated style that would conquer the rest of the world during the early 90s, the other softer side too had its fanbase, with producers across the globe looking to emulate the beauty and the metallic texture of the mid 80s Detroit Sound. The concept of Ambient or Deep Techno would come to the plate, with this particular strain keeping things within a slowed down kind of tone, pushing the limits of composition to new heights that showcased the capabilities of the genre to move spirits and open eyes. To this day the power of records that were made in this mould continues to stand tall, its sense of purpose something to admire and its melodic and atmospherical content continuing to craft a sense of presence like no other. To be caught within the frequencies that unravel and envelope is simply a joy, a twinkling of sun kissed skies that embraces the tops of buildings and mountain sides, channelling the energies of humans that move within them, guiding us from point A to point Z with such care and meaning. Its music that speaks to the technical as much as it does the emotional side of life, channelling environmental and societal rhythms perfectly via the transactions of momentum of both an invisible and visible nature, and to see this symbiosis play out through dynamic cuts is one of life's great joys. Never faltering, always looking forward and embracing the new, we remain enthralled by the exquisiteness of it all, as the music continues to adapt to new eras, tastes and cultures - always expanding, always feeling things out, always remaining timeless.
For sure one of the finest purveyors of the more ambient leaning side of Techno was Detroit producer Neil Ollivierra, who's work as the Detroit Escalator Company was as bold as it was exceptionally beautiful, and as a result he remains one of the most revered music makers of the mid 90s to early 2000s. Before he began producing music, Ollivierra was deeply involved within the Motor City's techno scene, firstly as a promoter at the iconic Music Institute between the years of 1988 and 1989, before taking up a role at the legendary Transmat imprint, where he would work until 1992 before returning in 99'. Ollivierra designed sleeves during this time, along with writing an unpublished novel, 'Reality Slap', both of which showcased his wide reaching creative interests and abilities. His dive into music production occurred during the time Ollivierra would spend by himself late at night, working on databases which he felt inspired both the logical and the creative parts of the brain. These late night shifts would be soundtracked by a number of ambient techno records, such as 'Environments: A Collection Of Antipodean Soundscapes', and '76:14' by Global Communication, and Ollivierra felt something click within him - a symbiosis of music, characteristics and programming coming together in his head. 3am cycle rides around Detroit also helped inspire Ollivierra, the city's late night ambience stirring within him a certain inspiration that is hard to quantify but easy to understand if you're a Detroit native. This would be the final element that helped Ollivierra craft the deep and highly melodic sound which would make up the sounds of the Detroit Escalator Company, a name which he picked as a homage to the city. With the Escalator Company, Ollivierra looked to join the Belleville Three and the second wave of Detroit Innovators in helping the world see the wider scope of African American musical achievements, which he certainly attained via his thoughtful and expansive sound that emphasised detail as much as it did scale and presence. Via his detailed examination and understanding of hardware, Ollivierra was able to make instruments really shine, and when he injected his myriad of influences and thoughts into the mix, his music was elevated into a particularly lofty pantheon. To engage with a Detroit Escalator Company album is to feel yourself riding along the rhythms of the city at night, a bountiful and electronically joyous affair that unravels intensely through simmering rhythmic pulsations and polymathic melodic strata, all of which chime along at a pace which closes the eyes and allows escapism to ensue. His albums, although small in number, all contain worlds in which to loose yourself within, with differing concepts explored on each release that help to translate the music into differing spaces and spaces of understanding. What remains consistent across the board is the mesmerising tones, the eye for sonic detail and perhaps most importantly, the excess of warmth and soul that emerges, either as a reflection of the music or within the listener themselves. Each of his records is worthy of a highlight, starting off with the delicately kinetic 'The Braille' EP, which arrived in 96', and remains a masterclass in blending synthetic rhythms with vibrant, life affirming synths; the gorgeous and effortlessly fresh 'Black Buildings' EP, which sees Ollivierra at his most dynamic and emphatic; the beautiful, future leaning 'Blue Science/Between Dubnotes' EP, which arrived almost 6 years after his previous effort, and sees a new paradigm begin to emerge within his work of new soul laden vibes; and finally, the iconic 'Black Buildings' LP, Ollivierra's second LP effort that continues to chime along to the rhythms of life to this day. Ollivierra's approach to crafting music has led to the release of a small but incredibly powerful collection of records that set the benchmark very high indeed for those operating within the realms of his sound. It was a differing sound to come out of Detroit at the time, but one that represented the softer side of Techno, one that still felt fast paced yet its intensity was reserved for the nature in which tones and arpeggios cascaded upwards and downards. The waves that wash over the listener within any of Ollivierra's releases are superbly considered, a balanced and highly infectious sound that emphasised the power of synths and their capacity to evoke a certain feeling within the listener. Ollivierra was inspired by many things, and when you read a little bit about his process you really do see these places and inputs shine through between the notes, their presence illuminated by the pulses and the swings in frequency, and as a result the music feels so alive, so pure, so emotional. We cannot recommend his other records enough, so go check them out when you can.
And now we arrive at the subject of today's review, the reissue of perhaps his most celebrated and sought after piece of work, 'Soundtrack ', which originally arrived on the excellent Ferox imprint back in 1996 but now finds its new home on the equally excellent Musique Pour Le Danse. The sound of 'Soundtrack' can be attributed to Ollivierra's dedication to learning the ins and outs of his hardware, along with his many late night cycle rides around Detroit that would led to a number of equally late night recording sessions, with the ambiance of the cycle rides being injected directly into the progressions of the track. There certainly is a particular rhythm to the music, a wavelength that extends down the side streets, feeling its way along the pavement and up into the cloud lit sky, the street lights and their regularity acting as the melodic and percussive peaks that move along the side of the road. The placement of audio samples helps to really contextualise this influence on the album, with these exherts really bringing the city into the record, the background fuzz something we all know and experience when we walk around a urban environment. The music itself? well, lets just say that there's a lot to dig through here, with swings in density, form and melody meaning that the saunter through this record is a highly joyous one, with plenty of melodic beauty to become ensnared within that feeds the soul with its warmth and elegance. What Ollivierra created here is truly special, and as a collection of tracks it hits home just how warm and alive electronic music can feel when in the hands of a certain kind of creator, and we welcome this reissue with open arms. So, on that note, lets dive into this iconic piece of music, and embrace it with all our might....
Up first comes 'Gratiot', and this one begins with a multitude of audial samples to get things going. The haze gives way to the softest of sonic palettes, which see a duality of notes serve up density on the sides of the pan, whilst delightful waveforms conjure themselves up through the middle of the spectrum. The ensemble moves onwards with a delicate air, an embrace that is symbiotic in nature and indefinitely smooth to the touch, and as the drums kick in the nature of the keys is only amplified. The two elements work in tandem to really push forward the invisible rhythms, a touching momentum that never falters, only evolves and grows as time passes by, and as intros go we are all for it. 'Abstract Forward Momentum' arrives next, and this one doesn't mess around. The melodic outlay that greets us is immediate, a cascade of fuzzy pads that feel out the space and conjure up a sequence which remains intent on moving the feeling onwards and upwards, and as a listener we are placed deep within the mix, eager to understand and find more within the wavelengths. The synths continue to mesmerise as time passes on, their form undulating beautifully as if the heavens themselves are looking to reform. We continue to be enthralled by the movements, abounding along to the feels of such melodic force and space. Wonderful, this one. ‘Force’ arrives next, and this one takes a bit more time in getting going. The drums come into view with a lightness that feels very deliberate, with plenty of space provided that becomes eagerly filled with the softest of melodic tones. We gracefully move through the gears, resting on ledges and worming our way into the grooves, eager to understand this track and its many peaks and troughs. A synth line abounds across the tundra, a cosmic sparkle that smoothly meanders up atop the calm undertone. Additional textures make their way into the blend, which include a metallic like drum line that bleeds its way across the board. Further cascades arrive towards the back end of the track, which only fuel the feels we have going on, and like that we drift into the night - ready to embrace whatever might land next.
‘The Inverted Man (Falling)’ slides into view next, and this really does begin with some very warm tones. The keys arrive almost in twilight, their character and form reminiscent of a pale blue sky, with clouds arriving across the sun which signals the beginning of the evening. The city sparkles in the distance, each arpeggio hinting at a window light being turned on, a story being told, an experienced being played out for the first time. The track sees plenty of little variations get thrown into the mix, from light key lines through to gentle pads that sweep through the undergrowth, it all comes together flawlessly within this most life affirming of tracks. ‘Tai Chi and Traffic Lights’ comes next, and this one flourishes into life in a tender kind of way. The way in which Ollivierra crafts arpeggios into sequences has seen many variations, and this trend continues with this track, with the initial outlay meandering between the drums and keys with a wonderful saunter, with neither element overpowering the other. Instead, they work in tandem, allowing one another to speak freely, the result being a pulse that is hard to deny and even easier to reside within. The music is deeply hypnotic, inducing a trance like state within the listener that sees all manner of images being portrayed, a binding between the imagined and the realised. One to remember, this one. ‘Gathering Memory’ arrives afterwards, and this one begins with a vocal sample to set the context. The sample consists of a conversation between someone asking for directions, and someone providing them with information (perhaps its Neil himself?), and this conversation goes on for a fair while, but there is a sudden twist which sees the first chord chime into view. The chord progression develops into a two base one which then morphs to include some exquisite swells which come in the form of these bubble like sequences that add so much flavour to proceedings. Wonderful stuff. ‘DELTA’ is on next, and this one begins with the cries of the gulls and the heavily reverted drums to get things moving onwards. The field recording recedes into the folds as the drums take the lead, and this is when the notes align themselves with the progression. The momentum moves downwards, carefully caressing the sides of the pan as the listener is transported along a sultry riverbed, taking in all the forces that can be seen on all sides. The additional textures add enormously to the momentum, providing us with new variations to the progression which do much to keep the energy flowing, and we remain so happy to take it all in. Beautiful stuff.
‘Shifting Gears’ comes next, and this one begins with the vocal sample to get us going. The sample includes a hefty drumming line, but this quickly recedes to move us into the main drumming progression - and this one starts off with plenty of room to grow. The kicks shake within the bottom ends, the hats and little clicks add personality to the top ends, and as time passes by you get a sense of something special. This occurs when the two note progression comes into view, its deep hum filling the gaps with real intent, with additional keys adding themselves into the mix that ups the flavour. New sequences float into the mix, little arpeggios that chime along so delicately to the pulse, as we immerse ourselves within the grooves that abound from every stanza. The way in which the track seems to continually build upon itself yet remain perfectly poised, balanced to an absolute T as it draws power from all over the spectrum. We could have this one on for hours. ‘Orange’ comes next, and this one begins with some serious intent. The drums are up tempo and very dense, as a big bass laden note progression unravels up top with all Manner of tones moving underneath it all. A glassy chord stab sequence begins soon after, with its body allowed to carry over up above the groove which helps to create an even thicker and bold top level. The ensemble carries on by itself for a while before being joined by a sole expanse of chordal wonderment, which then evolves into a series that adds enormously to the atmosphere. Hats then throw themselves into the mix, allowing the track to continue on its climatic journey, which comes to a head as further elements of magic get injected into the rhythm. What a powerful cut! ‘Faith (As Rain)’ arrives on next, and this one takes the feeling down into calmer waters. The rhythmic outlay is immediately dense and soothing, as sombre bass tones drone in amongst the mist, and out of the haze comes some very delicate piano notes, their crystal clear feeling adding a meaning contrast to proceedings. The arrangement is allowed plenty of time to breath, as the piano acts much like a solo element, feeling its way out across the sonic tundra to which it is attached. The piano grows bolder around the mid way section, as the drones begins to up themselves volume wise, as we continue to meditate with the music, our souls nourished by the kinetic energy of it all. Never faltering, always evolving, but in the most surprising of ways - this track works wonders.
‘Psalm’ pops up next, and this one begins with a very hypnotic outlay indeed. The notes merge and interact with one another in some intriguing ways, melting into each other almost with a tantalising display of textural morphology, as if they were dissipating into the context around them. The tracks wavelengths trickle through the membranes, climaxing with additional levels of density as we slide from one state of being to the next, content to be along for the ride. The track continues to exercise its strength in depth as the passages float by, with new arrangements and cascades placed within the mix help to move the conversation onwards. Around the 5 minute mark we see the hats pop themselves into the mix, and this provides further fuel to the momentum, carving out a pulse of sorts that simply elevates the experience to new heights. There’s time for the kicks to make an appearance, and their presence is one final statement of beauty, a track that knows no bounds - a masterpiece, pure and simple. ‘Fate (As a Chasm)’ lands next, and this begins with some sub-frequencies to get things going. The bass line is full and filled with plenty of depth, with the hats arriving soon after to provide a bountiful contrast to the fullness, with additional drums thrown in to fuel the momentum even more. The groove that emerges is enticing, intriguing the mind with its dynamic undercurrent and filling the heart with all manner of possibility, and as time passes by something truly special arrives. Like clouds wrapping themselves around the highest of mountain peaks, the melodic structures arrive to blow us all away, and to say that their placement is impeccably conceived and delivered is an understatement - it just works so damn well. We are lost within the undercurrent and the ethereal top levels, our hearts bouncing along to the momentum that persists with such force and eagerness. High energy, high emotions, everything is here to enjoy.
‘Stitch’ comes next, and this one starts with the bouncing melodics and dynamic drums to get things going. The outlay crafts plenty of room for growth, and this is eagerly filled with the soft pads that subsequently align themselves with the backdrop, and this is where things evolve very quickly indeed. The mood shifts rapidly as the drums grow in strength, as Ollivierra combines tonal shades with flawless rhythmic escapades, and we are a little bit taken aback by the sheer sublimeness of it all. The way that one segment flows to the next, elements allowed to drift from one side to the next with such flair, consequences designed to shift perceptions and keep our eyes firmly on the prize. What an absolute stunner this track is. To wrap things up, we have ‘The Inverted Man (Dreaming)’, and this one looks to close out the record in some stye. Building around the initial arpeggio, the track builds from the back, with drums added into the mix from all around that do much to craft momentum and bind everything together. Further melodic pulses run themselves across the various layers, fuelling the track to keep building upon its present state, with little key lines doing so much to make everything feel alive, vibrant and present. Its a fitting end to a record that sets a blueprint for how to make sequences speak a narrative that is fuelled by context, capturing a feeling of a man riding around the city of Detroit on his bike, of the power of synthesisers when placed in the right hands, and of a creative and technical presence that looks to explore the absolutes of the machines at his disposal. An album for the ages, absolutely timeless in every shape of the word, and a soundtrack to many a late night wonder through the urbanscape.
Some sounds will always remain relevant, and that is due to the forces and contexts that fuelled them, in many ways. Electronic music has always had this carte blanche feel to it, with words often un-utilised and instead additional keys and drums take their place in order to provide wordless narratives, and as such it allows the listener to be imprinted into the world and allow their imaginations to run free. Detroit and Techno go hand in hand, with the producers who made it inspired by the city's people and economic heritage, and as such the music has an enormous amount of power to it - the keys feeling out the city streets, the emotions of the culture and the reflections of how the place has changed. Neil Ollivierra certainly took his cues from what the city had conjured up before, but applied his own style into the mix that was a little bit softer but by no means less impactful. 'Soundtrack', his debut LP effort, set the benchmark for his sound, and in many ways helped to set the tone for Ambient Techno for years to come, with his eye for detail and tremendous understanding of melodic and rhythmic frequencies coming up strong in all of the tracks on this record. It might be a slow burner that is set out over a near 10 minute length, or it could be a shorter burst of energy, no matter what Ollivierra made music that made you feel, made you dream, and instantly made you think about the city at night, bike in hand, as interactions and sound flowed forth. A masterpiece of synth and drum, a sound like no other, and a reissue that we feel will be up there with the best of 2022. Check it out!
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