When techno really did seem to come from the stars, come dive with us into arguably Mike Bank's most significant record, and easily one of the best and most pivotal techno albums ever released.
Techno that came from Detroit was always music that held a real sense of meaning behind it. A city and its population that had forged a bond based on the car industry, during the 1950s the systems that governed so many peoples lives began to crumble, and with it the city of Detroit itself. Like many urban areas around the world, Detroit took a huge toll as a result of de-industrialisation, and a significant decline in population and the urban form itself set in, with many leaving to find prospects elsewhere. But many remained, determined to seek out a new life in a post-industrial city, in order to re-build and reconsider. By the 1980s, Detroit was a shell of its former shelf, crumbling into the ground on which magnificent civic buildings and suburban streets once lay. It was around this time that a select few within a satellite city of the greater metropolitan area began exploring the new technologies that graced the early 80s keyboard and synth market. Bellevue, located to the south west of Detroit proper, was home to Juan Atkins, who by this point in time had been composing music primarily utilising synths and keys. He was inspired significantly by the sounds of the Electrifying Mojo, who's eclectic mix of records from home and aboard would have an unquantifiable impact on Atkins and in turn the other two members of who became known as the 'Bellevue Three'. Atkins befriended Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, with the three spending significant amounts of time together listening to the Mojo on the radio, taking in all he had to offer with a certain seriousness, in order to begin developing a musical mantra that they all aligned with. By the early 80s, the trio had already begun their progression into DJing and initial production, with Atkins exploring his musical notions via Cybotron, who he formed with Rick Davis, and their first release 'Alleys of Your Mind" popped up in 1981. Via trips to Chicago to check out the house music scene there, the trio became more aligned with the music they looked to make - emotive, evocative dance music that reflected the industrialism of Detroit, with a eye for the future as much as the processes that govern the city in its contemporary setting. Thus, Detroit Techno was born, with May releasing the seminal 'Strings Of Life', widely considered the track that set up the Detroit techno blueprint, whilst Saunderson set up KMS and quickly began his Inner City project, which paired house and techno together in a manner which had a significant impact on the British dance music scene; and Atkins formed Model 500, alongside releasing music under his own name. The term 'Techno' was coined in the late 80s, and with that naming of a term, perhaps the most powerful of dance music genres was forged. A genre grounded in the idealism of looking beyond, pairing machine with man in such a creative and emotional way, but always finding the spaces in tracks to represent the city in which the innovators honed their craft, the feel of the genre representing industrialism, futurism and black music in equal measure. It was the kind of music that sent ripples through time, its significance not only found within the technicals of the sound but its undeniably deep and meaningful message. Perhaps never has a genre of music been so intrinsically related to one city, its people and its strengths, its aspirations and its dreams. To this day, the power of it all still resonates with electronic music fans, be it those who stumble across it for the first time, or those who have given over to it in all its glory, techno is from Detroit, and that is something that can never be taken away from the people and the city in which the genre is named after. The city informed the music just as much as the music informed the city, and this is perhaps where its appeal to others lies - music that remains intrinsic to its place of birth often feels more special, more intuitive, more informed, and more alive.
Whilst the artists we mentioned previously were all responsible for the foundations of the genre, today we are going to be looking at a seminal piece of work from one of the city's second generation of techno artists. By the late 80s, a new crop of talent had begun to mix records, absorb genres and begin messing around with production, just like the Bellevue Three who came before, resulting in a slight morphing of the original techno sound. Artists such as Blake Baxter, Jeff Mills, Suburban Knight, Robert Hood, Eddie Fowlkes, Octave One, Kenny Larkin and Carl Craig all emerged during the mid to late 80s and the very early 90s, drawing power from the original body of work that emerged from the scene and crafting their own takes on a new side to the Detroit sound, a new chapter in this enigmatic genre's legacy. During this time, Hood, Mills and Mike Banks would form the collective Underground Resistance, a group dedicated to aligning techno music with social malice and injustice that had reigned supreme towards African-Americans in Reagan's America, with a strict DIY approach to production and musical form. Their early releases displayed a quite soulful theme, with the trio producing separately or collectively during this time - check out the Yolanda and Nation 2 Nation releases from their early catalogue, which truly demonstrate a new invigorating side to the Detroit sound from this time. The Members of the House record from 1987, 'Keep Believin', is also exceptional, and demonstrated the transition from the sounds of Chicago House and pointed to the future. Throughout 91-92 there was a string of superb releases that firmly put UR on the map, with a destructive heavy hitting take on techno that felt very much informed by its 80s bigger brother, but had an eye firmly on the dancefloor and the possibilities of a robotic metallic future. Despite the initial success, Mills and Hood would leave the collective in 1992, and would both go on to achieve superstardom around the world for the musical blueprints they cultivated during their time with UR, their deft blend of power, rhythm and melody proving to be a hit everywhere they went. Banks however would remain at the helm of the UR ship until the present day, overseeing a steady stream of fantastic EPs that really took techno to some very interesting places indeed, with the 1995 'Soundpictures EP', the 1997 'Codebreaker' release and the epic 1999 'Knights of the Jaguar' EP from the Aztec Mystic some of our personal favourites from the later UR catalogue, but all of it is exceptionally good, and if you enjoy perhaps some of the most interesting techno to come about during the 1990s, of which carried the flame of the 80s icons alive the most, then the UR discography is the best place to start and get involved within. Timeless, timeless tracks indeed.
Mike Banks in many ways has done so much to invigorate and also define the sound of Detroit techno perhaps as much as anyone since the Bellevue Three began putting together the pieces of the genre. Throughout his discography, the releases are littered with genius, musical understanding, compositional excellence and above all else control of vision and scale. Banks was inspired largely by the sounds that first bought Techno into existence, but also brought into his work the musical references put in place by Chicago House, with its melodic feel good message permeating out from a lot of his works. Banks spread himself far beyond the moniker of techno, with many aliases dipping into the different channels of his musical mind, and this is perhaps why he is so revered to this day - the diversity and quality of his music sends ripples through time, its strength lies in its consolidation and understanding of the roots before bringing so many fresh and brilliant ideas into the mix that simply helped to elevate the genre to new places. His approach in some of his various aliases and groups has a very distinct approach to it, be it the overlaid drumming patterns through to the quirky melodies, from the fullness of floor stompers through to the cosmic imaginations, he delved into pretty much every facet of his sound, and there was this sense that there was always room to continue growing. His appeal in this sense spreads far and wide, his capabilities and artistic temperament allowing him to experiment with the faster styles of the time alongside moving through more slowed and in depth expressions of musical intent, which has endeared himself to so many electronic music lovers and cemented his reputation as one of the true innovators of dance music. His influence can truly be felt far and wide indeed, and that would only be factoring in his work with UR, as his own works really do speak for themselves in relation to diversity; from the razor sharp electro of Electric Soul (1996's 'Come On Baby' and 'X²' are both superb), to the amazing house trilogy he released with D-HA (the Happy Trax Vol. II-IV!), through to his varying collaborations with The Aztec Mystic & Octave One (on the incredible 'Aztlan/DayStar Rising' EP) and with the Deacon (on the equally impressive 'Attack of the Sonic Samurai/Fuji' release), and this isn't factoring in the amount of writing, arrangement and instrumentation work he put into countless UR releases. It's also widely believed that Banks is behind the incredible works of the Martian, who released a series of timeless records on the Red Planet imprint, of which we are not going to pick favourites but simply implore you to listen to absolutely everything released under this name. In short, Banks popped up everywhere during his prolific releasing years, putting together a body of work that is as mesmerising as it is deep and profound, and its this profoundness that keeps people coming back to his works or falling in love with it for the first time. His fundimentals in sound blended the futurisms and cosmic energies of Detroit techno with the profound experimentalism that exploded in the early 90s, where almost everything felt possible. His work is very much the bridge between the originators and the future, where the limits of sonic possibility became oh so real and tangible. No one did it quite like Mr Banks, and perhaps no one ever will.
And now we draw focus to another one of Bank's many aliases - Galaxy 2 Galaxy. Banks would initially release just one EP under this name, which is the focus of todays review, but the record very much spawned a life of its own during the early 2000s. Banks concieved essentially a live band to play the record live, essentially building upon the success of the other UR band Timeline that existed around the same time, which provides a whole new dynamic to proceedings. In many ways, the music made under the Galaxy 2 Galaxy name lent itself perfectly to be played by a full band, with its inherent depth, rich instrumentation and jazzy aesthetic allowing for brilliant performances to ensue from the ensemble Banks put together during this period. The original record in question is aptly named 'Galaxy 2 Galaxy', and arguably remains as one of Bank's most enduring releases (and that really is saying something). The record reads as much more than a Detroit techno record, more in that it reads like a guide to some other worldy adventure, where spirituality and knowledge reside in one hand and mesmerising cosmic forces lie in the other, where futurism meets delicate technique and poise. A record that touches on all that made Detroit a mecca for electronic music fans, the music within speaking to people on an emotional and educational level, where we see the full potential of techno come to light, in the most amazing and majestic way possible. A gateway if you will, into all that is possible if you have the right vision, and Banks has this in absolute spades. So, lets take a dip through this phenomenal piece of music, that will ripple through time for eons to come.....
We begin off with the track 'Hi-Tech Jazz (The Science)', and the transportation begins almost immediately. The main chiming synth riff bounces within its set rhythm, filling the space with meaning and purpose, as the synths in the backdrop swell with presence and feeling. The fast pace hi hats begin their course, which invites the little key line on top to swirl around, as the kicks and sax then slam into the track, and lift off is achieved in this moment. The track then flattens out before hitting its stride full on, with the cascading kicks matching the cymbals and hats on top with gusto, the sax on top crafting a hypnotic melodic marvel, free flowing initially before descending into its key riff. The riff is one to really remember, getting stuck in your head as it floats up high above a dense as hell techno cut, one that feels remarkably refreshing in its structure, with so much dense melody and feel overlaying on top of the deep set drums. When the sax cuts out you can really immerse yourself amongst all this goodness, the never ending synth progression providing a backdrop to die for, and after the second run through of the main riff the acidic line comes out of no where and adds yet another element of intrigue into proceedings. The track then plays out between its varying structures, locking you into its flow, moving between sequences that seem to build subtly before releasing a wave of energy that moves over you and right through your body, your very soul. Banks adds in some beautiful little chordal elements and progressions that keep the engagement going strong, with the key core of the song doing much to shift the focus to all these little micro changes that occur. The song begins to ascend upwards, the tone shifting to one of urgency, before dropping down into its moment of rest, where the soundscape pauses before evolving once more, the track building itself up piece by piece, almost arriving at its start point once more. The track then plays through itself a few times over, but by now its power has really gotten under our skin, an experience you will no doubt return to time and time again. A iconic track. Timeless. Up next comes the 'Elements' version of the previous cut, and whilst largely similar in composition and tone, there are some slight differences that make it a worthy companion to its big brother. The track takes less time to get right into it, the sax solo pushed right to the front, which leads directly into the drumming sequences, that pulsate with more urgency than the previous cut, with the variations having a much bigger part to play in relation to transitions and switches. The melodic swell at the beginning leads into a more rhythmic middle, with Banks seeming to focus a bit more on the strength of the core structure set out in the longer version, and that serves once more as an anchor, but as a more upfront and immediate element. Shorter, but just as sweet. A track to provide that sudden burst of energy at the end of the night. Brilliant.
Up next comes the real MVP, perhaps of the record - the seminal 'Journey Of The Dragons'. The Jean-Luc Ponty sample greets us as the tune reveals itself to us, chopped up to craft a rhythm and melody all in the same time, its textured unravelling nature an immediate hook to what might transpire next. The slight bass that gleans through the thick key riff is a delicate touch, but on top is where the magic really begins, the organ line sent from above, oozing with soul and emotion, its grace and presence like sunlight peering through a cloud ridden sky. The tonal landscape is now in full force, with the drums arriving next, and their presence, pitch and feel could not be more on point, working so well amongst the glorious melodic progressions that are occurring on top, looking to keep the vibrations going on strong. The drums dip away, before moving back into sight once more, now with added kicks and claps, their dynamic nature so well executed and conceived, its truly perfection. Our eyes and ears are constantly drawn to the relationship between the looping key sample and the deep swelling synths, their interplay is perhaps what make this track really very special indeed, with the additional upper stabs adding a little bit more to the compelling nature of the melody. The track moves and grooves continually, restless in its pursuit of musical nirvana and inward perspective, looking to add to its momentum from looking inwards to provide the best overall musical and spiritual experience it can. There's very much an element that operates down on the ground, and a whole universe that is propped up by it - you find yourself constantly drifting when listening to this track, its mesmerising feel giving over so much for us to engage with, freeing our mind to the extent in which we yearn and crave for it. Its melodic perfection and rhythmic qualities combine in such an effective way, its hard to really quantity at times what this track is capable of doing to the human mind. We recommend you just listen to really find out what kind of journey you might take. Up next comes 'Star Sailing', and we open with some kind of futuristic bleeps underpinning some proper serious cosmic laden chord progression. The chords arrive thick and fast, crafting a sense of expanse between them, as the cymbals, hats and claps start to build the foundation of the rhythm underneath, quickly joined by the bass line that pounds lightly underneath. Banks continually crafts the song from the ground up, with the melodic features evolving thick and fast as time marches on, with delightful little key lines added in to add depth and weight to the progressions on top. The kicks were never far behind, and now we enter full swing mode, the track beginning once more to cast its spell over us. The electronic flute that emerges, along with jazzy like key application, only adds more texturally, and as the acid line rises up before falling away, we are already completely locked into this track and its message. The track then moves into a plateau, the flute remaining to guide us through the mountains and into a new expanse, and as the drums move away for a second, this kicks the song into its next gear entirely. The flute and keys beautifully interplay with each other, as the claps underneath jump and pulse with equal amounts of energy, and its fucking glorious. A moment we were waiting, and Banks crafts it masterfully, with all the confidence and ability in the world, with the piano chords that follow the icing on the cake really. A melodic and compositional masterclass, the track then moves back through its rhythmic structures a few more times, with the acid line arriving one final time, the track slowing gliding into the atmosphere to appeal to the rest of the universe.
Up next comes 'Astral Apache (Star Stories)', and here we quickly move right into the thick of things. The synth glides on top, its fullness resonating from up high, as the kicks and percussion do their thing to craft a pulse that hits from top to bottom, before it cuts out dramatically to give way for the melodic progression to come into view, its density and feel so beautifully delivered, helping further to set the tone for what is to transpire. The drums come back in, and after a split second in comes the vocals, seemingly Native American in their reference, that powerfully fills the top half of the track, repeating twice before moving into yet another superb melodically rich rhythmic section, before moving once more into the vocal sample. The little things that Banks introduces to the keys and synths, in relation to effects, creates a real sense of momentum and liveliness to proceedings, our energy levels really hitting peak levels all throughout this cut, never ceasing or looking back, always looking upwards and outwards. The vocals then begin to crop up more regularly, being used as a tool in order to apex the track, before slamming home the initial chord progression introduced at the beginning of the track, before moving into a breakdown of sorts, with the flow then moving into the final moments of the track. Brilliant. Up next comes 'Deep Space 9 (A Brother Runs This Ship)', and let the wonderment really begin to set in at this point in the listening experience. The lush, texturally liquid chords fill our vision, their presence warm to the touch and soothing to the soul, yet in there contains an element of mystique, intrigue that is only solved through further exploration of the hearts and the minds. The feel becomes all the more intriguing as the swelling noises and computer sounds begin to permeate the soundscape, the attention to crafting every detail of the drums and keys something to really applaud. The feel of the track is like no other, with the overall feel one of absolute bewilderment and amazement, from the swelling chords through to the swinging drum pattern, the pulsating bass line and and the rising acid squelch, its all here in this mini marvel. The track moves into its second phase, where the original key sequence is replaced by a descending one, leading into a more informal break, before reverting back to the original sequence, allowed to breathe on its own for a moment, and then we arrive at the sound wall. The reverbed sounds of some kind of acid line take centre stage, again allowed to move on their own for a minute, before the beautiful drums align themselves once more into the track. The floating sirens in the backdrop add further to the mystery, but then the biggest - and best, in our opinion - introduction of the album occurs, in the form of the acid line. It slams home so very hard, after being teased for what felt like an eternity during the opening parts of the track, and now it has its moment to shine, and with every single listen it never ever gets tiring. Its power only grows with each listen, its introduction still so refreshing to listen to all these years, its just perfect. The track then moves one final time through its full melodic structure, and like that we drift away into the cosmos. Deep Space 9 sounds about right. Timeless.
And now we arrive at the final two tracks of this mini epic, with 'Rhythm Of Infinity' kicking us off. The keys that come into view fill the screen up very nicely indeed, their filtered feel crafting an initial pulse for which the bongos and cymbals to work alongside, before the kicks, cymbals and hats do their thing to move the song into overdrive. The drumming is superb, with lots of care taken to the depth and swing, working alongside the singular chord with emphasis and vision, with all manner of little elements of intrigue flickering on top and between. The chords drop out for a minute, allowing for the full power of the drumming to take control, with the focus now moving towards the free flowing computer tinged effect that weaves around the beat with such flow, as if it has a mind of its own. The drums become very stripped back, before sliding back into the melodic structure that existed before, with the track ebbing and flowing for a few more verses. Its a wonderful foil to all the melodic richness that has existed before, a pure workout that brims with energy but still touches on Bank's deft hand when it comes to crafting intrigue and delicacies within his music. The little variations persist for sure within this track, but for all the dancing and eye closing you will be doing during this adventure, you might miss them if not for repeat listening. A late night work out for sure. Finally, to cap it all off, we have 'Metamorphosis (The Creation Of I.S.F. Unit ZC-121861 Stardate: 05 30 93)', which finishes up the record in the most appropriate and contextually informed way possible. This whole journey we are reminded of looking up above and looking in, and this track curtails all this wonderment with a sparse soundscape, as if we have travelled through the confines of space and time itself and arrived at the edge. Where music becomes but a mere vessel in the vacuum that is space, where stars and lights flicker and glimmer with hope and energy, their life force looking at us as much as we marvel at them. This song very much places you within a world rich with objects and systems, the sorts of features that surround us and bind us to our everyday lives, exposed to demonstrate what we see and experience everyday but not necessarily interact with. After all that energy, all that goodness, all that perfection, this is the track to allow us to drift off, untethered and unbound to our human selves, into that expanse we call the unknown. Masterful.
There's something about this record that continually calls back. Perhaps its the delicate blend of power and melody, or the textural and tonal approach found within technique, or maybe the compositional balance that exists within, or all of the above. Found within this record is a spirit, essence and vision that is simply up there amongst the very best, with Banks displaying a kind of transcential and jazzy approach to his work that elevates the very minds we inhibit every day. The kind of music that inspires through its message, its atmospheres and its diversity, where every corner is left up turned and explored, but its how Banks brings it all together under one roof. Your head becomes constantly in the clouds, eyes closed, in order to maximise the audial elements and take all that you hear swimming around you, the blend that persists between the ground plain and the ethereal something that is so intrinsically unique to this one record. Banks did so much to push forward techno with this record, where the ideals of the Bellevue Three meet full on UR toughness, a mix of power and delicate moments that keep the journey going over, with never a moment passing where you wish something else was done differently. Its the little things he throws in too that craft further pleasure, be it the intricate keys or additional melodic evolutions, its an album that continually gives over to you, time and time again. That in itself is quite a rare feat for a dance music album, in which songs and tracks start to sound a little bit rigid, but here there is a wide range of features, structures and elements to get totally lost in. The immersion level is so unbelievably high, our minds giving over to the power of the music found within, forever leaving a small part of us to a record that will forever be remembered. A record that redefined dance music in so many ways. A record that demonstrated techno's power to its fullest extent. A record that will forever flicker through time.