K-Hand - The Art Of Music (!K7 Records, 1997)
We traverse back in time to explore a magnificent Detroit techno record from the phenomenon that is K Hand, who transcends across the widest plains and traverses the sonic spectrum with each passing step.
Some cities and contexts have shown throughout history to have musical relevancy that ascends above all, environments and the people who dwell within it sharing a commonality in passion and musical DNA. A reflection of the flows through, the people who remain or leave or return, a source of interactivity and feeling which over time has become completely identifiable with one place and that place alone. A sound that immediately draws the mind and the focus to its birthplace, its source, its origins. From Blues to Motown, electronica to Hip Hop, House to Techno and beyond, Detroit has one of the most important musical identities going, and that is all down to the people who reside there and the city that has morphed and changed around them. Whilst many of the aforementioned genres had profound impacts globally - with Detroit artists being amongst the most seminal acts of all of them - Techno is almost certainly the genre that had the most significant effect on the global dance music scene, with its initial sound being exported around the world to becoming one of the most well known and revered. The initial hallmarks of the genre were honed by the Belleville Three and Eddie Fowlkes, who nurtured a sound deeply rooted in the social and economic context of Detroit at the time. Incessantly futuristic, hauntingly beautiful, and at times raw and deeply expressive, it would birth a number of differing generations of producers, including the Underground Resistance led 'Second Generation', which featured high intensity drumming sequences and intensified cultural and social commentary revolving around the African American experience during the time period, through to the Third Wave which took elements of both the 1st and 2nd to craft high octane emotive burners. Some artists surfaced during one generation perhaps, tapping into their creative juices for a series of high quality releases before moving on to new pastures, but others have maintained their longevity throughout the generations, morphing and adapting to continually provide excellence up to the present day. More often than not, its the artists who began their journey with the widest of creative visions, a sound entrenched in the idealism of the early 90s that saw so much experimentation and fluidity occur within artists and their respective discographies, an ability to move between the lines and conjure up moments of uniquely intrinsic brilliance that kept the engagement levels very high indeed. We look to these artists as we glance back over our shoulder at all the wonderful music that proceeded this point in time, their narrative one of audial excellence that spreads above and beyond to provide experiences that never waiver in quality yet intuitively move across the board, their style never in doubt, with the application always a delight to get to know and enjoy.
Of all of Detroit's varying musical narratives - of which there many of significance - very few have spun a tapestry quite like producer, label head and all round powerhouse Kelli Hand, who has been helping to shape the city's sound since the early 90s. Hand began her musical journey with the foundation of the UK House Records label, which after 3 releases grew into the Acacia imprint, which is still running to this day and has grown into one of the Motor City's most respected and beloved labels. Dubbed the 'Queen Of Techno', Hand has spent a significant amount of time honing and refining her craft, one that has seen her go across the globe to play to highly receptive crowds who adore her technically excellent mixing skills but also her abilities to move between genres with ease, and that's not even getting into her immense productions. Her works have always been wonderfully diverse, with a love of both house and techno very evident from the get go, she has a real knack for indulging in the best of both worlds to craft EPs and LPs that sing to both sides of the spectrum, with her sound a continually evolving one that always takes the time to accommodate more, to see more and hear more. Its a style that has traversed the deepest corners of house, techno, disco tinged grooves, ghetto house and electro, with the feels found on each record feeling highly reflective of the shifting times and Hand's ability to keep in the loop and soak it all up. Her style is highly reflective of what came before, a deft blend of all the varying incarnations of Detroit Techno that had existed slightly before her debuts back in the early 90s and everything that has flowed since, with Hand firmly keeping her finger on the pulse of what was coming, what was going and what was to arrive next. Her skills in both the studio and behind the decks have lifted her to the status of icon within the global electronic music scene, and that is very much down to her passionate dedication, hard work and sheer creative will, that when merged together become a very potent driving force indeed. Her works show very much two sides to the music's exploratory nature, with EPs tending to be slight brushstrokes that when built up upon each other paint a beautiful bigger picture that showcase all her small flourishes of brilliance, with each record adding into the equation with gleeful enthusiasm. Hand has also released a small number of LPs, that each craft a wider expanded universe within their continually expanding walls, with each long play demonstrating a differing line of thinking when it comes to applications within the realms of techno and house. Whilst her most significant amount of work has come under the K-Hand name, she has released under several aliases over the years, with our favourites including the intoxicating bass driven techno meanderings that occur within the 'Serial Image' record, that landed in 1991, which was released with Claude Young as Rhythm Formation; and as Messenger, our favourite remains the hypnotic beauty that unravels in front of us on the utterly gorgeous 'Wonderer', that landed in 2007. She also mixed a number of excellent house and techno records as The Hand, for producer Joseph E. Smith, with the 1992 EP 'Just A Feeling' our absolute favourite. As K-Hand, some of our selected favourite EPs include the warm up tempo rhythms that abound and reach out into our hearts on the 'Not Giving Up' EP, that arrived in 1993; the euphoria laden tones that slide into view from the 'Ba Da Bing' record, that arrived in 1993; the electro-logic futuristic pointing sounds that dwell within the 'Global Warning' record, that arrived in 94'; the excellent acid techno that abounds from the brilliant 'Acid Nation' record, that landed in 1995; the wondrous variety in sonics and progression that occurs on the brilliant 'Groove' release, that arrived in 1995; the brilliant grooves that enrich the soul and release the mind on the 'Project 5' record, that arrived in 1997; the dreamy deepness that pulsates from the 'Sounds' EP, that landed in 1997; the effortless and highly emotive expressionism that exudes from the 'Clap Yo Hands' release, that arrived in 2000; the effortless feelings that resonate from within the 'Tools Vol.1' record, that arrived in 2002; the minor moving and softly undulating soundscapes that are found within the 'Moody Life' EP, that arrived in 2004; the supremely deep and highly profound sounds that unravel from the 'Silent Answer' record, that landed in 2007; the power and majesty contained within the 'Feel' EP, that arrived in 2008; and finally, the crunchy organicness that swells from the 'Funky Tonight' record, that arrived in 2013. From an LP perspective, we really enjoyed the the fast paced, rhythmically hypnotic and acid tinged excellence that is her LP debut, 'On A Journey', that arrived in 1995; the driving dubbiness found within the exquisite 'Ready For The Darkness' record, that arrived in 1997; and finally, the pulsating energy that lashes out from the 'Detroit-History Part 1', that arrived in 2001. To wonder back through the Kelli Hand back catalogue is a pure joy, as close to euphoria as one can get, with a purist vision and superb touch that takes the breath away at times. Her creative impetus is highly intoxicating, and her music just keeps giving over time and time again. We highly recommend going back and checking it out for yourself, and see a genius at work.
And so we arrive at the subject of todays review, 'The Art Of Music', that was originally released in 1997 on the Berlin based label !K7 Records, and has now been digitally reissued on Hand's bandcamp. Whilst all her records have their own story to spin, their own incredible narrative to weave and highlight to us, we wanted to talk a bit more at length about this one in particular, as we think it showcases the utmost scale of Hand's talents in terms of audial sonics and deep intense rhythmic structures (although that sentiment is up for debate!). Over the course of ten cuts, we experience it all, from the pummelling loops to the soft tender electro tinged subscapes, through to the driving grooves and back to the arpeggio star kissed melodic lines, an we leave the experience with so many feels, you just want to dive right back in again and start all over. Its some of the finest Detroit techno and electro you're going to come across, and its something you continually find with Hand's work - irresistible excellence. So, without further delay, lets get into it.....
Up first comes 'Insight', and we are greeted by some typically up tempo drumming patterns that help to set the ball rolling in the most effective of ways. The percussion operates on two levels of sorts, with the kicks remaining consistent but the top layers of hats, cymbals and snares act in a very off kilter way, crafting a highly hypnotic feel as the track moves through the gears during its early stages. Not long after we become familiar with the undertones, the looping key sequence comes swinging into view, and it does a superb job at binding all the drumming elements together, and the track in full flow is something to behold. In typical 2nd wave fashion, its the little elements that add so much to the forward momentum, with differing movements in cymbals and hi hats allowing the track to move between the sequences with ease. Its the swells that occur over the tracks movements between structures, with the melodic sequence showing the slightest of variations that keep the vibe continually moving onwards and upwards. The track slows and grows at all the right moments, further keeping us intwined with the perpetual forward motions that keep us locked in for the night. Very strong start indeed. Up next comes 'Census', and this one begins in more melodic laden areas. The key lines that meander into view come across as a dream like fluidity, flowing over the peaks and toughs that peak and flux in the unravelling soundscape, an environment that quickly becomes just a bit more fuller with the introduction of the swinging electro style beat that aligns itself effortlessly with the pulse. The melodic sequence is added to further with the introduction of a softly spoken bass line that gently grooves within the undergrowth , and like that we see the full power that this track has to offer. The tune moves into a dubby instrumental section, where the key sequences move away for a moment in order to draw attention to the wonderful percussive tones that underpin the pulse, crafting a world that feels so ethereal yet vivid to the touch. Its hypnotic, its a whirlwind, its emotional, its thrilling, you take a step back and simply marvel at it all. Up next comes 'Drama', and this one begins in very similar territories indeed. The opening segment draws focus to the deep backdrop that is crafted by the drumming patterns, which move along with a metallic sounding electro feel to them, with their tone and feel setting the foundation for the acid tinged bass line to come sliding into view. The feel of the sequence is intensely cosmic and moody, taking in all that it can from the ongoing trajectory, and like that we are greeted with a further segment which simply adds to the raw power this track has to offer. The two sequences are given time to get to know one another a bit, and before long the lovingly placed chords come right into view, with their three chord progression flowing over the sequences with all the grace and emotion in the world. The track allows this arrangement to move onwards for a few bars, before it rebuilds itself in similar fashion to the initial build up, but with more time taken to get to that point in time, with each sequence lasting longer and unravelling more intricately, with the climax at the end coming when the chordal lines come back from the abyss and greet us one final time. The tune keeps up the feels until the close out, keeping us locked in until the end of days, Otherworldy vibes for sure.
'Eternal' comes next, and this one keeps the outer realms firmly in our front rear view. The opening salvo consists of two melodic sequences, one that resides to the left of the pan whilst the other evolves and morphs on the right hand side, with both textures and tones working alongside each other to set into motion the sequence of features that are to flow into view over the next few moments. Like with previous cuts, its all about the set up to the next motion that makes it all so special, and after the looping drum fills do their thing we are greeted by the main driving component of the melodic section, with its feel binding all that it sees, with additional chords coming into view also that keep the wheels turning and the fires burning. The densities of the cut flux and shift as the sense of direction moves with the times, taking the time to dip into drum based excursions before slamming right back into the euphoric sections, with the movements and momentums between sections something, once more, to really marvel at. A stunning flow. Up next arrives 'Flash', and the intro is suitably swinging on this one. The drums are highly spacious, giving a foundation to the singular chord that rings out above, which then quickly switches gears and moves into a drum driven section that showcases Hand's uncanny knack in crafting intriguing drumming sequences. Its not long before some kind of melodic section rejoins the flow, this time in the form of a dream like acid key line and a pulsating bass sequence, both of which do much to transfix and lead the mind on a really meandering path. Its the first cut on the record that has stripped things right back, to really showcase the essence of the music which Hand looks to push, her skills and application highlighted here within the intoxicating beat structure and the toned back but highly dynamic melodic features, and that is something we can all get into. A real winner. Up next comes 'Heaven, and we really descend into the big feels with this one. The opening moments are expansive and highly dynamic, a feverish intensity starts to seep through our minds as the drums start to underpin the far reaching keys, with the track taking its first moment to break up the flow with the introduction of the two chord progression as the flow keeps on moving onwards and upwards. The overall picture is easy to really revel in, its tone and texture all encompassing and appealing to our dream like side but also to the one we have on the ground, with the changes in instrumental structure keeping our intrigues perked up very much, as the arpeggio high key line is allowed to run its course alone before we slam right back into the full picture. All the various sequences and lines feel so well placed, so well curated and arranged, a perfect blend of features that operate brilliantly together but individually contain so much intrigue and character. A real winner this one.
Up next comes 'Telekinesis', and this one starts off with the arpeggios running the show. The notes begin off moving within the sub base before rising high, with this sense of progression very evident when the drums come sliding into view, with their electro style swing adding very much into the equation as time slides onwards into the sun kissed sunset. Further melodic features are added in including further key sequences and deep swelling pads, both of which do a fantastic job of adding further to the sense of momentum and overall tone of the piece, with the breaks in the rhythm leading into moments of such force and purpose. Its emotionally tinged, a technological and metallic meander through a world populated with life and colour, a perfect blend of emotive tenderness but also so much reflection of the world around us, the processes, the interactivity, the excitement we all know and love. Beautiful in every sense. 'Messenger' flows into view next, and its a similar line that we all tread on this cut. The melodic section make this track as big as a mountain, their sweeping presence ringing out across the cut with a blissed out intensity thats simply irresistible when in full flow, its never ending feel something to truly behold as it rises from up high before neatly aligning itself within the depths of the cut. The drums too match the keys in relation to feel and mood, their swinging nature once more demonstrating Hand's touch when it comes to the electro side of things, with the spaces between the percussive features giving over so much space to the flowing key lines on top. The intensity is upped as a series of arpeggios descend on the track, their nature upping the ante even further as we continually loose ourselves in the comings and goings of the cut. Fucking glorious. 'Noise' arrives next, and this one starts off in similar territories. The keys are suitably spacious and all encompassing, taking over the fullest extent of the view as possible, with the claps acting underneath with the kicks as a rhythmic foundation, and before long we are joined by the lead arpeggio key line, that floats up high and above all the gorgeous emotive feels that reside underneath. The full picture is nearly complete, as we begin to become familiar with all the elements that reside within this brilliant piece of music, and as the first climax occurs the track moves into a more dubbed out excursion, where the underbelly of the track is given time to really showcase what its all about, with this section given a hefty amount of time to showcase their fullest extents, and like that we are carried away into the night, with the comfort of knowing we have this pile driver of a track to soundtrack our every move. To wrap things up, we have 'Voyeur', and this track acts as a perfect ender to a record dripping with brilliance from every angle. From its opening salvo of intricate and highly engaging drumming patterns, to its movement from stripped back melodic elements into highly expressive bass lines and then all encompassing synth progressions, it has it all, and is one final reminder of Hand's song writing and arrangement abilities but also her tonal application and understanding of styles, all weaved together in her own expertly conceived audial voice that has so much to give.
Kelli Hand is a remarkable producer, on so many levels, and this record epitomises that sentiment ten fold and then some. Its no surprise that she is so highly regarded by her peers and music lovers alike, in that her tunes alone do so much to cater for and nurture the human experience, a sensory atmosphere that engages the mind on all levels whilst also providing a sense of narrative development in the instrumentals that would move the body to new plains on the dance floor. On this record in particular, we see Hand showcase her brilliance in thought when it comes to conjuring up slices of Techno and Electro gold, with all aspects from the drumming, through the bass lines and the chordal arrangements all just so beautifully considered and implemented. Its an intoxicating blend, and one that feels overtly refreshing to the ears, and this record has all the blends and tempos you could ask for. A masterstroke, and certainly one of Hand's most significant pieces, a collection of tunes that will remain cemented in time and golden in its legacy. A true classic.
The tracklist this review was based on is taken from K-Hand's bandcamp page, rather than the original album's track list. You can listen to and download the album here: