Sterac - Secret Life Of Machines (100% Pure, 1995)
A peerless and intensely deep techno record from the iconic Steve Rachmad, and remains one of the finest European representations of the genre to this day.
By the mid 90s, techno had come on leaps and bounds, not just in terms of its musical content and characteristics but the manner in which producers around the globe took the genre into their hearts and crafted their own visions for the genre. The original Detroit sound lead into the emergence of the second wave, which in many ways came to be beloved around the world, its incessant futuristic vibe dominating the underground scene and leading to numerous evolutions and new expressions to surface during this time. The number of varying musical takes on the genre are extremely high volume, with producers looking to experiment with tones and tempos within one of the two waves, or begin to take in and merge the sounds of both, with the end result usually always a highly interesting addition to the genre's rich narrative. In Europe in particular, scenes developed all over, with each city displaying an identity in relation to what their take on techno might be, with the musical results adding to the ever growing spectrum of techno's diverse sound. The amount of brilliant releases that stem from Europe during this time is staggering, with many integrating other sounds that swirled around the rave and club scene at the time, with the most musically open and intuitive producers crafting albums and EPs that merged features and feels of genres together under one roof. Within techno, many musicians who felt inspired by the sounds of Detroit looked to create a link between themselves and the Motor City, with the sound of the European scene dominated by the key features of the genre's origins, and for many the contexts in which they resided in had an affinity with the post-industrial landscape of Detroit. Its a pleasure now to be able to pin point the dots between the two sides of the pond, where the sounds of the originators are paired with the minds who heard and felt inspired by its message, and from within a new context looked to emulate their heroes and conjure up new pieces of magic that both paid homage and added in their own take on the foundations of the genre. To place records from both time frames and contexts alongside each other only draws focus to the immense influence the genre had on Europe, its clubbing culture and the climate in which people felt inspired to buy drum machines and synths in the first place. We now look back at the European producers in similar fashion to the Detroit legends, not in a way that takes anything from the Bellevue Three and the 2nd generation, but in a way that the music made in Holland, the UK, Germany and so on was a tribute to the sounds that must have sounded like nothing else before. The music that gives led to music that provides additions to the family, allowing it to grow and expand in influence, ensuring that the 80s and early 90s techno sound is so revered and remembered to this day.
Steve Rachmad is certainly one of those producers who crafts the bridges and sounds between the Motor City and its European sister cities when it comes down to high quality techno music. Rachmad quickly established himself as a leading light within the European scene, with his music leading the way in relation to vibrancy, diversity in sound and complex rhythmic patterns, with his releases becoming lauded over night as superb representations of techno from within a European setting. He managed to find that perfect balance that existed between moody comsic melodic progressions and hefty drumming sequences, the relationship between which both generations of Detroit producers had looked to explore, firstly via the mergence of classic chordal tones and drums before the power of the 2nd wave kicked in. Rachmad took both in his stride with ease, as he sounded equally comfortable exploring both styles but taking time to merge the two together, with his immediate jump into the establishment of various aliases serving him well in relation to appealing to as wide a section of dance music lovers as possible. By moving into the world of producers who align themselves with varying aliases, Rachmad was able to spread his wings in relation to style, progressions and vibes, with each record endearing us further to his intrinsic sound, with each record maintaining his signature sound in some manner, but doing its bit to craft unique moments from each name. Be it just a name who bought us one slamming record that will forever stand the test of time, or an alias that saw numerous records be released over a period of time, Rachmad will be forever remembered for his exploits as a producer very entrenched in his quest for sonic excellence, alongside his relentless work ethic that saw numerous records released during the 90s. It all helped to populate his musical universe, and looking back through his expansive discography is a real step back into the mind of a true visionary who did much to further the cause of techno during this time period. From classic techno to cutting edge minimal, dub techno, progressive house, electro, tech house, trance and absolutely everything in between, Rachmad had an inherent ability to craft his own sound and vision from all that swirled around at the time, with each record acting as yet another piece of the ever expanding jigsaw that is his musical tapestry. We have selected some highlights from across the board, starting off with the excellent techno found on 'Aqua Dance / Graphics' from the A Scorpion's Dream alias, which arrived in 1993; the house leaning stylings of the excellent Rachmad Project, with our favourites including 'Part One' (1993), Part 2 (1994) and Part 5 (1995), although the whole collection is well worth a listen; the excellent trio of releases under the Black Scorpion moniker, 'Time Travelling' (1993), 'Dreamworld' (1994) and 'Empyrion' (1995); the free wheeling tech house excellence that is the 'Jerome/Son Of Norma' record, released in 94' under the Norma G name; the progressive excellence of 'Automatic', that arrived in 96' under the Continuous Cool name; the breakbeat goodness of the 'Saying All That Crap' single by the Lonely Guy, that also arrived in 96'; the absolute brilliance of his Tons of Tones name, perhaps our favourite and the one that got us into his music, with the 'Smooth Touches', 'Back In Time' (both released in 1994), 'Teardrops' and 'Sisteron' (released in 95' and 98' respectively) records all utterly mesmerising; the fantastic 'Prometheus' single from his Publiq Place name, released in 96'; both the 'Organa / Organon' and '(Move To It) The Bigband' records from his Ignacio moniker, released in 97' and 98'; the awesome 'Symptoms' record from the Flexible name, arriving in 98' also; both of the 1995 'Parallel 9' and 'Q' released EPs from his Parallel 9 alias, along with the 'Magnetic Reversal' LP that arrived in 2012 under the same name; the hard hitting 'Area/Orbitron' record from the VCP name, that arrived in 1999; the superb electro tinged 'My Preparation' and 'Keep On Running' EPs from 02' and 03' respectively, which arrived via his Sterac Electronics name; and finally, the incredible 'Neo Classica' LP from 2006, that was released under his own name, and is a beautiful representation of his collective styles and sounds. If you want to saunter back through one of techno's most profilic, definite and diverse producers, who always found his own voice amongst a sea of experimentation and styles, then Rachmad remains one of the pillars in which to base all knowledge on. His works are truly remarkable in relation to their depth, quality and sonics, all the while Rachmad takes an enormous amount of time and thought to consider how each release and name fits into his neverendingly rich line of narrative that emerges from his music. We mentioned a lot here, but the vast number of records to explore - probably the most we have ever suggested here on Endless Grooves - is simply indicative of the man's abilities and flawless style, that will forever be remembered as a pillar of the 90s techno sound.
And so, we arrive at the focus of today's review, the debut album from perhaps his most prolific alias, Sterac - 1995's 'Secret Life Of Machines', that arrived via Dutch imprint 100% Pure. Sterac remains up until this day seemingly one of Rachmad's most enduring and important names in which to release music under, with his works as Sterac highly regarded within the realms of techno as cutting edge, ultra progressive in regards to beats and keys, and ultimately representing the cornerstones of his sound. Up until the present day, Sterac has remained with Rachmad, with brilliant releases still hitting the shelves and the dancefloors, which is further testament to the man and his music making capabilities. We didn't mention highlight releases before from the Sterac back catalogue, but a few pieces of gold include the 'Sitting On Clouds' release from 1994; the incredibly powerful 'Asphyx' EP from 1995; the amazing 'Primus/Osirion' record from 1996; the 'Hypnoticus' and 'Different Strokes' releases from 2014 and 2015 respectively; and finally the 'Aeras' release from last year, which is pretty incredible. But as we draw the spotlight back to the 1995 debut LP, we arrive back into a time where Rachmad was already releasing records at a very steady rate indeed, and within this record we see much of his style already established and in very fine form indeed. The music contained within is delicate melodic techno at its very finest, with a beautiful driving undertone of rhythm that resides up there with the very best the genre has to offer. Add in there a real sense of dynamism and purpose, strength through melody but also through progression, and you have a real game changer. A techno record to be listened too, enjoyed and taken in, time and time again. So lets get into it!
We kick things off with the opener, 'Axion', and the rhythms and textures take control of the scape. The drumming elements all seem to go through this effects chamber, where the percussive features all feel dense and heavy as hell, with a real sense of weight to them, but with a great deal of mobility too, being able to weave and worm around each other with such ease and momentum. The track goes through these small evolutions as the track moves onwards, seemingly contracting then expanding, rising high before delving deep down below, all within these sequences of fluid motion, always with an eye on the chance to keep the dynamics expanding to the widest reaches of space and time as possible. The track keeps its journey on course from there, with the faintest flickering of melodic undertones making its way into the tracks development, but never inherently making their presence known to the fullest extent, making this intro track all about the brilliance of drumming sequences and the dynamics you can inject into it. Pure rhythmic bliss. Up next arrives 'Mysterium', and we begin within similar territories to the previous cut. The kicks underpin the moody melodic mumourings and whispers that dominate the mid layer of the track, and all this intro work perfectly sets up the singular chord line that aligns itself within the pulse of the track. Free flowing and morphing, it peaks and troughs down from above before descending into the undercurrent, before it is joined by swelling chordal elements on either side, crafting a wonderful interplay between the two. The drums up until this point have remained consistent but placed and considered very well indeed, with little percussive features sparkling for mere split seconds at the front of the track, but by the time the melodic features begin to show their true nature we see the drums respond in kind, crafting a more dense sub base for the melody to work from. The delightful key line that joins in only adds to the compulsive listening experience, the sonic results truly spell binding and captivating, the relationship between the clean cut keys and the texturally rich chords a real treat to get into and within. An additional line then emerges to add another layer into this melodically rich environment, and before long the track reverts back to its original wave formation, that continues to wash over our hearts and minds, but before the song is out, we get to see the keys exercise some free will one more time, as Sterac looks to provide us with a differing audial experience to the one we came in with. Incredible stuff, the dynamics that are already emerging from this record are insane already, as per usual with his works! 'Aegis-1' follows next, and the tones reshape themselves into the most blissed out form imaginable. The musical landscape becomes this rich full vibrant space, where long drawn out synths swell and grow amongst permeating bass lines and gorgeous drumming patterns, crafting this extremely soothing audial feel to proceedings. The set up to when the kick final arrives is very special indeed, with the overall feel of the track existing somewhere between the realms of dub techno and progressive house, and its a relationship forged in such a creative manner. The melodic segments have just been looping this whole time, yet their considered balance is truly something to behold, never needing to gravitate or deviate from their path, just to simply do their magic. The drums on the other hand begin to unravel a bit more as time goes on, acting very much as the transitional element in the track, signalling the keys to move away or reintroduce themselves when need e, and it all works so perfectly. We move into a new space when the keys move away to reveal the relationship between the bass and drums, our minds bobbing along to the sweet innards of the track, before we descend one final time into the soft embrace of the chordal workout. Masterful.
Up next we have the track 'Draghixia', and the dubby deepness kicks off proceedings. The fast paced nature of the bass lines occupy the low ends, crafting a full base with the spaces between left up for grabs, and from there the kicks take us into the next phase. The two elements are allowed to do their thing for a few bars before the cymbals, hats and drum fills begin to fill the room left alone, moving the rhythmic feel of the track on enormously, before an additional level of melody is added to really move things forward. Sterac layers the key sequences perfectly, crafting a multitude of layers in sound that all evolve and operate around the beats, creating a really dense but ever evolving and moving sea of sound. The sharp chiming chords then rain down from up high, their piercing quality adding such quality in relation to dynamism, with the track moving through some really beautiful new spaces with this addition. The track then reverts back to its original configuration, gracefully sweeping along within its own self contained yet expansive realm, with the layering of note sequences adding much to this feel of motion and fluidity. The introduction of moody lower end keys move the track into more full territories rather than layering of sequences, which adds a nice contrast to the original structure, before the sharp high end chords strike true once more, right before the tune moves into its final stages. Top notch. Up next comes 'Satyricon', and the night time drive suddenly got that little bit more interesting. The kick underpins the stimulating cosmic dubby key sequence that resides on top, crafting a pulse that's hard to deny, and before long we are joined by the chimes and simmering hi hats that overlay themselves so perfectly into proceedings. The track continues on with its quietly relentless journey, never overreaching but crafting a beautifully textured atmosphere, one where each element embraces its position in the track, where we feel each tone doing much to add to the overall progressions and developments. The introduction of additional key lines and reverbed drums continue to add further to this dialogue, and by this point in time we are entranced with the music found within, its character and expansive touch one we can fully get behind. The flow just doesn't stop, the manner in which the music is composed and constructed remains absolutely top notch in its feel and touch, so when the track takes a melodic breather of sorts, it just feels so intuitive and natural to the point which we don't stop moving or feeling. The bass rings true during this segment, as the drums collide and groove with such gusto and energy, filling the spaces left by the chords and keys, marking another upward journey into the urban realm. We are very much within the new side of the track with this, as the focus turns towards an intense rhythmic workout, adding a nice contrast to the melodic textured beauty of the previous half. A real stunner.
Up next we have 'Sitting On Clouds (Original Mix)', and we begin in soft soft surroundings. Delicacy has always been eluded to in this record so far, be it in the most interesting and subtle ways, but here it remains the obvious foundation of the track, as we begin from the rich drumming patterns that leads into the introduction of beautifully enveloping key sequences. The drums craft this wonderful base full of life and vitality, crafting the perfect boundaries and parameters for which the melodic features to peek through, their relationship and interplay a joy to see develop over time. The keys begin off quiet and unassuming, before moving through the gears and octaves to start their emergence, which like this brilliantly crafted song takes its time to finally reveal itself in all its glory. Around the 5 minute mark is when the keys soar and leap through the density of the drumming structures, making their presence known to the fullest extent, allowing us to take it all in and enjoy all it has to offer. And just like that, the keys descend underwater, and that is where we remain, standing on the beach looking into the endless sunset. Up next comes 'The Lost Of A Love', and we begin once more in pretty compelling surroundings. The drum sequence is cosmic and technical as hell, moving around the sonic space with all the energy and movement in the world, leaving a trail behind it wherever it travels and grooves to, inviting elements to emerge and follow it on its quest. Before long the deep set chords come into play, filling the room within the middle of the track so very well indeed, as we are joined quickly by the acidic sounds direct from the future, with other little details added in along the way for good measure. The fucking dynamics and acoustics that dwell within this record are truly remarkable, and really kick into a new gear when the chords drift away and we are left to listen to the beat structure in all its glory, with our jaws wide open. We reside directly in the middle of things, with all kinds of objects and things floating past us and drifting here and there, not knowing where they go to but always pleasantly surprised to see them come back into sight. The melodic features come back for one final foray through our minds, as we ease off into a futuristic kind of existence. * Up next comes 'The Secret Life Of Machines', and we begin with both the drums and the bass doing their thing to generate energy and life. The bass line is poised and melodic as hell, crafting a vision of what is to come next, and sure enough the chordal arrangement that floats into view is something to behold. Elegant, perfectly considered and tonally on point, it provides the best set up imaginable for the deep set chords that accompany it, the two lines doing wonders to craft mood and feel. The track then sees new elements begin to feature on top, such as a sky bound key line that slices through the middle, alongside the delightfully playful textured key rhythm that pumps along underneath it all, crafting a feel that is so intoxicating and immersive. The track retains a very laid back feel, never needing to over do it or get too over bearing, it simply just does its groove in the best way possible. A real class act. To finish up, we have 'Astronotes (Part 1&2)', which remains the perfect way to end this record. The kicks and key sequences work alongside each other with such ease, with the melodic lines working over time to craft a textured line that has grace and meaning in equal measure. The drums introduce a snare that keeps the momentum going immensely, whilst the keys do much to add ebbs and flows into the tracks progressions. Around the 6 minute mark, we descend into a beautifully considered and fleshed out atmospheric world, where colour and emotion descend on us in equal measure, to craft the finest melodic moment on the album and simply confirm this albums greatness. To really get a measure of it, we recommend you just give it a listen, and really give yourself over to this albums perpetual brilliance. A techno record that truly offers you everything you could ever want, something for each context and mood, with an ending that makes you want to jump right back into it.
This album certainly demonstrates Rachmad's position as one of the finest techno producers going, as much now as it did then. A record that quickly showcase his blueprint for crafting tracks that felt so wonderfully self contained, as if he wished for the tracks to evolve naturally without interference, such is the way in which tracks are constructed, built and executed. There is a flawless movement between styles, tracks where the beat remains king but also tracks where melodic features take control to really get the emotions going, with a number of points where the two operate in such harmony. The balance between tone, texture and structure is also astonishingly good, with the tracks operating so well within their confides but seemingly always pushing for more and more. Its 90s techno at its very best, where rhythm meets emotion, where technique meets vision, where sonics meet grounded reality. Out of such a illustrious career, this record stands tall amongst the very best of Rachmad's productions, a record that set the tone for what was to come. A blueprint for us all to feel inspired and encouraged by. A true masterpiece.
* The track 'Hydroxy' wasn't available online unfortunately, hence why it has been omitted from the review. We will get the vinyl soon enough and update!