The Detroit Escalator Co. - Soundtrack (313) (Ferox Records, 1996)
One of the Motor City's most enduring and intriguing musical personalities showcases his unique take on Detroit techno within his stunning debut record that takes immersion to a whole new level.
Art remains all around us, be it the majesty of paintings, the radiance of performance, the intellect of the theatre and the written word, or the vividness and escapism evoked from listening to music. Whilst the other mediums mentioned mostly encapsulate their engagement via the totality of it all, its often a certain tonal plain within music that looks to achieve what the others do so well, an immersion into a world that feels complete, catering to the many conceptual wonderings we often undertake when taking apart the meaning of a book or a piece of art, for example. For a good while now, producers and musicians have looked to underpin their music with a sense of meaning, crafting a series of tracks that read like an exhibition through differing scenes and scenarios, creating a soundtrack to our own journeys in the day to day, to our own interpretations of what we see around us. It helps us to understand how we feel when looking at something, how to feel when we sit within the highways and valleys of our minds, creating a frame for our sometimes hard to understand emotions that swell and dwell deep within each of us. Its reflective and personal, a moment where we imprint ourselves into the music as we look for a guide to understanding, enrichment and in some ways letting go. Detroit Techno has always played both sides of the rhythmic field, with one side focused on the urgency and the dance, a tour de force that in some ways remains unmatched in the electronic music world for its heart and pure power, whilst the other side is enamoured with the spellbinding, the ethereal wonderings that occupy the expanses in our minds, providing a soundtrack for all the journeys you could wish to undertake mentally. Not only is the genre fundamental to the people who created it, in terms of its social, economic and musical inputs, but it feels very much like an artform - a genre that is deeply complex and musically intriguing, like a painting by a master its age has only served it well, giving new life and meaning to tunes that to this day still sound phenomenal and futuristic. The genre operates at the crossroads of society, creativity and philosophy in some ways, a creation crafted by the Black community that touches on very deep meanings that resonate with listeners still, just like an iconic painting or book might. Its music with a underlying meaning that is worthy of analysis still to this day purely due to its totality, a genre that contains enough to be looked at, appreciated and deeply loved for centuries to come, one that can offer up so many differing experiences by those who are searching for meaning and value in their music. The city and its community produced something remarkable, a genre that changed the face of dance music, and will forever be beloved and adored for time infinitum.
For Neil Ollivierra, the pairing of making music and creating art was a everyday coupling that fuelled both sides of his creative mind, with the meeting of the two mediums always resulting in wonderfully expressive results. Initially immersing himself in the scene as a promoter for the Music Institute, he then became the label manager for Transmat during its most prolific run during the late 80s and early 90s, with his forays into production occurring a few years later in the mid 90s in the form of The Detroit Escalator Company name. His music reads like a distant dream, a series of rhythmically melodic expressions that sing to the tunes of life itself, an ebbing of mystique that blends intuitively to our own visions and the realities we experience around us, a pulsating morphing of our passions with the music that weaves and unravels before our very eyes. Ollivierra expertly blends the sensibilities of ambient and synthesiser bliss with the core tones and features of first wave Detroit Techno, where the chordal arrangements fluctuate constantly within a defined set of boundaries that never seem to stand still, merely moving with the rhythm that flows through the music. Its a blend that sings true to this very day, an intoxicating blend of sequences and ebbs that transcend the mind, intertwining with our thoughts and perceptions and helping us to understand just that little bit more, like all great art it reflects and gives over so much. His outputs centred around just a few records, but each one contains such excellence, conveying Ollivierra's audial identity through enriching textures, delicate melodic features and very fine drumming patterns, all of which softy speak and swell so consistently across each listen. Each release added further to the complexity of the tapestries that Ollivierra looked to weave and collate, the music within continually finding a way to worm its way into our sub consciousness and reside deep within, adding a new series of impulses into our neurones as it tapped into the blissed out areas, helping to convey a rich visceral series of images into our minds. Its music for the heart as much as the mind, portraying the urban centres at night but having enough freedom in expressionism that it could simply soundtrack any mood, emotion or context. We'll touch on all of his records just now, simply because they all have a point to bring to the table, starting off with the mesmerising 2001 LP release 'Black Buildings', that remains his largest body of music, with the sound found within a classic blend of heavy yet delicate IDM blended perfectly with iconic techno features; the textured and at times highly expressive 'The Braille' EP, that arrived in 1996; the superb sample EP 'Shifting Gears', that features three cuts which all appeared on the record we are reviewing today, which landed in 1996; the second superb sampler EP in the form of 'Black Buildings/EP', that arrived in 2000; and finally, the excellent 'Blue Science/Between Dubnotes' record that was released in 2006, and would represent Ollivierra's last piece of music to be released thus far. There was also a 2000 compilation record, 'Excerpts', that gathered some of Ollivierra's best works to that point in time. There's much to celebrate and unpack about the Detroit Escalator Company, in that the music that dwells deep within remains unique in its sound and its reach. It brings together some of the best elements that were conceived during the 90s electronica boom, morphing genres like IDM, ambient and future jazz into one seamless techno tinged odyssey, drawing power from many corners and centralising within the Motor City, where it all began. It feels full circle in that sense, a discography that stands so very tall indeed for its audial significance and quite simply outstanding musical content, a style that feels perfectly refined and bold still to this day. Ollivierra crafted a truly special thread, his own world that inhabits a incredibly broad space indeed, and one that we are all grateful for. Its an engrossing world, and its one we highly recommend getting to know, you really won't regret it.
And now we arrive at the subject of todays review, his debut as the Detroit Escalator Co., 'Soundtrack 313', that originally landed in 1996 on the UK techno label Ferox. In what is largely considered as his masterpiece, Ollivierra announced himself in the now global techno scene with a hauntingly emotional style that remains continually expanding and exploring, a meandering path that opened up to the inner workings of the mind, as he channelled the tonal excellence of Detroit techno with the hallmarks of genres such as IDM and ambient. The sound is pulled off flawlessly, resulting in 8 cuts that do much to take the breath away with their dexterity in production and their wide ranging feel that keeps the mind ticking over. Vivid, textured beyond belief, and hyper realised, its the stuff of cosmic meandering, the misty grey urban mornings, the sun kissed horizon of a landscape we imagine reflects the music in our minds, a soundtrack to our most blissed out mental excursions and zone outs. Its a one of a kind experience, and one that we cannot wait to dig our teeth into, so without further delay, lets get right into this......
Up first comes 'Gratiot', and we begin proceedings off with the hums and background noises of cars driving through the rain. This then gives way to the initial key line, one that chimes rhythmically in response to the opening audial sample, with its complexity quickly gathering steam as further layers and sequences align themselves with the movements forward. The melodic blend on top is highly infectious, ringing out across a wide open plain that begins to fill up with objects and elements, creating a sound board that leads into the drumming sequence with such excellence in sound and tone, with the percussion highly expressive and swinging in its beat structure. The hats and toms swirl on top, with the kicks driving the feel in the depths, as the key lines align themselves with the progressions moving onwards and upwards, spiralling around a core identity that wears its heart on its sleeve, with enough accommodation to allow us to imprint ourselves in the hypnotic flows of the cut with ease. The drums then slide away, as we move back into the audial sample that opened up proceedings, as we ease into the urban day, ready to soak up the inter activity and feels of it all. Stunner. Up next comes 'Abstract Forward Motion [As A Mission]', which begins in much more up tempo territories indeed. The argeggios and key sequences are distinctly toned up towards the higher range, moving to a wonderfully rhythmic pulse that resonates across the spectrum, panning between the left and right ever so slightly to give over a totality in sensory experience. The swirling chords that reside on the sides help to bookend the sounds within the middle, as light percussive features start to make their presence known underneath it all, lightly tapping away to the flow as they craft a subtle yet highly effective contrast to the overtly expressive synth lines. Little key lines and notes added in on top add further to the emotional feel of the track, a beautiful and highly charged sequence that speaks so much simply through its audial character. The drums build in intensity but only ever so slightly, becoming more full and solid as the track moves onwards but never reaching the full climax of sorts, simply residing in a softly evolving manner, that works perfectly alongside the delightful key work that carries itself so fucking well. That one was also a stunner. Up next comes 'Force', and we come into contact with our first feature length cut of the record. The track begins off in ominous sounding territories, with the bass note of sorts acting as a tempo setter, with light hats and other drumming features aligning themselves to the pulse, creating a highly intriguing audial environment indeed, with all those initial features creating a solid as hell bedrock for the melodic features to reside upon. The initial key sequence moves between the two notes before switching up between the scales, their outlay one that mimics beautifully the feel of the drums, as sweeping chords ring true out over the foundations, a call in the dark to us, a flickering light through the mists of the early morning. The track takes all the time in the world to gently undulate and unravel, often in the slightest of ways, such as the nature of the arrangement blooming before receding, or the faintest of percussive elements making their way into view, with the continual flow forward leading into the bass line coming more directly into our vision. By this point we are completely wrapped up in it all, and the movement into the final incarnation of the track is simply glorious, with some excellent sequences wrapping themselves around the pulse as we keep moving further onwards and upwards, our ascension confirmed as the clouds open up above to allow the suns rays to grace us on our journey onwards. An experience like no other.
Up next comes 'The Inverted Man [Falling]', and this one starts off in a very softly spoken soundscape indeed. The keys chime and pivot around the a non-existent rhythm, moving between two differing sequences that operate on differing octaves, providing a duality in the sounds evolution that swirls and wraps around the listener with its grace and elegance. The warmth that exists deep within the swells is genuine and heart felt to the maximum, transporting us to a purely visceral realm that flickers and resonates with light and tone, never for one moment fading away but simply persisting in its overall tone. A bass line aligns itself underneath it all, that adds another layer into the mix as the rhythmic journey carries itself onwards and upwards, looking to occupy a space somewhere in the outer reaches of time and space, where perhaps in a time warp the music has been playing out all this time. Irresistible. 'Tai Chi & Traffic Lights' comes on next, and it begins with the sampled sounds of the urban centre. This sample turns out to be a real flash in the pan, as the track quickly moves into the main melodic driver, which in terms of placement and overall progression resides in a very similar place to the previous cut, as the chiming notes and keys occupy the outer boundaries of the track, which provides an enormity of space to persist in the middle. The sequences are again made up of two layers, with the bassy tones occupying the bottom ends which begin the loop each time, and as it rises higher up the higher end delicacies come into view, which creates a swirling presence to the movements onwards. Its hypnotic to the point of inducing euphoria, a feel good atmosphere that contains so much to look at, to feel, to get to know, such is the excellent sound design and overall composition that persists with the comings and goings of the cut. And just like that, the urban dream state ends, as we descend into reality and all its busyness. Oh wow. 'Gathering Memory' slides into view next, and this track is bookmarked by a full length streetscape sample, from the sounds of it. It involves two people having a conversation about getting to a location, with Ollivierra happy to accommodate their conversation for a good minute and a half - which only adds to its charm - and suddenly we arrive into the keys we all knew were only moments away. The solid two chord progression that leads the way morphs and grows very quickly indeed to include a series of fast paced key sequences that ring out across the vast audial expanse, delightfully playing with the senses at every opportunity, as light drumming patterns softly murmur underneath the complex and rhythmic melodic tapestry. The track slows down around the half way mark, where the energetic key lines are somewhat broken down as the composition descends into an entirely different tone, with long elongated bass tones ringing out underneath more subtle key features. The backdrop becomes this almighty swell, one that rises and rises some more as the regulated melodic flourishes sparkle and shine in the glistening sun light, with the climax leading into this truly gorgeous plain where the beats cut out to focus on the strengths of that final swell, and like that the music cuts out. That one had hefty amounts of heart.
Up next comes '∆', and this one begins out with the reverbed drumming styles opening up to us. The blend is an expertly conceived one, where the congas craft a real sense of drive, but its the fucking texture on these that are so beautiful, a rich and continually evolving feel that fills up the spaces between with enthusiasm and grace. Its a near perfect set up for the keys, which arrive at just the right moment and provide some of the most blissed out feels you could possibly imagine, as they do so much by simply existing and moving through the progressions. Its simply glorious, a track that operates on multiple levels to provide an experience that shines so brightly, operates so majestically, and channels into the very core of all that Ollivierra looks to do with his music. Deeply textured, hauntingly tender, and above all else, soft and enveloping. Just stunning. To wrap things up on this incredible collection of music, we have 'Shifting Gears', that starts off at a whirlwind sprint in order to provide one final experience to take away. The drums are fast paced but gentle, the series of technological kicks and cymbals are blended together with rhythmic metallic sounds, with the overall picture one of blissed out electronics, which once more crafts a perfect stage for the keys to float into view. The chords and keys are suitably graceful, filled to the brim with all kinds of energies and tonal flourishes, as little variations flicker here and there, like when the sequence regulates itself as it moves through the lines and into a very special place indeed. We become completely entranced by the melodies, the tones and the feels of it all, the grace at which the gears shift and groove with the momentums is something to behold. Its a stunning end to a record filled with all kinds of experiences, where the balance between futurism and grounded emotional realities cross over so well with one another, a star kissed series of soundscapes that has no end in sight, no horizon left un turned or left behind, simply blissed out excursions into the nether regions of the sub conscious.
Ollivierra certainly had a vibe in mind when he started his production career, and whilst his other releases continually showcase his audial identity, this record stands perhaps above in terms of its sheer ambition and diversity in sonics. The amount of thought and care that went into each cut is staggering, to say the least, but it must be his pairing of Detroit techno with IDM and ambient that has left a significant legacy on todays artists. You hear so much of what is great about the contemporary scene in this record, such is its high technical level but also its wonderful emotional application, one that changes and evolves through each cut but always finds the time to accommodate our mental meanderings. A sublimity shines through with each passing second, a timeless expedition that is worth revisiting time and time again, just to see how you might feel when the record finishes - where did you project yourself to this time? for an album to do that every single time is pretty extraordinary, and it only seems possible when you approach music making lie Ollivierra did. A piece of brilliance, and easily up there with the best the decade had to offer.
Check out the record here: