Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Basic Channel - BCD-2

When I visited the Hard Wax record store in the mid- nineteennineties, it was something of a pilgrimage to Techno's tabernacle.

The Berlin Wall had fallen only a few years before and Berlin was in the middle of a process of rejuvenation, in the middle of an explosive transformation: it was the hottest, most exciting building site in Europe. I remember advertising billboards in Berlin pronouncing a "Real Existierende Futurismus" (a parody of DDR propaganda pronouncing a "Real Existierende Sozialismus").

Techno - understood not only as a musical genre, but also as a socio-cultural movement - was indissolubly linked to Berlin's futuristic transformation. Even though it originated in Detroit, Techno was able to flower in the many "No Man's Land" areas of the reunited city, such as the vaults of the former old Wertheim department store, where the legendary Tresor nightclub used to be located. It was as if the remains of the static, over-regulated, bureaucratic, official DDR society provided the fuel that made Techno burn. Techno's fire gave vitality and youth to Europe, which for a fleeting moment seemed to become more than a mere administrative community.

Within the Techno community, there was a group of musicians which was not only a Techno production team and record label, but which was also in a sense a secret society: Basic Channel.

Not that the identities of these musicians was unknown. Despite the scarcity of print publicity and the fact that their releases contained an absolute minimum of information, it was well known that Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus were the driving forces behind that Techno production team and record label. But they were secretive in the sense that their craft in creating dub-infected Techno from distortion, from vinyl scratches, from needle-dirt, was as mysterious as that of Blacksmiths who were considered a sect of magicians in pre-Christian times.

Like many brotherhoods, orders, secret societies and churches before them, Basic Channel marked themselves as different from the wider (in this case, Techno) community: the uniform design of the products of the record label Basic Channel and subsequent imprints such as Chain Reaction and Burial Mix served to distinguish them and to give the releases a common identity.

The activism with which this 'secret society' initiated new members into the mysteries of its craft has transformed contemporary Dance and Electronica. To this day, more than ten years after Basic Channel started its activities, new acolytes make it to the top lists of music critics and of distros such as Boomkat: Skull Disco, Pole, Echospace and Rod Modell, Claro Intellecto, 2562, Gas, Burial, Peverelist, Vadislav Delay and Monolake are just a few of the faithful.

The Hard Wax store with it's bare-bricks, minimalist aesthetics was more than the office and record store of Basic Channel, it was to German Techno what 'Helvete' was to Norwegian Black Metal, it was German Techno's Holy of Holies. It was almost hidden away in a sombre apartment block, without any clear indication of the fact that the store was inside on the block's entrance. One had to ascend several flights of stairs and traverse a corridor to find the shop, feeling one was making a passage along a trajectory without the usual signposts, almost blindly. Crossing the store's treshold, many felt a sense of relief an triumph at having arrived at Techno's ritual center, hidden away from the uninitiated in the urban wilderness.

Basic Channel BCD-2 features full length versions of six of the Basic Channel’s landmark releases, originally brought out on vinyl between 1993 and 1995. The six tracks are much more dancefloor-oriented than the releases on Chain Reaction, close to the pioneering work of Jeff Mills. However - like the later releases - the tracks are quite long: altogether the cd lasts a full 80 minutes, each track clocking at well over 10 minutes. Stark, hypnotic, propulsive, rousing, the music on BCD-2 can only be called "perfect Techno".

The six tracks are Techno in concentrate, abstract minimalism in it's purest state.

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