Like science fiction, techno can elicit automatic cringes when dropped as a descriptor in mixed company. Haters give explanations that aren’t really explanations much like vocabulary that doesn’t add up to an argument: it’s repetitive, boring, either icy and alienating or overblown and dramatic, frequently both at once. It’s a weird scene. They seem to use drugs in a way that’s both corny-sensual and ego-destroying. Ironically though, in our irony-saturated discourse, the word may be redundant with the arrival of digital ubiquity, techno is remarkable not for its insistence on a placeless, distanceless future, but on space, duration, history, and a certain quality of experience and memory that seems purged from the hyper-compressed torrent of pre-nostalgized bloghouse jams.
You can’t say Carl Craig’s name without the word "techno" slipping out of your mouth. As part of Detroit’s second wave of techno producers, he refined and extended the future-shock innovation of Juan Atkins’ and Richard Davis’ work as Cybotron under a number of monikers. Now an expat living in Berlin, Craig most recently released under his own name and excluding this year’s remix compilation, Sessions (Studio !K7) 1997’s More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art on his own Planet E label. Demon Days, a roving club night that Craig has been hosting since 2005 with New York’s DJ Gamall better known as the guy who runs PR agency Backspin and a former member of Genesis P-Orridge’s postindustrial pranksters Psychic TV offers a partial explanation of what else he’s been up to in the interim.
Even if Craig had remained silent after the release of More Songs instead of cranking out remixes and collaborations, his reputation would be secure: neither dance music nor trad techno, its tracks build and decay with patience and attention to nuance that’s still unlike anything this side of Berlin’s Basic Channel. And like that group’s work, More Songs‘ futurism hasn’t curdled into camp, and its moods are still penetrable, if odd at first. Despite the abundance of paramilitary imagery in 1990s techno a tradition that traces back to Throbbing Gristle’s marriage of brutality and abject satire, an early influence on both Craig and Gamall the album’s cover art literally explicates Craig’s vision of revolution as a basically a mental one. It’s unmistakably a home-listening record, much like this year’s Deutsche Grammophon-approved Recomposed, which appropriately finds Craig collaborating with Basic Channel’s Moritz Von Oswald, reworking orchestral pieces by Ravel and Mussorgsky into tentative, if fleetingly brilliant, new configurations that exist somewhere between minimal techno and the classical minimalism of Steve Reich, Terry Riley, et al.
Little if any of this material is likely to make it into Craig’s or Gamall’s set, which will probably highlight electro-historical bangers, their own remixes, and forthcoming releases from Planet E. But considering the general availability of the means of electronic music production your cracked Ableton Live setup or the Roland TR-303 bass synth you downloaded to your iPhone the fact that these guys know how pacing, thoughtfulness, and lineage inform, rather than detract, from body-rocking, their sets should act as a reminder. That is to say, you can come to engage with the tradition within techno that remains autonomous from the auto-nostalgic, meta-authentic economy of bloghouse/indie or you can come to just dance.
This is electro music without hipster runoff’s signature, meaning-void stamp, "///miss u//." The omissions in their sets, not to mention an utter lack of MP3s, should be enough to make you think twice before unloading another mash-up on the world or listening to Justice’s wack Fabric mix. There is another world, people, and while it doesn’t escape being flawed, stupid, and fatally self-conscious like the indie-bred one that seems to control the Internet, you can at least pour your enthusiasms into this one without worrying about backlash. (Brandon Bussolini)
With Carl Craig, Space Time Continuum, and Gamall
Thurs/11, 10 p.m., $14 advance
444 Jessie, SF