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Music Review: Various Artists – Electrospective: Electronic Music Since 1958 and Electrospective: The Remix Album

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The world of electronic music is an endlessly fascinating one. The inherent experimentalism of the form made it a favorite tool of avant-garde composers for decades. But since the ’70s and (especially) the ‘80s, electronic music has found great success on the charts. The new various-artists collection Electrospective is a celebration of electronic music through the eyes of EMI Music and associated labels Mute and Virgin. It is a wonderful 15-track trip through the circuitry.

Electrospective opens with the iconic “Doctor Who Theme,” by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is finally being recognized for just how brilliant it was. While I know that every Doctor Who fan has this theme indelibly stamped in their DNA, it is just one example of the incredible creativity that the Workshop was known for. For those who are interested in more of this groundbreaking early electronic music, check out both The BBC Radiophonic Workshop – A Retrospective, and The Oram Tapes Volume One by Daphne Oram.

The title track of Brian Eno’s first solo album Here Come the Warm Jets is next, and provides a wonderful glimpse into what a person with such a great deal to say could do with such a “cold” instrument as a synthesizer. The myth of electronic music being a sterile and unemotional format is proven completely false with this 1974 song.

Dare was the breakout album for The Human League, with the worldwide smash “Don’t You Want Me?” Thankfully, the powers that be chose a lesser known track off that album to represent the League here though, and give us “The Thing That Dreams Are Made Of.” Dare was released in 1981, and kicked off the biggest decade for electronic music yet. Also released that year was the self-titled debut of Duran Duran, represented here by “Planet Earth.”

Picking just 15 songs to represent over 50 years of music had to have been a thankless task, and we must remember that this is a commercial project, meant to sell a few copies out there in the marketplace. The fact that any of us could probably name another 100 tunes we would have liked to have seen on here is kind of a moot point. But one song that I think everyone could agree on is “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys. It is an insanely memorable piece of music, and kicked off one of the longest careers of anyone in the field.

Daft Punk and Air are two of my favorite electronic artists, and both began in the ‘90s. Electrospective features early tracks from each. “Around the World” is off Daft Punk’s Homework, and “Kelly Watch the Stars” first appeared on Air’s Moon Safari.

Radiohead rang in Y2K with what I believe to be their finest effort, Kid A. It is a massive sound-sculpture, in the guise of a pop record. “Everything in Its Right Place” is the track included here. As the new millennium progressed, so too did the music. For a reminder of what made Gorillaz such an integral part of the scene, give “Dare” a listen, which first appeared on their 2005 Demon Days release. The most recent entry is Swedish House Mafia’s “One,” from their 2010 Until One disc.

Electrospective is a cool collection, no doubt about it, but there is a second component as well. One of the great, and truly original forms of electronic music is the remix. Electrospective: The Remix Album is an 11-track compilation of remixes spanning the years 1984-2010.

As Bill Brewster points out in his liner notes, the remix has been around since (at least) the late ’60s. Jamaican producers like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry remixed reggae and ska records into versions that went far beyond the originals, and into the land of dub. But the remix really came into its own with the advent of disco, and the long extended tracks that kept people on the dancefloor for hours.

This DJ-led revolution was taken into the studio, and by the early ’80s, nearly every hit single was issued as a 12-inch, complete with a couple of remixes on the “B” side. Electrospective: The Remix Album charts this development, beginning with “Talking Loud and Clear” by Orchestral Movements in the Dark. This extended mix makes a great song even greater, and is a nice introduction to what the collection is all about.

Another ’80s highlight is the remix of Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance,” by Kevin Saunderson. The full credit is “Kevin Saunderson’s Techno Stance Remix I,” and the early techno/house sound is in full effect. In a way, this is one of the most dated tracks on the whole set, yet it remains an excellent listen.

Even wilder is the treatment Simple Minds get with their “Love Song (Shredded Beat Mix)” by Philadelphia Bluntz. The tune is almost unrecognizable in this form, which is exactly the point. These days, the DJ is the artist, with the original providing only the barest of reference points.

The Remix Album closes with the 2010 Tinie Tempah song “Pass Out (SBTRKT Remix).” Much like Philadelphia Bluntz, SBTRKT make the track their own, and take it in a direction that is quite a ways removed from the Tinie Tempah version.

Both Electrospective and The Remix Album provide the listener with a peak into the worlds of electronic music, in a variety of forms. They are but the tip of the iceberg though, for this is a form of music with a long and rich history, and one which is worthy of further investigation.

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