Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Album | 16 May 1992 | Photo: Joe Dilworth


Derrick May will not just be remembered as the guy who called Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson "a flat-arsed muthafucker" during a heated exchange at last year's New Music Seminar. Way back in 1986, you see, when Detroit oddball May released his first record, he also released one of the first techno records. Respect.

Six years on and techno has become a constantly changing soundtrack for the drive towards the 21st Century, an experiment to locate the perfect groove. And then to rip it up and start again. Which is why the formula rave acts queueing up to get on "Top Of The Pops" have about as much to do with techno as Ozzy Osbourne.

"Relics" is something else entirely. Featuring no less than 27 musical probes beyond the ultraworld (including 10 30-second long "intervals") and with a total running time of 80 minutes, "Relics" is Derrick May at his most innovative.

Although the album is mostly May's work under the names Rhythim Is Rhythim and Mayday, it also boasts tracks by Juan Atkins and James Pennington (both part of the original Detroit crew, alongside May and Inner City's Kevin Saunderson) and young blood Carl Craig. May, however, is never far from the mixing desk. A tweak here, a twist there, and Craig's wispy "Evolution" flaunts the same adventurous spirit as Rhythim's gritty "Beyond The Dance". This spirit is the only real connection between any of the cuts.

"Beyond The Dance" certainly supports Simon Reynolds' recent comment that "techno literally rages", but elsewhere May shows remarkable subtlety. There is head music as well as tunes to pump up your lungs. Take "Strings Of Life", a track Altern 8 unashamedly ripped off on their last single and one of several familiar tunes to be given a fresh dimension on this LP. Without the thumping beats, the synthesised violins circle and soar ever upwards. The result is more emotional than physical.

"MS6", a 1992 mix of another classic, Mayday's "It Is What It Is", and the brand spanking new "Wiggan" are different again. The former is a colourful Latin shuffle, a real meltdown under the midday sun, the latter an ingenious pop tune. Meanwhile, "A Relic", "Another Relic" and "Relic II", credited to Long Ago, Long Long Ago and (wait for it) Longer Than Long Ago respectively, are fluid dreamscapes. The aural dynamics, the way the sounds are carefully but never clinically sculptured, is pure Kraftwerk. The reference had to be made sooner or later.

All in all, "Relics" is mighty classy. It could even be described as the ultimate techno album, were that not an obvious contradiction. Upwards and onwards.

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