Terminal Vibration: Melting Machines

Man-Machine Rhythms
Man-machine rhythms melting into the night...

There's a few things I noticed while compiling the Terminal Vibration anthology on Cheap Hotel, things that had been swirling in the background for some time before finally coming into focus. They all center around the idea of the 1980s as the decade when the liquid, telepathic grooves of funk and krautrock melt into dance music's sprawling electronic trip. Giving the drummer some inevitably led to breakbeats getting fed into Akais, recontextualized in the vibrant interzone between hip hop and rave, just as musicians locking into disco's tantric pulse will ultimately (and inevitably) bring you face to face with acid house.

Tackhead Strange Things SBK

I'm talking about the way the rubberband grooves worked up by live groups like Talking Heads/Eno/Byrne and Funkadelic (synth genius Bernie Worrell involved in both, of course) are gradually mirrored by the sequenced machine music of Hashim and the Jungle Brothers. To my mind, the year 1985 is the axis on which it all hinges. One could almost draw a line down the middle of the decade, with Tackhead/Fats Comet/Maffia's machine-inflected post punk as the axis around which everything else falls into place. By the end of the decade, they'd even drafted Bernard Fowler (of the N.Y.C. Peech Boys) as lead singer for a pair of records that seemed to scramble the entirety of the 1980s through the day-glo cyberpunk prism of The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, resulting in true parallax horizon music that hinted at Seal's early sound and would later culminate in the Strange Parcels record and Bomb The Bass' Clear.

Prince Sign "O" The Times Paisley Park

When it comes to merging man with machine in the sonic space, it's hard to beat Prince, who was arguably to the eighties what Bowie was to the prior decade. Leaping from the brittle new wave funk of 1980's Dirty Mind to 1999's increasingly machine-driven rhythms in the space of just two years, he wound up the decade by synthesizing the perfect hybrid of both sides of the coin with records like Sign "O" The Times and Lovesexy. One can certainly hear the next decade of RnB flowing right through the former with routes stretching out into everything from Teddy Riley and Jodeci to The Neptunes and Rodney Jerkins (not to mention D'Angelo and Terence Trent D'Arby!).

Big Audio Dynamite Megatop Phoenix Columbia

Sweeping back across the Atlantic, in some strange sort of parallel Mick Jones seemed to find himself at the very cusp of the zeitgeist again and again throughout the decade. Ringing in the decade with The Clash's Sandinista!, a rich, multifaceted record of day-glo new wave post punk dance drenched dub, he closed it with the kaleidoscopic post-Second Summer Of Love masterpiece Megatop Phoenix (the best indie dance record ever). In between, he put out records on Def Jam (Big Audio Dynamite's The Bottom Line) and brought the sampler into the charts, even featuring a post-Rip Rig & Panic/pre-solo career Neneh Cherry across multiple music videos. Usually decades don't break down so neatly, but 1985's This Is Big Audio Dynamite is another key record that seems to bisect the decade with its visionary approach to sound.

Kate Bush The Dreaming EMI

Of course Kate Bush had her own mind-bending Fairlight excursions even earlier on 1982's The Dreaming, even if they didn't hit the charts until three years later alongside B.A.D. with Hounds Of Love. The Dreaming itself is a bracing, one-of-a-kind listen, with threads leading out toward the avant garde of Holger Hiller, the arty pop of Japan/David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel, and even the electro-tinged productions Jam & Lewis later unveiled on Janet Jackson's Control, it's one of the key signposts of the decade. And I still need to touch on my whole theory that leads from Janet Jackson to Neneh Cherry (by way of Sinéad O'Connor), which is a whole other story.

Ryuichi Sakamoto B-2 Unit Alfa

There's this whole avant pop wing of the eighties exemplified by Ryuichi Sakamoto's Forbidden Colours (featuring David Sylvian) and Talk Talk that's of a piece with Ms. Bush's work. Sakamoto in particular gets into extraordinarily far-reaching territory right at the dawn of the decade with 1980's B-2 Unit, which features the unmatchable Riot In Lagos, sounding like the blueprint for The Black Dog ten years ahead of schedule. It's one of those records that laugh cruelly at the idea of synths aging poorly, and like contemporary Suicide and Thomas Leer, seem to exist out of time.

Wally Badarou Echoes Island

The logical conclusion of all this furiously innovative activity is an explosion of electronic dance music as a form in its own right, a sub-kingdom within the body pop encompassing everything from electro to house, techno and utterly unclassifiable records like Wally Badarou's Echoes. All of which come — surprise, surprise — at the midpoint of the decade (even if electro had already been kicking up a storm for a couple years by then). One could argue that the entire dance music explosion of the nineties could be traced back to this point, tracing a jagged line from The Egyptian Lover to The Prodigy.

Mr. Fingers Ammnesia Jack Trax

Early house records like Mr. Fingers' Can You Feel It, Jamie Principle's Waiting On My Angel and Jungle Wonz's The Jungle, which all poured out of Chicago around this time, were mirrored by early Detroit techno like Model 500's Night Drive Thru-Babylon, Rhythim Is Rhythim's Nude Photo and Reese & Santonio's The Sound, while killer electro like Hashim's Primrose Path and The Egyptian Lover's On The Nile sprung up from the coasts to build on the foundation of Planet Rock. These records all managed to build entire worlds from a spartan combination of synths, drum machines and sequencers, opening up exciting possibilities for a generation of would-be bedroom visionaries.

Marley Marl In Control Volume 1 Cold Chillin'

All of which brings us to hip hop, the other big sonic revelation that seemed to reach its tipping point in 1985 with Run-D.M.C.. I can think of no better illustration of the point I'm trying to make here than rap's evolution from the live funk jams of the Sugar Hill rhythm section through the hardcore machine rhythm matrix of Mantronix, Code Money and Orange Krush to ultimately come full circle to Marley Marl splitting the atom with his sampler. All those early Pop Art/Prism/Cold Chillin' records, featuring a slew of charismatic MCs like Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie and Roxanne Shanté (and later personal favorites like Masta Ace and Kool G Rap) paved the way for the likes of the De La Soul and The Dust Brothers' mad sampladelic tapestries. The blueprint for the nineties, in other words, when funk was reworked from scratch backwards until the machines would have their day again...

Which in a round about way, manages to both rewind back to My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and fast-forward to the future... but more on that to come.

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