If we're going aerodynamic, what better way to begin than with this 12" promo that bubbled up from Tony Thorpe's Language imprint way back in 1996? Its four tracks preceded the Miscellaneous: The 2nd compilation, a label round-up that followed on the heels of the previous year's first entry in the series. As essayed on both discs, the Language vision clearly predicted the whole freestyle aesthetic and the various future jazz permutations dance music would take at the turn of the century. Of course, this all makes perfect sense when you factor in the presence of Tony Thorpe, who cut an inspired path across the course of the preceding decade.
Starting out with avant funk outfit 400 Blows (responsible for the Terminal Vibration staple Declaration Of Intent), he swiftly moved toward the dancefloor with early British house records like King Of The Funky Zulus and Journey Into Dubland (both 1990), released as The Moody Boys. The trancelike ambient/acid house hybrid of Voyager's Transmission (1993) hinted at the breadth of Thorpe's dancefloor vision, as did The Moody Boys' full-length Product Of The Environment (1994), but when the Language unveiled itself in 1995, it seemed to come from somewhere else altogether... out-there music for out-there people.
This is borne out most clearly on the 2nd Edition EP, which opens with the ambient jungle of Phume's We R Walking. The version offered up here is a sleeker fusion than the Original Mix that wound up making the cut for the Miscellaneous: The 2nd compilation. The most obvious point-of-reference is Parallel Universe-era 4 Hero, down to the synth washes, gently skittering breaks, wailing diva and even those tattoos of electronic brass that dance across the track with weightless abandon.
With Decal's 80's Funky, it's immediately clear that we're going all over the map with this promo. Coming on like a vintage, more organic take on The Black Dog's sound circa Spanners, its unstable rhythms literally trip across the brittle bassline to break into a canter, while digital percussion taps out in — true to its title — an eighties-style frenzy.
Exemplifying the sort of strange combinations that would frequently sneak out of the unlit corridors of the era's electronic music, it also outlines an impulse that routes not only back to the — yes — 80s of Terminal Vibration, but also to the myriad permutations pop music took in the 1970s (jazz funk, kosmische, dub reggae, prog, MPB, post punk, etc.).
Similarly strange is March Of Osiris, which closes the record by bringing the tempo way down to a strange waltz-like jazz downbeat. Right from the opening massed choir, its clear that we're recieving transmissions from the space age bachelor pad, with all the visions of Esquivel and pre-sixties swinging hipsterism that entails. Driven by subterranean bass and a massive beat, it even slips into some Take Five piano chopping up against the rhythm. The outfit responsible is the abstract hip hop trio Elixir, whose debut album The Phobos Incident came out on Language one year later.
However, the undeniable highlight, the indisputable gem of the EP is Buckfunk 3000's immortal Buckfunk Discotheque. A squelching slab of post-acid odyshape techno, it marches along on a jagged 4/4 while machine gun snares tap in rapid fire between, kicking the beat in and out of shape freely. The whole thing just sits there on the dancefloor, quivering like a mutant glob of electronic jello, while synths rev in an out of gear, cowbells ring, and a duet of keyboards tap out an alien jazz all their own. It's an absolute masterpiece, and this is the only place you can get it.
Buckfunk 3000 was perhaps the most famous alias of one Si Begg, who typically plied a sort of fidgety, abstract dance perched midway between big beat electro and house (as on First Class Ticket To Telos). The closest comparison might be something like contemporary Ken Ishii circa Metal Blue America. I especially dig S.I. Futures' The Mission Statement, from 2001, which offered up an even more abstract, fully-realized take on the Si Begg sound. Killer material, no doubt, but I'd trade it all for another Buckfunk Discotheque.
I first heard the thing on Ken Ishii's X-Mix: Fast Forward & Rewind, lodged between Coldcut's Atomic Moog 2000 and Flare's DIR.R, and even in such strange, rareified company it was a clear stand out. This is what techno is all about. Appropriately enough, it also appeared on Stacey Pullen's equally great DJ-Kicks (where it was miscredited as Phume's We R Walking), setting the stage for that mix's abstract mid-section.
No matter the setting, Buckfunk Discotheque is truly one-of-a-kind, a masterpiece of deconstructed techno. Between you and me, I wish there were a whole brace of dance music in this vein — particularly in the here and now — wickedly strange techno bursting at the seams, rather than resting comfortably between the lines of templates drawn up years ago.
Of course, it's perfectly fitting that this gem would slip through tucked away on 12" promo, along with other great moments like the Inner Zone Mix of Yennek's Serena "X", a testament to the sheer amount of innovation going on at the time. Circa 1997, this is what the future sounded like, and in 2020, it still sounds unlike anything else around.