VA: 20 F@#&ING Years - We Ain't Dead Yet
Planet E

To help celebrate Planet E's twenty years of operation, label head Carl Craig has assembled a massive ‘best of' compilation whose digital-only release will be followed by a competition that'll allow people to determine the track list for a limited-edition vinyl box set to be released in early summer. The sheer wealth and volume of music on offer in the wryly titled digital collection is incredible, with the twenty-five selections (almost all of it drawn from the label's deep catalogue) totaling 200 minutes, and Moodymann, Kenny Larkin, Martin Buttrich, Jona, Innerzone Orchestra, and Craig himself are just a few of the artists featured in what must be regarded as an essential addition to any electronic dance music devotee's library (Craig figures into a fair amount of the material as he contributes tracks under a number of aliases, including 69, Paperclip People, and Tres Demented).

The pieces are as sleek and polished as one would expect, associated as they are with f the Detroit techno tradition. Taut grooves and rolling bass lines keep up a pounding pitter-patter throughout with chattering drum machines, spacey synths, and scatterings of voice and percussion accents providing ear-catching ornamentation. Certain tracks stand out as especially noteworthy. Martin Buttrich's “Full Clip,” for one, plays like the entire history of Detroit techno distilled into a single, twelve-minute cut. In classic fashion, Buttrich gradually adds layers of synths, strings, claps, and percussion until the swelling sound mass grows more intense with each passing moment. Drop-outs and build-ups occur and re-occur as syncopated rhythms morph into furiously swinging grooves and peaks are repeatedly reached—tension and release never sounded so good. Craig's “Dominas,” a head-rush of neo-trance design, arcs across the sky for eleven minutes in a stream of blinding synthetic radiance as a hypnotic bass pulse repeats down below. What elevates the piece above the collection's other tracks is the tone of melancholy, even heartbreak that persists throughout—a textbook example of dance music's ability to encompass a spectrum of emotions within a single piece of music. A few of the selections bring the label's jazzier leanings to the forefront, such as Jona's (Jonathan Troupin) “Altiplano” where trumpet showers cascade down upon the track's bass-thudding pulse and Tour de France-styled beat pattern. Innerzone Orchestra's (Craig with Craig Taborn and Francisco Mora Catlett) “Bug in the Bassbin” likewise opts for a jazzier approach, in this case a robust throwdown powered by a thrumming drum attack and smothered in wailing synth smears.

69's “Jam The Box” wraps its unstoppable wave of charging rhythms and repeating title chant in a warm synth blanket, Moodymann's (Kenneth Dixon Jr.) “Dem Young Sconies” strips its electro-throb to the bone, Dwele's vocal presence helps turn Recloose's (Matthew Chicoine) “Can't Take It” into a hard-rocking soul-funk ride, and Urban Tribe (Sherard Ingram) contributes a tight jam (“Covert Action”) and jittery workout, all hyperative keyboard noodling and fidgety drum patterns (“Repeating Decimal”). Fiery Detroit techno and house tracks abound (the raging storm that is 4th Wave's “Electroluv” and glorious ride that is Quadrant's thunderous “Hyperprism”), plus there's no shortage of pounding electro techno (Future/Past's “Clinically Inclined”) and spacey future-funk (Flexitone's “Pulse of Revolution”). Anyone planning on listening to the release in its entirety better have an evening free of appointments, as many of the tracks receive extended workouts with seven of them in the ten-minute-plus range. Eleven minutes of Lazy Fat People's (Raphaël Ripperton and Mirko Loko) “Club Silencio” might seem like too much of a good thing, but the cut's buoyant and breezy groove, repeated “silencio” utterances, and well-timed mutations stave off boredom (as engrossing as its galaxial travels are, fourteen minutes of the Paperclip People's “Clear & Present” ends up being a few too many). The release falters a bit as it moves into its final laps—I could live without hearing again the piercing tribal wails of Tres Demented's wild divebomber “Demented or Just Crazy” and the over-the-top vocal delivery that despoils “Shez Satan”—but such missteps can't diminish one's enthusiasm for the release as a whole.

April 2011