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Artist: Basic Channel

Album: BCD-2

Label: Basic Channel

Review date: Jul. 21, 2008


Basic Channel - "Phylyps Trak" (BCD-2)


It's been a good year for techno reissues. Such a good year, in fact, that it’s hard to see the spate of reissues – from Mille Plateaux landmarks like Wolfgang Voigt’s work as GAS and Vladislav Delay’s Anima on the minimal end of the continuum, to Rephlex’s re-up of 808 State’s Quadrastate on the acid house end – simply as responses to scarcity and rising demand. As Simon Reynolds notes in a recent review for Frieze, "the monumentality of the [GAS] box set asserts for techno what is a routine claim for rock: this music will stand the test of time." But one potential side-effect of reissues like these – one which colors BCD-2, a compilation of Basic Channel tracks available only on vinyl for over 10 years – is that, in securing these albums' historical status, they trade raw analog mystery for digital ubiquity.

Yet it's hard to take issue with music like this being made more available. It’s equally difficult to make the argument that the music has lost any of its mystique – this is some of the hardest, most unyielding techno ever made, and at its best, remains pretty inexhaustible nearly a quarter century later. The shortest of the six tracks compiled here is two seconds shy of 10 minutes long; the longest, "Inversion," is over 17. But even for home listening, this kind of length only highlights the technological limitations of the medium rather than signaling a necessary formal one – even at twice their length, these tracks would be no less compelling. With music like this, routine expectations of catharsis give way to a sense of post-human discipline: these are extremely "centralized" tracks. This resonates with another of Reynolds’ claims: that techno subculture in the 1990s “saw itself as both a vanguard and an underground,” and its rhetoric, following suit, “was full of appeals to ‘belief’ and paramilitary imagery.” "Enforcement," the first Basic Channel track ever, most overtly evokes images of a techno militia, sounding not unlike a techno response to Throbbing Gristle's "Discipline." A moiré pattern made by two static-filtered TR-303 basslines and a martial kick drum are the core of the song, but the focus is less on the standard interaction of instruments than on the way the elements are forged into a uniform alloy – at moments, it’s difficult to figure out what instrument is playing which role. While it may be an effect of the recording, mixing, or mastering technologies available at the time, BCD-2’s sonic imprint has minimal distinction between instruments, allowing the roles of kick, synth, hi-hat, and everything else to invert and drift in rhythmic cycles independent of each other before falling, briefly, into lock-step.

BCD-2 slims down and limbers up, getting closer to minimal, as its selections move forward chronologically. Placing the final track, “Phylyps Trak II/II,” beside the original “Phylyps Trak,” (this compilation’s second track), yields few continuities. The former, a bassdrum-and-hi-hat workout, lays the foundation for Villalobos’ career, while the latter is an unstoppable metallic force, one with a sense of development and space wholly its own. Changes here aren’t imposed from the outside, in order to make the track conform to established ideas of song development; instead, the slightly mismatched, alien rhythms of the accompaniment are lassoed together by an assertive kick, making for a dark, roiling unity.

The name of the project itself is elemental – Basic Channel is a conduit for a self-generating system, and the duo behind the moniker clearly relish its genericness and anonymity. And while, on the one hand, it may just be the latest bit of techno reissue activity for 2008, on the other, there’s no reason not to act as if it were being released for the first time here. This is music that breaks the frames of whatever context it’s placed in. Some people think we’re in a particularly gloomy phase of techno; this may indeed be the case, but for many, BCD-2 alone will be reason enough to believe (again) in beats.

By Brandon Bussolini

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