The nineties was alive with diverse music scenes and subcultures, and one of the most influential and abiding was the UK techno scene emerging from underground clubs and basements. The UK was full of electronic pioneers who brought techno to new musical heights and expanded its reach beyond their shores. These five records are apt for both long, nocturnal train journeys and a bit of dancing. Here’s where to start with UK 90s techno.
Fluke – Risotto
In the first two tracks of Fluke’s masterwork, there is a pulsating, exciting atmosphere, like a techno/trip-hop fusion. The grand and space-like auras of ‘Absurd’ and ‘Atom Bomb’ led them to be used in a variety of platforms. The former appeared in Sin City and a Volkswagen commercial while the latter gained fame from the 1979 Wipeout soundtrack. But Risotto quickly changes course with a couple of dreamy / hypnotic beats. A lot of these tracks are remixes of cuts from their previous release Oto and the Beaconsfield dance supremos hardly put a foot wrong here. There is superb use of breakbeats and arpeggiators making each number straightforward, sleek and a tad hypnotic.
Leftfield – Leftism
The London duo’s first studio album fuses elements of dub, trance and drum & bass, adding up to an eclectic listen. The guest vocals fit seamlessly within the multitudinous context of the record; John Lydon, Yanka Rupkina and Toni Halliday from Curve all make forceful cameos. Leftism is regarded as a milestone in the electronic / dance scene. All of its ingredients – the tribal drums and epic synths – raise it to spectacular heights. It boasts slower beats than these other records but they are equally enthralling with their tempo shifts and taut sequencing.
The Orb – Orblivion
This is less of a techno album and more an intergalactic exercise of noise, where the music trucks along in a slippery yet dexterous fashion. Orblivion’s release was delayed due to Island Records’ desire to bill it as a follow-up U2’s Pop. It is replete with oddball quirks and strange vocal samples. ‘S.A.L.T.’ is based on snippets from Mike Leigh’s seminal film Naked. The Orb were always fond of supernatural themes and all the otherworldly noises here sound like they could come from a U.F.O. So while Orblivion may sound like the apocalypse, it does so in the most resplendent and unusual manner.
Orbital – In Sides
Perhaps Orbital’s greatest strength is their ability to arrange a panoply of ideas and never sound claustrophobic. This 1996 classic saw them stray further away from the rave scene. In Sides is industrial and intricate. It evokes the theme of ecology; the opener ‘The Girl With The Sun In Her Head’ was recorded using only solar power and the stellar ‘Dwr Budr’ means ‘dirty water’ in Welsh. This is the most engaging of Orbital’s efforts – it has a pretty yet tenebrous quality. Alison Goldfrapp appears on three of the tracks with warped wailing. Orbital will play The Beatyard in Dun Laoghaire later this year, so let’s hope they blast out a few tunes from In Sides.
Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman
Some may only know Underworld as the band that shouted “lager, lager, lager” but they do have a fine discography. Karl Hyde’s lyrics here are seedy and lusty, but always compelling. ‘Dirty Epic’ is just what its title suggests – a sprawling 10-minute beauty where twinkling pianos enter as the track reaches its apex. Dubnobass was part of the band’s second phase where they shifted from rock to electronic – although it appeals to indie heads as well as techno cognoscenti. Hyde’s voice is often obfuscated but never detrimentally so and there is a lot of intriguing bass on here. ‘Cowgirl’ with its synthesised bass and filtered vocals is a riveting club banger.