20
Feb 02

Must be a slow day in music…

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Must be a slow day in music… I suspect I’ll always be a bit baffled by the canonization of Richard D. James as the Most Innovative Electronic Artist of the 90s. (Saying this, mind, as someone who owns nearly everything the man’s put out, excepting the last album: I dodged that train wreck thank god.)

In regards to the claim: “it’s easy to forget that, back in the Warp Records heyday, Richard D. James was to this new breed of ambient and electronic music what Babe Ruth was to baseball.” Well, if we’re talking runs batted in, I’d have to guess that both Chill Out and …Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld sold more copies (although I certainly don’t have the sales figures to back it up.) I’d also argue that their impact was more immediate, their scope broader, and their followers almost nonexistent (especially in the case of The KLF,) owing to the uniqueness of the product.

I will concede that his influence was far reaching, although not necessarily for the good; IDM – as we know it – would certainly not exist without James. Part of this comes down to his own mythologizing of himself: the mad bedroom scientist from Cornwall, soldering his own circuit boards and riding around in a tank. It goes right back to the cheeky title of the album at hand – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 – oh, go on Richard. The lone-figure myth divorces him from his contemporaries, where he was obviously drawing inspiration.

Listen to Johnny L’s ‘Hurt You So’ or 4Hero’s ‘Journey From the Light.’ In the case of the former, acid squelches (or something that sounds like them anyway), wistful melody, and breakbeats. The latter, a beautiful synthetic string arrangement and manic beats, although not so manic (and body-boggling) as ‘Girl/Boy Song.’ There was, for an ever-brief period, even a Richard D. James who ‘stooped’ enough to produce something like ‘Powerpill Pacman’, which became a rave-era classic.

Of course, that’s hardly his best tune; the childish willfulness that drives him to create tracks like ‘Girl/Boy’ and ‘Windowlicker’ is actually his greatest strength. And his particular cult of personality is probably the closest that stodgy old IDM will ever come to a celebrity. In the face of the blinkered critical attitudes that put him there — still ignoring the early 90s dance ferment which served to nurture him as much as Eno or Stockhausen, ‘forgetting’ the fact that so many of his thrilling bastardizations are pop-parasitic — it’s still a bit frustrating.

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