Article from issue:

Image: The Wire #150 August 1996

The Conduit

Why sign up?

Add Remove

Underground Resistors

Image: Basic Channel
The musicians behind Germany's mysterious Basic Channel label are Techno-archaeologists, anonymous electricians inhabiting the wired-up cities of Berlin and Detroit. Biba Kopf tracks down the invisible men of electronic music
Much has been made of the mechanical side of Techno. What of its sentient aspect? The Basic Channel CD, and utterly absorbing, if somewhat misleading, document of the Berlin label's story so far, is positively crawling with lifeforms. Opening with groaning, protean, grub-shaped sounds straining to burst the constraints of the loop that would contain them, it shifts to a stubborn, twitching slug of noise, alive with guitar mites hived from Manuel Goettsching's E2-E4. Then the music submerges itself into the bowels of the city. Below the surface lies its nervous system of subway lines, dusty, dirt encrusted cables, popes, tunnels, energy and communication. The rhythms feel like severed live wires instinctively feeling their way back to the energy source. And when they finally connect, on the trail-out grooves called, appropriately enough, "Radiance i/Radiance iii", the rhythmic pulses burst, irradiating the city above and suffusing it with a shimmering electronic glow.

On the journey through the bowels of the city, Basic Channel inadvertently cut the clogged veins of the old Berlin underground and let flow whatever lifeforce was left in that venerable corpse into the electronic bitstreams presently connecting Berlin and Detroit Techno. In this sense, the Basic Channel CD is as much a Berlin landmark as the highly influential Liaisons Dangereuses disc from the early 80s, or the famously over-valued, if extremely appealing, E2-E4. Yet its creators seem to have only very grudgingly brought it into being. They have let it out unprotected in a coarse cardboard postal envelope, stickered with a photocopied label containing a minimum of information; while on the back the only indications of its source are a barcode, a Berlin fax number, brief publishing details, and another sticker listing the catalogue numbers of the nine Basic Channel 12" singles form where the music has been lifted and reconfigured anew. The communique concludes with a terse instruction: "Buy vinyl".

If Basic Channel is suspicious of the enthusiasm shown for its activities by music journalists, it is not without good reason. When I meet the two men behind the label, Mark and Moritz (single names only, please), in Berlin's Cafe Einstein, they stare blankly with stonefaced expressions as I gush forth praise for their activities (and they ask me not to tape our conversation). That's all very well, they say, but we think you ought to know where we really come from. The CD is a précis form some four and a half hours of vinyl and represents a home-listening edit of records intended for DJ or dancehall use. The following evening they invite me to the Hard Wax record shop in Kreuzberg. For three hours I am blitzed with a brief history of Chicago House and Detroit Techno: the early Chicago Acid trax of Phuture, Armando and Armani, and then moving onto Detroit for Cybotron, Model 500, Underground Resistance, Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, Juan Atkins. (Ironically the blind reverence they display for this music mirrors the enthusiasm that is directed at their own releases and of which they remains so suspicious.)