Peter Holslin sunk your battleship
Nearly twenty years ago, reports surfaced that a mysterious society of highly advanced mutant humanoids was waging war on the high seas of the Atlantic. They were called Drexciyans, and according to legend, they were descended from pregnant slaves thrown overboard during the transatlantic slave trade. Using the Bermuda Triangle as a launching pad, their elite squadrons of “Wavejumpers” used aircraft and harpoons to stage an epic search-and-destroy mission against the “programmers,” the powers-that-be who ruled over society (and the mainstream music industry) with an iron fist.
The reports were fiction, of course, part of an elaborate sci-fi mythology that surrounded the Detroit electronic duo Drexciya. But in the international rave scene at the time, it must’ve made a strange kind of sense. In the early ’90s, as U.S. and European ravers went buck wild with drugs and hardcore techno, a new generation of Detroit producers was bringing austerity, purpose and soul back to techno, the great genre founded in their city. Drexciya—composed of James Stinson and Gerald Donald—was part of that wave, honing an enigmatic sound that combined alien synth programming and 808-driven electro funk with punk antagonism and techno militancy.
The Drexciyans laid down their arms in 2002, after a decade of insurgency. But Drexciya’s mission was given new life in 2011, when Rotterdam’s Clone Records launched a series of compilations to reissue the duo’s long out-of-print discography. The timing was perfect—with the million-dollar DJs of “EDM” on the rise, there’s perhaps no better way to answer the hideous gargles of brostep bass than with the forbidding groove of a track like “Wavejumper.”
Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller IV, the final installment of Clone’s series, came out last month. At 16 tracks, it features a wonderful and fierce mix of tunes from the duo’s early-to-mid ’90s period—which were originally released on labels like Submerge and Warp—along with several previously unreleased tracks (listed here as “Unknown Journeys”). Some of the cuts are kind of gnarly: see the sea-sick synth washes of “Unknown Journey VI.” But others are funky as hell. With its taut drums and booty-bouncing electro bass, “Unknown Journey VII” could be the soundtrack to a b-boy cipher on the ocean floor.
The best tracks on IV give you a sense of what it must be like to live beneath the water. In “Depressurization,” arpeggios bubble and bass notes blurp while a synth glows ominously through the ghostly aquatic murk—imagine the spotlight of a Lardossan Cruiser on patrol. Meanwhile, listening to “Hydro Cubes,” one of the duo’s most intense tracks, you can practically feel your cell structures morph into Drexciyan form as a runaway 808 clashes against the polyrhythms of a descending three-note arpeggio formed by a strange, rough synthesizer tone.
Drexciya took a considerable amount of inspiration from Underground Resistance, a Detroit techno label and group that—at least in its early years—fashioned itself as a kind of paramilitary outfit. In its quest to topple the aforementioned “programmers,” UR waged war in space with dizzying tracks like “Death Star” and “G-Force.” But Drexciya, though they eventually evolved beyond their funky techno-electro sound, didn’t explore the cosmos until the very end. Their final album, 2002’s Grava 4, featured a cryptic constellation chart noting that, apparently, the Drexciyans have a “home planet” beyond Earth. Unfortunately, Stinson passed away that year, and the cosmic journeys came to an end.
As sleek and transcendent as Grava 4 can be, it doesn’t quite compare to the material on Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller. The cosmos is a great void, yes, but there is something particularly awesome about our own submerged unknown—which, it should be noted, makes up 70 percent of the planet’s surface area. An artist might rocket up into the cosmos to transcend the trials and tribulations of an earthly existence. But if he’s going deep down, he’s exposing himself to some seriously immense pressure. The Drexciyans must’ve known that, once you reach bottom, only then can you truly comprehend the full weight of the world.