RE-UP (Cop links fast before they go down!)
It’s the ironic fate of almost any sufficiently forward-looking art to eventually become retro kitsch in the eyes of later audiences, who can laugh at its naive attempts to predict a future they’ve already lived through. Cybotron’s 1983 album Enter, which is widely considered to be where Detroit techno began, isn’t so much forward-looking as it is obsessed with the future as co-creators Juan Atkins and Richard Davis saw it, a vision dominated by the notion that human life would become so intertwined with technology that they’d be essentially inseparable. (The group’s name was a portmanteau of the words “cyborg” and “cyclotron,” and it was founded on the principle that a computer can be as good or better a musical collaborator as a person. At least part of the reason they played with drum machines in the first place was because Davis found human drummers unreliable.) As such it seems like it would be especially vulnerable to this effect, but judging by its latest reissue (which nearly doubles its tracks with remixes, instrumentals, and non-album singles) the worst damage that three decades have inflicted upon Enter is that some of its features—Davis’ stagey vocals, the Kraftwerkian drum machines, the occasional outburst of heavy metal guitar shredding—have become synonymous with the 80s, or at least how the era’s portrayed in hacky, 80s-themed comedies.
Davis and Atkins’ reliance on electronic sounds is less an aesthetic statement than a revolutionary one. They were among the first American pop musicians to fully grasp that synthesizers weren’t just a modern update of the organ but an entirely new kind of instrument, capable not only of emulating traditional instrumental sounds but obliterating them entirely. Even more importantly, they seem to have understood that this new technology had the potential to dramatically change the relationship between musicians and their instruments: when a person presses play on a drum machine’s pre-sequenced pattern, are they playing the drum machine or is it playing itself?
As diehard technophiles Atkins and Davis had no problem putting their gear front and center in the mix. Aside from their vocals and (on a few songs) John Housely’s guitar you can’t usually tell which parts were played by a person and which were sequenced. Trying to puzzle that out in a time where computer-assisted music making is commonplace enough that we can do it on our phones offers the barest hint of how challenging the concept was then.
But Enter isn’t just a record that should be listened to because it’s important—history aside it’s an intensely pleasurable experience. While you can make out the almost-completed outline of Detroit techno that Atkins and a few other musicians would fill in soon after, it’s not a techno record, exactly. The songs are more pop-oriented, with the verse-chorus-verse structures that techno treated as optional, and as much as Atkins and Davis were trying to emulate Kraftwerk, they were just as heavily influenced by Funkadelic, which comes through in their trippy Afrofuturistic lyrics and in Bootsy-esque bass lines that were far funkier than what Kraftwerk could manage. Neither of them had fully immersed themselves in the man-machine merger that would come to define techno, and there’s a kind of loose warm-bloodedness around the edges that makes the album feel like Davis and Atkins weren’t so much programming machines as trying to teach them the essential concept of funk.
The majority of people who attempt to predict the future end up dead wrong, but Atkins and Davis were pretty spot on about where pop music was headed. Like William Gibson, who was writing Neuromancer while they were recording Enter, they pulled this off by building a future that inspired other people enough to make it a reality. As well as becoming sample material for an untold number of musicians (“Clear”’s blippy synths provide the backbone to Missy Elliott’s 2005 “Lose Control” and Poison Clan’s 1992 “Shake Whatcha Mama Gave Ya”, among others), it laid out a whole musical philosophy that made more sense the more technology integrated itself into the act of making music, which is partly because of people trying to do what Cybotron was doing. In retrospect it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and one that’s only becoming more influential all the time.
1 Enter 5:37
2 Alleys Of Your Mind 3:33
3 Industrial Lies 6:13
4 The Line 5:02
5 Cosmic Cars (House Mix) 4:28
6 Cosmic Raindance 4:01
7 El Salvador 4:45
8 Clear 4:48
Bonus Tracks: Original Singles & Alternate Mixes
9 Clear (Jose Animal Diaz Remix) 4:51
10 Cosmic Cars (House Mix) 4:28
11 Techno City (Vocal) 4:22
12 Techno City (Instrumental) 6:39
13 R-9 (Instrumental) 4:44
14 Eden (Vocal) 5:52