Drexciya Research Lab

DON'T BE AFRAID OF EVOLUTION


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DEEP SEA DWELLER

BUBBLE METROPOLIS

MOLECULAR ENHANCEMENT

THE UNKNOWN AQUAZONE

THE JOURNEY HOME

AQUATIC INVASION

THE RETURN OF DREXCIYA

UNCHARTED

THE QUEST

NEPTUNE'S LAIR

Deep Sea Dweller

The first release as Drexciya was 'Deep Sea Dweller' which came out in 1993 on Shockwave Records. At the time this now defunct label worked out of the same infamous building as Submerge at 2030 Grand River along with UR and the appointment only Somewhere in Detroit shop. I know that the first 'Acid Rain' release by Underground Resistance is on Shockwave, so I suppose this was a UR sub-label of the time. Drexciya's beginnings are therefore placed right at the epicentre of 90's Detroit techno. Of course they have always disavowed any musical influence from the city but they certainly benefited from its blossoming facilities and growing popularity.
Following on from this release would be the 12”’s known as Drexciya 2 - 5. This has to make this number 1, even though it doesn’t state it on the label it wouldn’t strictly be necessary if it was the first.
This came out a year after the false start of the L.A.M. 12" 'Balance of Terror' and surprisingly the first two tracks here on side A could easily fit that mould. 'Sea Quake' and 'Nautilus 12' are both extremely fast paced and would suite any dance floor that liked it hard. They are good tracks certainly but not the brave new start you might imagine. However, the two tracks on the other side are the brave new start. The vinyl on this side, perhaps significantly, runs from the inside out and it’s two tracks display the soon to become recognisable Drexciya sound or template. ‘Depressurisation’ and ‘Sea Snake’ are both more medium paced numbers which show off an already mature production technique. Quite why we have such a jarring mix of music on each side of this record might be a sign of wanting to give some variety or possibly an uncertainly over the latter two tracks appeal. The source of this uncertainly might of course lie with the label. It’s no wonder that latterly both of these more recognisably Drexciya sounding tracks were included on ‘The Quest’ compilation, although to be fair ‘Sea Quake’ is on there too. The fact that the vinyl runs from the inside out on side B might be a neat way to symbolise how different this new sound is to their old, effectively turning it completely on it’s head/backwards. It's strange that the title of the first and last track of the EP are so similar. Again this might be to underline the differing nature(Quake/Snake) of the music while coming from the same source(Sea). National Sound Corporation(NSC) cut the vinyl like they did for UR and a whole host of other Detroit labels. At this early stage the engineers there were a big part of Detroit electronic music, having already turned Jeff Mills on to the possibilities of locked grooves and were working closely with UR on unique vinyl design, check UR’s ‘Rings of Saturn’ 12”, which also runs from inside out.
Thankfully for us Drexciya started as they meant to go on by giving us a separate title for this EP, not just using one of it’s key tracks. So we get an album type theme for how they envision this release. ‘Deep Sea Dweller’ and the two run out groove etchings, ‘Techno from the Deep’ and ‘Deep H20’ gives this release its keyword, deep. This word is even underlined three times on the ‘Deep H20’ run out etching. Of course this is all from before they started to detail, populate and story tell about their undersea world, all we have here at the beginning is a hint of what is to come. If anything it’s just an initial location of where we are going with introductions to follow later. All the titles refer to the sea, notably none of the L.A.M. titles are remotely aquatic. This all might seem a little thin as far as a theme goes, although an EP can only go so far, but Stinson himself spoke of how water alone contains everything, “...the reason I adopted the whole background and whole theme of water was for it’s longevity. Water was here at the beginning before we existed and water will be here when we go away. It’s beautiful.”
It might seem surprising that Drexciya seem so happy to label themselves as techno, but this is not so straight forward for this is ‘techno from the deep’. They are here already letting us know they are not going to be a conventional Detroit act, on the surface yes, but look deeper and you will know. It’s always struck me as a nice coincidence that they should work so closely with a company called Submerge too.
The image used on the label, shown in negative on the reverse, looks like someone with very long arms outstretched or at a glance the observation deck of a submarine, certainly more down going themed stuff.
The credits read simply ‘written, mixed and produced by Drexciya’, which could be read as a clear and proud declaration of independence on their behalf.
If we try to date the recordings themselves the best guess would be to put the L.A.M. style tracks around late 1992 and the other two towards the beginnings of 1993. This in between period might be the real musical breakthrough point for Drexciya, while the whole philosophical side had been gestating since as early as 1989.
Following James Stinson’s death ‘Deep Sea Dweller’ was re-released, along with a number of their 12” from the 90’s, in 2003 by UR. It was great to see Drexciya’s legacy being recognised in this way and the fact that the music could stand up so well ten years later spoke that this was more about the music than someone having died.
 

Bubble Metropolis

If ‘Deep Sea Dweller’ was the initial locator then 1993’s Drexciya 2 ‘Bubble Metropolis’ is when the details of that location start to be revealed. The title track here is key because we are ourselves arriving here for the first time and should probably consider ourselves as passengers on the Lardossian Cruiser which the female voice is guiding into dock at the opening of this track. Strangely there’s no vinyl etchings but we do have fresh water and salt water sides of the vinyl which is key.
The EP should be read as a journey into Drexciya itself. The fresh water side begins with ‘Aqua Worm Hole’, we can take this as the entry point, maybe a whirlpool type scenario which brings us to our first location of ‘Positron Island’. I wonder if Gerald Donald was already taking an interest in particle theory with this reference to the positron? Although it’s more likely they were both interested in this subject. As I’ve found out as I gradually steel myself for someday tackling his ‘Linear Accelerator’ album in some scientific depth, the positron is the antimatter counterpart of the electron. So maybe this island is not what we imagine, it certainly might be invisible or at least would be the opposite of what we might expect. The positron, which was the first evidence of antimatter, was first discovered by passing cosmic rays through a gas chamber and a lead plate surrounded by a magnet to distinguish the particles by bending differently charged particles in different directions. Today, positrons are produced in enormous numbers in accelerator physics laboratories. I found this explanation on some website, along with a pretty cool picture of one which looks like a planet, but I can understand what’s being said here and can see that Gerald, some ten years later, has gone on to explore the process of producing them. This theme is not about to go away either as Drexciya 3 ‘Molecular Enhancement’ will show. Also one of the subtitles of the Storm series 12“ ‘Power of the 3rd Brain’ was ‘Mind Over Positive And Negative Dimensional Matter’. That Stinson quote about having linked each release was certainly no idle boast.

So maybe this worm hole does not yet deliver us into deeper water, because but this island seems to be out last contact with land. Perhaps it’s a dimensional thing, which will of course become a factor much later on in their career, but we know this island is our last point of reference before descending 'Beyond the Abyss’. Strictly speaking the sea is all salt water, but where a large river meets the sea there would be a grey area where the two types of water meet. Certainly with an island close by we are close to land so the fresh water side makes some sense for these 3 tracks, but once we start to submerge we enter the pure salt water of side 2. Side 2 begins, “This is Drexciyan Cruiser Control, bubble 1, to Lardossen cruiser 8-203X , please decrease your speed to 1.788.4 kilobahn, thank you, Lardossen cruiser 8-203X please use extra caution as you pass the aqua construction site on the side of the aquabahn , I repeat, proceed with caution.” Midway we hear, “ You are now clear for docking, have a nice stay here in Drexciya, I’m Drexciyan cruise controller X205, if you have any problems let me know, Bubble 1 out.” We have arrived! I’m surprised though at all the caution and warnings in this message, does this mean anything? Well the next track is called ‘Danger Bay’ so maybe we should proceed with caution, if only in that we are new here. Good advice and of course if we have any problems there is someone to ask. Just remember, from now on we are in uncharted territory, later to be dubbed the unknown aquazone. But I think the welcome is still on the positive side as the final track here is simply titled ‘Welcome to Drexciya’.
In the future we will come across at least 2 more Lardossa references, ‘The Red Hills of Lardossa’ and ‘Lardossen Funk’. I suppose this is just a region of Drexciya, maybe I’ll have figured out it’s importance by time I get to ‘Neptune‘s Lair‘. The place we are docking is of course the main city of Drexciya, is it protected inside an actual bubble or is that just an aquatic term they use?

While Deep Sea Dweller may have been somewhat schizophrenic in it’s musical styles ‘Bubble Metropolis’ is a more confidant and consistent EP all round. The generous 6 tracks on offer here begins with the quite sophisticated production sound of ‘Aqua Worm Hole’. You might even call it the second Drexciya classic, after DSD’s ‘Depressurisation’. This is certainly a strong release which goes a long way to showcase the Drexciya sound we will come to know so well.
‘Positron Island’ is the sort of track which would baffle most people on first listen but it soon reveals itself as the potential off-centre dance-floor smash it is. In many ways this non-straightforward techno is what Drexciya provided, techno and electro but not as we know it, ‘Techno from the Deep’ indeed.

‘Beyond the Abyss’ is more of an experimental groove but full of possibilities, a sign of a group over flowing with idea’s. The title track ‘Bubble Metropolis’ begins with the already mentioned female introduction and then settles down to a nice medium paced floor filler with plenty of nice touches filling out it's groove. 'Danger Bay' has vocalising that sounds like Gerald Donald. The few words we can make out are kind of throwaway but this is the first time we hear one of their voices so it's quite historic in that. 'Welcome to Drexciya' ends this side and the EP in a similar fashion as 'Beyond the Abyss' does on side 1. A short experimental track, but with some nice sounds none the less, a bit like what you might hear as incidental music on a futuristic TV show from the 70's, has old school synth sounds.

The production credit this time reads ‘Filtered by Drexciya’ a change from the more conventional credit used on the preceding DSD. I guess it’s a water thing in this context. There is also a ‘special thanks to God’. I wrote about this a bit before, save to say that if you were lucky enough to catch one of the recent Galaxy 2 Galaxy live shows you will understand that this is not about religion just a respect for a higher power, but certainly Christian. It’s a refreshingly joyous and positive attitude to God which is very African American, expressed perfectly by Gospel music. I think this Stinson quote explaining where his inspiration comes from also puts to rest why God is thanked so often, “It came from deep inside my mind. God gave me this vision and I’m building on it, bringing it to life for the whole world to see." But interestingly, in this same interview he went on to reveal some of the method, “It comes from within our soul, from tapping into our subconscious during meditation.” The final bit of text tells us 'Tracks made in Drexciya for UR in Detroit’ which really underlines how removed Drexciya feel from their surroundings, that it is of no influence to their music.

The artwork depicts some nice drawings of dolphins underwater on each label. The fact that both images show a view which includes sky, land and sea, right down to the sea bed, is a nice fully realised picture of the world as we know it. The emphasis and detail of the pictures however is on what’s happening under sea level so we are left in no doubt what the subject is.
Only three of these tracks ended up on The Quest, ‘Positron Island’, ‘Bubble Metropolis’ and ‘Beyond the Abyss’. I guess I’m surprised that ‘ Aqua worm Hole’ never made it but of course this EP is still available and when I get to The Quest we’ll see that it’s not just a ‘Best of’. In 2003 UR re-released this 12” on coloured vinyl. This is of course the first time Drexciya put out a release with UR which makes this an even more significant piece of their past. The two camps were well suited to one another, both actively cultivating mystery and both uncompromising in their musical vision.

To sum up, this EP firmly establishes the Drexciya sound and begins to fill out the mythology of the place they have brought us to, Drexciya itself.
 
 
Molecular Enhancement
 
Drexciya 3 'Molecular Enhancement' came out first in 1994 on Rephlex and reappeared again a year later on Submerge with 2 additional tracks(possibly after Drexciya 4). The latter release is the definitive version but respect is certainly due to UK label Rephlex for being the first European label to licence Drexciya music and introduce them to what would become their major market. Considering they had at this stage only put out two EP’s which were themselves only available outside the US as imports it’s even more impressive that the label best known for it’s connections to Aphex Twin should be so on the case. There is something quite prophetic about this transatlantic liaison so close to the beginning of their career as they would gradually, by their 1999 hook up with Tresor, deal exclusively with European labels. Not to mention the fact that Rephlex themselves would put out a Transllusion LP and 12” almost ten years later.

The reason for the 2 additional tracks on the Submerge edition may be due to fears of the label that no one who bought the Rephlex version would want to buy it again without the lure of something extra. Certainly some time elapsed between the two releases, it would not surprise me if a band as prolific as Drexciya had by then come up with some more tracks that they felt complimented the original EP. On the Rephlex label it reads that the tracks are licensed from UR, but it would be Submerge which would finally put it out. Of course I have already explained how both labels go hand in hand so while there may have been some delay in the US release I don’t think it was due to UR postponing it or something like that. As far as the release dates go I’m only going by the information I can gleam from their Discogs entries as I wasn’t even aware of Drexciya at this time and maybe someone else who was will let me know if this information is wrong.

Musically this is a meaty 6 tracker which as you can imagine further expands the Drexciya musical palette. I suppose it is so far the most bold release to date, still ‘techno from the deep’ only getting deeper and weirder. The track and sub-titles etc share the same theme/abstraction which seems to be about adapting to this aquatic environment. This follows on quite naturally from the initial location/hint of ‘Deep Sea Dweller’ to the journey to Drexciya of ‘Bubble Metropolis’. Now that we have arrived we need to adapt. On a basic level they seem to be implying here that biological science will be our means to this change. This change might not be as extreme as we think because this is simply a case of ‘molecular enhancement’, developing what we already have and using technology such as an ‘Intensified Magnetron’ and ‘Hydro Cubes‘, whatever they are, to bring us the rest of the way. The biological part might be the use of ‘Antivapor Waves’ to alter our biological structure along with somehow introducing ‘Aquatic Bata Particles’ to our body, perhaps produced by ‘Bata Pumps’.

The sides of both editions of the vinyl continue the science theme and are named Alpha and Beta. But it’s the images used on the Rephlex edition that are the most revealing(the Submerge artwork being only text with some molecular drawings). They look like a human figure under going a 2 stage transformation. It’s not exactly in the same league as the famous Leonardo Da Vinci depiction of Man but it would pass for the same thing. This all reminds me of the evolution part of the Strom series, but this is purely a physical change that is going on here. Evolution was certainly a constant theme with Drexciya, it was perhaps inevitable that they would go beyond the physical to examine the mental.

The remainder of the label text on both editions reads ‘Special thanks to God and Mad Mike of UR. All songs were particle accelerated by Drexciya in Drexciya, ion filtered at Black Planet Studio in Detroit.’ This tells us a few things, I guess they were feeling grateful at their third release and were obviously still working closely with Mad Mike Banks. The tracks were certainly done at their own studio but some additional engineering must have occurred at UR’s Black Planet Studio, perhaps for edits or simply mastering as ion filtering would not be a common studio practice!

This EP is well represented on The Quest, with only the 2 additional Submerge edition tracks omitted. As these two tracks are relatively short maybe that was the reason, although the opener ‘Anti-Beats’ is the longer and neither are inconsequential. ‘Antivapor Waves’ has a nice bass line and scuttles along with some sharp edged sounds. ‘Intensified Magnetron’ is harder and more insistent but maybe it doesn’t really go anywhere. ‘Hydro Cubes’ is the classic track on here for me with at least two Drexciya signatures on display and a nice breakdown. The surprise on this one comes with the voices at the end asking, “Does God really exist? God is virtual reality.” This is a really weird touch, maybe the oddest Drexciya moment to this point. Another strong track for the closer ‘Aquatic Particles’ which has a nice groove which would go down a carefree storm on the more open-minded dance floors.

This EP was included in UR’s 2003 reissue campaign and now appears on coloured vinyl.
 

The Unknown Aquazone

Drexciya 4 'The Unknown Aquazone' came out some time in 1994 and was a double pack, or 'Aquapak' as it states here, on Submerge. By this time Drexciya had obviously become a very safe bet for the Submerge/UR axis, knowing that an investment in a twin vinyl release by the band would pay off both musically and financially. I'd like to know the kind of numbers they were moving at this time, techno peaked sales wise in the mid 90's, but certainly this was their biggest musical achievement to date.This EP could also be called ‘Exploring the Unknown Aquazone’ because that is what we begin to do, not that we will learn everything about it, that is not the Drexciyan way, but will gleam more scattered detail. I will tackle the music and meaning simultaneously this time.

The opening 'Intro' track on side one informs us in a very slowed down male voice that we are "Welcome to the fusion zone". This short piece begins and ends with the famous helicopter rotor blade sample from the beginning of 'Apocalypse Now' along with an array of weird sound effects with no musical structure. The main opener, ‘Living on the Edge’, is musically shuffle-tastic, I go into the detail of it’s meaning later but it's vocal has something to tell us. Outside the repeated title we hear these phrases, "No friends, no cold, no light, no love, no wife, no patience, no race relations, one man will stand." Obviously in their view these circumstances bear some of the conditions necessary for 'Living on the Edge', but some of those words might be misheard.

Living on the Edge could be taken as the Drexciya credo as this quote elaborates, "There's nothing that's planned, there's no set course. So the mystery of the unknown is really what makes us tick. The curiosity of not knowing where we're going to end up at once this track is done, or when this album is done, and so forth and so on. We never plan our course or where we're going with a particular project. It's mainly the unknown is what makes us tick. It's like living on the edge." An instrumental version which ends slightly differently is included on The Quest.

‘Aqua Jujidsu’, spelt wrong by the way, is a bit of fun with what sounds like the classic vocalisations that go with those moves echoing round the track, which does make it sound like it’s taking place underwater. To show how open this process of interpretation is only limited to your imagination I could write some stuff about how maybe the discipline involved in jujitsu or it’s related martial arts might be a way towards enlightenment and could fit that in quite well to my thesis but in this case I think that would be going too far, but who knows. For now I’ll stick with what seems obvious, to me anyway.

‘Aquabahn’ is another fun track that would not sound out of place as a Japanese Telecom track. It also features what sounds like Gerald Donald saying “The Aquabahn” as it’s vocal element. The track itself is adventurous enough with plenty of spin back production action. Obviously the title is a tongue in cheek reference to their forefathers Kraftwerk, respect. ‘Mantaray’ has a nice groove(I know I’ve used that phrase before, but it is a nice groove!). Beyond the also obvious aquatic reference this short track doesn’t tell us much. ‘Lardossen Funk’ also sounds a bit touched by the hand of Gerald Donald in his Japanese Telecom guise and similar to the short tracks you find there this also sounds a bit incomplete. No vocals so no more information to consider beyond the title. This is our second reference to a place called Lardossa and bears out my belief that this EP is all about exploring this underwater place, so far we have been finding Aquabahn’s, seeing other sea creatures and now visiting Lardossa and sampling it’s funk.

‘Take Your Mind’ is a revealing track with what again sounds like a Donald vocal. “Take your mind to another level, feel the power of the...” The fact that we don’t get a conclusion is a tease, making us want to hear more. But we have enough information to wonder anyway. Take your mind to another level, when you get there feel the power of the...? Of the what, that is the eternal question with Drexciya and I can only here give you what I think it is.

Record one and two are broken into Fusion and Basalt Zone’s with degree locations attached either side of the label. I can’t see any reason for this beyond it being a way of identifying each record as separate entities, but what the words fusion and basalt mean in this context remains unclear. Also worth knowing but I can’t conclude much from is the ‘Defcon5 Productions’ credit which never appears again on any Drexciya release. Maybe this was an early attempt to set up a production company that would eventually arrive as the conceptually fully formed ‘Dimensional Waves’ for the Strom series.

The short ‘Intro’ track on records twos side one has a vocal that sets an ominous tone right from the off, “This species is socially and scientifically advanced and they will conquer the entire universe. Year 1994 beware.” The vocal is delivered in a slow old school Stephen Hawking voice, you know the one. They certainly couldn’t put their view any clearer than this anyway. Lets look at this more closely. The Drexciyans are both socially and scientifically more advanced than not only humans but whatever else lurks in our universe and will, in time, conquer this same universe. 1994 now becoming the year we are warned of this. Of course this is a taste of things to come and maybe this reaches a conclusion, of sorts, when Drexciya is revealed as Utopia on Grava 4. This would make their conquering of the universe a mental one with no force needed, slow yes but also sure and effective, it’s time still at hand, ready whenever we want to accept it. But time may be of the essence in making this decision, it strikes me that how close we are might be answered in the title of ‘Living on the Edge’. Time is obviously short and I guess you only have to consider our planet on the environmental level to understand how human life is under more threat than ever before. This also reminds me of their Message to the World on L.I.F.E. ‘Life is fast ending, so live.” I have gone back and included an expanded paragraph on this line in the L.I.F.E. piece but will repeat the essence of what I say there again as it does tie in well with this concept. We may be meant to read this as, life as we live/know it is fast ending for us if we have so far followed the evolutionary progress of the Storm series to this point(L.I.F.E.) so now is the time to really live anew in this knowledge. Don’t be afraid of evolution indeed.

The following mysteriously named ‘Aquarazorda’ is a suitably dark number after this declaration with a phat bass line and plenty of Drexciya signatures. Maybe my favourite on the EP. ‘Bubble Chamber’ is a bit throwaway as a track but it’s title is the second reference to bubbles, ‘Bubble Metropolis’ of course being the first, an essential element for survival here? I’ve wondered whether Drexciyans are able to breath unaided underwater or not, the forthcoming ‘The Mutant Gillmen’(an experiment gone wrong) makes me think not. This is an issue really at the core of the physical nature of Drexciyans. I would say that the original outer space species which settled underwater need some kind of aid to breath in water, unless this is their natural habitat, and even the offspring of the pregnant African slaves would also need the same aid, perhaps being slightly better adapted, like water birthed babies of the surface world. So a Bubble Chamber and a Bubble protected city might well be a convenient way to breath normally.

‘Water Walker’ as a name sounds like their contribution to the Red Planet series, this being a common title theme within the UR camp, but in reality it’s a face paced number that does all the right things to keep an adventurous dance-floor happy. It’s suitably aquatically titled anyway. The closer is ‘Red Hills of Lardossa’ which makes this double pack Lardossa central. Hills underwater, why not? This may be a massive red tinged coral reef. It’s another good track as well, in fact classic Drexciya, quite unlike anyone else. Luckily James Stinson did speak to Andrew Duke about Lardossa in 1999 and had this to say about it, "Lardossa is just another city that's on the other side of Drexciya. There's many different cities around there, and as time goes on we'll bring them forth or whatnot. It's a place on the other side of the Red Hills, it's a very calm tranquil place where things are very easy-going, there's not really that hustle and bustle and it's more or less carefree and mellow, like you're in a trance."
This EP was briefly available again in 2003 when reissued on coloured vinyl by UR and is fairly well represented on The Quest with 5 tracks. It strikes me that it deserves a CD reissue too, being of album length it would be well justified. Does it work as an album, maybe not but it’s still better than most.

Image and subtitle wise the EP is all over the place. We get abstract images on each label, including an Olmec stone head, two views of surface of water and possibly underwater heat plumes. Side 3 has it’s own message, ‘Research must continue at all costs, even if it means death.’ This of course will appear again in the artwork for ‘Neptune’s Lair’, five years later. The most interesting of these is the Olmec head which is from a mysterious ancient tribe from South America which show features of a man unquestionably of African origin.

The thank you list is interesting in that it identifies the term that Drexciya, at this point, use to define their fans, ‘to all the Aquatic Troopers around the World.” Another new Drexciya term appears with ‘the Drexciya Death Squad’, another mystery grouping for us to ponder. One name from this list is that of Helen Stinson who we would learn, after James Stinson’s death, to be his mother. Respect is also given to Aphex Twin, whose label had put out their preceding release but this kudos must have been slightly tempered for the Cornish maestro when he was misspelled as Apex Twin.
It would appear not only from the Submerge catalogue number and dates on Discogs that this came out before Drexciya 3 did, why this happened I don’t know, but I guess it makes more sense for my purposes to follow the numbers than the release dates.‘The Unknown Aquazone’ is undoubtedly a key release, it’s the first time we really get a good look at Drexciya and get to move around in it’s environment.
 

The Journey Home

Drexciya 5 'The Journey Home' EP came out on Warp as a 12" and CD single, their first appearance in digital. The year is 1995 and this second European label hook up signals an important development for the Drexciya producers as released alongside this EP came the first sounds of Elektroids on the ‘Kilohertz’ 12" and their friends project Ultradyne with their 'E-Coli' EP. An epic trilogy that will cost you big bucks if you want to own any or all of them today.

From quite populace roots in rave, Warp went on to usher in a new school of ‘intelligent’ electronic music during the 1990’s and continue to do so right up to today. Working with Drexciya at this point certainly put them ahead of the times. While still a very unknown and underground act at this stage, Warp were hardly seeing dollar signs with this 3 EP project, which all shared similar artwork and were marketed as a package. No, this was about getting to work with some of the most exciting producers around at that time. I'd like to know if Drexciya’s stuff was being widely used in clubs at this point or if it was selling more for home listening purposes.

Musically I'll just fly through the four numbers we have to consider here. 'Black Sea' starts out sounding very suitably titled, dark and bassy, with only a few lighter touches appearing as the tempo builds and it evolves into a fully formed Drexciya stomper. 'Darthhouven Fish Men' reminds me of some of the shorter tracks on Neptune's Lair, it's pretty full on with hard beats plus an unexpected ending. 'Hydro Theory' builds slowly and is the key track here with lots of great sounds floating through the mix. Another track that could move a dance-floor, but as ever, an open-minded one. For my money I also get a real Neptune's Lair feel, but more fully realised, from the final track here, 'The Journey Home'. Quite an efficient number, no slack here, good bass lines, weirdly perfect. As I said I think this track signals a new template for the band, a foretaste of things to come.

Conceptually what is this all about? Well, the question is where is home? Does it mean the journey back to our, the listeners home, back to dry land where we began from on Drexciya 1 'Deep Sea Dweller' or does it mean the home of the Drexciyan's. Well so far, as I have been reading it, we have been following a journey designed for the listeners/strangers perspective. We have been visitors in Drexciya up to this point, this reference to home must refer to our own, whether we are familiar with it or not.
Lets consider the clues, such as they are, the title’s being the most we can go on. Although there is a little message to us in the text which includes '...We're Going Deep', which does suggest this journey is bringing us further rather than back. The artwork image of a squid looks to me like it came from the label, but I might be wrong, either way it only serves to push the aquatic angle and doesn’t reveal much else. 'Black Sea' is unlikely to be a reference to our own Black Sea, that mysterious landlocked region which borders some of the most volatile countries in the world. I've always seen this sea as a country in itself and can imagine that smuggling and various illegitimate traffic between these countries must be endemic there. So much so that whole outlaw families may be born and raised here, completely stateless. While this does parallel the world of Drexciya to some extent I think it unlikely that they were on this track. In the context of exploring Drexciya, as we have been doing all through the 4 preceding EP’s, maybe reaching this ‘Black Sea’ area means that we have now arrived at a point where we can begin our journey home, the nature of which I’ll get to. It strikes me that if the water is black then we are at a place where the normal laws of nature and physics do not apply.
Certainly at this point we encounter ‘Darthhouven Fish Men’ but what is their purpose and what does Darthouven Fish Men mean? The latter question might be explained if Darthhouven is the name of the region and I think a fish man might well be the term for everyone here, except the ladies. Their job or purpose might be that they are the gate keepers that explain to us the ‘Hydro Theory’ which will get us started on our ‘Journey Home’. If I’m right this is a very neat and tidy finish to our journey which is balanced by the ambiguous destination and nature of ‘home’, Drexciya leaving it up to us to figure out, for now. However by the time of 1997's The Quest they seemed to be sign-posting 'home' as Africa. This is fair enough, especially when you consider that this does not have to exclude anyone, as there is good evidence that all human life came from that continent. What's important to note here is the development of their concept from the physical to mental realm. Because of the same type of language this could well be the beginning of them conceptualising the existence of the Drexciya Home Universe, the Utopia finally revealed in 2002 on Grava 4.

There are no tracks from this on The Quest, the music for a change not being licensed from UR or Submerge, although they and God do get a thank you credit in the text. It will be interesting to see if and when Warp might ever make this available again, probably never. But it is available to buy as a download from Bleep.

That brings the Drexciya 1 -5 12” series to a close and leaves us starting out on another journey whose destination we are reassured is home. Before we get to 1999 and Neptune’s Lair there will be plenty of bumps in the road and nothing will be as clearly defined conceptually as what we have so far considered. Never the less, confusion is good also, it would be another 7 years before Drexciya themselves arrived at where they were going and in that time they would cease working, make a triumphant return and splinter into a myriad of aliases. The next releases up to The Quest do continue this story but not as clearly as before.
 

Aquatic Invasion

'Aquatic Invasion' came out as a 3 track 12" on UR in 1995. If for nothing else the lead track of the EP, 'Wave Jumper', has become something of a Drexciya standard. From this release I prefer 'Sighting in the Abyss' myself, but I'll get to the musical details later. The artwork and general vibe of the EP is very UR and it appears to have come out of a specific commission from that label. The following text from the artwork expands this mission further. "On February First Nineteen Hundred And Ninety Five the Drexciyan Tactical Seaforces received orders from UR Strikeforce Command, for one final mission. The dreaded Drexciya stingray and barracuda battalions were dispatched from the Bermuda Triangle. Their search and destroy mission to be carried out during the Winter Equinox of 1995 against the programmer strongholds. During their return journey home to the invisible city one final mighty blow will be dealt to the programmers. Aquatic knowledge for those who know." This is signed by The Unknown Writer. Crucially this is not Drexciya speaking here, even though I’m sure they would no doubt have discussed and o.k. 'ed the text with him. The Unknown Writer is part of the UR family and is one of its chief theorists and has had his words emblazoned on many of their releases. This theme of attacking 'the programmers' is still a constant for UR right up to today. It's quite obvious Drexciya had some sympathy with this viewpoint and were happy to be a part of it but it's worth stressing that on the surface this is very much a UR trip. In spite of this I’ll show how Drexciya still manage to include their own unique points undercover of the broader context of the EP.

Some interesting and revealing vocals are found on ‘Wave Jumper’. We hear “You must face the power of the black wave of Lardossa before you become a Drexciyan wave jumper.”, “There are only two wave jumpers in existence today." and finally “Wave jumpers, catch a wave.”, all delivered in an old man type voice. So what does this all mean? If I’m right about what the ‘Black Sea’ of The Journey Home stands for then this black wave might be the same thing that we have to face/go through/overcome before we can begin our journey home, in this case worded as becoming a Drexciyan Wave Jumper. I suppose in their world to become an adept in wave jumping would be the final step of evolution, the end point, home. Of course this EP is historic in that it also marks the beginning of the wave jumping concept which at this stage would have been unclear as to what exactly this meant but would by the Storm series have come to mean dimensional wave jumping. The fact that the Unknown Writers text even mentions a ‘journey home’ could give credence to this. When speaking to Derek Beere in 2002 James Stinson himself saw the 'Wave Jumper' concept in terms of how Drexciya do business/interact with the public. "If you go back to the record "Wave Jumper", what that really was is how we do business with Dimensional Waves, which is we pop up in different spots in around the world and do releases. That’s the true definition of what a wave jumper is. We just pop up somewhere and there it is. We’re here for a second and then we're gone."

But what else can we learn about this line of enquiry from the other tracks? Not a lot maybe, ‘The Countdown Has Begun’ tells us only that this process has started, a continuation of the previous ‘Living on the Edge’, ‘the time is now’ type insistency. ‘Sighting in the Abyss’ perhaps hinting at what is coming next as we emerge from the Black Sea/Dark Wave abyss.
Why the old man voice, would this simply signify wisdom, someone we should listen to and trust? Again with the Lardossa references, truly this is a special place in Drexciya.
The 'two wave jumpers' are of course Stinson and Donald but they are keen not to be the only ones as they beckon us to 'catch a wave'. It’s interesting to me that so much information has been lying latent in this music for so long now, even I never noticed it right away. I see it now as designed like a musical pyramid, it’s secrets hidden behind a beautiful facade, revealed only to the curious or those who know. I have shied away from using the over used and increasingly empty word genius regarding James Stinson and Gerald Donald but really they achieved something rare indeed with Drexciya and truly deserve our highest accolades.

Musically ‘Wave Jumper’ is pretty funky, all sharp angles with the already mentioned strange sounding vocal interjections peppered throughout. 'The Countdown Has Begun' is much more slinky with a deep voice repeating the title throughout over some of their most darkly atmospheric sounds to date with a deep deep bass sound. Most surprisingly the track ‘Data Transfer’ from the fabled James Stinson solo project Clarence G’s ‘Hyperspace Sound Lab’ 12” bears a very close resemblance to ‘The Countdown Has Begun‘. I say most surprising because this came out in 1991! While Stinson might have had an uncertain start launching his music his production skills were there from the beginning. An updated AKA posting on this project is there now. 'Sighting in the Abyss' sounds much more like something from 'Neptune's Lair', in fact it also has an element of a Gerald Donald production feel, the bass line being very him but the rest is pure Drexciya. On the downside it's a bit short, sounding incomplete. In describing music I’m always reminded of the Frank Zappa quote that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Really it’s a personal thing, we can’t help but hear, interpret and value things so differently from each other, so just take my view as a rough guide.

While I'm covering what information we can gleam from the artwork etc we learn that it was recorded at '...Black Planet Studios on a Tascam 4 Trk'. Couple this with the date of 1st February and we have, for what it’s worth, a possible date and location for the ‘Aquatic Invasion’ session. Although not all the tracks might have come from then, as I explained above I would guess that ‘Sighting in the Abyss’ came from their own studio. I presume that while a 4 track is undoubtedly primitive, but effective, they mean a reel to reel machine and not the Tascam audio cassette 4 track model, although this is also an effective machine. I suppose giving us this detail could be UR showing us that they are more concerned with creativity than technology.
The artwork comes from a regular UR contributor but is also historic in that it is the first artwork used so far that depicts Drexciyans. What we get is some nice renderings of two ‘Drexciyan Commandos’ jumping from a helicopter into the sea ‘somewhere in the Atlantic’. The other side is of a close up of one of the commandos masked faces with breathing apparatus evident.

Only ‘Wave Jumper’ was selected for The Quest compilation and I presume this EP was also briefly reissued in 2003 by UR, although its Discogs listing does not mention it. Certainly there is plenty of scope for a good quality second volume of The Quest someday.

You might be thinking that I’m underplaying the whole ‘Aquatic Invasion’ aspect here, putting it down to being more of a UR thing, but really there is still a strong parallel going on between both concepts. What better way to attack the programmers, the mainstream media, than with this slow fused message. Not long after this Drexciya would do their only remix for UR’s ‘Electronic Warfare’ release which itself was an extension of this theme. The communication war has begun, our minds invaded by both sides, will we recognise the truth from the lies?
 
 
The Return of Drexciya

1996 brought the importantly titled 'The Return of Drexciya' 12" EP on UR, but returning from where? It seems likely that it would be from their journey home. If so you would then expect this release to provide clues or information on this place, which it does not, instead we only have a warning. This cautionary tale hangs on the subtitle, 'You Don't Know What Lurks in the Fog'. The first part of the phrase comes from the last track on side A, 'You Don't Know', with the remainder of the text found in it’s entirety etched into the run out groove on the same side. The artwork continues this theme with a drawing of a lighthouse surrounded by fog. The aquatic theme is obvious, but what exactly lurks in fog near a lighthouse? Rocks of course, so now we have a metaphor for what we are dealing with. Rocks would certainly scupper the best made boats and likely end in death for anyone on board. So now we know the nature of the warning is of a potentially life-threatening situation.

Musically the EP begins in a very uncharacteristic way for Drexciya with who I presume is a friend of theirs called Smokey doing a rap, but basically just taking. This side is cut at 45 which gives his voice a helium induced quality which is easier to follow pitched down. Drexciya provide a slow droning sound which underlies his vocal that starts off, “Yeah dog check my mic, yo yo yo yo this is Smokey coming at you straight otta Detroit dog, giving it up for the Drexciya report, because I know it dog, man I seen these brothers man, walking down Grant? Avenue one day, and a brother got wronged." The rest of the rap is sadly largely unintelligible to my ears but I think what happens next in the story concerns some feat of heroism on the part of Drexciya with Smokey finishing up telling us to trust them. What this is all about and why it’s titled ’Smokey’s Illegitimate Report’ is anyone’s guess. It’s either a bit of fun on their part or maybe sets the tone for the coming lesson/report. It’s a strange start to a strange release.

‘The Return of Drexciya’ as a title and concept, in the title alone, does make sense in the way I’ve already explained but the reality of what’s contained on it doesn’t really follow on from Drexciya 1 - 5 and 'Aquatic Invasion'. Looking back over some notes I made awhile back when I was sketching out some idea’s about this EP I wrote that it was like Grava 4 without the punch-line. In a way this is Grava 4 in that it appears to be the final record in this instalment but it doesn’t conclude anything that went before it. What it does do is create more confusion which is only continued on the next release ‘Uncharted’. Does this mean I just can’t figure it out or does it have a meaning at all? I guess we’ll have to consider the rest of the tracks and artwork.

The title ‘Bang Bang’ brings to my mind that odd when you think about it child’s phrase ‘Bang, Bang, your dead’. But the track itself uses this phrase, with a male vocal, as nothing more than a percussive element along with a few similar vocalisations to the same effect. Musically it’s a light moment, minimal and effective, certainly not unpleasant but slight compared to what their capable of. ’Rublicks Cube’ is my favourite with some nice sweeping 303 action and a slowed down vocal saying the title over and over. At the end of the track with most of the music stripped away I detected a curious sadness in this repeated phrase which was not evident before this point, but that could just be me. Certainly Rublicks Cube does reference a puzzle which is exactly what we have been unravelling so far so maybe this is some acknowledgement of that on their part. Why they spelled it this way instead of Rubik might be them playing it safe for trade mark copyright reasons. ‘You Don’t Know’ itself is a fast paced electro workout using the classic Drexciya template with a vocal that may or may not be ‘You Float’. In fact it’s so indistinct I wouldn’t be too sure at all on that, but if you want something to sing along with it then that works as good as any. There’s also some wind effects close to the end of the track that sound like someone blowing on a microphone, hey, I’ve done this myself, it works. On the aquatic tip the music is credited as being surfaced by Drexciya and apart from an artwork credit to Frankie C. Fultz there is no other information other than the standard UR label text.

Beyond that we only have the artwork of side B to consider and this might be the closest we get to a resolution of what this is all about. Two eyes stare at us from clouds or fog over a choppy looking sea. Within the pupils are drawn some symmetric lines which could be anything really but they imply knowledge/wisdom in this figure. This may represent Drexciya as a body returning with knowledge from home. This also might be the ‘Sighting in the Abyss’ from the ‘Aquatic Invasion’ EP. Whatever it is it represents a hopeful sign emerging from the abyss/fog to guide us over the life-threatening rocks. That might simply be what this EP’s part in the story is saying, if you have come this far trust us to take you the rest of the way as we have just returned and can now act as your guide. Even Smokey tells us to trust them, the old man voice of wisdom metaphor used on ‘Wave Jumper’ also went some way to build up some trust and reassure us. For sure something big is being asked of us here, a leap of faith is being requested. Certainly the next release speaks for itself in that we are entering ‘Uncharted’ territory. Can we turn back, knowing what we now know have we even got that option anymore, how can we turn back? I never thought I’d find a context for this quote which comes from Martin Seymour-Smith describing the essence of what the gnostic Gospel of Truth is saying but here goes, “Help those dead to reality who want to awaken, to wake up, feed those hungry for knowledge of truth, for you (those awakened by gnosis) are the intelligent ones. Do not return to the old chattering parts of yourself. Do not go back to your old vomit. You have destroyed evil in you – do not fall into it again. Do the will of God for you come from God.” Maybe I'm going too far but this is basically asking how can we can possibly go backwards after coming so far and learning so much, why would we want to? Maybe this sort of extreme sentiment will be more relevant during the Storm series as it's promise is nothing less than Utopia, but for many the promise of 'Home', the ideal of it, what we imagine of it, would be enough.

Back in the real world we are also entering a time period here which concerns a subject I can only ever speculate about. The subject being James Stinson's health problems which he felt were so extreme that he had to take a break after The Quest. Perhaps he also saw a parallel in his own life with this EP, visualising the fog as his unknown future, the rocks as his health problem, his belief in God, Drexciya and himself as the guide he should place his trust in, the return in this context being his own hoped for return to health/life. This might also be way off the mark and the concept here might just be another business as usual EP made before any health problems occurred or maybe if he was already experiencing them it just didn't bother him and he kept going in the same manner he would while seeing through the later Storm series which also must have been made under an increasing awareness of his own mortality. This attitude may be bourn out by this quote he gave to Tim Pratt in 2002 when talking about his future music, “I'll just keep going on till I can't go on anymore.”

'You Don't Know' and 'Bang Bang' made it onto The Quest and this EP was reissued on a sort of grey with a white swirl coloured vinyl by UR in 2003.

Because I've pushed it a bit in this post to fill out the confusion of this EP I dug into the Stinson quotes again and found two for anyone needing convincing that James for one would have approved of this whole endeavour. This quote from Andrew Duke reassures, "Basically, we want people to tap into their minds and their creativity.” He went on to say, “...we kind of do that intentionally (create mystery) to stimulate their minds and take them deeper into the world of Drexciya. Instead of just laying it out there and making it dull and boring; once you have something that is a mystery, people enjoy that more.” Similar sentiments on this subject were expressed in the Beere interview, “We have concepts that you can actually think about and there might be a mystery there, or it might not be a mystery. It just might be fun to get into the concept and it makes you think a little deeper about things in your own life. To me, it makes the music exciting. Without it, it would be very dull. It would be faceless and nameless, and it's here today and gone tomorrow. We try and make it a little more interesting so if it's going to be around a long time and if you come back twenty-years down the line and play it for somebody else, you can tell a story behind the music. It has a reason to exist, a purpose. It lives, it breathes, you can smell it, and you can taste it. It's not like fast-food, this is a home cooked meal, a full-course.” Thanks for the fun James.

Uncharted

"For believe me the secret to realizing the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously. Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships out into uncharted seas! Live in conflict with your equals and with yourselves! Be robbers and ravagers as long as you cannot be rulers and owners, you men of knowledge!"
The above is one of the most widely known quotes from Neitzsche’s magnum opus ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, the bulk of which he finished by the end of 1883. The book itself is also the culmination of his philosophy work and therefore his most definitive statement. I picked it to illustrate what stage of the journey we, as listeners, occupy at this juncture on ‘Uncharted’. Stinson himself when asked if we can learn from ancient mystics himself said, "Yes! Work together, love each other and slow down. Look at your life deeper. You might not like what you see so change it. We move too fast and cannot see warning signs. We do not mind paying the heavy prices of consequences of our actions until we can't pay no more. Take chances." Certainly the latter part of this quote is telling us to live dangerously and to 'roll with the punches of life' and the 'consequences', (both titles from L.I.F.E. by the way) so I think he would be in accordance with how I'm interpreting this.

To recap on the preceding ‘The Return of Drexciya’, we now know we are being expected to trust them to guide us the rest of the way. But this trust will have to be blind for us and what’s more they have intimated that there are dangers ahead. Personally I think these dangers simply represent the unknown, a word we are already familiar with. In this context it’s just life, the trust is in our own future. Certainly we will all encounter difficulties in our lives, the seriousness of which depends on how we deal with them at the time. Are we the type of person who makes a mountain out of a molehill or allows a spiral of bad things to happen one after another or can we keep a clear head and systematically improve our situation or more importantly pre-empt problems as much as possible? Now if you read the above quote again I think it’s obvious that Neitzsche felt we should live dangerously but if we are smart don’t we learn from these experiences? That is the process in which I believe Drexciya are asking us to partake in. Live dangerously yes, try everything but learn in the process, become the rulers and owners on your own terms, you men of knowledge. I’m not saying that Drexciya were aware of this quote, in fact it’s highly unlikely to be the direct source for the inspiration of this release but I believe it best illustrates what they mean and shows an inspiring continuation of this primal thought which itself no doubt has precursors long before Neitzsche.

After all that the practical side of this release is more hum drum. In fact musically it’s a bit of a let down with only it’s obscurity and rarity giving the release much of its note, you now know why I found it more interesting to begin this piece as I did. Firstly the actual record itself came out sometime in 1997 on S.I.D. or Somewhere in Detroit. This was the name of the appointment only in house record shop at the UR building. The label was an offshoot of UR which was only available to buy at the store itself. A nice idea but in practise only records 1-5, (Drexciya was 5) actually received no outside distribution. I know not one but three people that visited this store, on two separate trips, not to mention both parties getting to hang out with Mad Mike and whatever other Detroit luminaries that happened by over the course of their stays they all scored as many of the S.I.D.’s that were available at the time. Interestingly, one of these people was a massive Drexciya fan and Mike surprised him with a personalised signed promo poster for The Quest ‘from Drexciya’ before he left.

Of course you don’t have to travel all that way to get to hear these track as ‘Hi-Tide’ appears on The Quest and ‘Dr. Blowfin’s Experiment’ was helpfully included on Rolando’s ‘The Aztec Mystic Mix’ on UR. Musically the tracks themselves are both short, around the two minute mark, and frankly a bit throwaway, with ‘Dr. Blowfin’s Experiment’ just having the edge. I guess it could be said ‘Hi-Tide’ is a bit Neptune’s Lair-ish. I’m not saying these are bad tracks just disappointing in my opinion considering what has gone before. It might turn out, and they sound like it, that these tracks were just leftovers as perhaps by the time the idea was mooted for this EP Drexciya had already decided to take a break from production.

Title wise ‘Hi-Tide’ seems to indicate we are at a point where we can go no further. Of course the sea goes back out at hi-tide but I don’t believe we have that option here. So maybe in this context Drexciya are saying once we reach Hi Tide, the end of our life, we will know we have reached the end point of this section of our journey. This is obvious in one way but still needs to be stated I suppose, we never stop learning till the very end, this experience is a life sentence. Which brings us in line with the possible meaning of ‘Dr. Blowfin’s Experiment’ which might be how they envision this process, as an experiment carried out by this character which I believe might turn out to be an alter ego of Drexciya themselves. Dr Blowfin will appear again at another crucial point, the beginning of the Storm series on ‘Dr. Blowfin’s Black Storm Stabilising Center’ and there it could be argued appears to be the orchestrator of what is being unleashed.

There’s not a lot more to be deciphered from this 12”, I’m sure some people are surprised I even found what I did. What we have learned is that this uncharted territory is not located in as unfamiliar a place as we expected but the events that transpire there are seas uncharted to us where the unknown lurks in the fog. In short it is our very life, our journey, our own quest.
 
 
The Quest

Drexciya's double CD and record compilation 'The Quest' came out in 1997 on Submerge. The collection takes its pick from the UR, Submerge and S.I.D. 12"'s of the previous five years. The only record not considered for inclusion here was 'The Journey Home' which came out on Warp and was probably not available to licence to them at this time. There are also a number of unreleased tracks.

For some reason this release has always been a difficult one to track down in record shops. I myself can only ever remember seeing it for sale twice, a second-hand CD copy and a new vinyl set. Why this should ever have been the case I don’t know, I guess it would have had to be imported but so what, everything else seemed to turn up all the time. Did anyone else notice this? Today it’s long deleted and needless to say fetches big sums on Ebay. If anything by them should be reissued this album is surely crying out to be.
By this stage Drexciya were taking a break from production and as far as I can tell only got involved to the extent of providing Submerge with the seven unreleased tracks and coming up with the album title. I was surprised at this realisation myself but when you study the artefact itself the evidence of this is there for all to see.

First I’d like to tackle the unreleased music itself, although it really doesn’t expand on the concept. The ‘Intro’ on CD1 comes from the beginning of ‘Aquatacizem’ which one year later would be their contribution to UR’s ‘Interstellar Fugitives’ compilation. It’s worth mentioning that Drexciya would be listed on this album as still being MIA and their identifying image there would be what can only be described as a drawing of a biological limpet mine. Obviously that makes ‘Aquatacizem’ itself an outtake. I’m hoping to clean up some of the loose Drexciyan ends like this track in an article in the future so won’t go into any further detail here save to say the track itself doesn’t go on to explain what an ‘Aquatacizem’ is. Nevertheless I think we can figure it out for ourselves. A weird ancient alien type voice tells us what I think is “People of Earth listen closely, we are attempting to write down the Aquatacizem”. This word sounds either like they mean an Aquatic Cataclysm or Aquatic Catechism. The latter would at least make more sense in this context, it being the rules of a religion (as we follow their path to our quests end) but also equally the former might fit as some sort of this is the history of Drexciya starting with the account of its fall (which is very much how I see the Storm series begin with its Paradise Lost vibe which necessitates us to follow that quest till we are worthy to rediscover Utopia). Hard to say then, an ambiguous beginning indeed which hinges on a mis-spelt word, business as usual then!

The next unreleased track on CD1 is track 3, ‘Dehydration’, which is a slow paced instrumental that sounds a lot like an Elektoids outtake to me. The next previously unheard track on this CD does not appear till the very end and is the pretty weird and hard to place in any period ‘The Mutant Gillmen’(An Experiment Gone Wrong)’. There is a vocal but its just a repeated sample that goes back and forth unintelligibly, some nice unexpected sounds going on here, but nothing amazing. CD2 offers up an instrumental version of ‘Living on the Edge’ and a choppy DJ style remix of ’Aquabahn’ as its first batch of unreleased fare but things get a lot more interesting when ‘Doctor Blowfins Water Cruiser’ turns out to be ‘Danger Bay’ from ‘Bubble Metropolis’. Quite what this means is open to debate, maybe the danger comes from Doctor Blowfin? This character is ever present and extremely ambiguous. ‘Dead Mans Reef’ is built around a repeating keyboard riff and ends literally stuck on a reef of bass. I guess the title is just one more of the many locations in Drexciya. I‘m also guessing that the ‘Reef Rhythms’(Bonus Beat) track on the vinyl is another version of this track. There is also a Bonus Beats version of ‘Depressurisation‘ on the vinyl set also. ‘Vampire Island’ boasts a really nice organ melody and again the title could be read as another location to flesh out the Drexciyan world. And no that is not your imagination, there is what sounds to me like a film sample saying “I am Count Dracula” I’ve always been struck by the similarity of the words Drexciya and Dracula, sharing as they do the same amount of syllables and similar spelling. Maybe this is a fun acknowledgement of that on their part, I think most people would on an initial listen imagine the sample says ‘Count Drexciya’ and maybe that’s what they want us to think, but listen closely and that is not the case.

From ‘Dead Mans Reef’ on, the last four tracks are unreleased, the penultimate of which is the mysteriously titled ‘Neon Falls’. Sounding very grand, it’s a nice smooth instrumental number. The very suitably title ‘The Last Transmission’ finished out this CD and the album itself, an ok track, it does its thing and doesn’t outstay its welcome. With only a question mark to tell us of this tracks origins we are neatly being asked whether we have heard the last from Drexciya or not. Taking the album as a whole it’s an incredible body of work, the unreleased tracks take nothing away from it but don’t really add much either. The important thing is these tracks are collected in another format for people to now and in the future hear and wonder about.
The text which covers the ‘Drexciyan Hand’ drawing which reaches out towards us from the depths explains the origins of Drexciya. But it’s important to note that it comes not from the hand of Drexciya but UR’s Unknown Writer. The four maps and their accompanying text which detail the history of African Americans from the slave trade through to techno spreading worldwide on the other hand is also more UR than Drexciya. The question is why exactly would they do this now when concept had previously been so important to them? It’s obvious by now that James Stinson was the main Drexciyan conceptualist and in the Brophy interview he revealed about this period, “I had health problems, and, to be honest I became seriously ill. It meant we had to shut things down for a while.” I guess this means he just took a back seat on the artwork etc and simply practised what he preached about letting other people interpret their music for themselves. I myself after-all am taking that stance as my own licence.

I might as well reprint The Unknown Writer origins of Drexciya piece first. “Could it be possible for humans to breath underwater? A foetus in its mothers womb is certainly alive in an aquatic environment. During the greatest holocaust the world has ever known, pregnant America-bound African slaves were thrown overboard by the thousands during labour for being sick and disruptive cargo. Is it possible that they could have given birth at sea to babies that never needed air? Recent experiments have shown mice able to breathe liquid oxygen. Even more shocking and conclusive was a recent instance of a premature infant saved from certain death by breathing liquid oxygen through its undeveloped lungs. These facts combined with reported sightings of Gillmen and swamp monsters in the coastal swamps of the South- Eastern United States make the slave trade theory startlingly feasible. Are Drexciyans water breathing, aquatically mutated descendants of those unfortunate victims of human greed? have they been spared by God to teach us or terrorise us? Did they migrate from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi river basin and on to the great lakes of Michigan? Do they walk among us? Are they more advanced than us and why do they make their strange music? What is their Quest? These are many of the questions that you don’t know and never will. The end of one thing...and the beginning of another. Out - The Unknown Writer”
The 4 maps and their texts follow on from this so here’s that in full too. Map 1.Atlantic Ocean, ‘The Slave Trade’ (1655 - 1867), Map 2. America, ‘Migration routes of rural blacks to Northern Cities’ (1930’s - 1940’s), Map 3. America, ‘Techno leaves Detroit and spreads Worldwide’ (1988), Map 4. Atlantic Ocean, ‘The Journey Home’, (Future).

I would be very surprised if none of this had been passed by Drexciya themselves, no matter how 'shut down' things had become, so we can assume that to some extent they were ok with it. In the case of the origins at least they might have not only concurred but it may have come out of discussions they would have had with UR's Unknown Writer in a way similar to when he did his text for ‘Aquatic Invasion’. In fact in that text he mentions Drexciya taking a ‘return journey home’, this could certainly be read as a return to Africa, even ‘The Return of Drexciya’ in this context could also stand for a return to Africa. This is the great thing about the non-specifics of Drexciya, you can take it where you want to.
As far as the whole slavery concept goes, the only quote I can source in which James Stinson said anything on this subject publicly was to John Osselaer when he said, "Some of the things of slavery will tell more when the time comes. Stay tuned! I can only tell you a little bit now. After the storm is over I will tell the story. What I can tell you is that in Africa we have a dimensional jump hole. Tell you more later." Sadly later never came, but this was him speaking in 2001 and refers to future concepts post ‘Grava 4’. So who knows what his own feelings were on this subject. I like the Unknown Writers take on it myself but it appears to be just that, his take on it.

The maps take this slavery concept further into an area that I know Stinson would not have approved of when they talk of Detroit and techno. There are at least three Stinson quotes I could give to show how he did not see Drexciya as connected to Detroit and techno. This lengthy but completed argument from the Beere interview will suffice, “Technically, I never based Drexciya off of Detroit. I just happen to live here. What if I lived in Alaska for the past 5 or 10 years? My music would still be produced the same way that I am doing here. People would still be thinking it’s a Detroit sound, but if I’ve been living in Alaska for 10 years how can one say that? I’m sad to say, but I haven’t based the foundation and concept of Drexciya around Detroit and the things that go on in Detroit. I shelter myself away from the stuff that goes on in Detroit. Like I said earlier, I shut myself down and stay away from everybody because I don t want any outside elements creeping itself into the music. Back in the day when I did some of those records with some of the guys, yeah, that was done for a specific reason. But that was then. But the overall beginning and the whole nine-yards of what we’re all about has nothing to do with Detroit, it has to do with Drexciya. Drexciya is a whole different plane of reality and I don’t like to inter-tangle it, because within the next month or so we re relocating offices down to Atlanta. Are people going to still be calling it Detroit techno? I’m not going to tell anybody I’m in Atlanta, but are they still going to be calling it that? Probably nine times out of ten, yes. If that’s the stigma that’s on it, I m not going to change it. I was born and raised here in Detroit. Whatever people want to think, I let them think that. I believe in a free thought, a free mind. If you want to call it electro, techno or space music, that’s up to you.”

This also casts doubt on the final map which seems to answer the question ‘what is their quest?’, the future journey home to Africa. Again, fair enough if that’s how The Unknown Writer wants to read it that is his right. It’s just that what I have found and expounded on here in the eight releases leading up to ‘The Quest’ is not about anything as specific as a physical return journey to Africa but something far more universal, a journey which leads us to discover ourselves, no matter where we happen to live. It’s probably best if at this juncture restate my own interpretation.

The whole thing is a journey, a quest, right from the opener ‘Deep Sea Dweller’ which signals our location, ‘Bubble Metropolis’ is the beginning of the detailing of this place we learn is Drexciya, we adapt to this new environment with ‘Molecular Enhancement’, we continue to explore in the ‘Unknown Aquazone’ but reach a point where to go any further we need to make a decision which is whether or not we wish to take ‘The Journey Home’, the nature of which we learn is spiritual. In ‘Aquatic Invasion’ we accept the challenge of becoming ‘Wave Jumpers’ before we can go any further down this path. In ‘The Return of Drexciya’ they reappear as the guides we must place our trust in as we lead our new ‘Uncharted’ lives. In my opinion their quest is the oldest one of all, to truly find ourselves, it is the same message no matter what our colour, creed or nation. I can’t help now but be reminded of The Unknown Writers ascending phrase of unity, ‘Nation 2 Nation, World 2 World, Galaxy 2 Galaxy’.

The cover which depicts the globe of Earth comes from the map detail already mentioned, the back cover features a Drexciyan commando image last seen on the label of ‘Aquatic Invasion’. It’s a strange coincidence how the cover image for the Arpanet album ‘Wireless Internet’ is also a globe of the Earth, wonder if its designer was aware of its similarity?
Thankfully for us this was not the end and when Drexciya would finally return for real with ‘Neptune’s Lair’ in 1999 James Stinson(in 2001) looked back on this time with these words, “We take breaks to get away from everything and come back fresh. Basically, during that time where we took a break, inspiration, with the way things were going around here, it just wasn't right, you know. But it just came to a point where it was like 'we can't give it up'. We couldn't do that because it's in our blood, it's in our veins, we can't just get out of it, we can't stop doing what we do. So we decided 'Hey, we've got to go for it, we've got to do it, we've got to pick up the pace and come back and do what we do best."

Neptune's Lair

Drexciya’s ‘Neptune’s Lair’ album came out on the German label Tresor in 1999 after a two year break between records and production. The main change which occurred between then and now was that from now on they become albums orientated and concentrate on getting their music direct to their largest audience by working with a succession of European labels. This creative explosion would not become fully realised till the Storm series but the first fruits of that time are on display here.

Tresor itself were at the time and continue to be one of the most successful European techno labels with a reputation for the harder variety of the genre, although a closer inspection of their catalogue shows a broader taste. It came out of a club that first emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall, establishing itself in the underground vault of a department store which had stood in the no-mans land between East and West Berlin. By 1999 Tresor had a long established connection with Detroit and had already worked most of its main players like Jeff Mills, UR and Juan Atkins to name but a few. It should come as no surprise that they would now work with Drexciya whose music I must say does not exactly fit on this label but then again it never really fitted anywhere, at least on Tresor they would be exposed to a lot more people through a label with the best machinery to promote them. This really ties in with their ‘wave jumping’ idea of moving with ease from one label or scene to another, from Detroit techno, on to Berlin and right up to the new millennium cool of the Dutch Clone scene, they were always at the centre of it all.

Before I go into what the themes of the album are I’ll simply tackle the most important aspect, the music, track by track in the order of the CD. The first sounds we hear after this lay off is the religiously grand, almost to the point of becoming comic, 'Intro: Temple of Dos de Agua'. With its backing track sounding like it could have come straight out of some not very good sci-fi film it also features two purposely unintelligible voices which are likely Gerald Donald and James Stinson themselves. Predictably the only recognisable word is ‘Drexciya’ amongst what at times sounds like it could be a made up or foreign language which would tie in with the Spanish sounding title. This all lasts for about a minute and sets the tone for a trippy and weird album by anyone’s standards which does not feature another vocal of any kind from this point on. The title could also be translated as being another way of saying the album title, referring to a place of worship of 'Him of the Water'.
'Species of the Pod' brings us back to familiar sounding territory at least. I guess it’s as good a fast paced dance-floor moment as they had done in the past but it tellingly, I think, breaks down towards the end as the tempo gradually and literally grinds to a halt. You will soon hear there are two extremes followed here and the next track ‘Andreaen Sand Dunes’ could be seen as one of these new visions we can be thankful they have still got their production eye firmly on the dance-floor. Easily my favourite on this album for sure and a good introduction for anyone wanting a taste of what this album has to offer. Lots of fresh new sounds but I think the quality of the song writing itself has gone up a whole new level here as well. ‘Running Out of Space’ keeps us on our toes and has a certain panicked feel that matches its title. But at just shy of the 2 minute mark it is a quick burst of energy before the first real twist this album has in store for us.
‘Habitat 'O' Negative’ begins slow and continues on its lethargic way as gradually snares and a loose bass line joins it and develops into the most alien of funk. This is also the first track that introduces their second new extreme. Again, after their long layoff what they bring to the table that is new on this album is two things. Their ‘Andreaen Sand Dunes’ type raising the bar of their production and song writing and also this beginning of them pushing the musical envelope. ’Habitat ’0’ Negative’ and the other tracks of its ilk here are Drexciya’s first brave and largely successful steps in this direction. While this latter course would turn out to be more of a detour than a career move, it is one side of their approach to this album.
As if not to scare us off ‘Universal Element’ next bursts into life. A very fast and hard paced number but short it has to be said, just under two minutes. ’ ‘Drifting into a Time of No Future’ returns us to the weirdness and believe me this is weird. While there are some harsh sounds in the mix here amongst a pleasantly looping melody it really does, particularly at the end sound like what you might imagine drifting into a time of no future would be! It strikes me listening to this that Gerald Donald was the one who really followed where this path was going. ‘Polymomo Plexusgel’ brings us back to Earth, or should that be Drexciya. An expansive track for sure, sounding like two in one, it even has a cheeky Kraftwerk ‘We Are The Robots’ synth-line at one point. James Stinson said of the title, "One of the things is Polymono Plexusgel; that's the gel that is alive but not alive. The energy that makes it live is from the energy that lives in Drexciya - the magic - and it comes from the Earth. The Polymono Plexusgel and the strands tap themselves right down into the planet. The planet actually gives itself life, can you catch me?”
‘Surface Terrestrial Colonisation’ is my second favourite on here. It has some great keyboard playing, live playing of course - no sequencing going on here - to its mid paced jaunty backing, which makes it very recognisably human. ‘Funk Release Valve’ is another quick but accessible burst of their brand of funk.
‘Organic Hydropoly Spores’ has a processional feel about it, but also through some strange alchemy of sound it has that special something deep in its very essence. Again not a very lengthy track but there’s just something in its basic loop that make it stand out as another high point for me. Again the title of ‘Draining of the Tanks’ was explained to some degree when James Stinson spoke of draining the tanks in regard to how he envisaged starting over again after the break after 'The Quest'. Very watery sounds churn around here with some keyboard backing. This could really have been used as a suitable intro to the album as well both sonically and conceptually. ‘Devil Ray Cove’ is easily the most brutal sounding track on here, even kicking off in classic hard techno style but quickly establishes some originality for itself. It’s certainly the most ‘Tresor’ moment here and I wonder if it was done with them in mind, as a sort of here’s our version of your sound. I would love to know if any DJ’s went as far as dropping it in the original Tresor clubs basement venue, I would have liked to see that. ‘Fusion Flats’ never really gets started as it shudders and thumps along for its duration of about a minute or so. ‘Triangular Hydrogen Strain’ is sublime. If the ‘Intro’ track might have been from a not very good sci-fi movie then this could have been from a very good one. It basically kicks along nicely with lovely smooth keyboard lines alongside more jagged beats. ‘Oxyplasmic Gyration Beam’ is more of a riff based track that loops along on its own pleasant groove.
‘Quantum Hydrodynamics’ is a melancholy short which not only shares a similarity in title to Gerald Donald’s ‘Quantum Transposition’, the name of his 2005 album as Der Zyklus but the music here is total Donald as well. Whether in 2005 he was purposely referring to this track or not he definitely knew where he was going at this stage. His other early foray into this sound is also from this same time period, ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ found on the 1999 Dopplereffekt compilation of the same name.
‘Lost Vessel’ is yet another fast number with particularly good beats that could be hailed as yet another Drexciya classic. Really, it's a track like this that in the future will be forever dropped in some club or passed between friends on mixes that will truly build a legacy for them, a whole new generation that will only experience them through their music, their essence.
'Bottom Feeders' ricochets off in multiple directions using sounds that just shouldn't gel but somehow kind of work, a lot like the approach used later for L.I.FE. The penultimate ‘Jazzy Fluids’ sounds like it could be from another band entirely or at least an earlier incarnation as old school bass lines which sound very early electro, if it does have a precursor it’s early Paul Hardcastle when he was first mixing soul with electronics.
Finally the album comes to a close with ‘0 to the Power of X+C to the Power of X=MM=Unknown’. which boasts tasteful and understated laid back synths that leads to a perfect ending of calm.
There we have it, 21 tracks of end of the millennium techno from a truly reborn and re-energised group.

In one respect the imagery used on 'Neptune's Lair' could be read as them living up to their reputation, a return to ground already covered and it is to an extent. I must admit I could not detect one definite theme in this case, there is however more of a variety to choose from with more details of the physics and biology of Drexciya being the more obvious in this ‘Scientific Research and Development Lab of an album. Stinson himself spoke of how this album has various themes, "If you look at the album there's a lot of different titles - the different elements that's on there - that go along with these concepts. We're developing a little mystery and the people kind of go along with that and follow it."

I guess the main album title itself gives us our biggest grounding as far as understanding the album and it has a similar effect to ‘Deep Sea Dweller’ in that it gives us our location, one we have been at before of course, back to Drexciya but this time designated as ‘Neptunes Lair’. Neptune was of course the Greek God of the ocean and with so many thank you’s to him that have gone before I think it’s fitting that we are finally in the presence of one of his incarnations. But there is also a subtitle to the album we should consider, ‘Scientific Research Development Lab’. What sort of heaven is this then, where creation itself was founded and continues to be? Before I go too far down this road I’ll say that I don’t think Drexciya were thinking about a creator God here, it’s just another way to describe their undersea home, the research and development being carried out here being for the benefit of their own kind. There is also a quote in the artwork that reads, “Experiments must continue at all costs even if it means death.” This line has appeared before in ‘The Unknown Aquazone’ artwork but here we might be starting to understand what the nature of these experiments are. ‘Universal Element’ would be the most obvious answer and might refer to the ultimate aim of this research, a cosmic or atomic principle which unlocks everything, making us truly master of our universe, very much what alchemists have sought throughout the ages.

Parallel with the science theme there is a lot of military imagery also, the drawing of the Drexciyan Warrior and the five other warrior types swimming towards us, two of which are armed with spear like weapons. This also has a precedent, on ‘Aquatic Invasion’ there are Drexciyan commandos but as I explained before the whole military thing in that case seems more to do with UR than anything. But here we have it really in our face, what is the conflict here? Maybe the track titles will explain? I did finally work out a possible scenario from a couple of titles which does tie in very much with the next album, ‘Harnessed The Storm’. I’ve spoken before of the paradise lost aspect of this album, its opening track being ‘Under Sea Disturbances’. Well here for the first time we may have a reason for what causes this exodus from paradise and necessitates the journey back to the Drexciya Home Universe. The conflict could be that the Drexciyans are somehow ‘Running out of Space’ and ‘Drifting into a time of No Future’. The seriousness of the situation being revealed in the message that ‘experiments must continue at all costs, even if it means death’. Quite why is not important as we deal here with metaphor, but obviously some sort of solution is now required. Maybe this album partly contemplates a number of those options, ‘Surface Terrestrial Colonisation’ could be a solution in moving over ground and talking over the surface world, that would certainly explain the military vibe. Or perhaps the discovery of the ‘Universal Element’ as mentioned would solve the problem in a less barbaric manner. To become a ‘Lost Vessel’ might be their great fear if they did indeed take the drastic step of leaving in search of their home universe. If I’m right on this they went on to take this brave course on the Storm series which in this context could be envisaged as a sea faring vessel lost in a storm. Although the whole thing would turn out to be a metaphor for a conflict with themselves as they fight that tendency we all have to take things for granted and becoming lazy, empires forever destined to fall and all that.

Some more specific locales are revealed in the ‘Andreaen Sand Dunes’ or ‘Devil Ray Cove’, but this is where I’ll leave it as there really is so much going on here that could be interpreted from the titles alone and I believe I may have discovered the main connection which links this album with the following one and should leave it at that or else I may never finish this piece!
The front cover image is an incredible painting done by Abdul Qadim Haqq of Third Earth Visuals. You'll find his signature in the lower right hand corner of the LP cover artwork. He is responsible for all the other artwork on the labels and the Drexciyan Cruiser etc as well. He is based in Detroit and has worked on music related projects since 1989 when he met Derrick May. He has also worked extensively for UR and many other techno labels and has today seen his work exhibited around the world. I have a link to his website as base of article. What might even be ‘Organic Hydropoly Spores’ in the foreground and another massive one bordering the sides while Drexciyan Water cruisers emerge from what might be a hydro doorway behind. Also check out the red hills of Lardossa.

Credit wise and sleeve note wise we fittingly get the biggest thank you to God yet, “A very blessed thank you to God who is my strength and my shield. My heart will always trust in him.” Certainly this sounds like Stinson being very grateful for regaining his health as well as completing his new album. An acknowledgement of a more Earth-bound variety but with possibly the same thing on his mind goes out to, “ Andrea and Kayanna Clementson for rescuing Drexciya from the cesspool of nothingness.” Of course we can only speculate on this and not forget that Gerald Donald is also to be considered, but there is certainly a lot of love and gratefulness going on here.

Tresor would go on to release two 12”’s from this album, namely ‘Hydro Doorways’ which would include the remaining six tracks that didn’t make it onto the vinyl set of the album, only 'Jazzy Fluids' never made it to vinyl. The other was a remix of ‘Fusion Flats’ that featured the famous Detroit based Burdon brothers work in their Octave One and Kaotic Spatial Rhythm guises as well as a UR remix plus the original . Only the title ‘Hydro Doorways’ is new information and I like to think this tells us that they pick the option of going on their journey and go through these doors into space.

One additional format of the album appeared in Poland as a cassette tape. I only know this as I bought one while I was there in 2001. For some reason tapes still sell here and Tresor licensed it to a company called Outside Media. I’ve no idea if you can still get it but I’ve scanned the sleeve image as a curiosity(on way, Blogger acting up), the track list is the same as the CD. Simply because of its format I ended up leaving it in my car for years and it inadvertently sound-tracked so many journeys for me that it triggers a lot of motion filled memories when I listen to it now.

To sum up, Drexciya’s debut album after seven years of honing their skills is a triumph, so fresh and original even today. In so many ways it could have stood as their epitaph, as The Quest could also have done, but as we know they went further. The memory of Drexciya will always stand as a victory for originality, imagination and independence.
http://www.thirdearthvisuals.com



 

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