When I first discovered a love of electronic music in the post-acid early ’90s, a very interesting dichotomy played out. The music itself aspired to futurism in both its structure and its production style. And it really did succeed. There was a high sheen to the sounds, sounds which were so alien amongst the rock dominated musical culture that they really did draw a line in the sand. However, for a young person with no disposable income, the idea of collecting expensive import 12″ records was one not even considered. You could hear the pristine, future sounds to full effect in a warehouse at high volume but, at a time when mp3s and digital downloads weren’t even invented let alone accessible (indeed, the internet barely existed) listening to them as they were intended in any other context was impossible. In their original, hi-tech form, they couldn’t be a part of your everyday life. The only way that could happen was through a doubly mediated process. DJs on more underground radio stations would play their sets to air. These stations were usually ones with lower powered broadcast technology, so the signals were grained out because of that. Then, if you wanted to be able to listen to this music at other times of day, in other contexts, as I did, you recorded them directly from the radio to cassette on your boombox, adding another layer of signal degradation which, of course, deteriorated further as you played back, and recorded, over and over the same cassettes. So this was the dichotomy – music created as futurism heard as degraded, lo-fi bedroom escape.
It is an interesting development that, as the noise underground has branched into mutated electronica, I’m finding those sounds of my youth all over the place. Scheming Things by The 15 Dead Minutes sounds exactly like those old mixes I taped off the radio. The bass distorts and fidelity fluctuates. But it’s not just the production values, it’s the actual music as well, minor key pre-trance techno repetition which is heading excitedly towards the aggression of hardcore without yet succumbing to the macho posturing that often entailed. There’s a swing and swagger still present, leftovers from the acid house era (as well as the odd 303 burble to accompany the 808 and 909 rhythms). It’s exciting music with a continual forward momentum in its minimal, techno-derived grooves. Subtle shifts in drum sounds take on the impact of traditional musical hooks. Simple, steely synths add menace in the background. For me, this is highly nostalgic music, recalling both the forms of my youth, as well as the technologies. Yet that exact, lo-fi mediation is what leads me to distrust it somewhat. It feels very much a pastiche not just of music creation of the past, but of music listening.
And, yet, I cannot help but really love the album. Because it pins an era and style so particular and so formative in my musical history, I can’t help but be washed away in its flow. I feel conflicted and guilty. Do I actually really like Scheming Things, or am I succumbing to the lure of nostalgia, something I’ve trained myself to despise? Have I been playing the album on repeat for the exact same reasons that millions of people around the world love Michael Bublé? How does a relatively obscure release on a truly independent, underground label manage to simultaneously give me great joy and conjure such existential dilemma? In the end, I find myself surrendering to the album – I know I’ve heard it before but, let’s face it, The 15 Dead Minutes do it so well.