James Dean Brown formed Hypnobeat alongside Pietro Insipido in Frankfurt during 1983, subsequently enlisting the skills of Victor Sol and Tobias Freund to create a rhythmically focused electronic group centred around the TR-808, TB-303 and MC-202, with up to six rhythmic devices being used at any one time. While 1996 saw Brown drawing the group to a close as he moved on to his subsequent techno solo project Narcotic Syntax, 2013 saw him reactivating Hypnobeat as a live duo based around himself and Helena Hauff, a collaborative partnership that continues to this day.
Rather than capturing this contemporary incarnation of Hypnobeat though, this retrospective compilation on Dark Entries ‘Prototech’ collects together seven tracks taken from the sessions for their now incredibly scarce cassette releases ‘Huggables’ and ‘Specials/Spatials’, released during 1985 and 1986 respectively. In this case the title ‘Prototech’ proves to be a particularly apt one, with the percussive fusion of heavy drum machine rhythms and 303 lines here predating the rise of house and techno by a good few years. Indeed, when viewed in retrospect a lot of the music being fashioned here suggests some curious evolutionary aberration emerging well before its time.
Throughout there’s an obsession with African rhythms, with ‘The Arumbaya Fetish’ building itself around a tumbling backbone of 808 toms and handclaps while the group drape liberal amounts of cowbell over the top, the metallic peaks of the cowbells being filtered into spikes as zapping effects hang in the foreground against ominously droning synths and sudden distorted crashes. Rather than rolling with the gliding precision of techno that would follow, it feels raw and chaotic, calling to mind a more African rhythm-centred take on early Cabaret Voltaire more than anything that would subsequently spring from Chicago or Detroit.
Elsewhere, ‘Moon Jump’ anticipates acid house’s rise about five years before the event as it sends acidic 303 lines worming through sparse midtempo drum machine rhythms and eerie synthetic bleeps, while ‘Slash! Buffalo Eats Brass’ show the influence of early US breakdance electro on Hypnobeat’s work as snapping pop and lock rhythms rattle beneath stacked synth-bass stabs and bendy arpeggiated 303 lines. ‘Can God Rewind?’ meanwhile suggests the then-rising New Beat and EBM scenes more as angular synth arpeggios dart against dark propulsive bass synths and crisp 4/4 snares, the chaotically bleeping electronics battling for space with all manner of percussive hits. Not quite techno, post-punk or minimal wave, Hypnobeat were their own unique beast in the mid-eighties, something that ‘Prototech’ vividly captures.