I picked up the new Squarepusher album today. My initial response is positive, but I won't say any more until I've had a chance to thoroughly absorb it. I've been following Tom Jenkinson's career with interest since his debut album "Feed Me Weird Things", released on Rephlex back in 1996, although I don't buy everything he does. A quick flick through my collection suggests that I buy roughly every other album. So the last one I got was "Go Plastic", which I still think is the high-watermark of his output and of the drill 'n' bass genre in general. This came out in 2001, the same year as Aphex Twin's "Druqks". At the time I was a little irritated that Richard James' album was getting so much attention when Squarepusher's offering was clearly far superior. Whilst "Druqks" comes across as a carelessly thrown together compilation, "Go Plastic" is a supremely focused, concise collection that truly defined the outer limits of the genre.
In his book "Energy Flash", Simon Reynolds voices some serious doubts about the relevance of Squarepusher and the 'art techno' brigade in general. I can understand his viewpoint completely and suspect that the reason for my interest is because I fit the description he gives for the kind of audience that Squarepusher et al attract:
"...head nodding rather than bootyshaking is the order of the day, and there's no drug factor, just beer and an occasional, discreet spliff. This is a mostly bourgeois-bohemian mileu of rootless cosmopolitans, rather than a hardcore dance scene."
He's pretty much got me bang-to-rights there, the bugger. Whilst I take more than a passing interest is nearly all post-88 dance micro-genres, I never actually felt that I was part of a 'scene', more a curious observer of the music and the behavior of it's devotees. This standpoint could actually be applied to all areas of my life, actually. For instance, I've always been interested in fashion, but have never tried to look fashionable myself. I just never feel the urge to join in. I guess I've been a bit of an outsider (though definitely not a loner) since I was a kid. But it's not like I'm alienated, or anything so melodramatic, 'cause I really like people in general. But sometimes I feel like I'm looking at all the beautiful fish in an aquarium, rather than a gathering of human beings in a club.
I've never been interested in drugs, other than that "occasional discreet spliff". My poisons have always been lager, nicotine & caffeine. True, I did experiment with ecstasy a couple of times, but I had this really terrible experience one night. Me and my mate Geordie necked a couple of pills before we left the house and everything was going fine. But then we were in this club where a rasta got into an argument with this guy who looked like Phil Mitchell from Eastenders. Next thing the rasta shoves a pint glass in Mitchell's face. As he drags himself off the floor, a stream of blood starts trickling down his face from a huge gash in his forehead. A crowd starts to form. It's at that point that time started to slow down. All the sound in the room became muffled. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. It was like reality started getting pitched-down and timestretched into a guttural, ominous groan. I spent the rest of the evening clinging onto a pole near the bar, wracked by waves of claustrophobia and paranoia. My other friend Neil, who luckily was straight that night, talked me through it, keeping me just the right side of hysterical. The violence I witnessed had somehow turned my euphoria into something dark and nightmarish. Is it possible to have a bad trip like that on E? I suspect we'd been sold something else entirely. Whatever, I've never touched pills since.
But back to the main thrust of this post. By Reynold's reckoning, it's my inherent rootlessness that attracted me to the whole Vibert/Aphex/Squarepusher scene. If there's anywhere I can truly call home in 2004, it's the warm, reassuring bosom of Warp Records and it's affiliates. It's been that way ever since the day I bought LFO's "Frequencies" and the "Pioneers Of The Hypnotic Groove" compilation back in 1991. Sure, I'll always be interested in what else is going on, but I'll never really be a part of it.