Though re-issues may frustrate record hoarders, they're pretty good for everyone else. Artists get the opportunity to polish past work, for instance, and labels the chance to introduce it to an entirely new audience―just look at the recent Dream 2 Science 12-inch. Re-issues can also act as tidy snapshots of history, no matter the buyer's age or experience. The Secret Life of Machines, Steve Rachmad's debut LP as Sterac, would appear to tick all these boxes. First published in 1995, it's been unavailable for some 15 years, with Discogs prices floating at about $60 for CDs and $110 for vinyl.
The re-released versions of these formats differ markedly from the old. For example, "Thera," the title track from the second Sterac album, never appeared on the original Secret Life presses. For whichever reason, it's now been included. There are also a half-dozen new remixes by Rachmad himself, a different combination offered on each format. Thankfully, they're tasteful, and in some cases, may even improve on the originals. Of course, all the old tracks have been re-mastered too. Despite these revisions, the album remains a prime window into the mid-'90s zeitgeist. It was an exciting time, techno having skipped across the pond several years earlier. And Rachmad, along with several other "first wave" Europeans, was helping to cement its popularity.
The main thing about The Secret Life is its focus on melody. Even the more brutal techno releases of the day on Downwards and other such labels still felt rooted in chords, rather than abstraction. Perhaps then Detroit was still viewed as the model, rather than the starting point? Rachmad's tracks are certainly fine examples of stereotypical Detroit techno, resplendent as they are with machine-made soul. Of the seven original tracks, only "Axion" totally shuns warmth. The rest, from the patient title track to the whimsical "Sitting on Clouds" or the rippling "Thera," strike right for the heart. And they're entirely successful―Rachmad's bold, colourful hooks hold their ground long after the music has faded.
What's inspiring―but also a little depressing―about The Secret Life is its sheer ability to elicit feeling, despite using such basic tools. It's often possible to hear samples being re-used, and the lack of effects makes the tracks feel unadorned; naïve, even. Still, their elegance makes one wonder about the value of ever-more complex machines and software. Of course, any early release is likely to induce this realisation. The Secret Life is not unique in this sense. It's just that when so much time is spent listening to modern music, the simplicity of the past is easily forgotten. And damn, did it feel good.
Tracklist 01. The Secret Life Of Machines
05. Sitting On Clouds
06. The Lost Of A Love
08. Astronotes 2.5
09. Thera (Remix)
10. The Lost Of A Love (Remix)