- There is a natural tendency to see techno history in a series of phases. First, everything sounded like Detroit techno. Through the 1990s, particularly in Europe, techno got harder and faster and increasingly lunkheaded. When it re-emerged as a significant force, in the minimal era, it was subtler and less rigidly schematic. But as this reissue of three early Surgeon albums makes clear, such broad generalisation crumbles under close scrutiny.
Basictonalvocabulary, Balance and Force + Form—released at a time when Tresor was an essential taste-maker—loudly contradict the idea that, by the late 1990s, European techno was creatively bankrupt. In Anthony Child's case, he was already exploring noise, minimalism (check the beautiful, haunted "Waiting"), musique concrete or, on Force + Form, discursive extended tracks, long before these things would become common in techno. Child didn't suddenly discover those influences on 2011's revered Breaking The Frame. He hasn't changed. Techno has. The world came around to his way of thinking.
Raw and murky, ferociously intense and often very funky, pretty much all of Basictonalvocabulary—for me, the pick of this triptych—could be deployed tonight in a club to devastating effect. If Dettmann and Klock are not regularly dropping the lacerating "Rotunda" or "Movement," whose hurtling, jittery momentum catalyses a moment of transcendent ecstasy, they should be. Such joyful energy runs contrary to the perception of Child as a forbidding purveyor of dark techno. As with any artist, anger and pain are threads in his work, but even the heavier, blasted percussion work-outs on Balance, such as "The Heath" or "Set Two," are bookended by the luminous "Golden," the delicate laptop whirrs and clicks of "Dialogue" and the echo-laden, electronic chamber music of "Dinah's Dream." Beneath that harsh exterior, Child has a big heart.
Arguably, too many albums are reissued. The historical weight bearing down on dance music is crushing. But it's difficult to begrudge Child this moment. Tresor '97 - '99 will not only make you question your perception of Surgeon, but, in how contemporary it sounds, will pose difficult questions about contemporary techno. How progressive can that scene claim to be when, in these albums and Basic Channel's back-catalogue, you can hear its sound being mapped-out, 20 years ago?
05. 9 Hours into the Future
04. The Heath
06. Set One
07. Set Two
10. Dinah's Dream
Force + Form:
01. Remants of What Once Was
02. Black Jackal Throwbacks
03. Returning To The Purity Of Current
04. At The Heart Of It All