- "The Other People Place seem either lost or uninspired," the Canadian magazine Exclaim said of Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café in February 2002. "The experimentation is insignificant and it sounds quite dated." It wasn't alone with this opinion. Released on Warp following era-defining IDM albums from Plaid, Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, the melodic and vocal-heavy Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café may have felt like a step backwards. The LP's subtle genius has since been revealed through the simplicity for which it was criticized. A little over 15 years later, it's reissued as one of electronic music's most essential records.
Produced by James Stinson, a truck driver with seven children and a hand in a string of seminal electro and techno releases as one half of Drexciya, Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café was as accessible as electro came. On other records, Stinson and fellow Drexciya member Gerald Donald explored the powerful fantasy of Afrofuturism. Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café was everyday life. Stinson, who made music from the basement of his family home ("You had to pull his teeth to find out what was going on," his mother Helen said), had never so openly engaged with the universal themes of love and belonging. At the time, The Other People Place was faceless—as with all Drexciya releases, the producer was unknown. But the music had a human touch, and Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café, which was slower and more melodic than any previous Drexciya-related release, connected with people like very little electronic music before or since.
Melody is key to this. Arpeggios and organ-style keys and chords float over basic 808 patterns—usually a 4/4 kick-snare combination with a light smattering of hi-hats—while melodic basslines, ranging from hyperactive and complex ("It's Your Love," "Moonlight Rendezvous") to short and simple ("Lifestyles Of The Casual"), plod underneath. There are never more than a few elements at play, which increases their potency and highlights Stinson's knack for effective composition.
Then there are the vocals. Single sentences—"you said you want me," "let me be what I wanna be"—become poetry when paired with Stinson's synths. Anyone with a basic grasp of English can relate to them, which helps explain Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café's broad appeal. How many listeners have pondered their own place in the world while listening to "Let Me Be Me," wondered "what if?" after locking eyes with a stranger like in "Eye Contact," or recalled past relationships during "You Said You Want Me?"'s forlorn call and response?
The simplicity of the lyrics also obscures their meaning. Knowing Stinson, there's more to Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café than love and identity. The hints, some say, are in the cover art, where modern technology meets nature, and in "Eye Contact"'s café monologue, interpreted as a comment on internet culture. We'll never get an explanation from Stinson, who passed away from a chronic heart condition following Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café's release, aged 32. In his final interview, he said that when heard in full, Drexciya's seven "storms"—a string of seven albums produced over one year—would give the listener a "complete feeling." Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café's meaning, then, may be elsewhere. 15 years from now, we'll still be trying to figure it out.
01. Eye Contact
02. It's Your Love
03. Moonlight Rendezvous
04. You Said You Want Me
05. Let Me Be Me
06. Running From Love
07. Lifestyles Of The Casual