- We revisit Carl Craig's influential 1990 EP.
- Rewind is a review series on RA that dips into electronic music's archives to dust off music from decades past.
It's hard to convey the excitement found within the electronic music scene at the turn of 1990. Thirty years ago, house music and the accompanying rave scene was at its peak across Europe. DJs spent hours in stores like London's Black Market Records, eagerly awaiting the "import van"—the distribution delivery of the latest house and techno releases from the US. Records on labels like NuGroove, Dance Mania, Strictly Rhythm and KMS were snapped up by DJs and immediately played at clubs and raves. But BFC's Evolution had a very different history.
The Detroit techno scene was in the spotlight after its high-profile compilation album Techno: The New Dance Sound Of Detroit, and subsequent releases on labels such as Transmat, Metroplex, Incognito and KMS. Derrick May's Transmat label quietly released an EP by Cisco Ferreira on a new subsidiary called Fragile. An homage to Eberhard Schoener's "Why Don't You Answer?," it failed to register with most DJs. The same went for the next Fragile release, by the mysterious BFC, later known to be an acronym for Betty Ford Clinic.
Attracted by the artwork as it sat unloved on a wall display behind the counter, I asked Black Market's Ashley Beedle what it was. "It's fucking amazing but we can't sell it," he said as he passed me a copy. "We've only got three or so off the van—it's just too weird for most people." Record store staff like Ashley were crucial in those pre-internet days to getting the heads-up on the best new releases. I then noticed a small credit on the abstract artwork: "Produced and mixed by Carl Craig."
The name Carl Craig was then known only for a sublime contribution called "Elements" to the Techno 2: The Next Generation compilation on Virgin, along with some promising remixes. He was a producer to watch and I bought the EP without hearing it. The next day I had planned to go record hunting, as I had a tip-off that a store in Reading was selling off old stock cheap. It was the days of Sony Walkmans and cassettes, so I taped the BFC EP and some other new purchases for the train journey.
I clearly remember the immediate kick drum of the opening track, "Evolution." No long intro, just instant break-driven beats, eerie pads and a constant phasing effect that gave a lo-fi, gritty depth to the track. Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton named their label Evolution in direct homage to this track. "Carl was using drum breaks and chopping up new wave stuff, which I hadn't heard done before in that area of music." Pritchard says. "This resonated with me. Added to that, Carl's amazing pad sounds, which you could never really pin down easily to the exact source or synth—more like sampled chords from somewhere, maybe pitched down."
"Evolution" ends as abruptly as it begins, with a short, sharp stab to the senses. The classic "Galaxy," which followed, was sheer genius. After an intro of deep and grainy chords, an intricate drum break drives along, its motorik drum rhythm mimicking a train on the tracks. I rewound the mesmerising intro again and again. After that intro, a subtle sample from the Liaisons Dangereuses classic "Peut Etre...Pas" seamlessly joins the rhythm track as the track motors, only punctuated only by a solitary stab. The off-beat snare pattern was pure funk, and the ambiguous provenance of the sampled pads was pure mystery.
The B-side managed to match "Evolution" and "Galaxy." "Static Friendly" was another haunting, clattering piece of sci-fi art. A strange noise texture with a hint of harmonic content creates a veneer of uncertainty over the rolling bassline. The phasing effect is again present, continuing the EP's lo-fi feel. The record ends with a drop of tempo and one of Carl's everlasting chord intros. He teases the percussion before introducing a delicate bed of rides and crunchy, softly distorting snares, which provide a perfect contrast to the melancholy yet uplifting pads. This is pure hi-tech soul.
Carl used a TR-808, Yamaha DX100, Alesis HR16, a borrowed Roland U-20 keyboard and a Roland S10 sampler. The brain in control of it all was an Alesis MMT8. The EP was made during sessions in Carl's bedroom at his parent's house and Derrick's Gratiot Ave loft, with the tracks recorded on cassette and four-track reel. It captures a Detroit kid, barely into his 20s, with a galaxy of sounds in his head, making the most of the technology at his disposal to create an eternal masterpiece. Despite its reputation as a classic of the early techno era, Evolution should be remembered as a release that passed most DJs by at the time of release. It did not sell particularly well, and probably sold more copies as Carl's status grew.
DJ Deep remembers a Parisian perspective. "The BFC 12-inch always had a cult status here in Paris," he says. "They came into stores in very limited numbers. I remember loving the artwork of the original pressing and the deep, introspective vibe of the EP. At the time it was so different, so unique. I would just spend hours playing it over and over at home." I know the feeling well, as I didn't even bother to get off the train at Reading. I just got the train home again to listen to the EP on my Walkman.
B1 Static Friendly
B2 It's A Shame