Edgar takes a hands-on approach to alt-techno
In its current Eurocentric form, techno is hardly recognizable as the invention of African-Americans, the style having long ago replaced rhythmic variation with its trademark relentless pulse. But while the genre has come to be recognized as the domain of labcoat-sporting scientists, its Michigan birthplace continues to yield musicians who recognize its roots in space-funk and street-level electro. Detroit may no longer be techno's capital, but second- and third-wave artists like Tadd Mullinix (aka Dabrye) and the late James Stinson (aka Drexciya) forged an alternate history. This is the context in which to approach Jimmy Edgar, whose recent Color Strip fits squarely in the alt-techno tradition.
Actually, there's nothing square about Color Strip at all; the tracks on the album, Edgar's first, are bulbous and fidgety, their beats never settling long enough to grasp securely. Because he's signed to Warp Records, the young producer is often compared to labelmate Prefuse 73, and while the two share a cut-up aesthetic, Edgar's music is more visceral and less fastidious than his cohort's, which favours sampledelic virtuosity over the demands of the booty. If Timbaland tried his hand at glitch, he might make something like Color Strip's "I Wanna Be Your STD", a track that wriggles and writhes all over the floor, anchored by Edgar's hypnotic scatting of the title phrase. Skinny white hipster though he is, the beatmaker takes pride in carrying on a style not entirely his own.
"I think it's really important for people to realize how important black music is to me as an inspiration," says the producer, reached in his home town. "Most styles of American music originate from the black community, so for black people to own techno is important to me, because it's from Detroit."
Edgar is indebted to the pioneers not just in the way his music sounds, but in the very way it is constructed. As with first-wave producers Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, the beatmaker's working methods are visceral, based on interaction with hardware synthesizers, not their virtual clones. Having produced most of his novice tracks on a laptop, Edgar has come to realize the importance of movement and touch in music production.
"The sounds on Color Strip-all the melodies and drums-were all constructed from scratch," says the producer, who opens for Jamie Lidell at the Plaza on Sunday (April 16). "I always edit everything in the computer afterwards, but for this album it was crucial for me to make the original parts with my hands. The tracks always seem to have more feeling and emotion when I play the parts with my hands."
For a form so intent on making people move, it's interesting to note how few techno producers prize bodily motion in the music-making process itself. Despite his relative youth, Edgar's hands-on trackmaking style makes him an artist to watch.