When Indiana Jones is commissioned to find the Holy Grail of electronic music, he'll be dodging boulders and eating monkey brains in Sheffield, England. To describe Sheffield's Warp Records as seminal would be an understatement--they were and are the label that has continually (for the last ten years or so) introduced and cultivated the biggest and most influential artists that exist in the realm of keyboards and computer music. From the many faces of the certifiable Aphex Twin, to the old-fashioned (and excellent) trip-hop of Nightmares on Wax, and full-circle to the pioneering Detroit-tinged electro-funk of LFO; Warp decidedly stands alone as a showcase of artists who run the gamut of modern sound sculpture.
Only a few short summer months after Autechre rolled through town, we are blessed with yet another travelling roadshow of English techno superstars. Having grown in tandem with Warp over the years, Plaid's Double Figure album is by far their most accomplished. From their beginnings on the fetishized Clear Recordings, they've refined their futuristic head-nodders, melding smooth instrumentation and off-kilter, melancholic chords. Also, joining the tour is the freshest member of the Warp dynasty, Mira Calix, whose supple compositions on Prickle are a pastiche of traditional songwriting, modern electronics, and her own ethereal vocals.
Undoubtedly, the main attraction will be Squarepusher, whose take on drum 'n' bass has won him points for originality in a genre plagued by sameness and tedium. His influences of bop-trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Elvin Jones become apparent in the structure of his latest album, Go Plastic--rabid drum programming that can't sit still, and songs filled with noises that accelerate until they collapse into an infinite density. Which isn't to say that it's all ebb and no flow--Squarepusher's music is quite dynamic and even contains something that most stoic-faced electronic craftsmen seem to completely omit--a sense of humor. The first track on the new album has a chorus fit for kids to sing in the back of the family station wagon: "I want to fuck you with my red hot car."