Jeff Mills: Violet Extremist

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REVIEW: Jeff Mills at Cable, London, 26.08.2012

‘In the creation of this concept all sectors were represented by rhythmatic formations’ – Millsart, Humana (AX-12).
‘Slower tempos are just kind of connected to the idea of thinking more about what the music is trying to say’ – Jeff Mills.

During this eagerly awaited 4 hour set, Jeff Mills didn’t play any Underground Resistance or Purpose Maker tunes. Anyone thinking that during such a long set – by conventional club standards – a wide variety of styles and genres might be featured, had it all wrong.
And yet…

I experienced this set as some of the most forward thinking techno music (futuristic sound) I’ve heard frequency-wise. In what it conveyed, JM’s sound continues to remain underground – beneath the radar of controlling forces – and resistant – challenging pre-formed conceptions in order to prepare a more harmonious world (so that we might leave?).

The overall musical program split between alternating Something In The Sky style wide eyed atmospherics and 909 tribal drums percussion pistons pumps – taking us out to space and possible future conditions balanced with grounding on terra now in unified collective sensation. The loud and clear well defined bass surged below the threshold of speed, alpha wave formulations creating a space for the sound to merge with thought.

Using a very subtle and developed tonal palette, percussive melodic refrains and sweeps of layered synth and string conjured harmonically complex layers of hot frequencies, resonant totalities. Sounds travelled decaying regions of disintegration and the overlaid harmonies dissolved boundaries between individuated elements.

In total sobriety I travelled in many directions through mental images and physical shapes and sensations. I repeatedly saw prisms in space, magnifying and concentrating light and liquid passing through them. Refrains repeated and modulated in and out of mediums of density and texture. An advanced system of dynamics and volumes created a space open to all physical and mental motions. This enabled all music to be included in the rhythms and tonalities as an in depth nomadic history of patterning in music and rhythmic space formulations. Sometimes the shadows around the sound and especially the beats communicated whole genres and the music of people and places.

Futuristic mental topologies emerged into the present, previously unseen worlds and organisational strata. I also imagined possible futures extrapolated from now. Across numerous EPs and albums JM continues to articulate an ongoing exploration of space, of how concepts can be related to specific frequencies and rhythms. Much of this details a vision of our individual and collective relation to technology and pristine connections with new vistas and mediums. Check his track titles and album themes for more details.

Like, say, Sonic Youth circa Ghost Bitch and Sun Ra’s Arkestra on, for example, The Magic City, the music of JM relates to machinery and machines – their sound and how they work as man-made and natural systems and totalities – and the use of musical equipment to make an environment; to sounds that reflect existing scapes – mirages of sensation in strange environments – and or create new places for us to live – both physically and mentally. Every so often, Sun Ra’s cosmic aurora birds and Paul Klee’s twittering machines flittered through the room.

By defamiliarising the possible through an evocation of the unknown, JM presented us with fresh frequency combinations and their effects on mood and our determined and undefined senses of self. By letting tunes play through, their unfolding drama and long stretches of the imagination could be experienced, their psychogeographies explored and assessed. This suited the (often meditative) interlocking waveforms, and provided space to think, to imagine, to dream awake in the crowd’s shared energetic medium.

Beyond the drug-induced confusions – many people monged around, eyes rolling, unsmiling staggering – those who know communicated with each other a feeling of experiencing something new together. The attentive minds and bodies sensed this. Art can elaborate new reference points and connect us to frequencies that make evolvements possible.

However much the sound could be described as an atmospheric soundtrack, it also always doubled up as dance music, though not the frenetic and often harsh quick changes of JM in previous eras. Yet however gentle the set may have seemed at times (even as the beats pulsed along outer spaceways), the mood often veered toward dystopian elements, and the space of the sound felt so open that any style of gymnastic dance to music became likely. We shared moves and learned new ones.

In general, much communication occurred on the dancefloor, with people often stopping dancing to listen more carefully, and to speak with each other about the sound. During a beatless section of unearthly layers far removed from typical emotional registers, suddenly and surprisingly areas of the crowd joined in spontaneous applause.

Striped down versions (dubs) of Life Cycle and Late Night, together with UFO, Condor to Mallorca, and tracks from The Other Day, Very, and Tomorr w EPs offered glimpses and remembrances of past productions still very much active in the present context. Together with what seemed to be remixes of Minus and Spirit Levels, both by Robert Hood (whose presence felt tangible in the form of the concepts and approaches to sound and sequencing of tone and rhythm he and JM developed together), these all drew cheers and generated extra excitement. In addition to the drum machine, as far as I could tell JM used CD decks and no turntables, suggesting the playing of new music possibly made specially for this set.

I’ve heard tighter and more technically adventurous sets – utmost deck experimentation – from Jeff Mills. On this occasion he made a different kind of purpose relating less to the skills of the mode of presentation of the art form, and more to where we’re heading, and as such I found it deeply affecting and stimulating.

As the sound gradually faded to the stark realities of near silence and we arrived returning to ourselves, for the first time the club became illuminated in violet light, and we exited into the future…

** ***

A companion piece in this issue of datacide: Keeping the Door of the Cosmos Open.
An excellent Jeff Mills interview by Derek Walmsley (from 2009): www.thewire.co.uk/articles/2035/print
Thanks to Dima for making the Cosmos connection on the night.

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