THE WARP LABEL story in one sentence: Two Sheffield record-store clerks turned dance-music entrepreneurs fall in love with the bleep 'n' blip minimalism of early, imported acid house and Detroit electro, and stick with it forever--through the rave explosion, the Gen-E comedown, and the great rocktronica swindle that by all rights should have rendered the pair as obsolete as Craig G or Downtown Julie Brown. Ten years after Warp's birth (and with the most fascinating techno produced by a micro-label bedroom industry fashioned, for the most part, in its image), the love defined on the first two of this three-disc retrospective seems not just admirable but prophetic.
Warp's body of brainy body music still has a confounding power, and it should still sound contemporary to fans of Timbaland and Triangle alike. This is house stripped bare--no arena dynamics, no divas, not a lot of melody, really. Just beautiful obscurantism--R2D2 melodies and evanescent synth-soul that bubbles in and out of throbbing, hide-and-seek acid grooves in the finest technopastoral tradition.
The first two discs document forebears Nitro Deluxe and Adonis turning Afrika Bambaataa's subterranean hideouts into spacey islands of the mind, and early U.K. pioneers LFO sexing up the cerebellum. And, just to prove the Warp boys weren't so contrary they couldn't smell a hit, there's DJ Mink's sampledelic b-boy throw-down, "Hey Hey! Can U Relate?," probably the coolest English hip hop ever recorded.
Sadly, instead of following their aesthetic's course into the late Nineties--when Autechre, Squarepusher, Broadcast, and Aphex Twin brought the Warp sound into new fields of post-dance--the third Remixes disc attempts to underscore the subgenre's sonic plasticity by handing more recent tracks over to Protools putterers who only succeed in showing us just how unduly obscure their sound can get. Bummer. This could have been the best three-CD set since the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs.
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