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Techno artists are notorious for their facelessness. So you can't necessarily blame anyone for not immediately recognizing Chris Sattinger, a.k.a. Timeblind, even at the club where he's performing. After all, despite a decade of making records and playing DJ sets that helped put Minneapolis on the world techno map, Sattinger remains fairly obscure--even for an underground dance artist. All that said, Sattinger's recent return to First Avenue's VIP Room to promote his superb new CD, Rugged Redemption, (Orthlorng Musork) saw the DJ treated with all the respect of an INS detainee.
"My driver's license was expired," the 33-year-old Sattinger says over enchiladas and beer at El Sombrero's, a Mexican joint in New York's Lower East Side. "I don't really need a driver's license--I live in New York, I walk everywhere. So when I stepped out of the VIP Room to go to the bathroom, they wouldn't let me back in. I was held up longer getting back into the VIP Room than I was at the airport during security check. And we're in the middle of a war!"
You'd think Sattinger would appreciate such a detail-oriented gesture. This is, after all, a man who wrote the computer code with which he created, mixed, and mastered his new album. Outside of the dance arena, Sattinger has made a name for himself in tech circles: He recently lectured a graduate class at Princeton about his audio-design program, which he followed with a laptop performance in the student lobby. (Sattinger remains deeply skeptical of systems like Final Scratch, which allows DJs to cue and spin MP3s via coded vinyl blanks. "The entry level to being a working DJ is already lower than starting your own punk rock band," he says. "It really shouldn't be any easier than it already is.")
It's somewhat ironic that even though Sattinger has access to the Princeton lecture circuit, he is still denied re-entry into First Avenue--the club that initially helped nurture his interest in the music he now makes. But Sattinger is hardly the club-kid archetype. Born in California, he moved to Minneapolis at age four and lived here until 1998, with brief stints in England and Denmark. While studying classical saxophone at London's Eastman School of Music, he discovered Swans and Throbbing Gristle and eventually abandoned classical music for industrial. He also played free jazz, and by 1987 was making his own versions of the nascent acid-house tracks that were coming out of Chicago. He attended the Hair Police's early proto-raves and First Avenue's acid-house nights.
"Around 1989 or 1990, I learned about house and techno from listening to Kevin Cole DJ," Sattinger says. "He'd play diva stuff and I'd be like, [makes squealing Tribbles noise]."
Inspired in 1991 by Detroit's Underground Resistance--techno's Public Enemy--Sattinger began releasing techno tracks with titles like "Ouija Board Through a Vocoder" on artist-run labels like Richie Hawtin's Probe and Woody McBride's Communique. He was a draw on the Midwest rave circuit before moving on to mid-Nineties international acclaim as a DJ and as a performer of electronic music. "I was always given better bookings playing live than for DJing--I'd play between Josh Wink and Richie Hawtin. I saw Josh Wink play one of my tracks once, and he put this diva vocal on top of it." Sattinger makes a face. "Uh, thanks--I think."
This varied background bears fruit on Rugged Redemption. True, dub is a constant, either directly--as on the deep skank of "Dubsturnt"--or as a guiding principle. The elements of nearly every track are treated like sonic Silly Putty. But few of the songs fit any one niche. "Rokdog" sends a disco-funk track through a series of irruptions and glitches, like the beat-breakdown climax of DJ Shadow's "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt" turned into a common occurrence. "Redemption ();" is "aquatic jungle" that literally sounds like it's buried underwater. "The Rastabomba" melds cracked spoken-word patois over splintered breakbeats and a low-rumbling acid bassline. And "Indestructible" scatters familiar-sounding jazz fragments into a soothing, slightly unsettling sound mass.
"I always make my better music when I'm not trying to fit in," Sattinger says of the new album. "When I try and fit in, I just fuck it up. The stuff I was doing for Communique and [New Yorker Damon Wild's] Sine Wave was very orthodox, because I was trying to prove a point: 'I can do orthodox techno if I want to.' And as soon as I found out I could do it, I didn't want to do it anymore."
The same unpredictability could characterize his brief foray into rock, playing guitar in Minneapolis rock quartet Fauna. "My roommate needed someone and I thought, all right, why not? After the shows, I'd be standing at the bar at First Avenue, talking to girls, and they'd ask what I did, and I'd tell them, 'I make acid house.' And they'd say, 'Why? Are you gay?' They were dead serious."
Sattinger chuckles. "Four years later," he says, "all those girls are trip-hop DJs."