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Various Artists – Strange-Eyed Constellations

Disco Gecko

Various Artists – Strange-Eyed ConstellationsI’m a sucker for this kind of thing. I totally bought into the Planet Dog/Shamanarchy angle as a teenager and still buy in now. This compilation has been put together by Toby Marks AKA Banca de Gaia, one of the heads of the scene in the ’90s, a guy who used to be everywhere, whose music was played at and defined by West Country beach parties and forest raves, who always seemed to be spinning. I liked most of his stuff – a lot of it I loved – but it was the kind of music (along with Zion Train, Eat Static, Astralasia, Transglobal Underground etc etc) that never really managed to dig itself out of a genre hole and never really got the credit it deserved.

The genre thing helped make the scene ubiquitous but ultimately nonsensical to those not inside it. The techno folks (who got very over-excited by LFO et al) were certainly terrified of even the slightest association with hippies. Back then most of the critics seemed to believe that daft old lie that punk cleared the hippies away – down here that made no sense; the punks were hippies and the hippies were ravers.

Worse, the Megadog scene was associated with the new age travellers and Spiral Tribe revellers: both were fused to the scene like a lost bit of Mutoid Waste Company solder. There was no individualistic Aphex Twin snarkiness to please the media, no flash, no collaborations with Philip Glass or Stockhausen (I might have imagined that last one, no way Stockhausen would have fallen for that rot).

So, time went by somehow the scene got sucked into what became psytrance and Goa trance and whatever and during that time lots of things happened around this genre, innovations were made but critics couldn’t see past the (admittedly naïf) album art and, anyway, were taking all the wrong drugs. And so, lots of really interesting electronic music got relegated to the second division. A few managed to transcend the association (Orbital, Aphex) but most didn’t.

Meanwhile, the scene expanded and got pushed into odd directions and, importantly, started absorbing more and more influences: the flutes came out, New Age music in the purest sense got sucked in, electronics got ripped out of Berlin and recycled into fields across England. No-one noticed. No-one trusted the socialism of the scene, the fact that it really was difficult to tell individual artists apart and that that was treated as a virtue not a curse. The fact that it was a genre was regarded with suspicion; why would artists aspire to be a collective, why wouldn’t they be all trying to push ahead. Don’t they realise there’s no such thing as society?

Which brings me to this. Toby Marks has put together an album by lots of different artists which sounds like it’s a Banco de Gaia album. This isn’t a criticism; it’s very much a virtue; this works beautifully as an album, is sequenced to be listened to in that way, has lovely moments and slightly meh moments and things that transport. It’s like the whole genre; you won’t be caught by every moment of every track but you’ll find things in every song to love.

You will have to suck in your gut (feelings) and any latent cynicism you might have. Some of it is very New Age (Spatialize’s track “Floating World”, for instance) while a lot of it (AstroPilot, dr trippy – I know, the names are already putting you off, just stay with me for a second, will you?) uses the kind of self-consciously beautiful-ethereal-female-wailing that for some reason I can’t resist (I blame the right drugs at the right time) but are obviously, deliberately, completely generic.

There’s a lots of very dense wooshing and some of the synth pads are quietly immense (but these guys will never have the cachet of the pure drone artists, will never be regarded as so fundamentally out there) and also some gently complex piano figures (Project Transmissions, Andrew Heath) and some deeply dubby noisescapes (James Eller). Toby Marks himself appears at least twice and his Banco track is an intense variation on his own themes. I like this album, my kids (as munkins, as machine elves, as trillions) like this album, but it’s not likely to change your anti-hippie mind unless you add 25g of Stropharia Cubensis. And if you’ve done that, you’re probably already aware of it, have probably used it, or one of it’s siblings, because this music is everywhere.


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