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Drexciya
Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller IV Albert Freeman , December 5th, 2013 08:41

It's always going to be tricky anthologising the career of any foundational group. Balancing the essential picks agreed upon by collectors while still respecting the original discography is a contentious issue, and then there are the leftfield favorites that often offer a window into deeper understanding of the music. With Drexciya, who cultivated such strong mythology around their work and have such devoted adherents, this becomes doubly difficult. After all, how does one convey the Drexciyan story - of a species of water-breathing beings, descended from drowned slaves - which was so often presented programmatically in their music, if one cuts apart the original releases themselves? It becomes a question of how integral the mythos really is to the music; and with James Stinson having passed away and Gerald Donald typically tight-lipped on the subject, the artists themselves offer no assistance.

Over the course of their four-volume reissue set, Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller, Clone have been unusually revisionist, which is a brave choice for a back catalogue as influential as this. Long the target of stratospheric collector prices that forced many questions about why the labels themselves did not repress the original releases, Clone, with Donald's consent, undertook a vast reprogramming of the group's discography. They've curated what are essentially four imaginary albums, cropped from a vast array of music that was originally released across several of techno's most feted labels. In a sense, Drexciya are an ideal choice for such a tactic; their releases were filled with thematic interludes and short intros intended to invoke their themes, interspersed with longer pieces that became eager fodder for DJs and established their legacy. However, it is just this sort of editorial approach that creates a conflict; removing the story from Drexciya seems to undercut much of the revolutionary aspects of the duo's work. Simply including "the hits", so to speak, could never convey their impact or outspokenness on the subject of electronic music, history, politics, and other topics.

For the first three volumes, the tight rope act that the label pulled off was impressive, even if it still provoked a certain amount of grumbling. Clone showed themselves adept at establishing a musical thread that flowed between the individual releases; they successfully included many of the short pieces that conveyed the group's ideological stance, separated from the DJ classics that followed them in many cases, and in each volume they successfully illuminated a different aspect of the group's musical personality. Even with a few morsels of unreleased material thrown in, it was never going to please everyone, but as it stands it revived a sizable portion of a long-unavailable catalogue in a manner that both novices and longtime fans could appreciate, albeit certainly not with much orthodoxy to the original releases.

Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller IV is the grand finale to all of this, and it's another attempt to repeat the trick of creating a self-standing album of material drawn from elsewhere. Almost predictably, Clone have opted to save the lion's share of the previously unreleased material for last, and here they trot out six full tracks of it in mostly fragmentary form. 'Black Sea', 'Depressurization', and 'Hydro Cubes' are in fact the only DJ-length workouts on a compilation comprised otherwise of entirely three-and-a-half minute or less pieces. The essential question, of course, is how the unreleased tracks hold up against the more famous ones, which, while notoriously raw on many occasions, became blueprints for future techno artists to build upon.

The label approaches this dilemma in a typically savvy manner by grouping the first three unreleased pieces after the dirty 'Mantaray'. Of this trio, the middle 'Unknown Journey VII' nearly gives the impression of a finished piece in both length and composition, with bouncing, funky bass and a snapping electro beat, although it lacks something of the narrative development possessed by their more famous tracks. This is contrasted to the subsequent 'Unknown Journey VIII', which is half the length but heavily melodic and epic-sounding. 'Living On The Edge', another of their rawer classics, follows, and the second half essentially repeats the same idea by burying two unreleased tracks in the middle of a raft of celebrated material and turning these two short electro bangers into something of an extended peak, despite the fact that each clocks in at under three minutes.

Excised from the context Clone places them in, the extra tracks scattered across all four volumes comprise an interesting, if inessential, addendum to a project whose legacy is difficult to overstate. Throughout these compilations, and especially on Deep Sea Dweller IV, where it leans most heavily on them, the unreleased material stands up alongside the rest but does not stand out from it. Of course, with music as fetishised as this, nothing short of straight reissues would have silenced the devotees, but Drexciya's releases themselves were often frustratingly short on standalone tracks, and trimming them down for an anthology is ultimately necessary. The re-narration of their musical accomplishments by Clone is ultimately convincing. In making so much classic and unheard music easily available for a new generation of fans, they have ultimately done a great service to listeners, and again shed light on Drexciya's legacy.

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