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Terrence Dixon
Badge Of Honor Albert Freeman , February 21st, 2014 05:28

An unlikely renaissance man of Detroit, Terrence Dixon and his Population One project have in recent years rushed to the forefront of experimental techno. Dixon was never one to take the corners slowly, and his early and outspoken support for left-field electronic labels like Sähkö was certainly evident in the hard, lean, minimalist techno and electro that made his name known in the mid-to-late 90s as Motown exploded with wave after wave of creative energy. Occupying a somewhat marginal position alongside giants like Rob Hood, Jeff Mills, Claude Young, Drexciya, Underground Resistance and many more, it took the generational shift away from and then back to Detroit roots to renew interest in his music, and he has emerged from this struggle stronger than ever as certain of his early peers fell away into relative obscurity.

It helps that the musical climate of the last two years is not actually a duplicate of the hard minimalism that defined his first era of productivity, but rather an evolution of it, wherein esoteric, non-dancefloor oriented projects like Actress, the Spectrum Spools and Modern Love labels and others, hold great sway and have infused artists both young and older with a renewed love for outside ideas that has rejuvenated the floor. This especially holds true for Dixon, who has unashamedly wandered ever further off the deep end with each record, crafting truly spectacular and truly bizarre results in the process.

It would seem that Terrence Dixon may have found the ideal fit for his sound in Nick Dunton's seminal experimental techno label Surface. Best known for the work that Dunton and Richard Polson created as 65D Mavericks (until the latter's death) and for steadily supporting fellow outlier Oliver Ho, the concise discography of Surface holds more than its share of underground classics. Furthermore, the label has been on its own tear of rejuvenation in recent years with bracing releases from Orphx's Rich Oddie, label head Dunton, this recently-forged alliance with Dixon and more turning heads. The alignment between the two could hardly be better timed.

Speaking with Dunton in London during the process that generated the album, it was revealed that Badge of Honor was actually a gruelling, highly selected batch of tracks taken by the label after rejecting many more. It has been argued that Dixon may recently have been a bit too free in some of his releases as regards to quality control, and Surface wisely sought to avoid this pitfall without sacrificing any of the experimental edge that has made the artist's most recent efforts so unique. It's a bracing listen from beginning to end that stands up quite easily to the 2012 Tresor album From the Far Future Part 2, while also easily exceeding it in strangeness.

If the distinction between the music released under his own name and his more experimental Population One alias has waned over time, here it is vaguer than ever. There's not much left of the obvious Detroit tropes that featured on the vinyl selections taken by Tresor; they've been replaced by minimalist rhythmic structures tightly interwoven with bizarre sonic constructions and tensely drawn out into compositions that work their end via gripping hypnosis. Insistent, often loping basslines are hung over the barest minimalist drum constructs, which evolve and break down organically as the tracks proceed. The remaining sonic content can only be compared to the most experimental ideas found in modern composition or experimental electronic music, here just barely tethered to the beat and sometimes subtly looped almost at the edges of perception.

Dixon clearly knows the terrain he's working with here, and on occasion he ends tracks with lock grooves that could easily go unnoticed by less attentive listeners, sliding sneakily into the overall hypnotic state the album succeeds at creating. At times an African influence appears in his drum programming, such as on B-side closer 'The Mission', although there it contrasts with more damaged sci-fi soundscapes and degraded swells as the piece runs its course. He intersperses a few shorter, more ambient efforts amongst the longer pieces, but rather than distracting from the flow as they would on a more purely functional techno record, they fit easily into the overall abstract atmosphere.

Compared to the more spiritual, Afro-futurist tendencies of many of Terrence Dixon's Detroit peers, there's something far more sinister, dystopian, and strikingly contemporary about the music released here. It's difficult to see such darkly psychological and perceptual music as something to inspire raving in a darkened warehouse. His musical inspirations are likewise quite evidently more complex than most producers with the nods to African music, jazz and contemporary composition, while his unconventional musical choices as regarding notes and chord progressions are also striking.

With fifteen tracks spread out over four sides, there is an awful lot to digest here, but those brave enough will find some of the most original music Motown has produced in a very long time, from a visionary currently at his highest point of achievement. Dixon's early career produced some celebrated music that was noted for its unconventional sound but that sat still as a connected outlier to the mainstream of Detroit techno. Early hints from his return suggested a similar idea. Luckily for listeners, this has not wholly turned out to be his pathway; in processing his many inspirations and combining them bravely with the contemporary drift away from strictly utilitarian dancefloor sounds, Badge of Honor stands at the pinnacle of this late-blooming legend's career.

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