Speaker Music


The latest from DeForrest Brown Jr. offers a pattering, ricocheting vision of the future, finds Jon Buckland

Seemed to me that drumming was the best way to get close to God.” – Lionel Hampton

Best known as the ‘King of the Vibraphone’, Lionel Hampton was also a master of the drums, performing jaw-dropping stick-juggling routines without missing a beat. Hampton died of congestive heart failure on 31st August 2002. Just a few days later, James Stinson – one half of Detroit Techno luminaries, Drexciya – also succumbed to a heart condition.

These events may be unrelated but their synchronicity is eerie. The output of Speaker Music (aka DeForrest Brown Jr.) initially seems more aligned with Drexciya’s discography but the sleight of hand he uses to conjure his wild rhythms perhaps owes an unexpected debt to the aforementioned vibraphonist. Techxodus showcases a maniacal magician with fingers flung in flurries, rat-a-tatting across trigger pads, firing off samples with the same speed, dexterity, intensity, and rhythmic magnificence as Hampton in full flow.

And like a technological shark, the digital drums on Techxodus are in constant motion. They pan, move, and shift across the headroom, regularly taking the role as the brightest and loudest component on each track. Skittering percussion peppers the soundscape on ‘Techno-Vernacular Phreak’ in an exploratory and often untethered free jazz pattering. Even on the album’s airy ambient intro, or the sedate journey into Drexciyan territory that is ‘Our Starship To Ociya Syndor’, a subtle beat tumbles beneath the surface, evolving on the former into tricksy hi-hats that then dapple the whole record.

Whether it’s taking a back seat or heading the charge, the rhythm section is always complexly configured, distancing itself from that humdrum and four-square, plunged-V-neck and trust-funded corner of the techno world. As Brown Jr. succinctly declares on the record’s opening track: “Black music that sounds technological rather than music made with technology.” ‘Futurhythmic Bop’, with its laser shards and glitched sprites which flit and swoop like electronic fireflies, fits that bill. As does the eradication of preset “woahs” and “oohs” with a noise wall of thundering blown out bass on ‘Feenin’. Hackneyed cliché is being replaced with something more primal.

The central point around which this record pivots, however, is the track ‘Jes’ Grew’.

Named after an audio “virus” that spreads Black culture in Ishmael Reed’s novel Mumbo Jumbo, ‘Jes Grew’ is an unleashing of the spirit. A transcendental celebration of bare-chested honesty. It’s as if we’re witnessing scenes of skronked out jubilation, of carnival abandon, with garbled voices testifying beneath the ricocheting rhythms. Alongside the desperate chants and wails of ‘Dr Rocks Powernomics Vision’, the voices clamour, strain, argue, laud, and lament. This representation of raw humanity enshrines man’s place in Brown Jr.’s vision of the future.

And his own voice reappears for the finale. Whispered and treated. That soft skronk too. That this loops back to the start suggests revolution rather than evolution (to borrow a phrase from Alan Partridge) but there’s reverence too in these voices. A form of worship wrought throughout the course of the album’s journey. Resilience. Growth. All wrapped up in the new notions proclaimed by Brown Jr.’s wrenching of the past into the future. Drumming, it seems, is the best way to get close to humanity.

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