DERRICK MAY Innovator (Transmat)

Possibly the most aptly titled release since, uh, "Land Speed Record", "Innovator" is a double CD compilation devoted to the works of Detroit techno überlord Derrick May, featuring tracks recorded under his Rhythm Is Rhythm and Mayday aliases

Currently in self-imposed creative exile (the odd mix CD release notwithstanding), May was one of a handful of young Americans who practically invented what we now conveniently umbrella as ‘dance music’ (or ‘electronica’, to use the American term) a decade or more ago. Bashing out primitive melodies and tribal beats on the dregs of the Japanese consumer electronics giants’ planned obsolescency strategies, May took the glacial purity of late period Kraftwerk and married it to drum machines programmed by alien bebop aficionados and synths possessed by the ghost of Gil Evans. Heck, when the sleevenotes (written by George Clinton, no less) claim that 1988’s Summer Of Love couldn’t have happened without May’s tune "Strings Of Life" you smile at, rather than gag on, the hype. Yes, it’s an exaggeration, but only a mild one.

Contained on these two CDs are 27 tracks that otherwise you’d have to scour record fairs and surly dance music shops packed out with twelve-year-olds in unfeasibly large trousers to obtain (second-hand and at mortgage prices, natch). Highlights? Well, the lot of it, basically, but for my money you carn’t beat old faves like "Nude Photo", "It Is What It Is" and the track that forms the cornerstone of the Derrick May legend, and surely the best dance music tune in the world ever, "Strings Of Life". Presented here in three versions - a truncated Club 18-30 holiday soundtrack called "Salsa Life", a lengthy beatless workout entitled "Strings Of The Strings Of Life" and the heavenly original mix - this is the template that much of what followed - both from May and just about everyone else - has grubbed around trying to melt down the magic of. Often proclaimed as techno’s first symphony, it’s little more that a fuzzy piano loop, an impossibly thin but back-snappingly overarching sampled string section and some seek-and-destroy drum programming...but don’t analyse it, listen to it, because it’s the soul of a new machine ‘getting into’ jazz, an astonishingly simple, yet astoundingly ambitious, noise.

This is a terrific CD that I’ve been playing at least daily since I bought it, the kind of all-consuming musical experience that gives so much you can forgive it the odd little niggle that would sink lesser albums (where’s the vinyl version? what’s the purpose of the annoying excerpts between the big tunes? and why does the tracklisting bear scant relation to the actual running order?). Satisfaction unquestionably guaranteed.

DERRICK MAY Innovator (R&S)

When I reviewed this album in #49 I concluded that it was a fantastic compilation of the works of Detroit techno’s original and best exponent, spoilt only by the fact that it wasn’t available on vinyl and the track listing’s rather distant connection with what was actually on the discs. Well, lo and behold, for its domestic release "Innovator" has been reborn by the feted Belgian label R&S (one time home to Aphex Twin, Mike Dred and Joey Beltram, among others) as a - get this! - five LP box set, with seven extra tracks and - at last - a track listing that actually makes sense! The same gravity-defying, headspinning take on dance music that, as the sleevenotes quite sensibly point out, launched the second Summer of Love and, debatably, the whole acid house phenomenon, except now with vastly improved sonics. (And it’s not just me rambling off on my anti-CD tip again; this really is a benchmark of how good vinyl can sound.). Incredibly, the whole package is even a few pounds cheaper than the original CD. "Innovator" remains a stunning collection, essential listening for the dance music enthusiast in you.