BBH: 3MB feat. Magic Juan Atkins, Jazz Is The Teacher



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By 1992, the spiritual kinship between the cities of Detroit and Berlin had existed for years. But despite the invisible conduit of ideas and inspiration flowing back and forth between the world’s electronic dance music capitals, there was precious little actual collaboration to show for it — just a handful of tracks, really, though a symbiosis of ideas and a definitive kinship was in full flower. 3MB was the German half of the equation, featuring Moritz von Oswald and Thomas Fehlmann who would go on to produce pioneering music of their own. The pair worked the previous year with Detroit techno pioneer Eddie “Flashin” Fowlkes, though the group only truly collaborated on two tracks on the double LP released under their names. By all accounts, however, the work between Atkins, von Oswald and Fehlmann was a true melting pot, the music showcased on the group’s self-titled double LP released by Tresor in 1993.

Though all seven of the tracks are strong — this could easily be a column about the greatness of “Die Kosmiche Kourier” — one stands above the rest: “Jazz Is The Teacher.” Issued as the A-side of single vinyl versions featuring select tracks from the album on Atkins’ own Metroplex imprint and NovaMute, “Jazz Is The Teacher” may not have been the first Detroit/Berlin collaboration, but it certainly resonated the deepest. Bubbling with the propulsive energy of the Motor City and artfully splashed with sleek and sophisticated European synths, “Jazz Is The Teacher” doesn’t sound like jazz at all — but it didn’t sound much like anything that had come before it either. You can hear bits and pieces of each hand in the mix: Atkins’ driving, crashing hi-hats, snares and funked-up bass bounce; von Oswald’s percolating and echoing bubbles; Fehlmann’s ambient washes and textures. They blend seamlessly, yet also seem perpetually at war with each other, as if each piece is trying to show off for the others. The pulses change and warp throughout, folding into one another to craft a masterpiece that has yet to be equaled.

Detroit and Berlin may have spiraled off into separate directions and gravitated back again in the many years since “Jazz Is The Teacher” brought them together on wax. There hasn’t been a more definitive musical statement of the unique musical harmony felt between the two cities before or since.

shuja x  on June 3, 2009 at 9:08 AM

Excellent start to the series, Todd. My personal pick would be “Die Kosmiche Kourier,” which I consider one of the most emotionally potent techno tracks ever recorded, but the whole EP is really of a piece. This is the kind of music that seems to offer insight into the origin of space and time, or at least it did to me a few years ago, when it was one of the first dance records I heard that grabbed me by the brainstem and wouldn’t let go. That the title of this track references jazz is so significant; like jazz, it signifies without language. The sounds seem full of ideas. Proof positive that dance music can do more than just make you dance.

hutlock  on June 3, 2009 at 9:59 AM

Thanks, Shuja! I wavered back and forth about which track to use, but I finally settled on “JITT” — I did make it a point to shout out “DKK” in the article though, because it is very much of a piece, as you say. I think I used to play “JITT” more back in the day, so I went with that, but it really was a coin flip.

colin s  on June 3, 2009 at 11:59 AM

Really nice way of looking at a brilliant track. Thanks for this!

kuri  on June 3, 2009 at 2:47 PM

great kickoff for this new column. I prefer “DKK” off of this as well, but recognize the implied importance of what these 3 were trying to achieve with “JITT.” just looking at those 3 names is giving me shivers, so much amazing music has come from them all.

Jason Brunton  on June 3, 2009 at 4:47 PM

I was listening to this track not too long ago and remembering how excited we were when it was first released – although it’s not explicitly “jazz” in terms of it’s structure and there’s no solos or anything, the incredible driving drum programming and the chords and melodies do have something of this genre whilst remaining firmly in the Techno arena – those xylophone parts and the general looseness of the parts do have a “live” feel to them which is where I guess the Jazz part of the equation is most closely represented.

Ahhh, this is just great music- nice to see it being talked about again!

Patrick  on June 5, 2009 at 8:31 PM

A great double ep, probably one of the best collabs between ‘Detroit’ & ‘Berlin’, every track is just deeeep. Jazz Is The Teacher still blows me away to this day, such a beautiful track. Die Kosmiche Kourier is just on a whole other level…

Ghos313  on June 8, 2009 at 1:56 PM

3MB was one of the pivotal moments in my musical development and appreciation. I remember fondly walking to a record shop in downtown Detroit and having one of the UR guys sell it to me, along with the first Tresor compilation CDs. The sound has been running through my veins ever since. Ah, the tender, young days of rave…
Great choice to start this series.

Dex  on June 12, 2009 at 3:56 PM

yea this is one of Juan’s best moments and a bit under appreciated.. also check “I Wanna Be There” or “Ocean to Ocean”

hutlock  on June 15, 2009 at 11:19 AM

Oh man, Dex — the long version of “I Wanna Be There” on the original double EP is SO SO clutch. Good call.

littlewhiteearbuds  on June 15, 2009 at 11:42 AM

“I Wanna Be There” is one of my favorite tracks of all time. That being the case, any suggestions for other stuff to check out?

harpomarx42  on June 16, 2009 at 9:27 AM

Just off the top of my head, here are some similar tracks, old and new.

Chez Damier – Abacus
Mike Dunn – God Made Me Phunky (X-Press 2 Remix)
Sean Deason – The Shit
Minilogue – Animals (Beat Pharmacy Dub)
La Funk Mob – Motorbass Get Phunked Up (Richie Hawtin Remix)
Moodymann – JAN
M Pittman – Feedback
Underground Resistance – Return Of The Dragons
Model 500 – I Wanna Be There (Wax Doctor Mix)

hutlock  on June 16, 2009 at 9:57 AM

I would also suggest more of that UR “cosmic jazz” material — “Windchime” is a big favorite of mine, and there’s a really nice 2-CD comp around too.

Shuja Haider  on June 16, 2009 at 10:12 AM

The whole Deep Space album, which has the short version of “I Wanna Be There,” is definitely one of the great techno full-lengths. Perfect for a late-night drive.

Chris Burkhalter  on June 16, 2009 at 4:50 PM

…and of course ‘Deep Space’ also features “Starlight” – another great Detroit-Berlin collab.


Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald, Borderland | Little White Earbuds  on May 29, 2013 at 12:02 AM

[…] The duo, with Thomas Fehlmann as 3MB, issued one of the most classic techno records of all time in Jazz Is The Teacher, a record which single-handedly defined the storied alliance between Detroit and Berlin while […]

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