Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald, Borderland


Regardless of how much techno has changed since its heyday — and arguments will range from “quite a bit” to “imperceptibly” — its protagonists have almost stubbornly remained the same. Since time immemorial, Moritz von Oswald and Juan Atkins have been two of the most revered names in the whole genre, not least due to their work together. 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 providing some thrilling music along the way. The two kept in touch, mostly with von Oswald’s name showing up on various Metroplex missives: his rework of Infiniti’s “Think Quick,” and of course the masterpiece that is Moritz’s mix of “Starlight,” the track that basically invented dub techno. Yet it’s been 20 years since Jazz Is The Teacher and because the two have worked so closely together the announcement of their collaborative LP Borderland came as very welcome news.

The better news is that Borderland is possibly just as thrilling as Jazz Is The Teacher was. The energy is nowhere near the levels of 1993, when techno was still young, brash, and confrontational, and Atkins and von Oswald have wisely avoided the pitfalls of retracing their steps. In terms of the record’s overall aesthetic, the closest kin is the recent work of the Moritz von Oswald Trio. Over half of Borderland‘s length is devoted to versions of “Electric Garden,” the spacious, 120 BPM roller that is the beating heart of the album. The “Deep Jazz In The Garden” mix opens the album and lays its cards on the table with a sole, uncluttered drum machine, a consistent low-end throb and a whole lot of space. That Borderland is so spacious and impeccably mixed will hardly surprise von Oswald die-hards, as the dubbed out horns and sound effects scream of his touch. Things settle down into the very horizontal “Electric Dub,” which further reduces the “Electric Garden” riddim to its very core and is certain to alienate those simply looking for another banging slice of Tresor-esque techno. Over 20 minutes in and things start to build in the form of “Footprints” with shuffling hi-hats, hand claps, and the first chord change of the whole record.

The forward momentum of “Footprints” carries use through to the “Original Mix” of “Electric Garden” — the record’s longest cut. It certainly speaks volumes of Atkins and von Oswald that after almost 22 minutes of “Electric Garden” another thirteen is an attractive proposition, but then that fits with the languid, free-form type of composition von Oswald has embraced lately, and it works on Borderland in its more techno-focused context. The latter half of the album is indeed more dance floor oriented than the more spartan, dubwise opening half, as “Treehouse” brings back the handclaps and with them the clearest signature of Atkins’ stylistic flourishes on the whole record. Elastic melodies bounce around like countless classic Metroplex sides, while “Mars Garden” returns to a more heads-down, spacey throb. “Digital Forest” is the big payoff moment: a driving slice of reduced, upbuilding techno that fuses Atkins’ and von Oswalds’ talents seamlessly. Simple, effective 909 hi-hats and echoed pads pair with a bustling, delayed bass line and expert mixing nous for an endlessly satisfying slice of neo-Detroit techno.

The comedown of “Afterlude” hints at numerous avenues this collaboration could be taken down in the future, but in the context of Borderland simply signals the end of one of the more intriguing techno workouts as of late. Despite its club-worn pedigree, Borderland strikes me as a real home listening record, probably best appreciated on the couch with a well-tuned hi-fi. It doesn’t shy away from the club per se, but certainly exists well outside any current trends or any of the sounds of modern techno. Its best moments, namely the myriad permutations of “Electric Garden,” hypnotize through an immersive sound world moving at a truly glacial pace. The misty forest imagery on the record’s sleeve will, for most, conjure images of that other forest-focused techno project, but Borderland almost seems like an entirely different genre. Indeed, Borderland creates such a singular environment as to make most comparisons — besides those to its authors’ histories — rather useless. It operates and evolves purely on the strength of its own convictions — convictions that have been solidified after a combined 50-plus years in the business. It is a remarkable, visionary experience because of it.


Little White Earbuds May Charts 2013 | Little White Earbuds  on May 31, 2013 at 9:55 AM

[…] Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald, “Electric Garden” [Tresor] (buy) 07. DJ Sprinkles, Where Dancefloors Stand Still [Mule Musiq] (buy) 08. Djrum, […]

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