Revisiting a game-changing '90s techno record.
Anthony Child, the British techno artist better known as Surgeon, released his first club hits while living in a Birmingham share house. "Atol" and "Magneze," the standout tracks from his self-titled 1994 debut, were the world's introduction to a style that would later become known as the "Birmingham sound," a raw, percussive brand of techno that would soundtrack dance floors for the next decade. More than 20 years later, "Atol" and "Magneze" remain the best-known tracks in Child's substantial discography, which by now includes eight albums and dozens of EPs. Among techno tunes this hard, anthems are rare. Child's first record had two.
"I was an unemployed DJ," Child recently told me over Skype. "I was living in a house with around five other people. Most of them were also involved with House Of God." House Of God, a long-running Birmingham club night named after a DHS track, was also central in shaping the so-called Birmingham techno sound. Launched by Chris Wishart in 1992, the fortnightly party counted Child among a close-knit roster of residents, who would blend hard-edged Detroit techno with the rough, jacking sounds of Chicago house. The Surgeon EP reflected those merging tastes, channeling Detroit-style paranoia in its bleeps and chords, and Chicago with its thumping basslines and upbeat grooves.
"I think 'Atol' and 'Magneze' are very much techno tracks," Child said. "But there's a pop sensibility to them."
Child recorded the tunes on Surgeon in a home studio belonging to Mick Harris, a Birmingham musician best known for his role in Napalm Death, a pioneering extreme metal band. Harris was also a techno fan. "This was the first time I went to his little studio in his house in Moseley," Child recalls. "I walked there from my house, literally with a [Korg Poly-800] keyboard on my back and [Cheetah] drum machine in a bag."
Harris also connected Child with Karl O'Connor, the punk-loving artist also known as Regis, who would release Surgeon on his label, Downwards. "I'm pretty sure Mick played them to Karl, who wanted to release them. So Mick introduced me to Karl and it went from there."
Surgeon's initial 500 copies quickly sold out, and a number of represses soon followed. "I have no clue how many copies it has sold," Child said.
Child and O'Connor's partnership morphed into the iconic British Murder Boys project, through which they released a string of churning techno EPs between 2002 and 2005. Surgeon was also the first techno EP on Downwards, which eventually became the label that most defined the Birmingham sound, releasing a stream of loopy, raw techno tracks that inspired a new wave of artists at home and abroad.
Immediately picked up by DJs across the UK, US and Europe, Surgeon elevated Child from local resident to international DJ. Jeff Mills included two tracks—"Magneze" and "Move"—on his 1996 mix CD Live At The Liquid Room - Tokyo, which led to Child's first Japanese tour. The EP also landed Child his first gigs in Munich and Berlin.
"Everything blew up from that first release," he said. "I don't think either of us expected it to sell anything, really. My biggest ambition was to have the tracks pressed onto vinyl so I could play them in my DJ sets. I think we expected to live with them in boxes under our beds for the rest of our lives."