This essential compilation highlights an overlooked label from the '90s.
Between 1994 and '98, the label's main operational period, Defective put out 30 releases, starting with tracks mined from Baltimore's vibrant scene, before expanding to include other American and international artists. The output was broad to reflect the founders' tastes and mostly great, the kind of stuff that gives '90s dance music its golden reputation. Despite this, Defective hasn't lived long in the memory outside of nerdy circles—though this may finally be changing. Recent reissues on high-profile labels such as трип and Ellum Audio have helped stir fresh interest, and this momentum continues with a new best-of compilation, the first release on Defective in a decade.
Electronic Mutations From Beyond collects ten vital tracks, most of which have never been reissued, all freshly remastered at Schnittstelle in Berlin. The label's rich sonic identity is on full show, with acid and electro bombs alongside soothing IDM and downtempo. There's a nice mix of Baltimoreans (including Glitch) and artists like the criminally underrated Solar X from Russia, who Nigrin discovered on a mailing list for analogue synths. He's the only one with two original cuts on the compilation, both of which stand out for their dawn melodies and absurd sounds. "Koroleva (Solar X Mix)," my favourite track on the LP, is particularly barmy, with the esteemed rock critic Art Troitsky warbling the lyrics to a song by Alla Pugacheva, Russia's most successful pop star, over lush twinkles and frantic breakbeats.
This eccentric streak characterises much of the best electronic music from the '90s, as novice producers got to grips with taming alien machines. You can hear this across the compilation, which includes several artists' earliest experiments. "Resonator One," the LP's ferocious acid opener, was on Mike Parker's second EP. The label also released Parker's first remix, of "Give A Little More" by DJ Who, which was duly hammered by the likes of Evan Baggs, Lena Willikens and Avalon Emerson when it resurfaced on Ellum Audio in 2018. "Oceanic" by O.H.M. is both a Balearic techno masterpiece and the only good track on the US duo's first and last EP. Pure Gamma, Telekinetic Soulmate and Cyber Complex also only ever released one record. The mid-'90s was a magical time.
Tracks like "Oceanic" highlight another reason why this period was so special. Before dance music splintered into endless sub-genres, producers experimented more with moods and colours, combining light and dark, the breezy with the brutal. On "Love Remains," Glitch lay choral coos and hand percussion over a noisy tangle of synths. "Koishi" by Cyber Complex might make you weep then go berserk. Even "Sub-Ductress" by Telekinetic Soulmate, a slice of dusty downtempo for the most horizontal stoners, opens on a deeply sinister note.
Nigrin once described the music he and Stadelman wanted for Defective as "wires having sex," which nicely captures the vibe of this essential compilation. Electronic Mutations From Beyond is a labour of love from two dance music obsessives whose contribution to the culture has flown under the radar for too long. It's time they, and Defective Records, got the props they deserve.
Fri / 31 Jul 2020
01. Mike Parker - Resonator One
02. O.H.M. - Oceanic
03. Solar X - Pozdno Utrom
04. DJ Who - PB4UGO2BED
05. DJ Who - Give A Little More (Give It To Mike Parker)
06. Cyber Complex - Koishi
07. Pure Gamma - Disciple Of Awareness
08. Solar X - Koroleva (Solar X Mix)
09. Glitch - Love Remains
10. Telekinetic Soulmate - Sub-Ductress