This series remains ample proof that the re-emergence of ambient via the early electronic dance music scene of the 1990's was - far from being the fad some accused it of - one of the most exciting and creative developments in late 20th century music.
Artificial Intelligence (Warp Records)
country of origin:
- VARIOUS - Artificial Intelligence (1993)
- POLYGON WINDOW - Surfing on Sine Waves (1993)
- BLACK DOG PRODUCTIONS - Bytes (1993)
- B12 - Electro-Soma (1993)
- F.U.S.E. aka Ritchie Hawtin - Dimension Intrusion (1993)
- SPEEDY J - Ginger (1993)
- AUTECHRE - Incunabula (1993)
- VARIOUS - Artificial Intelligence II (1994)
Reviewed by Mike G
Founded in 1989 by friends Steve Beckett and the late Rob Mitchell, Warp Records started life as a small record shop in Sheffield, England and became one of the most popular and pioneering of all the experimental and ambient techno labels that flowered in the 1990's in the UK, Europe and USA. Warp's output over the years has been broad, from earbleeding industrial noise (Aphex Twin as his most demanding) to mutant drum 'n' bass (Squarepusher) to tuneful softcore beats and glacial ambient atmospheres (Speedy J).
For ambient fans, however, the six artist albums and two various-artist compilations that form Warp's early Artificial Intelligence series are seminal ambient techno releases, part of the wave of post-rave creativity in the 90's that also drove New York label Instinct Ambient, Germany's Fax Records and the ambient releases of UK dance label Rising High.
On the genesis of the series, Steve Beckett told The Independent in a 2007 interview:
"The dance scene was changing and we were hearing b-sides that weren't dance but were interesting and fitted into experimental, progressive rock. So we decided to make the compilation Artificial Intelligence, which became a milestone...the music was aimed at home listening rather than clubs and dance floors: people coming home, off their nuts, and having the most interesting part of the night listening to totally tripped out music."
The two compilations are the best place to start for newcomers. Artificial Intelligence II (1994) is the more melodic of the the two, highlighted by the meltingly beautiful "Arcadia" by Link (aka Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard). This extraordinary track was made around the same time as the duo's classic ambient album 76'16 (1994) which was released under their other pseudonym Global Communication. With its lush keys and ravishing harmonies "Arcadia" is up there with the best of CG and is as fine a track as the duo ever produced. Darker, more edgier tracks also feature across the two A.I.compilations from the likes of Autechre and Seefeel, acts whose vaguely disturbing but still subtle sounds are an effective foil to the sweeter moments.
As popular and influential as the series was, it was short-lived. Warp's initial forays into these lush forms of IDM (intelligent dance music) pretty much stopped after the mid 90's - Boards Of Canada excepted - despite the label continuing to release music including harsher forms of IDM well into the new century. Perhaps this is reflection of that curiously British ambivalence towards making pretty or psychedelic music lest one be labelled a hippie. That, and the fact that Warp wanted to keep ahead of the curve, after the ambient techno sound that the series popularised started appearing on chill compilations from mainstream labels in record stores all over Britain.
But never mind. The series is a cornerstone of British techno and remains ample proof that the re-emergence of ambient via the early electronic dance music scene of the 1990's was - far from being the fad some accused it of - was one of the most exciting and creative developments in late 20th century music. From a less academic perspective, these are simply great cerebral chillout records and most have aged beautifully. Consistent across them all is an aesthetic: clean, detailed, sometimes funky machine music with ultra-precise rhythms yet possessing a heart as well as a head. Kraftwerk's vision of mankind melding with machine lives on.