Artificial Intelligence (series)

These compilations remain 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.

series:
Artificial Intelligence

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Ambient techno

decades active:
90's

essential compilation releases:

  • Artificial Intelligence (Warp/Wax Trax, 1993)
  • Artificial Intelligence II (Warp/Wax Trax, 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 two various-artist compilations that form part of 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. Also part of the A.I. series are six individual artist albums, the greatest of these being Speedy J's sublime Ginger (1993).

On the genesis of the series, Steve Beckett told The Independant 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."

Artificial Intelligence IIĀ (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. albums from names like 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 forays into lush ambient pretty much stopped after the mid 90's - Boards Of Canada excepted - despite the label continuing to release music well into the new century. Given the promise of the A.I. series, Warp's label's legacy of music in the ambient style is disappointingly small, a reflection perhaps of that curiously British ambivalence towards making pretty or psychedelic music lest one be labeled a hippie.

But never mind. These compilations remain 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. From a less academic perspective, both CD's are simply great chillout records and have aged beautifully. Consistent across both CD's is an aesthetic: clean, detailed 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.

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