Normally the records I feature on Wax Runoff are pretty squarely centered around house and techno, but the crates are endless, and sometimes the best records in a collection can be the less obvious ones.
When I first started discovering the world of dance music, I was primarily going to large raves and club promoted events that featured DJ sets normally no longer than 90 minutes. It wasn’t until I went to more intimate all night parties and underground events that featured longer, extended DJ sets that I discovered the art of the ambient and downtempo records.
In many ways ambient tracks are the antithesis of a party. They rarely feature rhythmic elements and therefore there is great skill involved in having them work for a crowd of people. The beginning and end of nights are usually when these choices are most applicable, but there are moments at the after-party when they shine, and of course the rare peak hour hypnosis can be caught from time to time as well.
In the early ‘90s as psychedelia as ramping up in the club scene, many small record labels put out amazing ambient and downtempo records that largely were never repressed and forgotten with time. One of my favorite records in this group is a 1994 12” by techno master Dietrich Schoenemann. Pluto-Circuits was released by Rancho Relaxo – an ambient off shoot of the respected Tension record label. It features three cuts of deep, dark, and bassy soundscapes that transfix the mind and soul.
“Pluto 1” on the A-side is my favorite of the record and almost always gets a spin at those moments when the after-party has been going for well over 12 hours. The crown feature is a massive subby bass that bubbles underneath very harmonious patches I would describe as angelic whispers. These sounds work quite well with the echoed blips and klangs that bookmark the ends of the soundscape elements. The reason it works so well is because of how much it translates the emotion behind the eventual end of the after-party and closing ceremony. It is a tune to get lost in, reflect on, cry with, and fall asleep to. It does grow to be pretty busy, but is an amazing example of strict sound arrangement.
Flipping over to the other side presents darker and less emotional cuts. “Pluto 2” on B1 is pure ambient succulence that embodies the true hypnotic allure of the genre. Dietrich enlists the help of some very grand synthesizer patches that wildly modulate in pulse width and filter cutoff. However, the changes are slow, gradual, and sneaky. Those more evolving pad and string elements come and go while an initial pad sequence loops endlessly the entire time. This creates an incredibly sophisticated interpretation of call and response theory. You have to wait for the juice, but in so doing, he has grasped the art of having you forget how long you’ve been crushing the grapes. Much like A1, this track expertly creates the atmospheric context around complex sounds, but is better suited for late-night early-morning party wrap-up moments.
The final track “Pluto 3” is markedly different in that it features drums, coming in the form of a simple and well-compressed downtempo 909 licks for which Dietrich is famously fond of. Drum kicks and snares swirl around synthesizer burps, though, for only a few minutes of the piece. The true beauty of the track is when the drums are not yet there and the long sequence of bass oscillations and noise filters begin to grow and evolve to create a mystic realm within the ether. Perfect for early on in the night as it has drums traditionally used to blend with other downtempo tracks. The sound is best described as mechanical and inviting, more curious than it is downright dark in comparison to the other two.
I’m always on the lookout for these obscure early and mid ‘90s ambient records because they are so amazingly explorative in their approach. For many, this sort of music doesn’t click until it’s heard at exactly the right moment in a DJ set that makes sense. I wasn’t even aware Dietrich had made records like this and there’s endless more examples of situations like this that I have yet to discover.
Getting your hands on this record is tough, but there looks to be two copies in good shape on Discogs that you may be able to grab if I don’t buy a new copy to replace my scratched one first. Whether with other people or alone, this record and other ones like it always light up my mind with delicate distractions from outside stimulus. It’s unbelievably easy to get lost in the sound.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.