Shit Robot Shit RobotFrom The Cradle To The Rave
Shit Robot didn’t choose this title coincidentally. Like nobody names their child randomly: there are intimate reasons, there’s an invisible story behind everything. “From The Cradle To The Rave” is telling you right from the start that this record is going to be a voyage in time and memory, and it’s final destination is rave music. That is to say, 1990, the moment when dance music in Great Britain changes forever, when the dance scene in the clubs of Manchester, Leeds, London and Sheffield stops feeding mainly off material made in the U.S. and starts to manufacture it’s own publishing scene –on the islands, but also on the continent– to accompany a human movement which at the time, and after two tumultuous summers of love, started to fill the countryside with life and an uncontrollable lust for diversion. Marcus Lambkin was born and raised in Dublin, but that expansive wave was crossing the Irish Sea without any problems. That moment of confusion between the retro-futurist past and the cyber-Dyonisiac future was forever burned into his mind and it’s normal that he cites the concept of rave in the album’s title: that’s where it al started for him, be it vitally or conceptually.
Then there is the cradle: the voyage, instead of going forward and launching into a nostalgic recovery of the 90’s, Shit Robot starts going backwards in search of the source of that moment of explosion. That’s why the better part of “From The Cradle To The Rave” contains so many disco, electro, boogie and Chicago house moments without being a retro record exactly, because the origin of the raves, the genesis, the big bang, should maybe be looked for –I agree with Simon Reynolds in his introduction in the book “Energy Flash”– in Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, produced by Giorgio Moroder. Curiously, the album concludes with “Triumph”, a track we already knew from the 12” and which consists of the most sequenced, cosmic and mechanic –according to the motorik aesthetic of German electronic music of the 70’s– moment of a record which, since we’re talking about cycles and the connection between extremes, holds in its opening track ( “Tuff Enuff”) a very clear tribute to “Trans Europe Express”’s Kraftwerk, but not only that.
This Shit Robot effort is close to the other great albums released by DFA in the last few years. More than close to them, it sits in front of them, like a mirror. I’m talking about Hercules And Love Affair and their enormous self-titled album (2008). Feverish with his passion for disco and house, Andrew Butler practised a conscientious dissection of the great American dance music of the eighties that had a home in the clandestine gay clubs from Hi-NRG until the consolidation of acid house. “From The Cradle To The Rave” seems to have the same archaeological ambition –or at least the same desire to historically revisit an era of emotional learning– only from a European point of view. It’s not an American record because, even though DFA releases it and it has a strong 80’s touch, Shit Robot is not only indebted to the pioneers of New York, the Midwest and California. Here, apart from Hi-NRG songs that could perfectly have been signed by Bobby O, like “Take Em Up 2”, there are constant references to Italo disco, English synth-pop, the first Sheffield bleeps and it (almost) concludes with a piece of Italo house mixed with hardcore, “I Got A Feeling”. It’s a completely honest approach, because in those years dance music weren’t pure and geo-located: the trans-Atlantic dialogues were constant, and in that way Shit Robot’s album has a richer old mood than the one by Hercules (albeit, let it be said, not as inspired).
It’s also less rooted in tradition –less a slave to cliché– it mixes productions from different eras, the decades converse with each other, like on “Tuff Enuff”, which starts out as bleep and turns towards Kraftwerk, like for example Claude Vonstroke would on one of his productions for the Dirtybird label, or on those psychedelic British techno twists at the end of “I Found Love” and “Take Em Up 2”, which, right after the tribute to Debbie Harry’s rap (totally “Rapture”) seems to transform into an old Felix tune, connecting San Francisco Hi-NRG with London’s Nu-NRG. It’s a celebratory record that communicates passion for an era that can only be recovered with exercises as meditated as this one, and that’s why there is “Simple Things (Album Edit)” and its acid outbreak, between Lil’ Louis and Tyree, the boogie-disco of “Answering Machine” and the mutant hybrid between punk and disco, very LCD Soundsystem –and the least relevant tune of the lot– of “Grim Receiver”. An album that doesn’t lose its smile, that encourages us to look back and shows that, even though the base is nostalgic, there are always reasons to look ahead. And so, situated in a hypothetical 1990, having reviewed and uncovered everything we could, maybe this is the start of the real 90’s revival. If that’s the case, I can’t wait.