New York City's Adam X is one of the original US electronic dance architects, with a fine line in brutal, astringent blasts of industrial techno. Rather than “go EDM”, he's kept true to his principles and remained resolutely underground. With a new album in the bag, we decided it was a good time to contact the Berlin-dwelling X to get the lowdown on where he's at...
New York techno has always been harder than the rest and, for the last quarter century, Adam X has been its proudest and most prolific practitioner, even if he’s lived in Berlin for the last seven years.
His new album 'Irreformable' is a fearlessly brutal statement which cuts through minimal pussyfooting to give much-abused electronic dance music back its original meaning, its monstrous analogue stun blasts the best realisation yet of his ongoing mission to bridge the gap between techno and industrial.
Adam calls the album “just another chapter of the life story” which started when he was a kid in Brooklyn and his parents were dancing at early discos in the early '70s. By early next decade they were taking Adam and his brother (respected producer Frankie Bones) to roller discos. When Frankie started DJing, Adam got into epoch-making electro tunes he was spinning such as Kraftwerk’s ‘Numbers’, Man Parrish’s 'Hip Hop Be Bop’ and Strafe’s ‘Set It Off’.
At the same time Adam became gripped by New York’s vibrant graffiti culture, painting trains while immersed in the rapidly-evolving hip-hop being broadcast on groundbreaking NY radio mastermixes which, by 1988, included Tony Humphries spinning the new house music. Adam also witnessed Frankie playing acid house and techno at Staten Island’s Wave nights with Lenny Dee.
By 1990, Adam’s subway-painting activities were getting him into trouble and he was under surveillance by the age of 19. Happily, Frankie had opened Groove Records in Brooklyn with an aim to bring UK rave sounds to NYC in America’s first all-techno store. Adam started working there, soon collecting the records and DJing himself. After his first gig playing to a thousand ravers in LA in September 1990, he never looked back.
While the shop (moved to Manhattan as Sonic Groove in 1995) continued into the next century as one of the top techno retailers in the world, it also organised events, including the legendary Storm Raves (“The EDM festivals of now could not hold a torch to the vibe at our 5,000 person Storm Rave events thrown in illegal warehouses in the early '90s”). Changing his name from Mitchell to X, Adam recorded with fellow Sonic Groove worker Jimmy Crash as X-Crash, causing a stir with their debut 12-inch ‘303+606=909’ on Direct Drive, and started the Sonic Groove imprint he still runs today.
“Jimmy and I were both interested in the more dark edge, acidic sounds of techno,” recalls Adam, whose nascent musical mindset was profoundly influenced by early Belgian techno and Electronic Body Music, Sheffield bleep and early Detroit. “This in a time where nearly every producer in techno was sampling one another. I call it the Rave Stab era, known for short orchestrated stab notes or that famous hoover sound. I soon got tired of this sound and approach to making music and went on a binge of buying classic analogue gear. I bought two TB303s for $250! Also a 909, 101 and other pieces. Now we were anti-sample-based, other than an odd vocal sample.”
While the flop of an Adam Beyer-Joey Mull tune called ‘Slaughterhouse’ prodded Jimmy’s retirement from music in 1994, Adam went on to release a stream of savage, stripped-down missives on labels including Peacefrog, Magnetic North and Sativa, while DJing at the world’s top techno clubs. After releasing 'Audiobiography' in 1998, Adam started becoming disenchanted at how German minimal’s influence had got the music into “a very stale state of boring, repetitive loop techno”, but found fresh inspiration in the Electronic Body Music and industrial sounds he was introduced to by Sonic Groove worker (and Planet E artist) Reade Truth.
He made it his mission to fuse this hard-edged sonic attack with techno, recalling, “Very little experimentation was happening so I was looking into other styles of electronic music out of techno boredom. Belgium had a huge influence on my EBM/industrial side; '80s bands such as the Klinik, Front 242, Insekt, A Split Second and SA42.
“One of my close friends Eric Van Wonterghem, who did the mastering on 'Irreformable', is one half of Insekt and also an early member of The Klinik. So there is a personal connection to this music for me. Eric is one of the forefathers of EBM/industrial music, releasing as Absolute Body Control with partner Dirk Ivens as far back as 1980. Hanging about with the people who invented this music style is highly inspirational [Eric recently appeared on Sonic Groove as Monolith].
“A whole new inspiration unraveled. I went on to cross-pollinate the EBM/industrial sound with my music and DJ sets, starting with a mix CD in 2001 on Instinct Records.” The groundbreaking 'On the One Two' mixed Belgian EBM acts with the likes of Kevin Saunderson and Cristian Vogel (the idea soon stolen by DJ Hell), before Adam commenced firing pulverising statements including 2001's 'Creative Vandalism' album, 2005’s 'Fate Unknown' and 2008’s 'State of Limbo', plus his anonymous deep sci-fi techno Traversable Wormhole and downtempo ADMX-71 side projects.
“I continued to push this harder edge sound throughout the boring minimal techno years, often playing chameleon between two very separate scenes by taking gigs in industrial/EBM parties and continuing to play techno events. By the end of the decade something was bubbling up from the techno scene. People were beginning to seek harder edged sounds away from the lightweight German minimal clickety clack techno. By 2009, a techno renaissance period was happening. Finally, after years of feeling a bit on the outside of techno, people were taking much more notice of what I was doing musically. Gigs and record sales increased and a sound I pushed for 14 years is now widely respected in techno.”
Driven out of New York by the city’s ongoing de-funking, and closing the record shop in the face of rent increases and the internet, Adam moved to Berlin seven years ago. “New York has become a place for the rich and overworked and has sucked a lot of life out of music and art culture. I left because it was sucking the life out of me. Berlin embraced me early, so I am loyal to it.”
While continuing his label (including stretching the highly-successful Traversable Wormhole releases to 10 volumes), Adam has organised events and DJs around the world. He also found time to place his 'Redacted Files' project with Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S. imprint and a “pure 303 madness” throwback as X-Crshe with Anthony Parsoles’ The Corner.
Nearly a year in the works, the new album was recorded over last winter with Adam trying out tracks at gigs until arriving at the final running order. From the colossal electro-charged analogue beats of ‘Interchange’ and ‘Binary Possession’ (with whispered vocals) to the mass devastation of stompers such as ‘On the Verge of Decimation’ and aptly-titled ‘Sheer Insanity’, it’s refreshing and exhilarating to encounter a set which homes in on the original basic principles of techno when it was designed to soundtrack underground parties with as much hardcore alien noise as possible.
As Adam says, it’s “all killer, no filler”, but charged with impact-boosting sonic microsurgery like the mutant snare rolls weaved into the title track’s merciless assault, based around a sample shout of “Irretrievable, irredeemable, irreformable, hopeless!” or ‘Tornado Warning’ sounding like a burnt out building come to life.
Adam is flying the album under the banner “Futurism, Purism, Desolation”, explaining, “It's describing me and my music. I always want to be innovative with what I do musically. So I look to the future more than I look to the past or present. I'll be the first to admit I am a purist when it comes to music and art. I will never sell out what I do. I am irreformable! I will always stick to ideology over being corrupted by money. Desolation is because I thoroughly enjoy spending time in remote places where there are no people lurking about. The combination of these three adjectives is a good description of what 'Irreformable' is all about.”
Adam is predictably scathing about the rampant EDM infecting his home country, declaring “Never in a million years would I think that term would be pushing the lowest common denominator of electronic music. Yeah there, I said it! I'll never go down that road of making or playing cheese to make money. I'm not even remotely caring about this crap and the people associated with it. It has nothing to do with me. I make techno and industrial music.”
Now follow this leader.
WORDS: KRIS NEEDS
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.