Album Of The Week: Aaron Jay Presents Diaries From Detroit City (Influence)

Influence Records bossman taps into his Swerve roots for this stone cold VA

“For me an album should be something you listen to from beginning to end. It’s not just a bunch of singles. It’s something that should have an overarching narrative and a theme. And for this album, that narrative is the influence and relationship between Detroit techno and drum & bass.

“I think it’s the free-flowing landscape of sounds and experimental bass that connects the aesthetics of Detroit techno and drum & bass the most. Synths play a huge part in electronic music in general but these two particular genres seem to steer producers in a similar way and the output can feel similar. Carl Craig is a big favourite of mine. He just knows how to create these amazing digital landscapes that sit bang on top of the beats as he flows from hard to spacy. When you listen remixes by him like Cesaria Evora – Angola, you fully understand how D&B and Detroit techno are so closely connected. 

“It’s a connection that was always key sound for long lost labels like Soul:r and, I think my choices of the original Influence releases when I first started the label were always wrestling those conflicts: liquid sounds mixed with something more leftfield and harder. It’s a fusion that you can still hear now on the label and especially this album and it’s something I can date back to the original Metalheadz night at the Blue Note. My best memories where when I was just lost in the music and that heady vibe. I’m always looking for that in tracks that are sent to me; if it can teleport back to that mindset, I’m in it.

“Swerve was another place where I found that sound and that inspiration. I was very honoured to be part of that story. In 2004 I’d not long been back from university where I’d tried to bring liquid to Leeds, successfully landing a radio show sponsored by Radio 1 and playing at some good D&B nights. Swerve was the Mecca for liquid and I started handing Fabio mix CDs and, not too long after that, I was asked to warm up the night. I stayed there for over eight years, playing every month alongside some of the greats in this game including Calibre, Shy FX, dBridge, Blame, Marcus Intalex, Flight, Bukem and Rider. It was amazing to be there hearing music from early Calibre to Hospital music, getting played literally for the first time. I wasn’t alone; there were some serious soldiers there with me every month. All of us knew how special it was.  Especially being at The End. It was the best music education I could have and it still steers my approach to drum & bass today.

“It also steered my approach to this album. Everyone I approached knew the benchmark and the vibe and the album took over a year to pull together so tracks came in at different times. This enabled me to also make sure that the tracks that made the final cut weren’t too similar and we could represent the wider perception of the Detroit techno sound and its relationship with drum & bass.

“Another important thing for me was to take ownership of this as a label owner. Putting my name over the top of the many talented artists on the album meant I had to put my money where my mouth was. This was a deeply personal album for me and I wanted to put out a statement; that I still believe in the art of curation. That’s all a DJ does, curates. I wanted to remind listeners that the artform of curation still exists, is still incredibly diverse and can gel things together to make sure albums aren’t just a bunch of singles.

“And if you like this, wait until you hear Easy’s album coming out next month on Influence. A lot of the learnings from this project were fed into his album and we’ve taken it even further in terms of a listening experience. That’s so important for me; I guess Influence is doing what I set the brand out to do; I want people to really listen and open their minds to different sounds and to continue working on album projects that really mean something. Too many labels put out albums so they can dominate the charts by havingt 20+ tracks released at once rather than caring about what they are trying to say. An album should be something special, I really believe in that. 

All hail the mix CD. Not the one you made for your mates or handed to a promoter back in the day – although that clearly worked for Aaron Jay when he handed one to Fabio and became a Swerve resident – but the commercial DJ mix album. Your Nightlifes, your Global Undergrounds, your Fabriclives. A posh, shiny step-up from the tape pack tapes, the best mix albums were built to last and cause serial rinsing and repeating until they scratched, got estranged from their case or, more often than not, pinched by a mate.

A fading medium since streaming became de rigueur, it seems the mix album is making a bit of a comeback now on digital platforms. Especially Spotify and Apple Music. In fact it’s got added benefits to the old mix album CDs as the individual tracks can also be made available an enjoyed in their edge-to-edge entirety. Such is the case with Aaron Jay’s Diaries From Detroit City where there’s a hell of a lot to enjoy. Not only are the individual tracks exclusive and tailor made for the project, they come from an impressive rollcall of artists. HLZ, Lynx, Seba, Bungle, L Side, Flaco, Conrad Subs, Hobzee, Simplification, A Audio, Easy, Wagz, CPH… Now there’s a list of high grade coldsmiths you could set your watch by.

The time? Soulful o’clock.

Deep, dark, soul. Sometimes mournful, sometimes poignant or hopeful. Always gazing into the future. It’s the type of aesthetic that characterised two of the most important cultural movements of the late 80s and 90s in the US and the UK: Detroit techno and London drum & bass jungle.

A volume of books could be written on the political, cultural and artistic parallels between the two black youth movements, their conception and the contexts and how they both revelled in futurism, tension, drama and a deep empathy with machines. It’s that glacial and spatial synthetic aesthetic that glues this collection together. A collection of soundscapes pregnant with tension and tightly coiled beats.

The connection is clear the second Aaron opens with a Robert Owens vocal. An iconic voice since the earliest days of Chicago house, Owens sets the climate as we’re taken deeper and deeper into the selection which ranges from the mourning jazzy cascades of Bungle’s Parallels to the sleek acidic spring and lavish sweeping pads of Hobzee’s Ghosts. Never losing pace, but never getting too ahead of itself or carried away in the heat of the moment, the mix flexes between these contrasts before we the deal is sealed with the finale of Lynx’s stern worming rattler Info De-tro and Seba’s Move Your Soul. A shimmering vocal sample, trace elements of Amen and an expansive, fluid groove that rolls out for a good five minutes… It’s could be either a nod to the likes of Goodlooking or the work of Carl Craig. Either way it’s a precision executed homage and celebration of both movements.

And while it’s likely that no actual diaries were even written in during this caper, and I’d bet that the majority of the artists involved have never been to Detroit to actually write a diary during their stay, this is a recommended exploration of some of the most important ingredients of contemporary electronic music, it’s a snapshot of deep drum & bass in 2022 and a great example of how a mix album can exist in 2022.

Aaron Jay Presents Diaries From Detroit City is out now on Influence Records

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