For fans of Detroit electro, the mere fact that Dopplereffekt is performing in LA is something of mindblower. A brilliantly executed art project/synthetic-beat-music concern whose member(s) remain anonymous, the group and/or person behind Dopplereffekt has crafted some of the funkiest and propellant TR-808 jamz ever made.
Long before Kanye preached the glory of the Roland drum machine, the instrument was mastered in Detroit. Doppler's braintrust, credited as “Rudolf Klorzeiger” but widely believed to be Gerald Donald, is an unsung hero both of the 808 and Detroit techno whose influence over the past decade has surpassed more famous pioneers like Carl Craig and Derrick May. And if Klorzeiger is Donald, and it probably is, then tonight at the Roxy could be a memorable foray into the nooks and crannies of Roland TR-808
Dopplereffekt is the sound of electronic music as concocted by Kraftwerk, can be seen as the continuation of the so-rigid-it's-funky vibe laid down by the 1970s computer pioneers — but completely unconcerned with the intervening two decades (except, okay, for maybe some extant Mantronix, Newcleus and Jonzun Crew jams — and Shannon's “Let the Music Play. Oh, and New Order's “Confusion”). The tracks that Dopplereffekt released from 1995 to 2000 exist as though the 1989 British “summer of love,” jungle, IDM, and house music never happened. It's all computers and non-humanity; who else but Dopplereffekt could write a sex track about wanting to fuck a mannequin?
If “Rudolf Klorzeiger” is Gerald Donald, his reputation precedes him (while intentionally eluding us). One of the early members equally mysterious Detroit outfit Drexciya, whose obsession with all things aquatic (and the ocean's yang, outer space) is all consuming, Donald has an amazing ear for texture and arrangements. These songs are simple, and usually rely on a melody that, on the surface, seems somewhat rudimentary. But once Donald (or Drexciya's main man, the late James Stinson) starts obsessing over it, depths of arrangements arrive out of one of the most basic of instruments, the 808. Synthetic handclaps race with thump-basskick and frantic hi-hat while the pair adds rich swooshes and plucky counter melodies.
Drexciya's oceanic inspiration contains many layers of meaning. As perfectly explained in writer/musicologist Kodwo Eshun's 1998 feature on the band, “Fear of a Wet Planet,” in Wired,** the producers drew upon a detailed and fascinating concept to support the music:
In the sleevenotes to The Quest, their '97 concept double CD, the Drexciyans are revealed to be a marine species descended from 'pregnant America-bound African slaves' thrown overboard 'by the thousands during labour for being sick and disruptive cargo. Could it be possible for humans to breathe underwater? A foetus in its mother's womb is certainly alive in an aquatic environment. Is it possible that they could have given birth at sea to babies that never needed air?
Though Gerald reportedly left Drexciya in 1997, after The Quest, Stinson continued to tell the story of this imaginary world until his unfortunate death in 2002.
Dopplereffekt's obsession is decidedly above ground. If “Klorzeiger” were to step near the water, his Computer World would get fried. On the all-inclusive collection Gesamtkunstwerk, which compiles Dopplereffekt's entire pre-2000 output, the mystery producer examines sex, computers, and melody, to odd and astounding results. Klorzeiger's fantasies, however, aren't sexy in the traditional sense — if at all. Unlike booty-obsessed Detroit producer DJ Assault, whose fast rhythms and raunchy, misogynonist blather is kinda funny and very funky, the lyrics on Gesamtkunstwerk, simple chants conveyed by robotic sounding male and female human voices, are virtually plasticized (indeed, one of the artist's best tracks is called “Plastiphilia”). When a female voice says on another track, “I want to be a porno star,” she communicates it not with groans of erotic determination, but as a voicemail operator reciting a command.
If you've ever been on a crowded dancefloor when “Porno Actress” pops, though, you know the response. Its sterilized feel is a beautiful contrast to most tracks surrounding it, and the robotic lock-step propulsion of its rhythm sounds like the March of the Space Invaders. And if you've ever been dancing on a tightly packed party when “Sterilization” comes on, the effect is twofold: first, your moves get a little more frantic as the funk carries forward and your friends start bumping you harder; second, a robot voice starts chanting “We've got to sterilize the population” over and over again, which is incredibly disconcerting. The song seems crafted for this packed-floor moment, like, “Wait a minute, I'm celebrating to this message?
Dopplereffekt's more recent work is less dancefloor friendly, but equally imagined. Where the late 90s stuff is all about rhythm, Klorzeiger seems to have developed an enthusiasm for robot meditation; tracks like “Gesamtkunstwerk” recall and are obviously inspired by early electronic composer Raymond Scott's “Soothing Sounds for Baby” series. Though less in-your-face, they're never less than magnetic — even if they're obviously created with a different intent than something like “Pornoviewer.”
The gist of this message: This is the first time Dopplereffekt has ever performed in Los Angeles. It may be the only time. It's the first show of a small tour, and is eagerly awaited by one small segment of the music world. If you want to hear the sound of pure electro untainted by the mimics who have revived it in the past few years, make a beeline for the Roxy. This is a Scion show, and is free. But you have to RSVP. And admission isn't guaranteed, so get there early.
Note: The original version of this post cited a quote from what was thought to be un-bylined piece. As Riot Nrrrd kindly points out below, the feature was written by Kodwo Eshun, and first published in The Wire. We've corrected the above text to properly cite the passage.