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PoMo Techno
- David Pescovitz

In Bits & Bytes, AOL MTV-Online, January 1998.


On first glance, Terre Thaemlitz's G.R.R.L. C.D. looks like a much-needed tour of techno for newbies. The back cover of the computer musician's latest release conveniently divides the jams by genre--abstract drum & bass, '80s Chicago, deep house, electro breakdance, and mainstream and minimal techno.

But a gold star plastered on the packaging reveals Thaemlitz's not-so-secret agenda: "Eleven chart-stoppers inspired by the boardroom mentality that brought you Space Jam!"

Don't worry, that's a joke. Well, sort of. See, G.R.R.L. is an exercise in what academics call "deconstruction," breaking something down bit by bit until hidden meanings are revealed. And with G.R.R.L, you can dance to it. Through excellent electronica, the disc sheds light on the way we buy into consumer culture whether we admit it or not.

Obviously, Terre Thaemlitz isn't your average mixmaster. In the last few years, through samples and extensive liner notes, the artist's eclectic releases on Instinct, Caipirinha, and Mille Plateaux delved into the depths of the human/machine interface, safer sex, and what it means to be a guy or girl (or should we say "grrrl"). Heady stuff. In fact, when he's not cracking cynical snaps like a downtown drag queen, Thaemlitz sounds like a college professor. With rhythm.

"As an electronic music producer, I'm always pressured by labels to do dance music because it's more marketable," Thaemlitz says, cruising through his new home of Oakland, California in a jacked-up Buick Skylark. "The idea behind G.R.R.L. was to play off that idea of marketability. After all, if you're doing something that's a whole bunch of genres it's going to challenge the marketability."

Not surprisingly, Thaemlitz hit the (Nine Inch) nail on the head with that motive. When he shopped the finished product to distributors, the record label marketers moaned about how even if a cross-section of music is a good idea, it'd be a tough sell.

"The labels just wanted to release individual tracks as singles," says Thaemlitz, who released G.R.R.L. on his own label Comatonse Recordings . "They'd say 'well, we just want the drum & bass stuff.' Unfortunately, the way that distribution and club play works is that it's all about exclusion of other musical identities."

Just like categories at record stores, ambient types at parties corral into the chill room while Happy House folks stick to the main system speakers like barnacles. And to put it simply pigeon-holing yourself as a listener, or producer, is a bummer in Thaemlitz's eyes.

But what of the "loyal-to-the-death" illbient lovers or house-addicts who will undoubtedly complain that Thaemlitz is making fun of their preferred mix of electronic music?

"The only time people think it's too over-the-top sarcastic is when they're holding their association with a particular type of music too tightly" Thaemlitz says. "If people don't have a sense of humor about what they listen to, then apparently they're not my audience. And they need to ease up, baby."

David Pescovitz is the co-author of Reality Check (HardWired, 1996) and a contributing editor at Wired.