There's something of a close kinship between techno retrospectives and the act of framing graffiti in a museum. Both are dynamic forms of art, yet the act of canonization always seems to remove the momentum that lies at the heart of both. Of course, you'll find no shortage of either, as there are plenty of techno retrospectives and folks like Futura 2000 and Rammellzee (R.I.P.) went highbrow a long time ago. Cut to now, a short two years after the 25th anniversary of Detroit techno, and you'll find that many of the genre's still-active first and second wave are approaching their back catalogs in a way that resists the rigor mortis of museumification. Instead of compiling old material as-is, productions are updated and re-combined to incorporate the past as a non-stagnant and living element of the present and future. An example of this is Revisited (Here, There, and Beyond), a self-released retrospective from Octave One, a collection that features 10 remixes by eight of the duo's favorite producers and two by the group itself. As you can imagine, the results are a mixed bag, with wild fluctuations based on who's doing the remixing and for what purpose.
The album starts strong with Octave One's own "Dema (V2 Remix)." Originally found on The "X" Files, the new variant augments the original with a roaring low end and a mastering job that ups the reverb to dangerous levels. The resulting product expertly mixes the nervous sound of Detroit in '94 and the commanding presence of Berlin in '12. It's one of the compilation's better moments and really points to the possibilities inherent within this kind of work.
Yet, while "Dema (V2 Remix)" is an example of one of the LP's highlights, the track that immediately follows it, "Meridian (Revisited Remixed and Rebalanced)," is an example of how things can go wrong. Here, Octave One is again at the controls remixing "Meridian," a track from the same period that was first released on the obscure Detroit Techno City sampler EP. Filling out the track in a similar fashion with an injection of bass, the song gains a stomp to it that was altogether lacking in the original. However, this shift comes with an unfortunate trade-off: the snappy and swung-out snare pattern of the original is so low in the mix that it might as well not be there. The absence left by the snares in the mid-range is filled out by boosted organ comping and a hooky piece of percussion that slips into the position of a lead. It's not a radical departure, but the momentum that made the original great is muddled somewhere in the translation.
Between these two poles, which coincidentally start the album, there's an entire greyscale of attempts. On the better end of the spectrum are Ken Ishii's brutalist hard-techno-in-'94 remix of "Nicolette," Sandwell District's wide-open, cosmic refix of Octave One's debut, "I Believe," and Gerald Mitchell's Underground Resistance meets vocal house version of "Somedays." The less novel moments come in the form of Alter Ego's monotonous and unorchestrated flip of "Blackwater," Cari Lekebusch's riser-heavy redo of "Love and Hate," and Alexander Kowalski's bland big-room take on "I Need Release."
Scattered quality notwithstanding, you have to appreciate the ethos behind the compilation. While previous Octave One comps have attempted to canonize the group's output, Revisited (Here, There, and Beyond) is a gutsy release that mostly succeeds due to the unexpected sonic structures revealed by its 10 departures.