Drexciya, the mythical aquatic civilization generated by the works of (the sadly deceased) James Stinson and Gerald Donald, was one of the most original concepts to come from Detroit techno. A mixed-media project that springs forth from the interstices between the music, the labels, and the liner notes, Drexciya was more than just a techno production outfit. It was an entire immersive science-fiction narrative about an underwater civilization descended from the offspring of pregnant America-bound African slaves thrown overboard during labor on the middle passage. After genetically evolving, the Drexciyans dedicated themselves to a limitless hi-tech campaign of covert warfare against the powers that be.
Heady stuff, to be sure, yet while the narrative played out across a variety of media, the real star in Drexciya's work was the music. Taking the aquaboogie of P-Funk and combining it with the the abrasive tone poetry of Kraftwerk, Drexciya created a sound that was familiar but also totally alien. It was harsh music from a hard city characterized by the strange combined feeling of claustrophobia and agoraphobia that only the expanse of underwater depths can induce.
Until now, getting a hold of material from the Drexciyan universe has been relatively difficult. Sure, the later albums released on CD are widely available, but the group's early material has remained elusively all-vinyl and has only been available on the second-hand market. Furthering the problem is the sheer amount (and deliberate vagueness) of Drexciyan releases, which provides newcomers few entry points into the outfit's expansive catalog. Thankfully, Clone Records has figured a way to rectify both of these problems with their recently released retrospective, Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I. Comprised of 13 tracks, 12 of which have seen prior release, it's the best introduction so far to the duo's music.
The compilation is sequenced in a fashion that defies a traditional timeline, instead creating an organization of events centered around the music. This is how we imagine Stinson intended the music be listened to. The tracks themselves don't work in a linear fashion, but instead offer an infinite recombinant potential of possible moments in the Drexciyan universe. Things start off with the appropriate "Welcome to Drexciya." As good a starting point as any, the track offers random pulses of sonar shot over a drumless bed of rapid arpeggios and Super Nintendo chords. From there, the compilation moves through seminal moments in the group's catalog: there's the tidal surge of "Wavejumper," the squid-like propulsion of "Hydro Theory," and the laid-back submarine G-funk of "Bubble Metropolis." Along the way, the compilation touches on the many facets of the group's sound, from dark techno bangers like "Darthouven Fish Men" and "Sea Quake" to the comparably mellow "Dehydration" and "Aquarazorda"
Of course, if you're a rabid Drexciya fan, you're likely already well acquainted with the majority of the tracks on this release. For those so taken with the duo's work, Clone has offered up "Unknown Journey I," an unreleased track from the sizable archive of shelved Drexciyan material. While it's unfortunate that not more of that library found its way onto this release, the track is nevertheless a serious cut in its own right with massive, war-like tribal toms providing a low-end backdrop to the drone of a synthesized choir and bizarre misfiring mechanical noises.
Whether you're an old fan of Drexciya or you've just arrived late to the party, Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I is about as close to an essential compilation as you're going to get. Even fans that have all the group's material could stand to benefit by picking this up for the sheer quality of the digital remastering of tracks that have, up to now, only been available on vinyl.