Detroit Techno: a look back on Omar-S

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Few people know that house music was cre­ated in Chica­go as a rein­ven­tion of dis­co. Even less people know that Tech­no was ori­gin­ally cre­ated in Detroit by black pro­du­cers and DJs. These artists were ori­gin­ally influ­enced by European elec­tron­ic artists like Kraft­werk who used syn­thes­izers but their res­ult­ing music still remained tied to pre­vi­ous Afric­an Amer­ic­an dance rhythms.

These new pro­du­cers weren’t music­ally trained and didn’t have an orches­tral ensemble at their dis­pos­al. Unlike the dis­co and soul pro­du­cers before them, they cre­ated whole pieces of music from the com­fort of their bed­rooms or home stu­di­os. Since they didn’t need to spend money on musi­cians, they were able to work on their own, piecing togeth­er whatever sounds ignited their ima­gin­a­tion. In this way, the live instru­ments in dis­co were traded in for elec­tron­ic sounds. And from this exchange, the atmo­sphere of the music became some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

Tech­no brought images of sci­ence fic­tion worlds and far out galax­ies. But it still man­aged to retain the cool of young, black Amer­ica. Ori­gin­ally the bass­lines in Detroit Tech­no were rhythmic and roun­ded. If you really listen to the pat­terns of the bass­lines, you can hear the sim­il­ar­it­ies to Dis­co — its music­al ancest­or. In the high end, the synths spread their elec­tron­ic wings and fly above the low tones, a memory of the string instru­ments or flutes in dis­co.  Unlike house songs, typ­ic­ally there weren’t any vocal­ists or vocal samples. The instru­ment­als were sup­posed to speak for them­selves. The gen­er­al four to the floor struc­ture at 140bpm could make the listen­er want to dance, but it could also make them fall deep into thought. This new type of music rep­res­en­ted the end­less pos­sib­il­it­ies of what music could become.

As I found myself mes­mer­ised by the gen­re, one par­tic­u­lar artist stood out, Omar-S. Like most of our favour­ite artists, my fas­cin­a­tion had as much to do with his char­ac­ter as with the music itself. He seemed to come to the scene with the con­fid­ence of a hip-hop artist. For example the names of a couple of his albums are ‘It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do it’ and ‘The Best’. Almost again­st the anti-ego code of dance pro­du­cers, there are pic­tures of him stand­ing next to his expens­ive cars. If this weren’t enough, appar­ently Omar S used to be a street racer.

But in some way, this macho per­sona and show-boat­ing seems to be a sort of subtle joke. This is because the res­ult­ing tracks are so far from the bravado he por­trays. The music he cre­ates is both deep and thought­ful but with a sim­pli­city that makes its expres­sion genu­ine. His emphas­is is not on lay­er­ing many sounds but focus­ing instead on choos­ing the per­fect tones to fit the puzzle. He uses warm pads, ret­ro bass synths and old school drum machines to cre­ate music that is a unique blend of both house and tech­no.

While many pro­du­cers from the earli­er gen­er­a­tions have adap­ted their sound by using the latest soft­ware, Omar-S openly res­ists this trend. He says that he simply has no interest in it. To ears that are unac­cus­tomed to the old Detroit drum pat­terns, the flut­ter­ing high-hats will sound irrit­at­ing. His recent releases sound like they could have come out in the 90’s. Many will just turn the music off, not inter­ested in under­stand­ing the warmth of the music that he has cre­ated. But Omar-S clearly does not care, it is their loss. He does little to advert­ise or mar­ket him­self and has com­par­at­ively low record sales.

But there is a reas­on why Omar-S is such a well-respec­ted DJ with­in the dance world. He does not mess about with gim­micks. The most import­ant thing for him is the music itself.  In this con­tem­por­ary world of artists who need con­tinu­al affirm­a­tion, Omar-S is the excep­tion to the rule. His cre­ations come from the heart, uncom­prom­ised by any­one. To aspir­ing dance pro­du­cers like myself, he is a remind­er of the roots of the gen­re. That we should make music without a thought of what other’s will think. So as I look back on his work I think to myself, ‘keep doing what you’re doing Omar-S, ‘The Best’’!

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Nicholas Milverton
A writer with an interest in Philo­sophy, Soci­ology, Anthro­po­logy and all things intro­spect­ive. Someone who is equally at home in under­ground house raves as he is in café’s. He is con­tinu­ally ques­tion­ing the sys­tem and his own lines of reas­on­ing. There­fore, he is always rein­vent­ing him­self.

About Nicholas Milverton

Nicholas Milverton
A writer with an interest in Philosophy, Sociology, Anthropology and all things introspective. Someone who is equally at home in underground house raves as he is in cafe's. He is continually questioning the system and his own lines of reasoning. Therefore, he is always reinventing himself.