Down Low Deconstructs State Divide
Texas techno out of Dallas and dormancy - part I
By Conor Walker,
2:00PM, Wed. Sep. 3, 2014
Slagging Dallas still thrives in Austin. As a sprawling suburban wasteland, slag away, but when infrastructure ruptures into culture, our criticism gurgles forth as uninformed – much like our city slogan, live music capital of the world. That doesn’t even function on a statewide level. At least when it comes to techno, Dallas remains the Texas epicenter.
A city splattered with tarmac expressways and corporate churches understands the fundamentals of gathering in bulk. No wonder that throughout the Nineties, the Metroplex erupted with a new kind of megachurch – the rave. Bill’s Records provided an exceptional electronic collection, albeit at unmarketable high and low prices.
My friends in Denver used to road trip to Bill’s searching for records that never reached the Rocky Mountain foothills unless brought back from transcontinental places. Crossing the Great Plains with Convextion eddying around a car gliding across the flesh-colored expanse, the big sky curving through disruptive anvils at the precipice, makes for as appropriate a score as a parking lot worth of automobiles assembling to a Robert Hood soundtrack.
Other techno-fueled industries thrived in Dallas, but it was Down Low Music that brought the city’s electronic community to international prominence, a feat Austin struggles to figure out. My own label, Obsolete Future, continually looks to Down Low for clues, hence tracks by Mannequinz and MKG Systems on House of Mutes Vol. 1.
Down Low launched in 1999 with $tinkworx’s “Whut/Yinmao” 12-inch. North Carolinian JT Stewert (aka $tinkworx) runs the label with native Dallasite Minto George. Together, the two have carved out some of the most vital domestic techno outside of Chicago and Detroit.
The label runs deep, piercing points on the map like a wireless satellite scanning the globe. Gerard Hanson of Convextion, although offensively unknown locally, has produced many of the state’s most consequential techno. His mid-Nineties work on Detroit’s Matrix smolder with an essence rarely found outside of the Rust Belt.
Hanson’s mid-2000’s output ricochets with dub monoliths. Convextion’s 2006 self-titled album on Down Low is like a Third Coast storm translated through a submarine low-frequency receiver.
Other Down Low staples include the Connection Machine’s Painless, a pure classic I can only describe as emollient. When I spoke to Minto recently, he admitted receiving at least an email a week begging for an LP reissue of Painless. I too pester him with the same pining.
Fort Worth’s Plastic Sleeves is another of the label’s manifold pillars. Michael Johnson’s brand of alien electro brazes psycho-spiritually like the mise-en-scène of Tarkovsky’s Solaris.
Down Low doesn't meddle in nonconstructive urban rivalries, unlike our spoiled Capital plop. Minto supports the statewide techno scene because he built it. Local artist Bill Converse (ZZ Bottom & WWC) is tasked to reinstall the dormant label, with a DJ mix of Down Low’s eclectic back catalog.
New records from Convextion and Connection Machine hang on the sticky horizon. Stay tuned for next week’s “All-Notes-Off,” where I’ll delve further into Down Low Music.