A journey through my music tastes

I’ve had this blog post as a draft for a couple months now. And who knows how long it would have stayed as a draft, but Keith Flint of The Prodigy died this week, and given how much I owe to The Prodigy being one of my earliest electronic loves, I felt I should actually publish it.

My music taste and the different artists that I've listened to throughout my life is a big part of my identity. So I thought it might be fun to try and document some of the ways I came about some of this music, and maybe a story or two about them. And since this is a history that goes back pretty far, I'm going to try to stick to "modern times" and leave out the less relevant stuff when I was a kid listening to old Beatles tapes or classic rock on the radio. While I can appreciate a ton of different stuff, much of that hasn't influenced my day-to-day music taste right now. Though I'll still probably get around to watching that new Garth Brooks concert. While I'll try and keep somewhat a consistent linear timeline, this will probably jump around a bit.

I’m a compilation success story. So much of the music I heard for the first time was on a compilation or soundtrack album. For whatever reason compilations and soundtracks don’t get enough credit, but I’m here to say that they are the fastest way to take in a bunch of cool music that’s new to you. Not all of them are great, but some are really great.

For example, as a kid I went to the movie theater to see Mortal Kombat: The Motion Picture. I left thinking “that music was awesome! How do I get this soundtrack?”. Thumping electronic music wasn’t something I experienced in a movie before. It wasn’t until years later when I went to look up who made that definitive “Mortal Kombat song”. Turned out to be a band called “The Immortals”. I had never heard of that band before, and there’s a reason for that. It seems they only existed for the sole purpose of making music for Mortal Kombat stuff. And who was behind “The Immortals”? Lords of Acid. How cool.

One compilation I remember listening to was the American Recordings 1995 Sampler. This was the first time I heard real Lords of Acid, MC 900 FT Jesus, God Lives Underwater, and Love and Rockets. I don’t know where I got this album from. And it certainly was after 1995 that I acquired it. It’s likely I got it through an exercise a high school friend of mine and I would perform where we’d go to the music store at the mall, visit the discount CD bin, and grab something totally random, often by the title or album cover. We also got The Bogmen’s Life Begins at 40 Million this way.

But a compilation that really helped shaped me for the rest of my life was The Hackers Soundtrack. It’s the first time I heard Underworld, Carl Cox, The Prodigy, Orbital, Stereo MC’s, Leftfield, Kruder & Dorfmeister, and more. That first time I heard “Voodoo People” and “Cowgirl” for the first time my life was changed forever. One thing a lot of people don’t know is there were actually three Hackers soundtracks. Each one more rare to find than the other. If you like the first one you’ll love the others, too. BT, Moby, Scooter, Chicane and more get added to the above list, creating a who’s who of Gabe’s favorite electronic music of the 90s across three cds. I compiled them, as best as I could, on Spotify, if you’re interested.

A compilation I ran into years later, who was my first concentrated dose of modern goth and EBM was Graver’s Paradise. This was the first time I heard the likes of Apoptygma Berzerk, Funker Vogt, Zeromancer, The Mission UK, Gary Numan, Razed in Black, Switchblade Symphony and more.

Admittedly my music taste didn’t start forming in earnest until I left High School. In High School, even though I was intensely deep in a world of musicians and performance, I didn’t discover new music. We were collectively far too busy listening to the RENT soundtrack or drumming on something. One exception to this was Marilyn Manson. There was a guy a couple years older than I was who would wear KMFDM t-shirts and talk about Marilyn Manson. And while KMFDM was not really accessible to me in my high school years, that was the height of Marilyn Manson hysteria. So a friend and I picked up a copy of Antichrist Superstar from the mall and we both fell in love with it. In 1998 we performed “The Beautiful People” at our High School with 7 people using a mix of rock and symphonic instruments, dressed as members of Hanson, replacing the lyrics with those of “MMM Bop”. We were told we weren’t allowed to pray to a skull on stage on the second night of the performance.

Another rare High School discovery was The Prodigy’s Fat of the Land. I mentioned above how the Hackers soundtrack was my first taste of the band, but Fat of the Land changed everything for The Prodigy, and for me as well. One of my friends had recently put one of those crazy 90s sound systems in his car and loved showing off the subwoofer. That was the first time I had heard The Prodigy’s “Breathe”. It was electronic, dancable, but with a hard punk edge to it. I was primed to soon dig deep into their discography and have a long-lasting favorite.

The late 90s had a handful of pivotal albums for me. BT’s ESCM featuring “Flaming June” was my first taste of BT. I found Daft Punk’s Homework in a CD player of mine one day. I have no idea who’s it was, or how it got there. During this time there’s also standouts such as Moby’s Play, and my enjoyment of Eurodance was heavily inspired by Aqua’s Aquarium and Eiffel 65’s Europop. I listened to Underworld’s 1999 album “Beaucoup Fish” over and over, along with Fatboy Slim’s remix of “King of Snake”. That album doesn’t get enough credit.

You might think that “random cd left in a CD player” thing is a weird story. And it is. It’s even weirder that it’s not the only time it happened. The first time I really got into triphop was a cd left of Hooverphonic’s A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular.

While sometimes I discovered music through explicit recommendations and listening to entire albums, sometimes you listen to what you have. And in the early days of MP3s I had a completely random collection of stuff. Some old, some new, some popular, some completely underground, and I didn’t really know who was who much of the time. I just downloaded it, and if I liked it I continued to listen to it. Because of the nature of illegal MP3 trading, music tastes spread around like a virus. And to be fair, we probably spread around computer viruses, too. And while I had a natural inclination for euro trash already, I ended up getting my hands on all that I missed in the 90s. Captain Hollywood Project, Black Box, Venga Boys, Real McCoy, and more. I knew a lot of friends online who enjoyed the early 2000s alternative scene, so while I wasn’t the biggest fan in the world I certainly listened to my fair share of Linkin Park, 311, Incubus, and others just because the MP3s showed up on my hard drive.

I started going to concerts seriously when I was around 20. The first band I started to see live was Kill Hannah. They were still a local Chicago band at the time and hadn’t yet released their major label debut so they were playing a lot of shows nearby, often opening for larger touring acts. One notable show was seeing them open for Shiny Toy Guns. Shiny Toy Guns wasn’t huge at the time, but they were touring. And this show they did in Chicago was horrible. To this day I don’t know what the problem was, since I’m now a fan of the band and have seen them probably 5 times at this point. But they sounded so bad when I was first introduced to them that the crowd was laughing.

In the early 2000s I had met somebody at work, Frank, who was blogging about music he was enjoying at frankpayne.com. Every day he introduced me to something new. Quintron, Har Mar Superstar, !!!, Out Hud, Ladytron, Ratatat, Adult., 8bitpeoples, Ghostland Observatory, Hella, I am the World Trade Center, and so many more that I still enjoy to this day are thanks to him. He told me about all of the upcoming Chicago shows, and I went. And that’s when I really got hooked on live music. And while I couldn’t really jive with The Magnetic Fields, and he didn’t really understand why I was into Nine Inch Nails, in general he had a good 98% success rate with recommending music to me that to this day has not been matched. Imagine how excited I was when he told me one day that Daft Punk’s Discovery had a movie. And if you haven’t seen this movie, you should: Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.

“You know the awesome solo in Daft Punk’s Digital Love? Well Ratatat is entirely that." - Frank Payne.

He now throws techno events in Chicago, so go drop by if you’re ever in Chicago.

Around 2004, back when Podcasts were an underground, independent way of distributing things (aka: When Podcasts were good) there was this one feed where every week he’d put a single electronic song out that he wanted people to hear. And one week it was The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”. I remember listening on my iPod, walking to work, and this song came on. And I was blown away. It was indie, but it was danceable. The lyrics, while I often don’t care about lyrics, were verbose, but not pretentious. I immediately grabbed the album, “Give Up” and it was song after song of fantastic tracks. It opened up the door to other of Jimmy Tamborello’s stuff like Dntel and James Figurine to me. I can’t say the same about Ben Gibbard, however. I don’t care about Death Cab for Cutie. Ten years later they re-released the album and toured. I finally got my first and last chance to see them perform that album live. It was a very cool experience.

I was a late in life Nine Inch Nails fan. I liked them, but I wasn’t a real fan in any way. It wasn’t until I saw the concert video of And All That Could Have Been where I really got Nine Inch Nails. It took seeing and hearing the live experience to really buy into the band, and I was hooked. A live NIN show is still one of the greatest experiences ever, and as long as Trent Reznor keeps performing those songs I’ll keep showing up to see him do it.

You can say I became a Nine Inch Nails fan around the “With Teeth” era, and that’s kind of a rebirth of Nine Inch Nails, so it was appropriate. It was six years since their last album, so I was on board for the new stuff. But it was “Year Zero”, the next album that changed everything for me. It is to this day one of the greatest beginning to end albums I’ve ever heard. I almost think Trent Reznor sat around thinking “What would Gabe want? A concept album about a dystopian future? Done. Glitchy drums? Done. A song that ends with a crazy squealing synth solo?? Let’s do it.” Everybody has one of those albums that got them through some dark places in life, and this is that album for me.

Up until recently, I enjoyed what could be considered “mainstream dance and electronic”. For years I was enjoying Moby, Ferry Corsten, BT, Tiga, Paul Oakenfold, Crystal Method, Chemical Brothers and more. I’d legally buy and illegally download DJ compilations of all sorts of “dance” music. Anywhere from minimal techno to trance to drum and bass. I loved the harder big beat stuff, and I loved the super cheesy Happy Hardcore rave on speed stuff. And I continued to listen to new stuff that came out of the different electronic genres well into the Dubstep fad. But it wasn’t long after I was thinking “This new Skrillex and deadmau5 stuff isn’t so bad” that I was done with mainstream electronic forever and felt saddened that “electronic music” has become a dirty phrase because of the rise of “EDM”. Of course I still like electronic music, and still love dance music, but new and old producers alike are making crap that appeals only to fucked up 14 year olds. Now I can’t stand this overly formulaic, “drop”-based pop dance music that’s infected the landscape.

Everybody knows I love internet radio, and through it I’ve been able to discover more new music than I ever thought. It’s like a compilation album that never ends, curated by somebody who is deeply knowledgeable and passionate about the material. Without any commercial involvement, without pay-to-play, and without record labels’ marketing campaigns involved you’re getting suggested music from somebody you trust. Sanctuary Radio, in general, has really been a fantastic source for goth, industrial, and futurepop stuff. Through DJ Rob I’ve discovered artists like Frozen Plazma, Rotersand, Blutengel, Beborn Beton, Incubite, ohGr, Necro Facility, and the list goes on and on.

So to wrap all this up, I’ll share some takeaways. One big one is how often it’s been individuals who have turned me on to something new. Maybe it was somebody sending me an MP3, or suggesting an upcoming show, or playing a song on an internet radio station that I was listening to. The human connection was always there suggesting something new that I might love.

And maybe that’s why I enjoy doing the same thing so much. One of my favorite things to do is tell somebody about some music that I really enjoy so that maybe, even if it’s a long shot, they might enjoy too. It’s one of my favorite parts of meeting new people and sharing. So tell me about one of your favorite songs sometime, and I’ll tell you about mine. But realistically, you probably already know about many of mine.

And the second takeaway is luck has had a lot to play for me. Sometimes I’d just listen to something not knowing what it was and found it to be great. Maybe I didn’t know who the artist was, or even what the cd was. Maybe it was a compilation full of stuff opening a door to something brand new compiled together that just happens to resonate with me. I guess that’s maybe why I find the process around pop music weird. The idea of everyone being told “Ok, here’s the new Taylor Swift song you like now” or “you all have to be really into Beyonce” and everyone does it. It seems like no fun to be told what to like. There’s so much fun in discovering it for yourself, over many years. Music is a hell of a journey and it’s not just what’s hot right now that counts. It’s what’s still hot to you in twenty years that matters.