I don’t know why, but it’s surprising to see a favorite like Sun Electric’s 30.7.94 Live turn 20 years old. I felt the same way about Boards of Canada’s In a Beautiful Place out in the Country turning ten a few years ago. I suppose it just means I’m getting up there too.
I’m not normally the sentimental type, but these three tracks were a big influence on me at the time they first appeared. It was born of the era that produced the legendary Artificial Intelligence series on Warp Records, Aphex Twin’s dark and moody Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and Ultramarine’s exquisite Every Man and Woman is a Star. But Sun Electric combined the best from all three in one amazing hour of music. It’s the one I listen to most after all these years.
Unlike most of my favorite albums, I don’t recall the specifics of how I found 30.7.94 Live. Of course, my friends and I knew about Sun Electric, first from their association with LX and the Orb (whose influence is heard but thankfully tempered) and then the genre-defining album art created by the Designers Republic (as seen first in Emigre Magazine around this same time). I liked moments on Kitchen and tracks like “O’Locco,” but none of the music really stuck. Not so with this album in general and “Castor & Pollux” in particular.
It’s almost seven minutes before the first hint of percussion appears in it, but the track bounces even when seemingly standing still. I’d hardly call it an exercise in restraint, not with something so buoyant bubbling beneath, but this tension is magical. By the midpoint, it’s a stomper without so much as a single kick drum. I love the way those gently meandering pads balance the much more aggressive bleeps and bloops, and the way those more excitable cymbals are extended by the slowly-spaced claps, until the entire thing boils over nearly ten minutes in. Then the bottom drops out just after 11 minutes, and that tightly-wound SH-101 line comes out of nowhere, and I can’t stop smiling until it ends.
Even today, much of electronic music feels overly-sequenced and predictable. This is anything but, not with over 18 minutes of pure organic bliss, full of unexpected twists and turns, and such wonderful moments as a sample of The Beatles’ “Hard Days Night” turned psychedelic. The mix is fluid, the spatial arrangement is precise, and the quantity of ideas is matched only by their quality. “Castor & Pollux” still shimmers 20 years later. Have a listen:
The entire album is well worth a buy (just $3.49 on bleep.com or even less on iTunes) and an extended listen, like, say, over the next 20 years. The final track, the perfectly named “Northern Lights #5,” is every bit as good as this one.
Speaking of which, until I looked it up when I finished writing this post, I never knew the title had a connection to Greek mythology: “Castor and Pollux were twin boys born to Leda after her seduction by Zeus. Castor was mortal, but Pollux was immortal; at Pollux’s request they shared his immortality between them, spending half their time below the earth in Hades and the other half on Olympus.” What a fitting name for an otherworldly track.