The massive set features new music by Nick Cave, Blake Mills, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Seu Jorge, Sam Gendel, Sam Wilkes and dozens more Listen to the birds. That’s […]
The Detroit Escalator Company reissue: lush ambient electronics born in “an abandoned industrial hell”
- Ambient /
- Detroit /
Absolutely essential Detroit ambient from the legend Neil Olivierra a.k.a. the Detroit Escalator Co.
By the mid-1990s, synthesizers had fully integrated with computing software, resulting in a kind of singularity that afforded producers like Neil Olivierra (a.k.a. the Detroit Escalator Co.) the power to easily create and control tones with precision and timing that harnessed sound pallets they crafted themselves. They could be acid-house-harsh, ecstasy-driven-squiggly, new-age-gentle, electro-robotic, or any combination thereof.
In Detroit, that played out amid a scene that was at the time firing on all cylinders. First-generation producers Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May – the so-called Belleville Three – had established techno, which was embraced by European dance culture and helped foment the rave movement.
A second wave seemed to flood all of Michigan – and eventually the world – with talent, as Carl Craig and his Planet E label, the Underground Resistance – Mike Banks, Jeff Mills, Claude Young, Robert Hood, DJ Rolando, James Pennington, Gerald Donald, and James Stinson – Richie Hawtin, the Ersatz Audio tribe, ghetto-tech pioneers DJ Godfather and DJ Assault, Ghostly International, Interdimensional Transmissions, and the scene around the killer club the music institute combined to build a sound as important to Detroit’s identity as Motown or the auto industry.
Writer-producer-artist Olivierra grew up in the city’s techno scene. When May started his label Transmat, he hired Olivierra to manage it. As suggested by his moniker, the Detroit Escalator Company, the artist has embraced his hometown with equal parts affection and dismay. He wrote as much in a piece of writing quoted by the late techno writer Dan Sicko in his book Techno Rebels.
“When I turn onto Fisher North, the exit ramp raises me over the sleeping metropolis, speckled with lights – a false and flattering view that makes you believe, for a moment, that you’re in a real city,” Olivierra writes. “A real city rather than this – an abandoned industrial hell that broke ground and somehow kept growing.”
Though hardly as well known as some of his more famous fans Craig, May, Atkins, and Kenny Larkin, Olivierra’s ambient techno records have become coveted over the past half-decade, and in 2022 the fantastic Swiss label Musique Pour La Danse reissued the artist’s first album, Soundtrack . Released in 1996 on the British label Ferox, Soundtrack combines soothing chill-out-room tones, catchy synth melodies and beats that feel like they’re packed with cotton. Like the stuff Berlin techno genius Jörg Burger was making as the Bionaut, Soundtrack  delivered easy-on-the-ears dance music built more for deep listening and quiet contemplation than dance floor revelry.
Musique Pour La Danse outlines the record’s allure in release notes, aptly describing it as “a deeply futuristic aesthetic experience, warm and emotional electronics, along with glistening melody lines that create a peaceful, relaxed environment.” The notes use the phrases “life-affirming feeling of serenity,” “unique classic that exists within its own genre” and “electronic music that transcends the club experience.”
The MPLD reissue is sold out at the label’s Bandcamp, but we’ve managed to secure some for the store. Grab one before they vanish.
If you’re looking to dive deeper into the world of Neil Olivierra we also recommend reading his book r e a l i t y s l a p which is one of the first fictional accounts of ’90s techno and the Detroit electronic scene. Physical copies of the book are impossibly hard to come by but luckily it’s been uploaded in full online here by Ambient Music Guide.
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