CLAUDE YOUNG with JEFF COCHRAN , GERALD-MATRIX , STEWART DOUGLAS , CURT MARTIN , RIAN TORRANCE , DWAYNE McDOWELL at Surface (12 Brant), Friday (June 18). $14 advance, more at the door. 416-504-3222. Rating: NNNNN
Why is the forward-thinking, technology-loving techno scene so resistant to change? The stark futurism and infatuation with technology is still at the forefront of the genre, but lately, 20-year-old drum machines get sold for more than they went for new, even though computer-based production allows for a much wider palette of sounds. Techno's basic rhythms and tempos haven't changed much, and the medium of choice is still vinyl. Claude Young has been trying to make some changes. He was one of the first to embrace CDs - not exactly a new technology - as a performance tool, but still the reaction from the heads is split. DJing from CDs isn't seen as authentic and raises troubling questions about the future of vinyl - a medium that has survived mainly because of DJ culture.
Young grew up in Detroit and worked early on with many of the legendary figures in techno history, so there's not much point in questioning his authenticity.
He's made a name for himself DJing techno like a hiphop DJ - mixing in and out of records at a breakneck speed, cutting, chopping and scratching records to transcend the loop-based linearity of techno.
Adopting and integrating newer technology into his routine has only opened up more possibilities and streamlined what he already does so well.
The current generation of CD DJ equipment emulates everything we can do with a turntable - DJs can scratch, adjust the pitch in the same way and cue up CDs in the same hands-on manner we associate with turntables. The advantages for someone like Young make it an easy choice - now he doesn't have to worry about the needle jumping when he grabs the platter. He can make loops on the fly or add effects, and there's no more turntable feedback in loud venues.
He can also carry more music in a small bag than he could if he brought five crates of records with him. Young is, after all, a DJ who's lived on several continents and travels often - being portable is vital to someone like him.
Does all this mean the death of vinyl?
It would be nice if our beloved black discs lasted forever, but it doesn't make sense for touring DJs to be caught up in nostalgia any more. Over just the past three years, we've seen more and more vinyl diehards making the switch, often after losing their precious records to the airlines.
Local DJs are still rocking mainly vinyl, but that's changing. Even hiphop DJs are coming around, and mainstream clubs have been dominated by CD DJs for quite some time now.
Much of techno's resistance to change is about how we define underground. When we take pride in being underground, we want our sub-culture to be a bit exclusive, and what could be more exclusive than a medium most people thought died in the 80s?
Then again, techno can be heard every day in video games, TV commercials, film soundtracks, and as an influence on pop music. How underground is it really?