JACOB FAIRLEY with KENNY GLASGOW, AMTRAK, LEE OSBOURNE, ZUZANA GRIMM, JEREMY P. CAULFIELD and IAN GUTHRIE at System Soundbar (117 Peter), Friday (January 17). $15 before midnight, more after. www.fukhouse.ca
Toronto-based minimal techno producer Jacob Fairley started off with a pretty modest goal: to release one 12-inch single. When he first started making electronic music in the mid-90s, that simple aim still seemed unattainable, and for years Fairley toiled away in obscurity.
"I told myself that all I really hoped for was to have one record that had my name on it released someday. Of course, once you've done that, you realize how unfulfilling it actually is -- a single gets released and you hear almost nothing back. You might see it getting charted by some DJs, but that's the closest thing to feedback you get."
That first 12-inch was released almost three years ago as the first missive from Jeremy P. Caulfield's new techno label, Dumb-Unit. Since then, he's recorded two full-length albums and 11 singles under various pseudonyms, an output that even he sees as too prolific.
As well as releasing records on local labels Dumb-Unit and Killer, he's also put out music on German labels Traum and Sender. This led to a series of short European tours where he'd bring out his drum machines and synths to rock the dance floor live. On his most recent tour, in September, he had the honour of playing not only at legendary German techno club Tresor but also in the main room at London's club of the moment, Fabric. The tour also saw Fairley pushing his pared-down techno bump in new directions, though not necessarily ones he wants to repeat.
"I was playing really hard on that tour, and I don't really think it was for me. I went faster and harder than I'd ever gone before, just to see what could happen and if it would make people go even crazier. I've toned it down now a bit; that wasn't really where I want to be going."
The last tour also saw him re-evaluating how he approaches live performance of techno. In earlier gigs, he'd preferred using multiple pieces of obscure gear to keep the process as live he could and to allow as much improvisation as possible. More recently he'd resorted to sampling all his machines so he could bring just one piece of equipment.
"I bought the sampler because it was supposed to simplify everything, but then I realized I basically hate it and that I hate everything to do with sampling. The main reason I got it was that my label, Sender, was pushing me to be able to replicate stuff off the album, and this was the only way I could do it."
Fairley's work under his own name generally gets placed in the minimal techno category, although it's also melodic enough to get played by DJs closer to the house side of things. The material recorded under the name Jard Fireburg is generally similar, full of rich analog bass lines, angular synth squelches and swinging hi-hats. He invented another pseudonym, Hands Gruber, to use for his notorious techno punk cover of Iggy Pop's I Wanna Be Your Dog on Adam Marshall's Killer label, mainly to avoid being sued. When the record ended up being successful, they took a chance and actually got it properly licensed, freeing up the Hands Gruber tag to be used for other projects. Alongside all this, he also produces strange, melancholy electronic music under the name Fairmont.
"I think it's pop more than anything. It's not to fall asleep to, but it's not energetic dance music. There are supposed to be some love songs in there somewhere. It's sort of cute, romantic music."
Traum has just released a full-length album by Fairmont, Paper Stars, that in many ways owes as big a debt to early 90s shoegazer drone pop as it does to Cologne minimalism. Fairley may call it pop, but there aren't any catchy choruses and the vocals that are there are buried low in the mix.
Along with this release, Dumb-Unit is also releasing a single by Fairley's two-man band, the Uncut, who sound something like Joy Division if Ian Curtis had lightened up and started listening to acid house instead of taking his own life. And if this isn't already too much to keep track of, Sender has also just released a single by him under the name Jake Fairley that's already getting charted by techno superstar Sven Vath.
"This record is pretty sappy and is almost trance. It's not tasteful, I don't think. It's corny, but hopefully that'll mean it does well."