Basic Channel - Biography
As the undisputed pioneers of dub techno in the early 1990s, the output of the extended Basic Channel crew continues to carry a vast influence over the entirety of electronic music. From ambient to dubstep, Basic Channel’s endless echo and swirling pulse can be heard in the work of many of today’s most inventive producers. The duo of Mortiz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus created a mysterious, timeless body of work as Basic Channel. The original series of 12”s folds stark minimal techno into a labyrinth of fractalized dub mutations and gritty whorls of heavily processed atmosphere. The end result is absolutely mesmerizing and endures as one of the most unique discographies in the history of electronic music.
The early work released under the Basic Channel moniker is about as seminal as it gets. When the records originally appeared they carried stark label artwork that simply said Basic Channel and obtuse track titles like “Phylyps Trak” and “Q 1.1.” Aside from two singles attributed to Cyrus, all music was simply released by Basic Channel and produced by Von Oswald and Ernestus (although we wouldn’t learn their names until quite a few years later). If that was a label, a producer or group of producers it was initially unclear. Listeners knew various scraps of information (Berlin, links to Jeff Mills and Juan Atkins, etc). Obscurity was obviously important to the people behind the project. Basic Channel wanted you to pay attention to the music. And that was easy, given how utterly unique and engrossing those early 12”s are.
The first singles appeared in ’93 on colored vinyl. BC-01, BC-02, BC-03 and BC-04 came out of the gate fully formed. These four releases define the early Basic Channel sound and for many fans define the aesthetic of dub techno in general. Its true that very few have done better with this style of music. Comprised of bare bones beats, deep cyclical basslines, swirling, crackling ambient drift and endlessly echoing chords, these tracks are almost devoid of melodic content but are completely hypnotic. Tags like hypno-house, horizontal house and narcotic house were thrown around to try and categorize this singular sound.
Enforcement, the debut Basic Channel release, is attributed to Cyrus and features a remix from the mighty Detroit master Jeff Mills. It endures as a milestone of pounding atmospheric minimalism and arguably remains the strongest dancefloor oriented Basic Channel release. Phylyps Trak followed boasting three unbelievably deep tracks of dark and gritty atmospheric swirl, metallic chords and a relentless upbeat rhythm. Lyot Rmx and Q 1.1 inject a more open sense of space into the mix, allowing for ambient throb and undulating dub echo to reach out into the murky negative space where bouncing patterns seem to form out of nothing.
1994 brought the release of BC-05, the second Cyrus entry. Inversion features two extended tracks clocking in at almost twenty minutes each. This release flipped the Basic Channel agenda into full-throttle. Both tracks are simply massive, immense slabs of avant-garde techno. This is trance-inducing music of the highest order, fully bridging the gap between classical minimalism and dance music. Sub aquatic sonic churning ebbs and flows around an unchanging chord pattern, distant metallic chimes, disembodied disco rhythmic sequences and waves of static hiss. Motionless, yet constantly moving, “Inversion” and “Presence” endure as some of the most finely wrought and idiosyncratic pieces of music in techno.
Quadrant Dub followed that same year in similar suit featuring two long tracks of thick atmosphere and hypnotic house pulse. Heavy bass anchors the track’s cavernous echo and dense whirlpools of crackle and hiss. Layers of ambience shift and shimmer around the insistent, buried throbbing heart of these tracks. Arguably a more accessible version of the Inversion tracks, Quadrant Dub might be the best entry point into the Basic Channel catalog.
’94 also brought the release of Octagon / Octaedre, Radiance and Phylyps Trak II. The first and second releases here, BC-07 and BC-08, explore an even more abstract territory similar to the droning drift and buried pulse of the prior two singles. However, Phylyps Trak II recalls the harder techno of the earliest Basic Channel releases with its insistent rhythms and minimal funk. It’s a one of the most loved BC releases and often still finds its way onto forward thinking dancefloors. Mixing an unchanging house pattern with shimmering dub chords and ping-pongs of elastic delay, these two tracks perfectly sum up the sonic universe of Basic Channel.
In ’95 Von Oswald and Ernestus decided that the project had run its course. The mysterious duo issued BCD as a final statement. The label’s first CD release, BCD is a deftly executed compilation of versions and edits of the tracks that appeared on the vinyl singles. The album focuses on the ambient side of Basic Channel, featuring some of the most spaced ambient techno ever produced. While not the best entry point and far from being any sort of career retrospective, this CD stands well on its own.
After Basic Channel Von Oswald and Ernestus continued to define the cutting edge of progressive techno with the Chain Reaction label. Featuring the duo’s own music and work by the likes of Monolake, Porter Ricks, Vainqueur and Vladislav Delay, Chain Reaction ranks as one of the most important labels in techno. Von Oswald released ultra-minimal dub techno as Maurizio and both producers created minimal house for the Main Street Records imprint. The duo also shifted their focus to straight up digital dub and reggae as Rhythm & Sound.
Releasing records with almost no information about the creators, shrouded in mystery and devoid of “personality,” Basic Channel created a series of releases that have achieved legendary status on the back of the music only. This fact is easily justified as Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus essentially invented the genre of dub techno with Basic Channel. Endless variations have been made based on their early music, but no one has managed to create the dense, dark atmosphere, heavy beats and hypnotic echo patterns found on those singles. Each Basic Channel release is seminal electronic music and deserves much study.