A couple of months back, this writer found himself in a dark, dingy cellar in Bristol, alongside no more than 60 others, dancing like crazy to the first ever live set on UK soil by Mike Taylor, better known as Portland, Maine-based analogue fetishist Disco Nihilist. By the light of a solitary lamp, he tapped away on his MPC, teasing the crowd into a wild frenzy by triggering relentless handclaps, hypnotic riffs and warm, fuzzy basslines. Sat there behind on stage, clad in a sensible plaid shirt and smiling throughout, Taylor didn’t look like your average drum machine enthusiast; in fact, he looked like he’d just wandered in off the street, without a care in the world, like some American tourist sampling the delights of Bristol’s now-famous nightlife.
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Mike Taylor has consistently impressed with his particular brand of linear analogue groovery, first making his name with a series of scratchy, full-blooded releases that pushed 808-revivalism and hardware fetishism to its very limits. Each of his releases to date, whether for Construction Paper or Running Back, has been a kind of hymn to old-fashioned music making. His obsession with little details – transferring tracks to cassette before getting them mastered, recording drum machines and sequencers wobbling away in wonky analogue symmetry – suggests an obsession with style over substance. Given that his releases are rarely less than excellent, it’s a hollow accusation.
“I had a mattress and a library card.” So says Mike Taylor, who, like many a great artist, upped sticks, moved to a new town and worked in isolation. He left his home in Detroit, packed his earthly possessions in a car and drove 1,400 miles to Austin, Texas. It’s not the most obvious path to gain recognition, but it worked: an impressive debut for Pittsburgh imprint Love What You Feel was followed by three EPs for Daetron Vargas’s Construction Paper.
When Mike Taylor’s first 12” dropped on Love What You Feel in 2009, a lot was written about his distinctly DIY approach to music-making. Like the early pioneers of house and techno, the Austin, Texas-based bedroom producer known as the Disco Nihilist makes raw and uncompromising music using analogue sequencers and various other bits of hardware kit. For that first release – and his subsequent vinyl outings on Construction Paper – Taylor recorded his tracks straight to cassette before submitting demos, given them a faithfully fuzzy, low-fi quality. It’s an old trick, but one that helped to give his homemade jams a genuine old skool feel.
Whether he’s used the same approach on this first 12”/digital release for Running Back is unknown, but it certainly sounds that way. Like his previous releases, Running (Far Away) is full of instrumental experiments that sound both authentically old and vacuum-packed fresh. The six tracks here offer a neat round up of Taylor’s talents and inspirations. “Greasy Grind” opens proceedings with a swift punch to the kidneys, combining brain-melting acid tweakery with impressively fuzzy industrial beats; think Cabaret Voltaire jamming with Phuture, recorded on a battered old eight-track, and you’re close. “Keep It Simple” continues the stripped-back acid theme, offering a floor-shaking concoction that is little more than heavyweight beats and bubbling 303-trickery. There’s a clue in the title. “A New Career In A New Town”, meanwhile, veers off into hypnotic dub-house territory. The composition is a little more complex and the aural palette more sophisticated, but it still retains that pleasing simplicity and lo-fi charm that marks out Taylor’s work.
“December 5th” sounds like an amalgamation of the EP’s first two tracks, this time recorded on the Starship Enterprise after a crash-landing on a planet made entirely of ice. Then there’s “Sci-Fi On Tape”, a surprisingly warm concoction that stumbles into Mr Fingers/Bobby Konders territory, like early Virgo Four after a fistful of little ‘uns. “Coffee & A Warm Paperback” continues this theme, wrapping sugary electric piano chords around a brilliantly simple groove. Taylor clearly has talent, and his dedication to the original DIY ethos of house music is admirable. Of course, style is nothing without substance, but Running (Far Away) has that in spades.