Sharps & flats

Proudly synthetic, the electronic duo 2 Lone Swordsmen prove that man is more intelligent than machine.

Published July 8, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Nearly 20 years after Afrika Bambaataa, Kraftwerk and Cybotron figured out how to create future funk by molesting beat boxes, the electronic-music instrument and software industries are finally catering directly to their primary consumers. For a mere $500, anyone can get the Roland MC-303 Groove Box, a compact machine that "effortlessly delivers techno, rap, jungle, hip hop, acid and other dance styles." While that means that every raver with a credit card can make bleeps and beats, it also means that the people who actually know what they're doing have to go two steps further, work the shit out of the technology and tweak it to the limit. That's exactly what early acid house innovator Andy Weatherall and partner Keith Tenniswood are doing under the moniker 2 Lone Swordsmen.

On this debut full-length, the Swordsmen out-think their software and prove that in some cases, man is still more intelligent than technology. Operating like a pair of obsessive disco scientists, the duo anatomizes a seemingly infinite range of individual techno noises and rearranges it into a strange new body of static funk, retro electro, alien free-jazz and chunky, housed-up Detroit techno. Although classic electro has recently become immensely fashionable in the underground music scene (see Carl Cox, Bassment Jaxx), the Swordsmen approach the sound with a unique irreverence: The heavy, minimalist bass kick is there to ground the old-school funk, but the overall composition is futurized by a brilliant concoction of fucked-up rhythms and insubordinate noise.

Proudly synthetic, the Swordsmen peak out their levels and settle on a distorted, sci-fi groove. Set to a wobbly, down-tempo beat, "The Big Clapper" is a psycho-lounge jazz track warmly molded from old scratchy record sounds and static feedback. "We Change the Frequency" bumps and grinds into a darkly erotic electro-jam. Then it's a reverent nod to the Detroit interpretation of electro on "Sticky" and "No Red Stopping," a pair of heavy, floor-stomping house cuts. "Gay Spunk," by far the coolest title on the record, explodes with the tweeky sounds of android cum shots, but is nailed straight to the dance floor by a hard, driving percussion thrust.

Laboring over cold equipment and emotionless software, Weatherall and Tenniswood compensate by replicating the very essence of soul -- your computer may have no feeling, but if you ravage it to its core, a simulacrum of life just might appear.

By Amanda Nowinski

Amanda Nowinski is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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