Detroit - The Second Wave : Part Three - Jeff Mills
Jeff Mills is techno. More than anyone, this Detroit legend has turned being a DJ and producer into something approaching an artistic statement. His music in the 90's became a driving force of the genre and his DJ style so radically altered the sound and how the music was perceived that it's difficult to think of someone quite so rewardingly iconic as him. A
Mills's career started in 1980 as a local DJ in Detroit. He became known as "The Wizard" and would guest on the Electrifyin' Mojo's radio show before moving to a rival station in the mid-eighties. By the end of the decade he was turning more and more to production, forming "Final Cut" with Adam Srock.
Final Cut w/ True Faith - Take Me Away (1989)
He then joined Mike Banks and Robert Hood to form Underground Resistance before leaving in 1992. By this point both Mills and Hood were laying the foundations for what would be called "Minimal Techno" - a stripped down, faster form of the genre that would rapidly gain popularity. Hood and Mills worked together for a year or so before having what appears to be a huge bust-up over something personal (For many years they would not even play on the same DJ lineups). In the tradition of all Detroit acts, Mills set up his legendary label Axis, which would become the focal point for his music. It's important to note that Mills had started DJing with 3 turntables during this time, allowing him to layer more and more tracks - a style that made sense with minimal techno.
H & M - 88 (1991)
H & M - Drama (1991)
In 1992 Mills moved away from Detroit, first to New York, then to Berlin for a short period before settling in Chicago in the latter half of the decade. His first two albums, "Waveform Transmissions Vol 1 & 3" introduced a darker, more abstracted style to techno that, to put it mildly, destroyed dancefloors. I witnessed him play for the first time in 1994 and my initial memory is of never having witnessing music quite like it before - the first impression was that it had taken the machine noise of Kraftwerk and earlier techno to an unknown place. Not necessarily darker or nastier, just different. Since then all in honesty there have been techno DJs and then there is Jeff Mills - he occupies a lone place on the pantheon.
Jeff Mills - Late Night (1992)
Jeff Mills - DNA (1992)
Jeff Mills - Changes of Life (1992)
Jeff Mills - Wrath of the Punisher (1994)
Jeff Mills - Condor to Mallorca (1994)
Jeff Mills - Step to Enchantment (1992)
Perhaps the best document of Jeff Mills is the mix CD "Live at the Liquid Rooms" recorded in Tokyo in 1995. Presciently, Mills knew that the phenomenon of the mix CD would never last because they were not proper documents of the live DJ experience. It remains one of the only "live" mix CDs released commercially and is a great introduction to his style. Many people don't quite get Mills because his DJ style was very fast, energetic and rough. He'd make a lot of mistakes but overriding that was a real sense of tension that very few, if any, DJs get. It all sounded at times as his three records on the go at one would fall apart and yet, like a surfer catching the crest of a wave, he'd be managing to just about keep it going.
Jeff Mills - Live at the Liquid Rooms (1995)
We'll return to his later career (which became a lot more album-based and conceptual) at some point in the future.