Alphabetical Order: N
NO UFOs by Model 500, Metroplex Records, 1985.
Juan Atkins was sixteen years old when, in 1978, he first heard Flashlight by Parliament, with its ridiculously funky synth bass and predominantly electronic production. According to the man himself, this was the point at which his life was changed forever. By this time he was heavily into funk and already pursuing music, learning to play Bass guitar, but the introduction of synthesizers into his musical education proved to be profound. He swiftly went about investing in a Korg Ms 10, a tape machine and a mixer and began embarking on his experiments in electronic music.
He teamed up with friend Rik Wade to form Cybotron and, by 1981, the experimentation led to the release of their first record, ‘Alleys of Your Mind’, a kind of lo fi bedroom boogie track that twinned the palette of European synth pop to the feel of eighties funk. Atkins was forced to set up his own label, Deep Space, to release the track, after being turned down by every single label he sent it to. Once the ball was rolling, Atkins and Wade continued to release as Cybotron, putting out such gems as Clear and Techno City before the relationship between the two soured over artistic differences – Wade wanted to move towards a Rockier sound, Atkins was (thank god) not having it.
So, in 1985, Atkins began recording under a new moniker, Model 500 and began a new label for which to output the material, Metroplex. The Cybotron releases had already established Atkins as a name in the burgeoning techno scene, but his first release as Model 500 – No UFO’s cemented it, not just within Detroit but in nearby Chicago and in pockets of Europe, too.
The track is seven minutes of 808 driven electro funk, with a mad distorted vocal hook and a tweaked bassline that could raise the dead with its insistent, relentless turnaround. Add some heavy synthesized blips and whooshes; plenty of primal breaks and a heavily experimental, extended arrangement and you have the blueprint for Detroit techno right there.
Juan Atkins turns 50 in a couple of months, while No UFO’s will be celebrating its 27th birthday this year. It’s a hard, uncompromising piece of music and thoroughly unhinged, like a lot of Atkins’ music, but the imagination of this man and the way he pulled in so many influences: the rumblings of early Chicago house, the space funk of Parliament, the futurism of synth pop, places him high on the list of musical visionaries within the realms of dance music and, along with Clear and Techno City, No UFO’s is one of the finest examples of Atkins’ early, seminal work.
Next week O as in Orange Club Biscuits.
By Joe Evans