For a world still actively exploring its own boundaries, techno is history obsessed and ferociously insular. So when relatively unknown Detroit producer Omar S told the dance-music site Resident Advisor, “I don’t even know who Ricardo Willalobo is”– backhanding Ricardo Villalobos, techno’s frustrating, progressive king– pundits rushed to their keyboards, birthing messageboard threads that reached 10 pages in length but rarely moved past a collective oh no he didn’t.
On the one hand, Omar S knows how to handle press– curse, a lot (nine instances of “fuck” in under 150 words!); show more interest in illegal auto racing than the genre you perform in; claim to not buy music; claim, even, not to really like it. On the other hand, the prospect that he really is a know-nothing– or, at least, that he doesn’t care about his environment– is magnetic. In a scene that often seems to feed off itself, it’s hard not to wonder what Omar S is eating.
So London club and label Fabric asks him to make his own mix, and he turns in 80 minutes of his own tracks, some dating back to 2004. (“I don’t need other people’s music; I got over 100 songs released.”) Whether that’s heresy or not, I don’t care. Most of this stuff was only on vinyl until now, and it’s just as easy– and as rewarding– for me to think of this disc as a compilation of his productions as a DJ mix.
His music isn’t unlike his public persona– brash, bitter, soulful, and vaguely threatening. The tracks collected on Fabric 45 aren’t funky, but they have a zombie-like imperative to them. They’re not melodically complex, either, and when he builds a half-memorable tune– ”Oasis 13 ½” or “Psychotic Photosynthesis”, both which resemble Kraftwerk, a little– he straps it to the bassline in a way that suggests he thinks melody is frivolous. They’re built on blocky, simple sounds, but structured with subtlety and control.
For someone who flaunts as much confidence and ego as Omar S does, his music is almost impetuously basic at times– he’s like a woodsman who builds a lean-to in your living room when you already set up the air mattress. It’s not conservative, it’s gutter, it’s flamboyant.
The occasional vocalists– on “U” or “The Maker”– sound lonely and disoriented, like deep-house divas who collapsed in alleyways before ambling home in the last few minutes before dawn. Video-game samples pollute 19th century church organ (“Strider’s World”); and brutish, deadlocked four-four gets syncopated with noise (“Simple Than Sorry”). Zealots say the crown is “Psychotic Photosynthesis”, a dizzy, slow-bubbling track whose melody peels out of its bassline so carefully that it’s hard to notice until it’s fully arrived– it definitely stands out, but doesn’t overshadow.
While it’s tempting to draw Omar S into the long narrative of Detroit techno, he doesn’t fit the mold: Detroit, as I always heard it, represented a banging but sophisticated futurism; Omar S, by comparison, is definitively unrefined. The cover of his one full-length album, 2005′s Just Ask the Lonely, is a sloppily altered photo of him playing an arcade console whose display shows a picture of what are presumably his kids. He claims to sign his white labels with the same marker he uses working a day job at Ford. Just Ask the Lonely takes its name from a Four Tops song– another Detroit institution, Motown. “Day”, on the Fabric mix, samples the Supremes’ “Come See About Me”, briefly. Omar S’ music doesn’t have any of the charm of Motown– it’s unfriendly, nocturnal stuff.
But in a way, Motown’s an even better touchstone than Detroit techno: Music made with efficiency and confidence; music that didn’t have to be too aware of what was going on around it because it was busy trying to make a little world of its own.
— Mike Powell, March 19, 2009