It was quite remarkable. It still is. In a period of less than 18 months beginning in the spring of 1993, Robert Leiner released three albums – three double albums at that – and each and every one of them was an absolute corker. Not a single duff track between them. No techno record collection is complete without, well, for my money, any of them.
But what happened next was perhaps even more remarkable. Because Leiner followed the last of those three amazing double albums by disappearing off the face of the earth. I reckon it must have been aliens.
If you’ve never heard of Robert Leiner, you’re sadly probably not alone. He grew up in Gothenburg, southern Sweden, and started DJing at the age of 15. He wasn’t much older than that when he pieced together his own rudimentary recording studio, but it was when he moved to Belgium and began working as an engineer for R&S in the early 1990s that his career shifted up a couple of gears. By the time his ’Organized Noise’ album came out under the name The Source in May 1993, he was the R&S studio manager.
‘Organized Noise’, the cover image of Leiner and his long ginger hair looking like an advert for Timotei, sparkled and thumped in all the right places. ‘Different Journeys’, released the following year as The Source Experience after the UK dance act The Source threatened legal action, was even better, particularly the opening ‘Unknown Territory’, a one-man electronic jam of jaw-dropping proportions, all 12 minutes of it. But it was the third album, ‘Visions Of The Past’, simply credited to Robert Leiner, that turned out to be the trump card.
Issued on Apollo, the R&S offshoot imprint that Aphex Twin and Biosphere also called home, ’Visions Of The Past’ still turns my spine to jelly whenever I listen to it. It’s a wormhole of a record, moving both forwards and backwards through space and time, mixing futuristic sounds with noises that seem positively primeval. The title track is slow and heavy and not a little terrifying, ‘Aqua Viva’ morphs from an ambient soundscape into a squelchy frug, and ’To Places You’ve Never Been’ is truly gorgeous, a trip that really is like no other. To quote the sample that opens the album, which was taken from the introduction to the 1950s American sci-fi radio drama series ‘X Minus One’, “These are stories of the future, adventures in which you’ll live in a million could-be years on a thousand may-be worlds”. Oh, hang on, there’s my spine going wibble wobble again.
That bit I said about Leiner disappearing off the face of the earth wasn’t strictly true, but in the years following ‘Visions Of The Past’ his output consisted of just a couple of singles and the odd compilation track. He continued to work behind the scenes, though, engineering and producing, and he occasionally popped up as a DJ. And then, in 2015, more than two decades down the line and pretty much out of nowhere, a new Robert Leiner album, ‘Melomania’, appeared on the Swedish Höga Nord label. It wasn’t half bad either. OK, it wasn’t a patch on ‘Visions Of The Past’, but very few records are.