Less is more as Detroit techno’s best-kept secret delivers his masterclass
You’ll search in vain for Gary Martin’s name in the great annals of techno. He’s from Detroit, he runs the Teknotika label, he’s the man behind the aliases Gigi Galaxy and Mole People, and he’s been around since the emergence of Motor City’s second wave of producers in the early 1990s. Yet despite a superlative back catalogue (‘The Seductive Sounds Of Teknotika’ compilation is required listening), you won’t find him mentioned alongside the likes of Richie Hawtin and Stacey Pullen. As the press release accompanying this rare full-length excursion points out, Gary Martin is one of Detroit techno’s great unsung heroes.
Nor does that situation look set to change. For the last two decades, Martin’s tracks have graced the Fabric mix series as well as Jeff Mills’ record box, but his productions, while deep and effortlessly groovy, have a no-nonsense, unassuming quality that lend themselves to the mesmeric mid-portion of a set rather than the “who hell that?” of a closer. In short, he remains something of a connoisseur’s choice. ‘Escape From South Warren’, a record of sublime craft and subtly shifting mood, explains why.
Named after the area of Detroit in which Martin used to live – round the corner from Eminem’s alma mater, 8 Mile – the album opens with the jaunty synth and humorous allusions of ‘Moogy Mank’. However, it’s track two, ‘We Get Down’, that’s the real scene-setter here. Seemingly transmitted from a dark vault sometime in the early hours, it’s a quiet but sinewy techno-house hybrid that, like everything else on ‘Escape From South Warren’, seduces rather than pummels.
‘Well’ continues in the same subterranean vein, but having established an atmosphere Martin shatters it – in a good way, you understand – with a more experimental, history-plundering mid-section. On ‘My Medicine’, he wigs out on acid, breaks out a hoover sound, and suddenly we’re raving like it’s 1991. Meanwhile, from its Gigi Galaxy-referencing title onwards, ‘Galaxy Style’ harks back to the mid-90s sound of prime-era Teknotika, a playful and slyly funky tune complete with bongos and a bubbling stream of 303 running through its centre.
The dreaded sax of ‘I Don’t Know Why’ gives way to the metallic riffs of ‘Eastward Course’, while ‘My Own Mind’ mines a seam of steamy house beloved of Blake Baxter. For the final stretch, we go deep again. ‘Stellar Caravan’ tweaks the sepulchral leanings of the album’s opening into hypnotic and trancey shapes, while the closer, ‘2,000 People Inside’, is a strolling techno tune enlivened by outbreaks of home-time whistling.
If ‘Escape From South Warren’ has a unifying theme, it remains unclear. There are missteps along the way. But for the most part, this album fulfils its brief, providing a wormhole from here to the dancefloor, proving that Detroit techno is in rude health and making the case that Gary Martin, his command of a myriad of styles achieved with the very lightest of brush strokes, should take his rightful place in the history books.