Venerated U.S. poet Walt Whitman was certainly ahead of his time when he wrote "I Sing the Body Electric" over a century ago. In fact, if the bearded bard was around today, he just might throw off his waistcoat, hit the dance floor, and groove to this impressive two-CD collection of digital delights high-tech compositions designed to get one's derrière in motion.
Who could have predicted that, in 1977, an Italian producer (Giorgio Moroder) working in a German recording studio, would wed the gospel-tinged vocals of an African-American diva (Donna Summer) to a purely electronic backing track of relentless sequencers and change the course of dance music? It's only fair that "I Feel Love," the prototypical Euro-pop opus in question, is a highlight of Machine Soul. Although the oscillating, seductive number broke the 10-minute mark in its extended club version, it was the edited single that exploded into the top 10 thus bringing unadulterated synthesizer music to middle America.
These days, it's almost a matter of course that preprogrammed rhythm tracks, silicon-generated strings and horns, and even electronically treated voices (as with Cher's "Believe") are in the dance-music mix. Back then, however, songs such as "I Feel Love" were nothing less than aural shock treatment.
Some of what's included on this 28-song historical overview, presenting assorted subgenres of electronic dance music that emerged during the past 25 years, could be considered marginal in terms of commercial and mainstream appeal. Still, as compiled by archivist Craig DeGraff, producer Johan Kugelberg and rocktronica DJ/musician Moby (the latter's trippy, pulsing "Go" is included here), it's all boundary line-pushing material.
The collection starts with the mecha-chill of "The Robots," a representative piece by influential German electro-patriarchs Kraftwerk, and stretches all the way to the sweet delirium of "Godspeed," a raver's cathedral of sound built, byte by byte, by current Washington, D.C., producer/performer BT. In between are some remarkable bits of music history: the techno-punk classic "Warm Leatherette" by the Normal; the clockwork new wave of "Electricity" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark; early industrial grind from Throbbing Gristle ("Adrenalin") and Cabaret Voltaire ("Yashar"); and 1982's crucial when-worlds-collide recording of Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" (RealAudio excerpt), wherein producer Arthur Baker melded New York rap with relentless machine beats and samples of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express."
The entire second disc is a laser-etched party, with club staples such as M/A/R/R/S's "Pump Up the Volume," that unforgettable, funk-filled collage of noise and vocal samples, and the thumping, chugging "Blue Monday" by fellow Brits New Order. Along with ambient house from the Orb ("Little Fluffy Clouds"), the lush trance music of Underworld's "Rez," the frenzied "James Brown Is Dead" by L.A. Style, a Fatboy Slim remix of Fluke's "Absurd" and tracks by the Prodigy ("Charly") and the Chemical Brothers ("Life Is Sweet"), the set virtually demands a spin in a crowded, ecstasy-fueled warehouse.
There are some glaring omissions, though. It's unthinkable that Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" didn't make the cut. Superstars Depeche Mode are represented by "Enjoy the Silence," but where is Yaz's bubbling "Situation," one of techno's watershed hits? And influential, stripped-down Detroit house music, such as Steve "Slick" Hurley's "Jack Your Body," ain't nowhere to be heard.
Maybe it's all being saved for Machine Soul II: Electric Boogaloo.