Denki Groove – Ilbon2000 (2000)

R-114495-1255484646.jpegOften you know if a live album’s going to be a banger in the first minute.  Presumably you already know all the songs, so all the critical questions get answered right away: Is the band going to stick to the record, or will they mix things up?  What’s the sound quality like?  How amped is the crowd?  What’s the energy level?  I’m thinking of Underworld’s Everything, Everything; as soon as that brand-new synth line on “Juanita” kicks in you know you’re in for something great.  Or Ween’s Live in Chicago, when the band immediately launches into a double-speed “Take Me Away” which blows the studio version out of the water.  “The Man-Machine” on Kraftwerk’s Minimum-Maximum with those deep bass sounds that weren’t possible in ’78.  Any King Crimson live album that kicks off with “Larks 2”.  And so on.

Ilbon2000 is one of those albums.  The crowd goes wild from the very start, rave whistles and all.  This infectious Daft Punk-ish bass line drops, as the crowd starts to yell along.  But forget the slow build.  Things go over-the-top after only a minute.  This massive house beat comes in and they start cutting and scratching it right away.  Samples from other tunes get thrown into the mix.  And then…”Hello, Mr. Monkey Magic Orchestra, hey! HEY! hey! HEY! hey! HEY!”.  Total overload and we’re only on the first track.

Denki Groove were in an odd spot in 2000.  The spent most of the 90’s careening from one electronic genre to the next – they did acid house, they did trance, they did hardcore, they did big beat, sometimes all on the same album.  VOXXX, released in the beginning of the year, was total chaos, recorded and mixed across five different studios in Germany and Japan, with the group dealing with the departure of longtime member Yoshinori Sunahara in the middle of the sessions.  As a result the remaining members threw caution to the wind and made VOXXX their most aggressive, diverse, and perplexing album yet.  Even though the band was as successful as ever I think they knew it would be their last album for a while.

There’s a similar approach here.  Ilbon2000 is compiled from seven different shows and it’s pretty apparent from early on that there is some trickery going on here.  There are some obvious in-studio after-effects and in some cases the vocal tracks seem like they might be pulled from a different performance.  The mix is all over the place – the crowd is very audible in the early going, but towards the end you can barely hear them.  There are 17 tracks in just under an hour, which means most of the tunes get cut down.  Most of the tracks flow into each other, creating some pretty interesting segues – “Nothing’s Gonna Change” into “Killer Pomato”, or “TKO Tekno Queen” into “Niji” into “Volcanic Drumbeats”.  Since DG fool around in so many genres this is quite impressive; if you’re just looking at the tracklisting it may be difficult to figure how this all works out.  Suffice to say what you get is really not much like the studio albums; it’s the same elements, but they’re arranged differently, with bass lines mixed up, lots of cross-sampling, and about five times as much yelling.

Sadly, there’s not much of a record of what DG’s live show was really like through the 90’s – I don’t know if this is representative or not, though I’d guess it’s not.  With Sunahara gone the group filled the void with DJ Tasaka and Kagami, who it seems were pretty much given free reign to run wild all over the group’s material.  Tasaka was the person who (I think) filled in Sunahara’s role on VOXXX; Kagami was a DJ/producer who had remixed their work before.  This might explain why this is so wild, but then again, if you poke through YouTube you can find videos of a young Denki Groove doing things like turning “Denki Biribiri” up to 178 BPM, which in DJ terms is way too fast to dance to.

These guys are always a spectacle live, even today – based on the strength of this I imported some of their recent CD/DVD sets (one from 2009, another from 2013) and they still bring it, though it’s never quite as manic as this.  I mean the last third of this album is absolutely nuts; typically electronic sets are supposed to peak and then wind it down, but this one keeps cranking it further and further up, until everything’s thrown into the shredder (anyone else hear a bit of “Brazilian Cowboy” near the end??)  It certainly ain’t perfect – it’s certainly not as meticulous and labored over as Everything, Everything is, as long as we’re talking end-of-an-era live electro sets.  It’s full of odd decisions and elements that don’t match up, and the illusion that this is a real live set only lasts until about Track 4.  But the quality is up there; I can’t help but love every minute of this.  Highly recommended for all you electroheads who have most likely never heard of this group before; this is probably the most stunted way to get into Denki Groove, but you do get to hear an excellent electronic group at their wildest, and what’s not to like about that?

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