Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
The laboratory that houses the producer known as Secret Circuit lies within sight of the Silverlake Reservoir in Los Angeles. From the rooftop, one can glimpse its shimmering surface, but it’s in the garage that the music of Secret Circuit sputzes and gurgles to life. The work of one Eddie Ruscha Jr. (yes, his father is the famed West Coast pop artist), for years the project was truly a mystery, with only micro-editions of cassettes making the rounds among Californian aficionados. His previous recording project, The Laughing Light of Plenty, cut one beatific dance single called “The Rose” that instantly went out of print and purportedly released a full-length album as well (though I defy you to find a copy). Just this past month though, New York’s Beats in Space label (an offshoot of the massively influential dance music radio show that broadcasts on WNYC every Tuesday night) released Ruscha’s first dance single under that name, letting many more adventurous listeners in on the secret.
“I have massive amounts of music I made over the years,” Ruscha tells me as we navigate his studio-cum-sonic playground. “There’s days of Secret Circuit music.” A wall of records guaranteed to make even an Amoeba Music buyer squeamish stretches the length of the converted garage. On the other walls hang a jumble of ephemera: Bollywood movie posters, abstract paintings, turn-of-the-century photographs from African villages, a Sun Ra flyer, mostly scored from thrift stores (it makes sense that Ruscha’s disco-edit project is called “Thriftcotheque,” suggesting both Playboy bunnies and dust bunnies). Along with some primitive drum machines, there’s also a little wooden box with plastic buttons on a nearby desk. Ruscha turns it on so that an analog arpeggio snakes through the room. “I like to take out with me on hikes,” he giggles, fingering a little melody before switching it back off.
“It was the sound of joy, captured on a synth that I had found in the garbage.”
In the early ‘90s, Ruscha played bass in a number of shoegazing alternative rock bands, first in Medicine and then in Maids of Gravity. “Back around 1995, I just had to say goodbye to rock music,” he says. “I needed to get away from drums, bass, guitar, and bandmates. I had always collected weird drum machines, so I then went wholly electronic. I just wanted to go and make music that either no one would ever want to listen to or no one would ever think of making.”
I count at least dozen keyboards lying about the room, though I take no notice of a small suitcase in a corner until Ruscha brings it to my attention. He carefully unclasps it, revealing an almost alien device, with a small keyboard and inputs. “This is the old Eno synth, like on those early Roxy Music records,” he says. It’s on loan from Mario C., the longtime Beastie Boy producer. And while he didn’t work with the man for “Nebula Syphinx” b/w “Parascopic Rope,” he did call on the services of Beck’s engineer (and über-busy LA producer) Cole Marsden Greif-Neill. M.G.N. brought in a device that allowed the MIDI to interface with the analog control voltage components. “We set it up and went ‘Oh my God,’” he recalls, using an old Sequential Circuits keyboard to create the dubby eight-minute wormhole of “Parascopic Rope.” “It was the sound of joy, captured on a synth that I had found in the garbage.”
A-side “Nebula Syphnx” emulates old acid house (think Phuture or early UK Afro-jackers No Smoke), back in the days when there were no real rules of the genre. It morphs from a pounding beat to an unspooling synth line that sounds like two aliens attempting to converse across galaxies. “The synth goes into these places and I just let it go,” Ruscha says of the Secret Circuit process. “I’m always trying to let the sounds figure out what they want the song to be. Even when I’m asleep, I wake up thinking about drum machines.”