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Essential Listening: Jeff Mills

Essential Listening: Jeff Mills

Jemima Skala | Features & Interviews

Jeff Mills is synonymous with techno. As one of the biggest and best names in the game, he is one of the most significant Detroit DJs to have made a space for himself in international consciousness. His sets are famed for being high-paced and relentless, often featuring several turntables and a drum machine. Mills is as varied in his abilities as he is technically brilliant, even turning his hand in 2000 to writing a new score for Fritz Lang’s cult classic Metropolis. Mills has pretty much released at least an album a year since 1992, and every one of his releases is just as stellar as the last. It is, therefore, a Herculean task indeed to pick just five of his best tracks. But try we must, and here’s what we came up with.

The Bells
It would be criminal to write a whole piece about Jeff Mills and not mention “The Bells”. A staple track for anyone who claims to call themselves a techno aficionado, “The Bells” is pure, hard, pounding techno. As well as being a dancefloor banger, it demonstrates Mills’ forward-thinking ideology for our future. In an interview with FACT, Mills said of techno, “I believe that as humanity moves out and forward, the mechanisms of this genre are best suited for where we’ll be going […] Technology will make many things possible, but re-calibrating the human mind is something more complex and the education needs to start now.”

Segment 2
This track comes from his 1996 live release Live In The Liquid Room, Tokyo and nothing could be more expressive of the energy and electricity that comes from Mills’ sets. Smattered with expert pull-ups and seamless mixes, “Segment 2” drops you right in the middle of the action, relentless and uncompromising in its rhythm and beat. His mix straight into Rhythim Is Rhythim’s “Strings of Life” is enough to make you wish you’d invented the time machine to go back and experience the set first-hand.

Entrance to Metropolis – Blue Potential version
“Entrance to Metropolis” is one of Jeff Mills’ forays into film scoring, taken from his reimagining of the soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The original creates a beautifully mysterious electronic soundscape where mystery and fear hide around every corner. What’s special about the Blue Potential version is that Mills scored this and many other of his most famous tracks for the Montpelier Philharmonic Orchestra and played live alongside them, creating a counterpoint between the rigidity of classical music and the free live techniques of DJing. When played by an orchestra, “Entrance to Metropolis” takes on an eerily alive quality.

“Amazon” comes from Jeff Mills’ days as part of Underground Resistance, the group formed first by Jeff Mills and Mike Banks then joined by Robert Hood. Underground Resistance pulled together all elements of electronic music, from lo-fi DIY techno to more house-y influences. Although Jeff Mills left the group soon after the release of “Amazon” on World 2 World, this track is an important milestone in understanding Mills’ cosmic and technological aspirations for his music.

Solid Sleep
This track will make you want to do anything but sleep. Mills perfectly manages to highlight the intricacies and delicacies of each element of this track, from the pulsing bass drum to the ticking closed hi-hats, as he leads them weaving in and out of the spotlight for their moment in the sun. It’s yet another example of his masterful management of his equipment and technical know-how. Not one to be missed.

Jeff Mills plays YARD: Open Air Club at Bristol’s Motion on Saturday 26th August, before jetting off to Croatia for Dimensions Festival. Back in the UK in winter, he’ll also appear at The Warehouse Project Presents alongside Nina Kraviz, Fred P and more on Friday 8th December.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Mills

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Essential Listening: Jeff Mills

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