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The Atom™ Appreciators' Guide to Further Appreciating Atom™
Dipping a Toe in the Abyssal Waters of the Atom™ Discography
Uwe Schmidt, aka Atom™ (and dozens of other aliases), may be the best to ever do it depending on who you ask. I humbly affirm this notion, but don’t take it from me, just check man’s stats. Senior party leaders have discussed him in hushed tones usually reserved for the most revered of mystics. Shawn Rudiman once told me Uwe was the only person in Techno he’s ever sweated. During a chat with BMG at the 2015 edition of No Way Back, we both noticed Uwe standing stoically but attentively in the middle of the dancefloor. Our conversation stopped dead in its tracks as Brendan’s eyes widened to assimilate the magnitude of his presence. “That’s Atom™ [looooooong pause]. I am so honored he is here”. It was like the Buddha rolled up to his party, so I left Brendan to himself as he stood in awe.
Being the obsessive that I am, I’ve been methodically making my way through Uwe’s catalog via his Atom™ Audio Archive (AAA) Bandcamp page. It’s not my first foray into his work, but the immense scale of the AAA drew me in to attempt a fuller appreciation of the Atom™ multiverse. The AAA is truly a thing to behold. Philip Sherburne did a fantastic interview with Uwe at the dawn of the AAA in 2014. In it he explains the motivation and process behind making available the nearly 200 albums, EPs and live recordings that comprise his life’s work. For the past 9 years Uwe has been retrieving and remastering roughly 1600 tracks from original DATs and digital masters and presenting them via the AAA in the context of whatever single, EP or LP they were originally released in. Of those 1600 previously released tunes, Uwe has stated only 2 have been lost. Crazy. Phiip’s interview is nearly a decade old. Since then, Uwe has continued to produce and perform live as well as chip away at the herculean task of adding his constantly growing discography to the Archive.
As it stands today the AAA weighs in at 192 releases. It’s a daunting amount of material so I thought I’d share a couple of my all-time and recent favs as potential starting points for anyone interested in diving in. Below are four hypothetical humans and the album I would recommend for each.
“I’ve heard of Atom™, but I’ve never checked him out. Where’s a good place to start?”
The Stereonerds - HD Endless [Rather Interesting, 2003]
I think HD Endless is the first Uwe album I gave a proper listen – and for this I am grateful. In a discography filled with mega-mind experimentalism, abstraction and made-up genres (see Glitch-Gospel), the wrong first listen could have put me off him forever. Thankfully, HD Endless was entirely welcoming and accessible for my techno baby brain. Conceived of as a concept album (like most of his work), Uwe inhabits the minds of two fictional Australian Kraftwerk heads attempting to recreate their heroes’ sound without the knowledge, technical skill or gear to do so. This might sound high-falutin, but he nails his mark with the result being an album of fun, quirky Electro-Funk flavored Techno and Electro that does indeed sound like a 2003 ape of the German pioneers. The lead track, “F.U.N.K. (Is What You Don't Play)”, is a fun-for-all vocal track to ease you into the album as well as an explicit introduction to Uwe’s musical philosophy – the musical moments you don’t fill are as important as the ones you do. The absence of rhythm and melody only serves to make their presence more impactful. A proper initiation to his world from the jump.
The tracks that follow are a smattering of Uwe’s favorite flavors, all generously laced with fun and functionality to induct you into his musical oeuvre without alienating. “Electronica” is a totemic offering to his brand of slick, modern Electro. “Harddisk Rock” is a wonky, bleepy retro-funk callback to 80’s B-boy music. “I Hear a New World” is a nod to the post-EBM / Industrial sound of his career-launching Lassigue Bendthaus project. “Praezision” and “HD Endless” round out the album with spacious, melodic and mellifluous beauty that are Uwe’s own internalization of Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express era. HD Endless is a fluid and coherent album worthy of many top-to-bottom listens. It’s also sampler of some the most approachable styles in Uwe’s catalog, which makes it an excellent springboard to exploring the greater ™ Universe.
“I just took a heroic dose of Mushrooms / LSD / Mescaline and need an Audio Shaman to guide me through the Bardos of Innerspace”
Masters Of Psychedelic Ambiance – MU = ム [Rather Interesting, 1995]
We’ve all been there: An auspicious night - the moon is full, you have the studio apartment to yourself and you’ve just ingested 1/4 oz of mushrooms in hopes of communing with universal consciousness in a big way, man. You close your eyes and wait for the Wisdom-Visions to arrive but things quickly go sideways. Archetypal beings of Lovecraftian scale question you in vaguely menacing terms. You open your eyes to escape theirs but the room is a nest of razor wire. Midair hallucinations assault you. Is it more suspicious if the apartment lights are on or off? The lights on/off dialectic vexes you for the next 30 minutes. Afterwards you become certain your neighbors will take the lightshow you’ve been conducting as reasonable grounds to call the cops…
Where did you go wrong? Easy: There were no kind tunes to create the setting necessary for an enlightened telepathy with the mushroom. But you’ll get ‘em next time champ now that MU = ム by Masters of Psychedelic Ambiance (Atom™ and Tetsu Inoue) is in your doeskin satchel of metaphysical weaponry. Despite the 27 listed tracks, there are only 3 hard stops throughout the whole album. Soothing textures, bubbling synths and chakra-massaging melodies slowly morph from movement to movement as the album unfurls. Pop on your headphones, close your eyes and let the Kundalini rise.
“Im a Digger DJ! Digger Bushido dictates I play only the rarest Nugs. Having any one of my tracks ID’d would bring immeasurable shame on myself and my Telegram chat.”
Atom™ - Solicited Tracks & Unreleased Material 1992-2015 [AtomTM Audio Archive]
Alright G, lets get you sorted. Atom™ may be one of the most well-known figures in electronic music but his prolific output allows for endless nooks, crannies and rabbitholes to explore. Solicited Tracks & Unreleased Material is a 50 track collection of tunes, roughly half of which are gleaned from compilation CD’s Uwe’s contributed to throughout his career. The other half are never-before-heard tracks, sketches and experiments. I know this isn’t an obscure Japan-only promo 12” but this is the best your getting in a free post, buster. It is indeed a bummer that so much of Mr. ™’s music was and never will be released on wax but I think the AAA is something we can all be grateful for.
Solicited Tracks & Unreleased Material is your go-to for deep cuts that span the breadth of Uwe’s prodigious genre mastery. There’s classico style Electro, swung House/Techno hybrids a la Milagro, Glitch, Ambient, Rob Hood mnml tweakers, Electrolatino, remixes from Plaid and Pole and much more. Many are fully fleshed tracks, but there are plenty of killer sketches begging for an edit. Slap a few in Ableton, make them your own and have a jealous dude steal your USB at your next gig.
“I used to go to Phish shows but now I listen to Techno. My tastes in music may have changed but I still love a live, improvised performance”
Atom™ - Live @ Hot Mass 9.13.14
SAME brother! While the crunchy jams of Phish and Disco Biscuits haven’t done it for me since 2007, I appreciate an off-the-cuff flex as much as the most seasoned lot wook. Fortunately, Uwe’s archive has plenty of live recordings. There’s solo performances dating back to 1994, a set from Labyrinth Festival and eight volumes of live shows with Ostgut Ton’s Tobias., including a monster five-hour set recorded at Panoramabar in 2014. Not gonna lie, I haven’t listened to any of these yet, but it’s all gravy because we are headed outside the AAA here. This one’s a live recording of Uwe going ham at Hot Mass in 2014. It’s not a pristine recording, especially when held up against AAA’s hyper-polished audio, but what it lacks in fidelity it more than makes up for in energy. The recording captures Uwe’s set as well as all the hootin’ and hollerin’ of Hot Mass’ throbbing sweatbox of a dancefloor. Hot Mass turned 10 years old in December and has gone through many iterations since 2012. Crews have come and gone, the interior has been renovated multiple times and it now hosts a custom soundsystem and lighting rig. The club has matured and developed into a world-class haven for weekly, late-night dance functions, but this recording is a window into its rawest, most DIY days. Unfortunately this was about 10 months before I moved to Pittsburgh, so this recording is the only glimpse I have into that era. Listening in 2023, it’s crazy to me that Atom™ graced our sleazy little 150 cap DIY space at a time when Pittsburgh was just beginning to emerge as a destination on the US Techno circuit.
His set is a masterful exercise in peaktime improvisation. Rhythm and sound do all the things they should to keep things bumpin’. Energy waxes and wanes. Tension builds and releases, eliciting grateful whoops from Hot Mass early-adopters. It’s Serious Techno in form but serious fun in function. Pittsburgh’s own Shawn Rudiman contributes to the jam for a portion of the set as well. Give it a whirl below:
For further reading check out Chris Zaldua’s A Guide to Atom™ in which he interviews Uwe about the production of several seminal works. Chris and I share a few favorites, so head over there to read Uwe’s words on HD Endless and MU = ム. I also have Chris’ guide to thank for the concept behind HD Endless. Respect!
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