ead Letter Office is a column of letters written by Todd Hutlock to a friend named Jimmy, who may or may not exist. The column details real-life experiences regarding work, life, and how Hutlock's obsession with music runs them both.
Sorry I haven’t written in a while… it’s been sort of hectic/ugly at home of late. But that’s a story for another letter.
So… Do you remember Dan Selzer?
Dan was a few years behind us at Oberlin (he was a freshman when I was a junior), and was an electronic music major (at the time, at least) who was taking the intro class at the same time I was (as well as working for me at WOBC and later, part-time in the Co-op Bookstore record department). We soon got to talking and discovered that we had a mutual love of Renegade Soundwave, Meat Beat Manifesto, Black Dog, the Orb, etc. Soon, I was loaning Dan some classic Detroit Techno stuff and we were regularly geeking out about music. Honestly, Dan is a record geek after my own heart, full of the same sort of useless knowledge and damn proud of it. Dan was also pretty tight with Morgan Geist, as was I until the whole Bevin Kelley incident, which I still regret to this day (and again, that’s another story). Dan loved his ARP 2600 and his old school industrial and his obscure New York Noise and a lot of other stuff, too. Great guy, someone I really saw a lot of myself in, frankly, even though I wasn’t all that much older than he was.
About two years ago, when I first started working my current job, I was surfing around the net with nothing to do (I was new, so they didn’t have much for me at first) and I was Googling myself and about a million other people (mostly ex-girlfriends that I was wondering what happened to). And lo and behold, under my name, next to all of the AP references and Village Voice ballots, was an essay by one Mr. Dan Selzer from his Acute Web site, dated sometime in 2000, I think. It was, to this day, the nicest thing anyone has ever written about me, and it wasn’t really even about me. It was in the intro to his history of electronic dance music:
“Upon entering college (Fall of 1993), with a suitcase full of Black Dog and Orb CDs, I met two people who would have a substantial impact on my understanding of dance music. Todd Hutlock, now an editor at Alternative Press where I hope he will continue to use his power to turn people on to Renegade Soundwave, and Morgan Geist, now a renowned producer of dance music himself.
My interest in dance music was a slippery slope, starting with statements like "I like hard, experimental techno, but none of that house crap" to announcements like "I like techno and some early, more experimental house" to "I like dance music." Us middle and upper middle class white kids often have a white-guilt issue which causes us to not admit to, or be capable of, appreciating the more soulful strains of dance music. I probably shouldn't make this about race, because it's not, so replace that "us" with a capital "Me."
So, my education at Oberlin College begins with Hutlock's lending his treasured copy of Transmat Relics to me. Relics is a compilation of early releases and archival non-releases from the Detroit Techno label Transmat, run by Derrick May. It was only released in Belgium, for reasons that will make sense when I finish the techno history of me and begin my history of techno. This was the first time I realized techno wasn't made by white Europeans….”
Okay, so I know it isn’t really about me so much, but Jesus, I was touched. What better thing to read about yourself, you know? That you had a profound influence on someone’s musical history and passion is really an affecting thing. I sent Dan some email to tell him I saw it and how happy it made me, and we wrote back and forth for a bit. Dan promised to send me his latest CD release (he now runs Acute Records, a very cool reissue label), which he never did, but I didn’t care so much. I still love Danny like the kid brother I never had.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago: Todd Burns, the Stylus Majordomo, mentioned a CD by Doctor Mix and the Remix and my heart just about stopped. Doctor Mix and the Remix is not exactly a household name, but to me, it’s one that will live in my memory banks for the rest of my life.
See, when I first got to Oberlin, I was already very into music. But then, everything exploded. All of the factors—the credit cards, the musical environment, the radio station, Dave Todarello, etc.—came together to make me a bona fide collector and historian that I had previously not even dreamed about. I was buying new shit and old shit and borrowing shit and getting shit given to me and being played shit and basically was totally immersing myself in every genre and style of music, past present, popular and obscure there was. It was a beautiful time (and my grades in school show it). I took whatever anyone gave me—Dave T. hoisted a huge collection of fantastic 7”s on me that I still love for the most part; Don Marvel gave me (or maybe sold me cheap) a bunch of old Creation LPs because he knew I was into that scene and his own addiction to the Residents was in full effect; Sarge’s Records quarter bin was about the most interesting collection of records I had ever seen, full of indie gold of yesteryear pawned to buy a pony keg; I would buy stuff from traveling vendors, library record sales for a dime—anything that looked even remotely interesting, and in a town like Oberlin, at a time when people were dumping their vinyl for CDs in earnest, it was a fucking goldmine.
One record kept turning up though, everywhere I went: Doctor Mix and the Remix’s Wall of Noise. It had a hot pink cover with a cartoonly logo that just said “Wall of Noise” on it and it turned up everywhere. Dave had a copy, WOBC had a copy, Sarge’s Records had a copy—everywhere I went, there was this strange record with the hot pink cover. To this day, I have no idea how a tiny town like Oberlin ended up with so many copies of such an obscure little record. I swear, I saw it everywhere! Maybe I was seeing the same copy over and over again as it changed hands, I don’t know. And it was on Rough Trade, no less! I had to have it! It was haunting me! What was it?!?
I remember finally buying it (or having it given to me, I don’t recall) in a big bunch of LPs that also included Chuck Berry, Hoagy Carmichael, Tomita, the Jasmine Minks, the Anti Group, and Polly Bergen, among other disparate acts. I took it home, excited as hell to finally get this phantom album into my collection. And there it sat.
And to this day, that copy remains unplayed, a symbol of my collector scum mentality at it’s most heinous. As soon as the quest was over, I forgot about it. That is until Burns’ mention…
I immediately requested a review copy of the CD and promised on a stack of bibles to write a review. Burns duly sent it off to me and when it arrived, you could have knocked me over with a feather because the label that reissued it was none other than Acute, Dan Selzer’s label. Talk about a coincidence! I emailed Burns, who was suitably confused, thinking that I had known the entire time. Stranger things have happened to me (as you know by now), but I’d be hard pressed to think of one off the top of my head.
Turns out the album (or Acute’s version of it anyway, rife with extra tracks and exacting liner notes, of course) is a whole lotta fun, as well. Doctor Mix and the Remix were a Métal Urbain spinoff (and Dan/Acute has also reissued their Anarchy in Paris album, a CD copy of which sat in the Oberlin Co-op Bookstore unbought for roughly a decade, which I find most amusing—I wonder if Dan even knows that there was a copy there that he walked by hundreds of times?), and is basically an electro-metal fusion party album. Cheap drum machines (but in a good way), fuzzy guitar riffs, and monotone/snotty punk vocals careen through a host of original material and choice covers both predictable (“No Fun”, “Sister Ray”) and off the beaten path (Bowie’s “Supermen”, Roxy Music’s “Grey Lagoons”, “Brand New Cadillac”) but all of which sound great when turned up really loud. It sounds like “Nag Nag Nag” but with less angst and more beer. I can hardly believe I never played this thing, because now it sounds great blasting out of my car cruising the shoreway with the windows down.
So basically, I guess Dan and I are even—I introduced him to Detroit Techno, and he introduced me to a great album I forgot I even owned. All in all, I consider us even. I think this is what music lovers do for each other.
Do strange little coincidences like this happen to everyone, or am I just blessed/cursed by circumstances?
God, now I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Better crank up that CD again….
Promise I’ll write more soon.
Your man in the Midwest,