Patrick Cowley - School Daze 2xLP
Label: Dark Entries
For every ecstatic high, there often needs to be a soul crushing descent via a dark comedown. San Francisco electronic music pioneer Patrick Cowley is best known for his trailblazing signature sound which helped spawn a whole dance music genre (Hi-NRG), as well as his amazing production work, not to mention guest spots on many of Sylvester tracks. His life ended way too early, as one of the first victims of the AIDS epidemic (before they even understood what AIDS was), but in the short time he was on this planet he recorded hours and hours of electronic music light-years ahead of its time. Most of those recordings have never seen the light of day.
In recent years it seems a whole genre of "space-disco" has emerged out of the influence of the Sylvester track "I Need Somebody To Love", produced by Cowley, who almost single handedly created the cut's distinctive minimal spacey/sensual sound. And within the many solo Cowley releases, there were hints of this darker sonic side, a whole part of his music making beyond the greatness he created for disco divas and sweaty dance floors. Enter School Daze, a Dark Entries collection of previously unreleased tracks, which showcase that warped and dark side of Cowley's music. These tracks were originally commissioned by the LA-based Fox Studios, makers of gay porn, and as we listen to this over and over, we can only imagine what kind of hazy, foggy, fucked up, beyond high, drug addled state of mind that folks must have been in to watch pornography set to these dark & dizzying sounds! The opening track is the outlier here, a chunk of classic Cowley Hi-NRG, but it's certainly a misleading introduction, as throughout the rest of School Daze, there is hardly a trace of Cowley's typical dance floor production, instead these songs much more concerned with capturing a mood and vibe that evokes melting and dripping trippiness, seemingly designed for late, late nights long after the party has ended. Tracks like "Tides Of Man" take us on a harrowing dark voyage, the listener losing control and spiraling deeper and deeper into the empty void. "Seven Sacred Pools" displays an epic side of Cowley's sound, the track drifts drowsily from underwater warble and woozy spaciness into shimmering and tranquil soft wave shimmer, the sort of soundworld we wish could get lost in forever. The title track reveals Cowley reigning over his own majestic prog sci-fi fantasyland.
Traces of Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, Harmonia, Cluster, The BBC Radio Workshop and even musique concrete are woven throughout School Daze. We're also reminded quite a bit of some of the proto-dark techno records that Moebius was making in the early '80s with Conny Plank and Gerd Beerbohm. What's even more astonishing is how so many of these sounds predate by several decades the sound of so many of our favorite contemporary electronic artists. In fact, we might go so far as to call the sound on School Daze "proto-IDM", as these tracks contain blueprints to the more spaced-out sides of artists like Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, The Orb, Seefeel and Bola.
It's unclear exactly how many of these tracks actually made it into the films, but we can safely say this is still some of the most fucked up, avant-garde porn music we've ever heard. In fact we wonder if Matmos took inspiration from some of these Cowley tracks when they were asked to create their own soundtracks for underground kinked out porn.