Sir Jeff Mills has been a continuous presence in VLSI music history. From the dank London warehouse parties of ‘Lost’ in the '90s to deity like DJ worship at Space Ibiza through to Bloc and The Barbican - Mills has been there pummelling our lugholes with 909 hats and kicks.
His shift into combining classical with electronic music reaches new scale with Planets – an ode to the 100 year anniversary of Gustav Holst’s score of similar name. Now, we'll be the first to admit that his incredible Sleeper Wakes series is more our thing, but this is a Sir Jeff album listening session in intimate surroundings so go we must...
So, tonight we’re delighted to find ourselves at Spiritland where their ludicrously well-endowed sound system is augmented with further speakers for full 5.1 surround sound. We're here to enjoy album playback of Planets with an introduction, detailed speech and Q&A from Mills himself.
Despite pitching Planets to Deutsche Grammophon (who turned it down), Sir Jeff informs us that the project has been entirely independently financed via his own Axis recording label. It’s clear no expense has been spared with Mills enlisting The Symphony Orchestra of Porto, a classical arranger, Abbey Road studios for the final mixdown and three time Grammy award winning mastering engineer Darcy Proper for the final sheen.
Alongside this, Mills explains he spent months researching the planets themselves, getting deep into the stats and linking things like bpm and track length to data about each planet, such as diameter. Time was spent consuming the works of Bartok, Strauss and of course Holst. He sheds light on a few secrets, such as the abrupt ending of the album being followed by a piece of silence recorded with the gains of all the equipment pushed to maximum – an effort to describe the profundity of space beyond the Kuiper belt and our own black hole when it comes to understanding what is really out there.
It’s clear serious thought has gone into his vision of how Planets should sound, describing the work as an ‘open project’ to be tweaked as our knowledge about the planets changes and grows. At one point he suggests he will hand his mantle across to another younger producer to continue the project as he grows old – much like Kraftwerk will forever be an act via slowly replacing their members with a younger generation.
The music itself is best listened to in one sitting, and what a perfect environment Spiritland is for this type of event. The audience are still and silent, fully immersed and concentrating on the sounds. Mills sits with us all, listening intently too. The music itself is epic, powerful and at times frantic and experimental with subtle interplay between the classical and electronic elements. Our feet can't help but twitch a Pavlovian response on deployment of that classic 909 hi hat, no matter how many classical instruments are breathing or crashing away in accompaniment. It is all highly enjoyable.
Few electronic musicians transfer successfully from club to concert hall under their own drive and obsession - huge respect must be paid to Mills for continually delivering blistering techno sets alongside sell out concerts at The Barbican and elsewhere.
Mills' geeky space themed mission will continue as he explains that his next project will focus on how it might sound to be ‘Lost in Space’. Be rest assured, there will be no let up of his focus on space and extra terrestrial life which is fine by us. If there was any musician to guide us into another galaxy then Sir Jeff would ably fit the bill.