Dance music has always been grounded in a sense of place. Chicago, Detroit, London, Berlin—a zip code can tell you as much about the music as the year it was made.
But beyond the nuts and bolts of the here and now lies a netherzone where some of the best electronic music floats, impossible to pin down. Swayzak’s 'Snowboarding in Argentina' is one such record.
The title hints at its uncanny placelessness. The music has nothing outwardly to do with Argentina, for one thing. The work of UK producers David Nicholas Brown and James S. Taylor, it was recorded in a number of locations—mostly bedrooms—around London. Yet there is little that is quintessentially British about the music. Instead, Brown and Taylor drew much of their inspiration from, on the one hand, the luminous chords and silky heft of Detroit techno, and on the other, the staccato drums and clipped textures that were then beginning to bubble out of Berlin and Cologne.
That brings us to the question of time. For if 'Snowboarding in Argentina' belongs to nowhere, it is equally a product of nowhen.
On a practical level, the music took shape in the mid to late 1990s, although it took nearly 10 years for it to come to fruition. Brown and Taylor began jamming on instruments, then machines, in the late 1980s. Then, after Brown suffered a serious car accident, the two musicians began working together more seriously. Trial and error yielded a promising single with a downtempo vibe that a hired-gun studio producer promptly ruined; Swayzak retreated to their bedrooms. They learned about Chain Reaction from a radio show, found new ways to burrow into the circuitry of their machines, and by 1996 they had hit upon their sound.
The core of 'Snowboarding in Argentina' appeared on a series of three two-track singles in 1997. (Taylor brought 10 copies of the first to Berlin’s Hard Wax, sold them directly to the shop for a fistful of Deutschmarks, and turned around and spent the money on records; that’s how DIY electronic music worked in those days.) The album itself appeared in 1998 on London’s Pagan label and quickly built a cult following. It was clear that the music was in conversation with its contemporaries: Heard from the right angle, it was possible to imagine it as a halfway point between the proto progressive house of Underworld and the monochromatic minimalism of Kompakt. But it also didn’t quite sound like anything else around; it was a dispatch from an unknown territory that needed no special understanding to decipher.
A quarter century later, 'Snowboarding in Argentina' sounds simply eternal. Certain hallmarks of ’90s production are available—the music’s almost murky warmth is a reminder of what electronic music sounded like before software swallowed everything into its digital maw—but there’s nothing dated about it. The exploratory nature of these tracks, as the result of experimenting with their machines’ limitations, never eclipses their musical or emotional essence.
Long since been deemed a classic, 'Snowboarding in Argentina' remains an underdog in the annals of electronic music. Its semi-obscurity was surely not helped by the decision to publish nine of its original 12 tracks on the CD, and seven on the vinyl, with only four appearing on both formats. Twenty-five years after its original release, Lapsus’ Perennial Series edition unites, for the first time, all the album’s tracks as a single triple-vinyl package, rounding out the 12 original songs with previously unreleased material. Working off the original DAT premasters, Swayzak have created new edits of all the tracks. The result might be considered the definitive edition of the album as it was meant to be, after a 25-year journey. It seems fitting that an album so timeless would continue morphing throughout its lifespan. For fans, it’s the chance to hear a beloved album as never before. And for newcomers, it’s the perfect introduction to a record that, in its own quiet way, reshaped the sound of electronic music, opening up new frontiers unbound by cartography or calendars.