James Stinson and Gerald Donald have been producing fascinating electronic music under a range of pseudonyms since 1991. Their fierce preservation of anonymity and cryptic communications has made it difficult to pinpoint their respective involvement in particular projects. Fortunately, die-hard fans all around the world have been combing the internet and putting together pieces of the puzzle. We can now reasonably credit Stinson or Donald’s contribution to over 15 projects and get a better sense of the brilliance of their work.
Of these, the legendary Drexciya has been the object of the most enduring acclaim and fascination. Comparable to other afro-futurist artists like Sun Ra, Funkadelic or Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry they provided an alternative vision of the African diaspora infused by science fiction and technology. Indeed, Drexciya is the tale of an underwater nation spawned by the surviving children of pregnant slaves thrown overboard during the Middle Passage to the Americas.
The duo used the vinyl record as the main medium to communicate its mythology: label illustrations, album covers, enclosed statements, enigmatic messages etched directly on the records and, of course, sound itself. As Stinson explained ‘you have to have all the dimensions […] the visual […] the sonic […] and a purpose – a concept – to make it real’. Indeed, being confronted to Drexciya’s music is like embarking on an auditory odyssey into their world. Much like the ocean, the music can be anything from menacing and powerful, to eerie and peaceful, melancholic or blissful. Diving through eight EPs and three albums, we encounter a variety of strange beings (sea snakes, wave jumpers, mutant gillmen) unknown phenomena (aqua worm holes, sea quakes) and enigmatic locations (the Aquabahn, the Red Hills of Lardossa and the Bubble Metropolis).
Brought up on the eclectic selections of Detroit public radio, the young boys imbibed everything from new wave and hip-hop to R&B, rock or electro.
Just like Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Kraftwerk, Cybotron and George Clinton – whom they revered – the pair adopted an experimental approach to music production.
They worked in ascetic isolation, refusing to expose themselves to outside influences, whether that took the form of tuning into the radio, listening to records, going to clubs, or seeing friends, added to which both had jobs to avoid being financially dependent on the success of their music. Indeed, Stinson was a truck driver by day.
James released complex introspective music under the names Transllusion, The Other People Place, Abstract Thought, and Lab Rat XL until his death due to heart disease in 2002, aged 33. Gerald has since then been pursuing slightly colder scientific explorations under dozens of aliases including Dopplereffekt, Der Zyklus, Arpanet, and Heinrich Mueller.
From their early efforts – Stinson’s abrasive techno as Clarence G and Donald’s sometimes childlike synthpop as Glass Domain – to their more mature works tackling the wider concerns of human development and interaction in an age of technological advances, the pair have left a formidable legacy and honored their motto: ‘experiments must continue... Even till death’.