Learning To Listen With Kids Techno

by Doug Nunnally

To quote the artist, "At first, you may have difficulty with this."


This line directs the song "Learn To Listen" found half-way through Kids Techno's first release Greatest Hits. At first, the song isn't easy to understand. There's a spliced up sample, taken from what is assumed to be a video tutorial on guitar playing, layered on top of a warbly guitar part that fades in out and of both tune and earshot. It seems like a mishmash at first, a song creating lark; but as the song tells us: "The first rule is learn to listen."


It's easy to write-off Kids Techno as an indulgent exercise in sampling and splicing, sometimes honing in on a memorable riff or melody, but for the most part meandering in sonic landscapes. But the clues are there on his first release to not accept the music at face value. Dig deeper, if you will. And if we dig deeper on "Learn To Listen," what do we find? You have the instructional audio and the guitar occupying the same space, with pause for solitary climatic moments for each, cementing them as counterpoints, or countermelodies, within the song. At first listen, the guitar seems basic enough, but with a careful ear, the sophisticated tone and meticulous fading reveal themselves. This is no basic guitar part -- it's very skillful, serving as a contradiction to the sample instructional audio. It's an expansive take on the "countermelody" argument, and an innovative take on dynamic shift that’s as groundbreaking as the loud-quiet shifts were in Pixies' music.


“Learn To Listen” is not a lone achievement within Kids Techno's catalogue. Scattered throughout the five hour journey of the deep catalogue are plenty of challenging, yet rewarding musical offerings. Intricate musical creations that are wrapped up in unassuming packages and presented as such, like moldy cardboard boxes containing early masters from mid-century Sun Studio. As you would expect, there are plenty of splintered collages to be found, both spoken word like on his self-titled EP, and instrumentation like on Live Improvisation Set. But his discography is rife with other ambitious stylistically offerings, most that even defy initial expectations, and travelling through them all often feels like a genre tour of sorts, all connected together by the careful ear and ingenious mind of Kids Techno.


"Drop Road Theme" off of THREEPS is a classic moving alt-rock song that could have been a hit for any band with the right lyrics thanks to its spastic beat and stinging tone. "Yakupov," found on his most recent release Nails, is a gorgeous electronic composition with a haunting melody that could serve as a brilliant interlude for a record by The National. "Maximillian Cohen" from Cherub Records’ Comp #2 plays out like a veiled ode to slowcore music, with its atmosphere as cathartically tense as any song by Red House Painters. Going outside of style, there’s musical wit as found on “Dodge Caravan Of Courage” on Nails as well as a musical talent as found in the tongue-in-cheek cover of KISS’ “Lick It Up” from 2012’s The Hanging Garden, a cover that reminiscent of Bob Forrest's creative send-ups on <em>Modern Folk And Blues Wednesday. There are homages and tributes galore in his catalogue, most notably on his tribute to Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures on 2013’s Known Pleasures, but also on songs like the industrial thumping “Nine Inch Hangnails.” Perhaps the biggest testament to Kids Techno’s work is how none of these styles and detours seem out of place on his records. Instead, each serve as a building block to the imaginative environment he has created over the last two decades.


There's beauty within Kids Techno's music here. Fractured beauty, that is, but beauty nonetheless. While as well-crafted as any iconic hit song, its beauty is just something to search for, mostly because you know it's there. You just have to dig deeper within in the catalogue. Like he told us, way back in 2001, we may have difficulty with at first, but we just have to learn to listen.