As a way of potentially creating something genuinely new, or at least surprising, the time-honored but perhaps neglected artistic scheme of melding or juxtaposing multiple dissimilar aesthetic beliefs or conceptual visions in order to birth a third entity, independent of its parents’ genetics, might be the best way to describe the resonant thrills encoded within the grooves of Wajatta’s debut album.
Fascinating, funky, funny and just plain fun, the appropriately titled Casual High Technology is the knockout result of a fortuitous partnering of beat-boxer/comedian/musician Reggie Watts and electronic music artist/DJ/producer John Tejada, whose backgrounds and areas of expertise, on paper at least, wouldn’t immediately suggest logically fertile grounds for collaboration. German-born, L.A.-based Watts is familiar to TV watchers as the bandleader on CBS’s The Late Late Show with James Corden, and for his 2016 Netflix special, Spatial, numerous major festival appearances and as co-host of the IFC variety series Comedy Bang! Bang! He’s an improvising comic motormouth known for an excellently fresh use of an array of looping pedals to avalanche audiences with major loads of surreally humorous vocal and musical quixotics.
We Know More (Than We Let On)
Meanwhile, Tejada is what you’d call a West Coast electronic legend, a reputation the Austria-born/L.A.-bred tonemeister earned for his consistently satisfying catalogue of uniquely (within the “genre”) melodic and subtly opulent arrangements on labels such as his own Palette, primo Koln imprimatur Kompakt, Pokerflat and Plug Research; a major draw on the Euro club and festival circuit, he’s also due big tips o’ the hat for what in retrospect are groundbreaking remixes for the likes of The Postal Service, Bomb the Bass, Kevin Saunderson, Gui Boratto and Simian Mobile Disco, among many others.
A wickedly funky branch off the techno tree — yes, it’s great for parties — Casual High Technology is on the one hand a tasty batch of undeniable dancefloor fodder. Dig a bit, though, and the set reveals a lot more than that, and this is where the aforementioned “third entity” thing comes into play: As heard on tracks like the gorgeously harmonized opener “We Know More (Than We Let On),” “The Solution,” “Je Wa Soto” and “Synchronize,” this super-choice compendium of the best of a few decades’ worth of Detroit techno, Chicago house, ’70s funk and East/West Coast hip-hop is, while not overly studied, rather educational. Whether boiled down and studio-enhanced and transmogrified via Tejada’s advanced melodic and harmonic gifts, or perhaps owing to Watts’ special brand of this-absurd-life humor, virtuosic vocal-style references (hear him channel EWF’s Philip Bailey throughout) and unfettered sense of sheer sonic possibility, if one pays the record the honor of listening to it more than once, that lucky one will hear these initially infectious but merely charming tracks blossom and bloom, transforming into musically thrilling entities.
Je Wa Soto
It’s not that electronic dance music has never seen real artistic depth before; it is fair to say however that the genre has rarely evinced the willingness or ability to venture there. And of course the wisdom behind great music of any type is how it rarely reveals its true nature, its resonance, its soul, till one has lived with it for an extended while. Owing mainly to Tejada’s wonderfully understated use of a gently progressive harmonic and textural palette, Casual High Technology’s tracks too do first come off as mildly engaging bits of danceable product — which apparently is about how high most other e-dance producers or DJs set their bars — so it is somewhat of a revelation to experience the flowering of these pieces into entities quite unlike what they at first appeared to be; “Get Down With Your Bad Self,” even, with Watts spouting deliberately wack-ironic “party” lingo, mutates in effect from eyeball-rolling tolerance to amused affection for the track.
Worth noting is the duo’s working process of conceiving and executing the album’s tracks: In what seems to have become the core element was the very idea of the quickness of action with which the tracks were generated, mixed and edited. This by now vintage idea of not letting the intellect interfere in the flow of creation — to not censor one’s self, to respond to one’s immediate environment and fellow musicians — was in Watt and Tejada’s hands/mouths a way of capturing an evanescent, spontaneous magic as if netting butterflys fluttering by.
There was a time when those hoary old new-wave types from the early ‘80s loudly proclaimed “Fuck art, let’s dance!” Sure, but lately it’s become way clear that such simple dichotomizing between the two things is, well, it’s just not necessary. Casual High Technology offers the chance to chin-scratch-ponder a genuinely fine, high art sound, and shake your booty at the same time — should you so desire.
John Payne writes about music and film at publications including Mojo, The Quietus, Red Bulletin, Drum!, High Times and Bluefat; he is the former music editor of LA Weekly, and the author of the forthcoming official Diamanda Galás biography Homicidal Love Songs and editor/co-author of Jaki Liebezeit: Life, Theory and Practice of a Master Drummer (Unbound, summer 2018).