by Andrew Duke
"I love to dance--anywhere/where there's a party, you know I'll be there/I'll keep on freaking till the day I die/it's like a drug, it gets me high" from Aux 88--"I Need To Freak" (Direct Beat/Detroit)
The words Detroit and techno have become almost synonymous. Techno, however, is not the sound of the Seventh City. It's the boom of the bass that rules the clubs and the radio dial in the D. As Aux 88's Tom Tom (Tommy Hamilton) puts it, the players are ones like Detroit's Di'jital, 12Tech Mobb, and DJ Assault, along with Ann Arbor, Michigan's Ectomorph. From the early days of 1995's "My A.U.X. Mind"--back when Keith Tucker was a member--to today, Aux 88 has grown in stature to become the name to drop in bass circles. Remix work for the likes of Laurent Garnier and Steve Stoll, plus playing out live more and more often has lead to increased exposure for the band and their style. Tom Tom believes their popularity has grown simply because he has not let the market dictate to his music. "When you think about electro and techno bass, everybody thinks about Aux cos at the time when we started this Aux 88 thing, the door was closed for electro music and techno bass. And we just kept on pounding. The record sales wasn't great at all when we first started, but we kept pounding and pounding and finally we kicked the door open. So it was kinda like we were the pioneers of the electro/techno bass scene." It's this latter tag that differentiates the music Aux 88 records from their contemporaries. Aux 88 produce techno bass, music with a solid bass-driven rhythmic foundation that avoids the "booty music" tag by trading in the sexual focus for vocals based more on technology or simply a call to dance. "Techno-bass is a fusion of techno and Miami bass music," Tom Tom explains. "We are like the cross between the two. Everybody was coming out, you know, with electro and techno, so we decided to sneak in the back door and fuse the two together. We had a lot of inspiration from like Juan [Atkins] and Kraftwerk, and then we liked the Miami bass type of stuff , you know like the Luke stuff. So we decided to come with something just a little bit different, a little bit tasteful. It's just a way of expressing your feelings, you know. Instead of talking, you do it through your music."
Unlike techno producers in Detroit, who often make music to be purchased by and played for Europeans, Tom Tom knows his audience and who will be playing his material. "Pretty much we make the music for the clubs, just dance tracks. I used to dance anyway, so when I'm making my music, I'm dancing. I can just feel it," he says. But what if this music wasn't so popular in Detroit? What if it were shipped off to be enjoyed only elsewhere in the world and he became like many musicians-- recording and having no idea who would be playing the result? What if the local clubs and radio didn't propel the scene? "We still would do it," Tom Tom states, "because we kind of grew up on the techno and electro stuff, like the Model 500 stuff. That's where our heart lay…we always find ourselves coming back to the electro stuff."
Detroit's airwaves are no longer ruled by waxslingers like Electrifying Mojo and Jeff "The Wizard" Mills. A fresh crop of jocks are mixing down the new pulse of the city, most notably WJLB's Gary Chandler. Tom Tom emphasizes the pivotal role played by this next generation DJ: "Gary Chandler is very important at this moment. Everybody is tuned in on Friday and Saturday nights to the mixshows. It's kind of like he's programming everyone right now. That's what everybody wants to hear: the dance music music, the techno bass, the electro right now."
Aux 88 know the power of performance and have gained a reputation for putting on a quality, yet fun, live show. Their most recent European appearance saw them play Sonar '98 this past June in Barcelona, Spain. "Our live show is me on keyboards, I have two dancers-which is actually X-ile [a new Direct Beat artist]-and Di'jital is the DJ." Do you play Aux 88 material from when it was you and Keith Tucker in the band? "Yeah, we go way back. We do 'Let It Ride', 'My A.U.X. Mind', of course, 'Bass Magnetic'. We even do 'Technology', which was the first Aux 88 single. You know, a lot of times we close off the show with that. We take them all the way back."
Tom Tom doesn't have any worries that techno bass and electro in general or Aux 88 in particular are going to be swept away and replaced by "the next big thing" when 1999 comes around Electro, he stresses, has "always been here. It's just that when the market closed for it, we were still playing all the old jams. It never died here in Detroit, it was just that nobody was making new music. That's why we decided to make it. I think," he observes, "it's going to be around for a very long time."
He's happy to report that he's been spending a lot of time in the studio lately. "I've just finished the new Aux album, it's called "Xeo-Genetic". It consists of 20 sequences…It's strictly dance, it's hot. " So it's going to be straight up party bass and techno bass, that kind of thing? Booty-shakin' material? "Yes," he laughs, "yes." "Xeo-Genetic" follows up the "Reprogramming The Machine" remixes package and the "Is It Man Or Machine" album, both recorded following the departure of original band member Keith Tucker. Tom Tom is conscious of the difference in sound from the initial recordings and the newer material now that he is the only member of the band. "I just took it deeper into the definition of the techno bass. Back then, we was really experimenting. We were still building our craft for our songs. But now, it's just developed, it's straight across the middle-techno and bass-it's really progressed. It's more focused. Instead of two minds steering it a little different way, it's just straightforward now." Floating Aux member BJ, who contributed vocals to Aux cuts such as the classic "My A.U.X. Mind", numerous pieces on the "Is It Man Or Machine" LP, and the more recent "Break It Down", may be back to lend a hand to the Aux project in the future. For now, though, he's recording again as Posatronix (with Tom Tom helping out on production), plus making serious moves in the American R & B and hip hop world.
Tom Tom played a major role in putting together "Techno Bass: The Mission", a Direct Beat compilation released in July featuring classics from Aux 88, Electric Soul, and Cronik Tronik, along with new acts like Ttrax and X-ile. With the new Aux album complete, Tom Tom has been in the recording studio with X-ile producing their debut album, "Funkodocia". Rather than sitting on his duff and enjoying the accolades now that Aux 88 has gained plenty of positive notoriety, collaborating with new Direct Beat artists and producing others is where he wants to be doing more work in the future. "We're just trying to build an empire. Get some more acts in and send them on the way to open the doors for other people. We've got a lot of new talent coming up, so we're just trying to pave the way for everybody else."