Would You Like To Be Upgraded?: How Artificial Intelligence Pushed Warp Records Forward
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy considers the legacy of Warp's seminal 1992 compilation.
"This sounds like birthing music" my sister said, eyebrow raised, as she listened to the wispy ambience coming from my car radio, even as controlled glitches rumbled through. The track was 'Fill 3' by Speedy J, the penultimate track on Warp's 1992 compilation Artificial Intelligence. She had a point - especially when the track cross-faded into the seagulls 'n' shore SFX of Dr. Alex Patterson's 'Loving You Live'. This was the early Nineties. Yes, the era of rave, but also the era of chill-out and New Age influences, an era where party music was transformed from mettlesome to meditative. The back of the CD casing all but confirms this: "electronic listening music for long journeys quiet nights and club drowsy dawns [sic]."
Artificial Intelligence was Warp Records' 6th album-length release and the label's 3rd compilation overall, following 1991's Pioneers of the Hypnotic Groove and early 1992's Evolution of the Groove. So why did Artificial Intelligence catch on in a way that neither of the Groove compilations did? It has to do with the way it was positioned to the record buying public, beginning with the album's cover. Phil Wolstenholme's CG depiction of a robotic life-form relaxing into a sofa as music plays, albums by Kraftwerk and Pink Floyd littering the floor. It nods to the futurist angle electronic music presented to wary audiences, while also capturing the ritualistic act of listening to music – listening placed with upmost importance over dancing. Wolstenholme's art promises that something recognisable exists within a futuristic world, something human.
Even at this early stage in the Sheffield-based label's existence, Warp were thinking outside of the box as an electronic label. The acid house boom had spurred on a number of outlets for one-off 12" releases, but Warp wanted to go the route of crafting the types of solid careers more associated with rock acts. The first wave of the label's existence brought about debut records for LFO and Nightmares On Wax, both acts still recording and touring to this day. With the label established and their career-arc approach being copied by others, Warp had to keep finding ways to push the envelope.