Koxbox – World of Illusions

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Koxbox released World of Illusions on an obscure British label by the name of WTP (short for “Where’s The Party”) in 1993. A year later they were successfully courted by Sven Väth’s famous Harthouse label, where the group (then consisting of Frank E, Peter Candy, and Ian Ion) began to establish their reputation as one of the most innovative acts in electronic dance music history. Back in 1993, psychedelic trance had not established any conventions or boundaries; the music played in Goa continued to be an ad hoc mixture of whatever sounded right. Likewise, the three songs found on this 12″ record are difficult to classify. The tempo of each song remains quite low, sounding close to the steady rhythm of the foetal heartbeat so often mentioned in early cultural studies of house and techno music. Although clearly influenced by the music of the time, Koxbox advance a unique set of qualities that clearly identify them as one of the prototypical psychedelic trance groups.

After dropping the needle in the groove, the mysterious sounds of Crystal are the first to greet the listener. The production quality is undeniably archaic, but the arrangement is surprisingly intricate and complex. A steady techno beat fills the opening minutes with tribal-flavoured organic rhythms. The story begins to unfold in earnest after a shimmering atmospheric theme flows into a momentary pause. This theme is alluded to in the title of the song; it has a very specific quality easily imagined to be the high-frequency vibrations of a crystalline lattice. Plenty of squelchy background melodies and wriggling bass notes fill out the sound canvas. CD collectors looking to hear this one will want to scour the net for a copy of an obscure Danish compilation entitled Mermaid Tracks.

The original version of Orientalic is very similar to the remix released on the group’s debut album Forever After in 1995. The sluggish rhythms sound older, and a few of the synth lines aren’t quite as polished, but the arrangement is essentially the same. The song itself rumbles and meanders through slinky organic sequences layered with eerie science fiction sounds, eventually taking on a tribal theme near the finale. The remix released on CD is superior but this is still quite interesting.

World of Illusions is the long B-side that doesn’t seem to have ever been released on CD. Whereas the other two songs are composed in a style similar to the group’s early work on Harthouse, this one is more of a curiosity. I sense something of Dragon Tales and perhaps even The Great Unknown in the way the bubbling beats groove and shake. There isn’t really anything you could call a lead melody, although that bass line is quite catchy. Peculiar little sounds compete for attention as this ten-minute epic crosses the space between speaker and ear. Final assessment: a quirky atmospheric piece primed to hypnotize.

The early sounds of Koxbox are as captivating as ever. Perhaps due to the age, these are all fairly low-energy songs, cruising along at a relaxed pace and letting the strange ambiance settle into the air. It would be tough to pick a favourite; all of these tracks provide a stimulating listening experience of an uncommon variety. Koxbox fans should certainly seek out this brilliant early single!

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