In the late ’90s, two art students in Detroit formed the heavily Kraftwerk-inspired electro/techno group Le Car. This new compilation from Clone Records surveys their curio of a catalog.
Adam Lee Miller and Ian Clarke met as art students in Detroit in the late 1990s, and from ’96 to ’98, they released four projects as the electro/techno group Le Car. The titles of those releases betrayed their vehicular interest: Auto-Fuel, Auto-Graph, Automatic, and Auto-Motif. Le Car’s entrance into the city’s nightlife came a full decade after the Belleville Three (Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May) invented Detroit techno, which May once colorfully described as “like George Clinton and Kraftwerk caught in an elevator with only a sequencer to keep them company.” In that sense, Clarke and Miller (later of the electronic duo ADULT.) draw influence from this local lineage. Le Car, if it is not obvious in their choice of names, are heavily inspired by the sleek, robot automation and cybernetic tendencies of Kraftwerk.
In practice, Le Car’s work demonstrates an almost endearingly uncool attempt to reinterpret “The Robots,” if they were reborn in the bodies of Detroit area art students. And if that either sounds bad or good to you, both the worst and best outcomes are available in Clone Records’ new compilation and survey of their discography, Auto-Reverse.
The opening track, “Car Scene One,” begins with a question. A helium-inflected voice pulls up to a stranger and asks if they’d like a ride. The stranger, with a deeper, metallic, but equally inhuman baritone, cheerfully agrees. Then they turn on the radio, and a brief gurgle of electric noise plays. It’s percussive, vaguely groovy, but rigid: the kind of music the robot overlords in The Matrix might play at parties. The car stalls, the radio stops—barely a minute and half in, it is immediately clear things are not what they seem to be. This gesture of artistic malfunction makes their connection to Kraftwerk even more apparent. It recalls the German group’s own 1970s electronic epiphany: During one show, Ralf Hütter put so much weight down on his keyboard that the wild crowd just kept on dancing “to the machine.”
The compilers of this collection cleverly recognize that so much of Le Car’s music feels like the afterglow of such a moment. The cheeky loops of “Aluminum Rectangles” or “Warm Humans” conjure up seconds of late-night sound that unintentionally hang in the air, playing out when no one is behind the board. That’s not to say that Le Car’s songs are shapeless, but they are in so many ways formulaic. There is something about the music of Le Car that is distinctly campy, simple, and repetitive in the way arcade games are. Even though their synthesizer loops sometimes lose steam, and some of the tracks feel more like fragmentary studies than club-oriented experiences, their music represents an earnest attempt to make real life feel virtual. But as the endless march of technology can attest, their experiments feel hilariously anachronistic in the light of the present day.
While there are a number of standouts in the 20 tracks—including the triumphant early chiptune of “Malice,” and the acidic beat of “Audiofile 10”—the compilation presents Le Car in an incidentally satirical light, like a caricature of techno. But the exuberance of Miller and Clarke is undeniable. There is a relentlessly cheery aspect to their music that makes it hard to hate. Even if Auto-Reverse might just be a curio, it documents a brief pocket of time that feels feels quaint, fun, and fresh today, like that pair JNCO jeans hidden deep in your closet.