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Alan Oldham (aka DJ T-1000) is a man trapped between two parallel worlds. As a techno DJ-producer, Oldham has traveled the globe, building a solid reputation for his skills behind the decks. As a comic illustrator, his work has adorned countless record sleeves for Dutch imprint Djax and CD covers such as Astralwerk’s Detroit: Beyond the Third Wave compilation.
Comics and techno are two very different worlds. Both are difficult to make a career of, yet they seem to generate endless fodder for Oldham’s retro-futurist vision. Still, Oldham continues to do what he loves and seems to live for respect and recognition almost more than financial compensation — a respect that is often hard to come by, especially in his hometown of Detroit.
But with his new comic book, The Sexy Adventures of Orietta St. Cloud (the first comic ever to come with its own techno compilation as a sound track), Oldham hopes to further etch and sketch his way into the annals of techno history. And if that won’t work, comic history will do quite nicely.
As a DJ on WDET-FM from 1987 to 1992, Oldham was key in exposing Motown to its own sound with his “Fast Forward” program. “Fast Forward” featured the likes of Derrick May, Richie Hawtin, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig, Jeff Mills, Blake Baxter, Nitzer Ebb and A Guy Called Gerald. From techno, to drum and bass, to industrial, house and electro — you name it and Alan was at the right place at the right time with the right taste. He would later join Mike Banks’ Underground Resistance label, first as a makeshift PR guy and eventually as part of its elite DJ roster, once Jeff Mills left the influential unit to go solo in 1992.
With some freakishly large shoes to fill, Oldham left Detroit to tour for the first time. Since then, he has started two techno labels, Pure Sonik Records (which features his work exclusively) and Generator, due to relaunch later this year. But comics were Oldham’s first love and combining these two artistic realms has made him unique among an ever-growing market saturated with DJ-producers. Consequently, his work can be found in the record collections of any techno DJ worth their headphones.
“I’ve been doing comics my whole life,” says Oldham, moments after expressing a similar sentiment about music. “I started with an indie comic in the ’80s — ‘ Johnny Gambit.’” But while Oldham was busy making techno and drawing comics for more than a decade, the two worlds have not crossed until Orietta. And even though Orietta comes with a sound track filled with techno and nocturnal breakbeats, techno is the furthest thing from Oldham’s mind while he’s drawing.
“I listen to everything but techno when I’m not actually spinning. My influences are not other electronic musicians, really. I listen to a lot of old jazz and rock. I’m still kinda stuck in the ’90s when it comes to rock.”
When asked what Orietta would be listening to, Oldham is again quick to write off techno:
“She’s a rocker babe! She likes to fight robots and kick ass, so you know she’s thrashing somewhere. But in the comic, it’s a different story. For instance, Orietta fights a robot at the very beginning — the Advent [hard techno legend Cisco Ferreira] did the sound track for that sequence and it’s pretty accurate. Orietta gets to wear latex and kill aliens. She’s got the perfect job. If she ends up saving anyone, that’s just a nice byproduct, but basically, she’s just out to rock.”
As one might guess from the title, there’s also a strong sexual component throughout the comic. Oldham’s protagonist is even irresistible to her nemesis, the nymphomaniac alien, Richter. Richter is so obsessed that at one point he even builds a droid version of Orietta to fulfill his fantasies, even while plotting his revenge on her. This unfortunate situation leaves Orietta with many an ass to kick between vacations in “Nueva Habana” and taking orders from headquarters.
Orietta’s world is a future that resembles that of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but with laser guns and spaceships — a world whose aesthetic is highly influenced by the comic work of Howard Chaykin, who wrote the introduction to Orietta.
“It’s my alternate art deco future,” says Oldham, “where deco never stopped, and where there’s no miniaturization — there are lots of tubes everywhere, but there’s space travel.”
Featuring a world-class lineup of techno artists who produced tracks exclusively for the comic, the Orietta St. Cloud sound track showcases works by some of the genre’s finest: Jeff Mills, who incidentally scored his own electronic sound track to Metropolis, contributes two tracks along with works by Bryan Zentz, Stewart Walker, Richie Hawtin as Plastikman, Terrence Dixon, Marco Passarani and Oldham himself.
Like his shape-shifting namesake in Terminator 2, T-1000 seems uncomfortable only existing in one form.
The Sexy Adventures of Orietta St. Cloud is available at Record Time in Ferndale (248-336-TIME ) and Roseville (810-775-1550). For more info visit puresonikrecords.net.
Robert Gorell writes about beats and treats for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.