"Are you sitting comfortably? Artificial Intelligence is for long journeys, quiet nights and club drowsy dawns. Listen with an open mind."
Back in 1992 when Warp released the Artifical Intelligence compilation it almost instantly changed both the course of Warp as a label and arguably what many would consider "club" music as an entity to be. Rising above the masses of throw-away white labels pressed up by people looking to make a quick buck, Artificial Intelligence came housed inside a prog rock styled gatefold sleeve depicting a cover image of a robot blowing smoke rings whilst reclining on an armchair. Its extra long rolling papers and tin of tobacco just out of reach, whilst a high-end stereo plays out the sounds of Kraftwerk's Autobahn and Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, their LP sleeves lay strewn across the floor. This image along with the above text that as printed on the sleeve acted as a guide for the listener on how to best experience this new mode of techno music, one that was designed for those nights when your body stays in but your mind steps out.
Having been in operation for three years by the time they compiled and released the Artificial Intelligence compilation, Warp had already proved itself as a dominant force within the world of quickfire 12" singles of acid house and the emerging hardcore scene. Starting as a predominant pusher of the new bleep 'n' bass sounds of their hometown Sheffield, Warp had enjoyed success with early anthemic singles from artists such as Nightmares on Wax, LFO & Richard H. Kirk's Sweet Exorcist project. These building blocks laid the foundations for what many would go on to define as "the Warp sound" but it was 1992's Artifical Intelligence compilation that cemented their place in music history.
Artificial Intelligence was notable for early appearances by people who went on to become the true pioneers of the hypnotic groove for both Warp and electronic music in its entirety. Artists such as The Black Dog/Plaid whose melancholic contribution The Clan (produced under the alias I.A.O.) still stands as one of the highlights of the compilation, its long drawn out strings combine perfectly the tear-drenched techno of Carl Craig with the trend for looped breakbeats to create a track that still resonates deeply every time it is played. Looking further out than most, B12's Telefone 529 with its recording of an automated incorrect phone number message carries an air of nostalgic puzzlement, while Preminition transports a diva vocal and hardcore piano roll into a zero-gravity soundtrack of space. Autechre's Crystel and The Egg offers the first steps towards the path of abstract oblivion that they would go on to travel throughout the post-AI years. Both pieces focus an acidic gurgle around some cut up vocals, its timeframe existing perfectly within a distinct hip-hop cylinder that brilliantly displays their roots within b-boy culture.
For the most part, though, the highlight of the compilation is the appearance of Aphex Twin under his alias The Dice Man, opening up the operation with a track that would become an alias in itself, Polygon Window in many ways formed the core sound of the Artificial Intelligence compilation and subsequent album series that followed it. Rolling post-acid dynamics, a strong knowledge of breakbeat techno and some serious subs keep the track in a full forward motion, Polygon Window still stands out as one of the most unbeatable techno tracks within Warps discography. Elsewhere, chief ambient technologist Dr Alex Paterson put forward a four-minute cosmic ambient piece akin to his work as the central figure of which The Orb revolves around. Whilst Richie Hawtin made an appearance with his euphoric almost gabba track Spiritual High, produced under the name Up! his fellow Plus 8 producer Speedy J stepped in with De-Orbit, a track that you could say on reflection, almost helped shape the early steps towards what would turn into the deeper recesses of liquid drum & bass.
Warp co-founder Steve Beckett was quoted around the time of the Artificial Intelligence compilations release in 1992 as saying "you started to hear tracks by B12 and Plaid and Speedy J that just didn't fit into any category, B-sides and last tracks on EPs. We just realised that they weren't meant for 12-inches, it was just that this was the only outlet for that kind of music. We realised you could make a really good album out of it. You could sit down and listen to it like you would a Kraftwerk or Pink Floyd album. That's why we put those sleeves on the cover of Artificial Intelligence - to get it into people's heads that you weren't supposed to dance to it!". This train of thought led to Warp putting together one of the most forward-thinking compilations to appear within the early 90s post-acid explosion, and many others tried to copy the formula but arguably no imprint ever came close to topping or even releasing anything that stands tall alongside Artificial Intelligence for its undeniably experimental, yet sheer futuristic scope and vision.
Listening back now, 25 years since its original release, it's striking how contemporary and fresh the music of Artificial Intelligence still sounds. While many tracks from those days still and will forever sound brilliant, many AI contemporary compilations have taken on the sheen of a more retro and throwback feel. When digested with a knowledge of what has been made within the last quarter of a century, the tracks that form Artificial Intelligence still carry a strong, almost outside of time feeling that's influence shines as strongly today as it did 25 years ago. A timeless record that will continue to point the way forward for electronic music for many years yet to come.