It's significant that Dan Bell has lived in Detroit and Berlin. Both cities have been integral to the history and development of techno, which has been among the most innovative styles of dance music since its '80s origins. Producers and DJs from those metropolises have been crisscrossing back and forth in a fruitful symbiotic relationship that's been motoring since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The Tresor club opened soon after that momentous event, exposing thousands to world-class techno; its namesake label debuted in 1991, going on to issue two compilations hailing the "Berlin Detroit Techno Alliance."
As part of Detroit's second wave of techno producers, Bell (AKA DBX and also a member of Cybersonik and Spawn with Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva) helped to further the Motor City's global reputation as a manufacturer of forward-thinking dance music. The Berlin-based artist—who DJs Saturday, January 14, with Kristina Childs and Paul Edwards at Re-bar—is also one of the few technophiles of his generation still creating boundary-pushing music.
Bell's initial phase in Detroit included recording Cybersonik's "Technarchy" and "Backlash" off Blueprints for Modern (Techno)logy (Plus 8), revealing his roots in raucous industrial techno. "Tension" by Spawn evokes that halcyon era when knob-twiddlers benevolently engineered tracks to help acid- and E-gobbling ravers rev their senses into overdrive. Bell's 1994 classic "Losing Control" eerily evokes the tension between surging euphoria and claustrophobic paranoia that can characterize psychedelic experiences.
Detroit's grim, post-industrial landscape also influenced Bell's productions, as the ominous, dystopian techno of "Annexia" (recorded as DBX) proves. Ever ahead of the curve, Bell foreshadowed the microhouse and experimental techno developments that have marked this decade's most adventurous underground output. "Rhodes 1" is one of Bell's best and weirdest tracks, embracing the Perlon roster's penchant for inventively disjointed samples, off-kilter funk, and beautifully slurred melody. "Esplanade" off Instrumentals: Staedtizism 3 and "Star Child" from Staedtizism 4 find Bell deviating from techno, as he wrangles hiphop and electro funk into compellingly sophisticated new shapes.
In 2003, France's Logistic Records released a retrospective of Bell's greatest cuts called Blip Blurp Bleep. Gathering tracks from 1992–2001, the disc reveals how ahead of his time Bell was while also exhibiting his creative endurance up through the new century. Only a handful of producers—including Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Baby Ford, and Thomas Fehlmann—have maintained such high quality control for so long, although Bell hasn't been nearly as prolific as those luminaries.
But we count on Bell for quality, not quantity. In this respect, the man delivers. As a DJ, he brings the same acute attention to textural and rhythmic essentials that distinguishes his own productions. The mix discs The Button Down Mind of Daniel Bell and Button Down Mind Strikes Back! show that he's kept his ear poised toward the avant-garde. Bell repeatedly proves that with uncanny placement of a few choice elements, bare-bones techno can provide a surfeit of pleasure for the flesh.