Techno, for all its wonderful rhythm and intoxicating hypnotism, tends to lose power and meaning outside of a busy dancefloor. That has always been the biggest criticism of the genre that began with three guys and some machines in Detroit in the early 1980s.
But out-and-out conceptual artist albums have never really worked in techno either. The challenge for the genre's producers is to move both the feet and the heart, which Joel Mull's third studio album 'Sensory' (released this week on Adam Beyer's Truesoul imprint) does rather elegantly.
"My last album had a more cinematic approach as it was mixed all the way through like a journey," says the 36-year-old from his home in Stockholm. His previous longplayer 'The Observer' was released on Harthouse in 2007.
"This album has a different journey as it's more focused on the dancefloor. This time around, the album definitely sounds more like when I DJ."
Part of the reason for this is because Mull admits he is addicted to DJing. "Being a DJ is a very big part of who I am," he says. "Being out there in the clubs and parties, and being a part of the nightlife - that is what makes me feel alive.
"It's very important for me to have this form of expression. And I still love the way I live. I'm proud of being able to travel and play music for people all around the world. If I'm not out somewhere playing on a weekend I can sometimes feel very lost. Not one day passes where I don't think about music and mixing music."
The way that Mull approached production of the album also gave it more of a dancefloor edge. "It's always different how you work on albums," he explains. "Rather then only focusing on single releases, I made club tracks for almost a year, and then Adam [Beyer] and I sat down one day in September and decided what to put on the album.
"I had made over 25 to 30 tracks so there was a lot of choosing to do. We quickly got an idea of which ones would work on the album."
And at the heart of 'Sensory' is its pulsating club sound. The album builds like one of Mull's renowned DJ sets. Tangible moments of melody segue into concrete techno and house grooves that echo of a past, present, and hazy future. Mull says the album is influenced by many sounds, including early house, techno, and dub.
Tracks like the bright 'Sunday2Sunday', 'Danny Boy' - Mull's ode to New York City's house king Danny Tenaglia, and the rambunctious techno circus 'Holographic', push the album deep into nightclub territory, the area that Mull is most happy occupying.
Over the last six months, he has played most of the album's tracks out in clubs, "especially 'Danny Boy' and 'Holographic', which are my two favourites". 'Sunday2Sunday' is due to be released as a club single, with remixes from Funk D'Void and Martinez.
Ultimately though, it is the fact that 'Sensory' is on Adam Beyer's Truesoul label, that defines its tint. "Truesoul has more of an open forum to its sound, so that's the feeling I went for," says Mull. "Truesoul stands for the more soulful end of techno and it fits me very well. The feeling I was after on the album was hypnotic/soulful/body/techno," he says, with a smile.
The spirit of the album in the end comes from its three welcomed diversions: the dream like introduction 'Nagoya Bolero', the jazzy downtempo trip 'Arriving', and the expansive and complex six minute soundscape 'Sensory'. All three tracks combine to create a strangely heart-warming side to the LP, and a welcome respite from the driving beats.
"I've collected electronic music since the begining of the 1990's," he says. "I used to DJ in the ambient rooms of rave parties right at the beginning, and that is how I started out as a DJ, experimenting with sounds."
So it seems even the poignant, heartfelt edge of 'Sensory' comes from Mull's experiences as a DJ.
What would he do if he wasn't a DJ? "I'd probably be a chef because cooking in a way is very close to DJing - you have the ingredients, you mix them to create new flavours and tastes, and then you serve it to people which makes them happy, at least most of the time!"
(Words: Terry Church)
Joel Mull 'Sensory' [Trusoul] is out now, available on CD or digitally from Beatport.
Watch a video interview with Joel Mull and Adam Beyer about 'Sensory' here.