"It's been a bit of a sore spot., laughs Juan Maclean, "sitting on this album and seeing this robot stuff pop up all over the place. I have serious robot credentials that go back years and years. Like, a decade! But Daft Punk beat me to the punch." He may be joking, but the man's right. If anyone's earned the right to call their debut album 'Less Than Human' and imagine a love triangle consisting of a man, a woman and the man's gay robot friend (as in 'Shining Skinned Friend'), it's Maclean.
He was guitarist and synth player with acclaimed but obscure, gonzo electro-punk band Six Finger Satellite, who began formulating their blend of rigidly mechanised disco beats, oddly sumptuous synth melodies and razor-shredded guitar work in the early 90s. The brutish but groovy result suggested a cross between Devo, Kraftwerk and Big Black. Then, America was mired in grunge, the famous French robots were still in short pants and the 'punk-funk revival' was in the unimaginable future. Six Finger Satellite were just too far ahead of their time and perished accordingly.
As a result, Juan MacLean nearly gave up. Not just on music, but on life itself. Creative disillusionment and personal despair aggravated by years of drug addiction (he started shooting coke at an early age, then moved on to heroin) had, toward the end of last century, brought him to his knees. Then, as the world prepared to party at the millenium's turn, two shifts occurred. First, he quit Six Finger Satellite, got the hell out of New York City and decided to try doing something rather more socially constructive with his life than just playing in a band. Secondly, he found himself being bugged by Six Finger Satellite's former live soundman. But this guy wasn’t after money or the return of borrowed gear or any one of the countless other things that usually prompt such reconnections. MacLean was being hassled by his old friend James Murphy to start making music again.
‘Less Than Human’ refines what that tentative first effort only hinted at. It’s a precision-tuned rekindling of MacLean’s love affair with everything from Kraftwerk to Juan Atkins and Derrick May, Funkadelic to Giorgio Moroder and Lipps Inc, DAF to Talking Heads and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. It’s full of tics (sin drums, cow bells, Bootsy Collins bass lines, Moog Liberation motifs) borrowed from dance music history, but refuses to engage with retroism, nostalgia or any notion of ‘the classic.’ Opener ‘AD2003’ tracks back to Kraftwerk via Orbital, buoyed up by bubbles of percolating glitch. ‘Give Me Every Little Thing’ rewinds through Underworld and Talking Heads en route to Studio 54. ‘Tito’s Way’ contrasts acid-house synth squelches and rave whistles with clattering, tribal percussion. There’s a constant, though. Even the LP’s euphoric epic – 14-minute, piano-decorated closer ‘Dance With Me’, sung by LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang – is poignantly subdued, touched by a melancholy that reflects MacLean’s own world view. “It doesn’t seem incongruous to me to have a lot of that stuff in there,” he says of the album’s sadness, “because I made a big effort to make an album, rather than a collection of tunes with just one good track that everybody knows. So I never really set out to say, ‘this is a song that will played for the dance floor,’ or whatever.