With a mother in music, and a father in engineering, is it any wonder the Burden brothers' collective union, Octave One, has become known as Detroit's aural architect? Like the African folk hero, Anansi, Octave One has utilized a considerable amount of skillful opportunism and independence in their rise to techno's upper echelon of respected producers. Formed by the three Burden brothers, Lynell, Lawrence, and Lenny in 1989, and later adding their youngest brother (Lorne) as a replacement for Lynell, Octave One has always been that way. What else can be said of a group whose first single for one label was created in someone else's studio, using yet another person's equipment which had been inadvertently left there earlier?
The song was 1989's "I Believe," a vocal dance track recorded for Derrick May's Transmat Records. Recorded in Juan Atkin's Metroplex recording studio, the keyboards actually belonged to Kevin Saunderson of the group InnerCity. The song, which was also released on the Virgin Records compilation "Techno 2: The Future Sound Of Detroit", was a hit. It was a prime example of what would become Octave One's m.o.-making something from what others neglect.
A prime example is the group itself. "I Believe" was the only Octave One release on Transmat. Nuff said. Rather than wallow in what could've been, Octave One focused on what could be. The legendary Motown Records started with a house, $800, and the real power of family. Thirty years later, Octave One did…similar. With $500 and a office/studio at 430 West Eight Mile Road (Detroit's infamous city/suburban border) the Burden brothers started 430 West Records. Some equipment was gained through careful examination classified advertisements. Some was obtained second hand through the likes of Randy Jacobs of the Detroit supergroup Was (Not Was). Through whatever means, the 430 West studio was created, giving a natural birth to a sound that others have tried in vain to duplicate. The EP "Octivation" marked the label's activation, and the techno world would never be the same.
The Burden brothers certainly did not neglect their talented peers. And the feeling was mutual. The 430 West catalog would become a testament to their standing. The list of artists, producers, and remixers reads like a who's who of Detroit techno and house. Eddie "Flashin'" Fowlkes, Terrence Parker, Black Nation's Jay Denham, Aux 88, "Mad" Mike Banks, and others all share in the honor of being on that label.
Rather than flood the market with substandard material, Octave One and others on the 430 West label have produced a slow but steady stream of quality releases. Never has the phrase, "it's what's in the grooves that counts" been so accurate. As Octave One's reputation grew, the three created a "public" persona in the form of brother Lawrence. As Octave One, Lawrence began DJing in various locales across the planet. He (and other brother Lynell) had toured with jazz pianist Bob James earlier, so he was not unfamiliar with the experience.
Musical experience is another neglected field when it comes to electronic music. Again, Octave One is different. All three learned piano before moving on to various brass and woodwind instruments. Learning to play expressively, understanding that the musician is the creator rather than the instrument, all came from this background. It made Octave One capable of producing music that continues to defy the short term, flavor of the month, nature of dance music. When "I Believe" was finally re-released through 430 West, six years later, it sold even better. Such is the nature of a classic.
In 1997 Octave One released on CD, "The Living Key (To Images From Above)." More than a CD version of the vinyl release, "Images From Above," it served as a sonic parable, telling a story without using words. It was an example of the creative spirit offering more than a greatest hits package. This spirit continues to manifest itself in other ways. Working with independent filmmaker, John Huff, Octave One have produced "Black on Black." A video interpretation of the Octave One track, it chronicles the fate of a man searching for musical tones (or, perhaps, "keys") in an apocalyptical setting.
In 2000, youngest brother Lorne filled the gap left by Lynell's departure bringing the group to the next chapter. The new millenium brought the release of the 12 inch single "Blackwater" that quickly became an underground anthem. Building on the success of the instrumental release, in 2001, the brothers re-recorded their song, this time with the added vocal contributions of Ann Sauderson. Octave One's reputation continues to grow in the music scene and beyond, the group can be counted on to continue its policy of using neglected concepts and beliefs such as positivity, unity, and quality, among others. As a concept, Octave One is deceivingly simple. A series of notes, yet one focused unit. It is the contradiction that works, in more ways than one.
From left to right: Lenny, Lorne, and Lawrence Burden