BACKTRACKS: Joey Beltram – Energy Flash

Backtracks; a new series from Melodic Distraction, dipping back into the archives in search of tracks that shifted the electronic music landscape. With each edition, we invite a local artist or DJ to share their most impactful music and the history behind it. In our first edition, local rising DJ, Ben Sleia tells the story of anthemic techno track Energy Flash by Joey Beltram.

In 1991, a nineteen-year-old from New York City significantly changed the landscape of dance music. Not only this, he influenced music production for years, following his release of one of the most anthemic tracks in techno; Energy Flash.

Joey Beltram grew up and lived in New York for most of his life, hanging out in clubs and bars during what could really be called the golden age of house music. The genre was first made popular in the late 1970s in Chicago, through clubs such as The Warehouse and DJs including Frankie Knuckles. It wasn’t long before house music was dominating the sound systems of the city that never sleeps.

To this day, Beltram is responsible for writing some of techno’s most important records in the early 90s. These include ‘Energy Flash’ (of course), but also ‘Mentasm’ and his remix of Human Resource’s ‘Dominator’. Interestingly, Energy Flash and his Dominator remix were some of the very first records I bought when I started DJing. Fast-forward to now and I rarely take them out of my record bag; they haven’t aged one bit. 

When Energy Flash was written, Beltram was very much influenced by the music surrounding him at the time. Far from wanting to replicate what he had heard in clubs or on the radio, Beltram set out to put his own spin on things. He started producing at a young age and upon turning eighteen, his productions became much more aggressive. Beltram notes Todd Terry & Marshall Jefferson as two of his major influences but also Tony Humphries after he watched him play Master C & J’s ‘When You Hold Me’. This was certainly an agent of change to the way Beltram composed music.

The aesthetic of Energy Flash is what separates the track from anything similar made at the time. Musically, the second half of the 1980s was very much defined by piano chords and soulful melodies, something Beltram voluntarily tried to stay away from when he started producing. When listening to Energy Flash, what is particularly striking is the simplicity of the production: just a bassline and a beat. Nevertheless, this straight-forwardness doesn’t take anything away from the ultimate goal of creating a track which can be described as hard, heavy and moody. At a time when techno was very much ‘from Detroit’ while being an off-shoot of Chicago’s house music, instrumentation of tracks became more pronounced and difficult. Led by producers and DJs such as Niel Rushton or Juan Atkins, this fully separated techno and house. With Energy Flash, Beltram went back to basics. Using bleepy synths and driven drums, he created a modern piece of music that still sounded as if it was from the future. 

Like a lot of Joey Beltram’s releases (‘Mentasm’ was called ‘the death of dance music’), Energy Flash was not well received. Perhaps because this hard-edged style was not in trend at the time. It was believed there was a real separation between the type of people who listened to house and those who listened to techno. The latter were not respected and overall had a bad reputation, most likely because of race and class. However, despite all of this Energy Flash marked the beginning of a whole new trend within rave culture. It edged towards a new direction of harder techno everywhere. The stories behind this track undoubtedly make it one of the most important tracks released in dance music history and ultimately, one of my favourites ever.