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Techno explosion: Beat takes Pittsburgh Track Authority around the world and back

| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 5:32 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The members of the band Pittsburgh Track Authority — Preslav Lefterov (left), 32, of Polish Hill, Tom Cox, 35, of Brookline and Adam Ratana, 35, of Morningside — inside Machine Age Studios
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The members of the band Pittsburgh Track Authority — Preslav Lefterov (left), 32, of Polish Hill, Tom Cox, 35, of Brookline and Adam Ratana, 35, of Morningside — on the roof of Machine Age Studios
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The members of the band Pittsburgh Track Authority — Preslav Lefterov (left), 32, of Polish Hill, Tom Cox, 35, of Brookline and Adam Ratana, 35, of Morningside — on the roof of Machine Age Studios
Album cover for Pittsburgh Track Authority

It sounds absurd to say, but Pittsburgh Track Authority actually sort of does march to the beat of a different drummer.

In fact, whatever drum sound or rhythm you can name or dream up — like, say, a classic Roland TR-808 drum machine — they've probably got it somewhere in the vast clutter of Machine Age Studios, their home base in Polish Hill.

Pittsburgh Track Authority's fluid, stripped-down take on techno, house, disco, electro (among other genres) is putting the band's name on lips from Lawrenceville to London, filling dance floors from the Strip to the pulsing heart of global techno, the Berghain nightclub in Berlin.

Nobody can accuse the three-man production team of Pittsburgh Track Authority — Preslav Lefterov, Thomas Cox and Adam Ratana — of not putting in the necessary work. Now all in their 30s, they've waited out some lean years for electronic music in Pittsburgh. Right now, it's booming.

“We all deejayed in the late '90s,” says Lefterov, who moved to Pittsburgh with his parents from Bulgaria as a teenager. “We started out with jungle and drum & bass, (styles) which were really a U.K. thing, but we developed interests in other kinds of music. Around 2004, I started Machine Age Studios.”

“We did recordings of bands ... as well as regular club nights, throwing raves,” Cox says. “Now, it's more focused.”

Though the music was embraced in Europe with an almost mystical fervor, techno and house were born in Detroit and Chicago. Pittsburgh Track Authority's music respects that origin story, adding a reflective, stainless-steel finish and an occasional glance back even further.

“The soul of drum & bass is really in the U.K.,” Ratana says. “When we talked about getting together and doing Pittsburgh Track Authority, it resonated more to (return to) the American origins of techno.”

“House and techno look back to African drums, soul, funk, jazz,” Lefterov says.

Pittsburgh Track Authority just released its first album, a double-length record called “Enter the Machine Age.” It's getting acclaim from expected quarters — like the authoritative electronic-music magazine Resident Advisor — and unexpected ones, like boomer-rock bible Rolling Stone. Everything else they've put out has sold out almost immediately, in Germany, Japan and wherever it was available.

Most dance-music producers tend to do one thing well, and stick to it. Pittsburgh Track Authority, though, likes to keep its options open.

“A lot of people focus on one genre at a time, but we do all kinds of American music: house, techno, disco, Miami bass, rap music, electro, funk,” Ratana says. “Pittsburgh never had this iron-clad (single) identity.”

“It's all regional variations on a theme,” Cox adds, attempting to put it in language that even Grandma can understand. “I'd call it a modern version of disco music. Even house and techno are extensions of disco.”

Owning Machine Age Studios — a small-factory-sized building cluttered with synthesizers, instruments, computers and one amazing view — allowed the men the time and space to hone their craft. Their persistence has been rewarded.

They also have company. In the past few years, the electronic music scene in Pittsburgh suddenly seemed to mature all at once, with Shawn Rudiman, East Liberty Quarters, Tracksploitation, Gusto, Naeem, Humanaut, the Detour record label, and the VIA audio/visual festival all making an impact. The underground is starting to seep to the surface.

“A lot of these people are choosing to invest in Pittsburgh,” Ratana says. “Back (in the early 2000s), people couldn't wait to get out of Pittsburgh.”

“Pittsburgh is full of hustlers right now,” Cox says. “People who are willing to do whatever it takes to get their music out there.”

It's an odd dynamic — supportive and collaborative, yet pushing each other to work harder and make better music. So far, the rivalries have been kept friendly.

“Competition is good,” Ratana says. “You have to have critical feedback — ‘Here's how you can make it better.' ”

“We actually know some people moving here for the music scene,” Cox says.

In addition to producing others and cranking out remixes, Pittsburgh Track Authority has performed in France, Germany, England, Chicago, Detroit, New York City and Miami. Berlin, in particular, left an impression on them.

“There's a reason everyone wants to go to Berlin,” Lefterov says. “People are educated about the music.”

At home in Pittsburgh, they've begun a monthly residency at “Hot Mass,” every third Saturday at Club Pittsburgh — an otherwise men-only gay club in the Strip District.

“It's one of the best parties in the world,” Lefterov says. “It's on a worldwide level. I don't think it's inferior in any way to Berlin. The only difference is scale.”

They'll be at Glasslands in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 12, and back in Pittsburgh for Hot Mass on July 19.

“This isn't going to get smaller, or more underground,” Cox says.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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