FAVES AND OVER-RATED OF 1996
(from Blissout website aka A White Brit Rave Aesthete Thinks Aloud)
Favorite Tracks and Albums of 1996
(in no particular order)
DOM & ROLAND
The Planets/Dynamics (Moving Shadow)
The Storm/Sonic Shocker (Moving Shadow)
Probably the most experimental Moving Shadow track since Blame's "Nightvision"
of late 1995, "The Planets" is cosmic drum & bass, with vast swathes
of cloud-nebulae synth wheeling and arcing around an eerie, cavernous groove.
"Planets" sounds just as good at an improper 33 r.p.m., reminding me of My
Bloody Valentine's 1988 proto-trip-hop track "Instrumental". "Dynamics" is
a dank, neurotic foray somewhere at the intersection of artcore and darkcore.
"The Storm" and "Sonic Shocker" are closer to the emergent tech- step norm,
slightly less distinctive, but inflict serious damage.
Dropping Science Vol 8 (Dropping Science)
Vaguely reminiscent of the dark-fusion vibe of Hidden Agenda's "Is It Love?",
"Astrologikal" is a bewitching melange of shimmery keyboards, baleful stalking
B-line, processed groans, extreme echo-FX and the sampled drivel of
horoscope-buffs. Better still is the Daz Remix of Vol 5's "Step Off", with
its coronary-inducing hyper-syncopated breaks, ear-harassing hi-hats, and
the trademark Danny Breaks knee-trembling bass-quake.
Angles (V Recordings)
Pitched at the darker end of the jazzstep spectrum, "Angles" kicks off with
some unnervingly dissonant horns that could be off the
avant-classical-in-all-but- name soundtrack to 'Planet of the Apes', then
rolls out on a nimble, off-kilter B-line that sounds at once frisky and vicious.
All this, plus a fatalistic, battle-fatigued sample from some nameless
street-warrior ("when you can't see the angles no more, you in trouble"),
adds up to another malevolent monsterpiece of gangsta hardstep from the V/Full
Cycle Bristol Mafia.
Expressions (Moving Shadow)
Waves/Flight (Moving Shadow)
The band this guy is from--Aquasky or Dead Calm, I can never remember--is
ambi-fuzak jungle toss at its worst; but solo, Dave Wallace is brilliant.
Despite its ominously fusion-oid title, 'Expressions' was the most sheerly
pleasurable and hook-crammed Moving Shadow release since "Renegade Snares".
Wallace improbably concocts Bruce Hornsby-esque piano trills and cheesadelic
synth motifs into an exquisitely relaxed easy-rollin' glide. A hardstep
counterpart to Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out", "Expressions" just begged to
be used in a car commercial. As for "Waves" or is it "Flight" (I couldn't
work it out: one side's wank, the other's genius), this reminds me of 10CC's
"I'm Not In Love"; Wallace weaves a shimmering wall- of-sound created by
manipulating tiny, syllable or even phoneme-size female vocal samples. Magic.
THE KING OF THE STREET featuring BROTHERS CRUSH
Untitled (Riot Beats)
Alec Empire's industrial breakbeat onslaught continues with Side A's mash-up
massacre of hornet-swarm mentasm-noises, dread-bass, harsh timestretched
breaks and deliberately dirty production. The slower, even more lo-fi Side
B is better still, its dub-sway rumble and distortion-overload vaguely recalling
squat-punk noise trio World Domination Enterprises' "Asbestos Lead Asbestos".
With Empire's digital hardcore posse shaping up as The Fall vis-a-vis The
Prodigy's Sex Pistols ("Firestarter" = breakbeat's "Anarchy In The UK"),
who could possibly give the tiniest toss about intelligent jungle's soporific
remodelling of Return to Forever and Tangerine Dream for the '90s? Eh? See
also Empire's "Destroyer" album on DHR, and Bomb 20's "Pigtronics" on Riot
Step 21212 (Hardleaders)
B-side of the drum and bass ordinaire of "Lites", "Step 21212" is moody
'n'magnificent gangstadelic jungle woven from sinister hypno-bass, slinky
jazz-dissonance and strangely non-threatening soundbites from the original
O.G. himself, Schoolly D. Similar to Dillinja's sinuous G-funk-tinged"Muthafucka"
of late '95. Which reminds me: what happened to Dillinja this year?
Truly One/Mission Control (Ram)
Valley Of The Shadows (Awake 96 Remix)
Andy C and Ant Miles are one of the great production teams in essentialist
drum and bass, up there with Asend, Hype, SS, Aphrodite, Size and Die,
and Ray Keith. So what's the essence? Chopped-up breaks, bass-mutation, and
the use of samples (rather than the more 'musical' synthesiser or, God forbid,
'real' instruments/vocalists). And the essence is what you get on "Truly":
crisp beats, bass so deep, dark and oozy you can swim in it, and a sample
("for one precious moment, all the people on Earth are truly one") that makes
the prospect of world unity seem ominous and oppressive. As for the revamp
of '93's darkside classic "Valley of The Shadow" aka "Long Dark Tunnel" aka
"36 Seconds": that rare thing, a respectful remix, which the details tweaked
just the right amount (a bit of sub-low woogly weirdness on the bass, some
echo on the orchestral sample) but all the classic contours intact. On the
flip, the original: six minutes that are worth more than the entire oeuvre
of Photek and T.Power combined; original darkside pressure, for those who
The Wolf (on Shy FX Presents "The Formula" LP, Ebony Recordings)
That loping, lupine B-line!
Revolution (on The Ganja Kru's "Super Sharp Shooter" EP, Parousia)
THE GANJA KRU
Can't Handle The Streets (Fear Mix 1 and 2) (Frontline)
Are Am Eye? (Noom)
First heard this at Rezerection in Edinburgh, played by Lenny Dee. Peculiar
blend of Germanic trance and hardcore with a lazer-fierce Mentazm riff. A
less manic version--the Commander Club Dub--with a slithery, snakey mentasm-sound
low in the mix, appears on the Noom comp "Eclipse".
Mothership/Defect (No U Turn)
Skylab/The Raven (Metalheadz)
the Droid/Mad Different Methods (No U Turn)
Input (No U Turn/Nu Black)
Mutant Revisited (Emotif)
The Warning (Metalheadz)
The techstep maestros of Ed Rush, Trace and engineer Nico Sykes are great
but they definitely have a formula, and now that lesser lights are cottoning
on, I hope they start to break with their own mold soon. All these tracks
feature the patented No U Turn bass-sound, a dense, droning miasma of low-end
frequencies as malevolent as a cloud of Cyklon B or a swarm of African killer
bees. As with Ed Rush's monsterpieces of 1995 "Gangsta Hardstep" and "Guncheck",
the effect is entropic, miring the listener in a molasses-thick mood of
paralysing dread. That's what intrigues me about this music: the breaks are
still rolling at jungle's 150 beats-per-minute, but the tracks feel slow,
fatigued, winded, like the music's had the crap beaten out of it. Compared
with the frisky, nimble rhythms of jazzy-jungle, the new darkcore's battery
of beats seem relatively inflexible, almost industrial, and that's strangely
refreshing. In a weird sort of way, it reminds me of The Swans: there's a
similar punishment-aesthetic, an aura of aesthetic ordeal.
The "tech" refers not to Detroit, thank God, but to the Belgium/Beltram sound
of 1991 hardcore. Ed Rush and Trace have been namechecking early R&S,
Frank De Wulf, Human Resource's "Dominator", etc. The death-ray malignancy
of the Mentasm stab was in turn a huge influence on the first wave of '92/93
breakbeat darkcore --Doc Scott, 4 Hero, Rufige Cru, Bizzy B. That drum &
bass people are again genuflecting towards "Mentasm" as opposed to "Bug In
The Bassbin", is the most hopeful sign in a long while.
R&S/Dominator/Mentasm is of course the roots of gabba. So my prediction
(mad pipe-dream, more like) for 1997 is a link-up between the terrorcore
end of gabba (see below) and the techstep sound, resulting in the re-integration
of the original, pan-European hardcore of 1991.
Dark Forces b/w Torsion (Dance Ecstasy 2001, DE 2045)
Chapter II: The Zombie Leader Is Approachin' (Dance Ecstasy 2001, DE 2043)
Slaves To The Rave/PCP Remix (Dance Estasy 2001)
Symphonies of Steel: The Second Level (PCP 062)
The Phuture Project (PCP 069)
PCP and its sister label Dance Ecstasy 2001 are basically the Moving Shadow
(circa '93) of Euro-hardkore and terrorgabba: nice artwork, high production
values, a fierce commitment to their sound regardless of the dictates of
fashion and the obliviousness of the media. PCP and Dance Ectasy releases
have this really distinctive sound -- cold, gloomy, cavernous, like you're
inside this giant cathedral space carved out of the ice under the surface
of Pluto. Piteous, lugubrious melodies that seem to wilt and waver in the
air. And the weird thing about the music is that although the kickdrum is
still pretty fast, probably about 170-180 bpm, the dirge-like quality and
the floaty atmospherics makes it feel like the music's really slow. Get ready,
world, for another oxymoronic subgenre: ambient gabba! Mescalinum United's
"Jupiter Pulse" basically is ambient music, although more cryogenic than
chill-out: a polluted deathscape of sick noise and noxious aftermath
The artists and tracks all have such great names too: Renegade Legion, Reign's
"The Zombie Leader Is Approaching"--featuring "Skeleton's March" and "Show
'Em (Cold XTC Remix)". There's another allied label called Cold Rush; the
tracks are slightly less interesting but the titles are even better--"Doomed
Bunkerloops", "Marching Into Madness", "Thru Eternal Fog". And they all say
"recorded somewhere in the lost zones". As I say, my pet fantasy for next
year is that tech step and this kind of ambi-gabba could link up: there's
a similar doomy, gloomy vibe, dystopian cyberpunk imagery, dirge-beats, entropic
drones, the obsession with low-end frequencies ('Slaves To the Rave' starts
with this groaned "need a bass!!"--although gabba-kidz mean the kick-drum
not the B-line when they refer to bass), and above all, PCP and techstep
share this searing coldness of sound. Some of the techstep I taped off the
Grooverider on KISS show when last in England has this almost Numanoid grandeur
about it. Then you've got tracks like the Boymerang dubplate forthcoming
on Grooverider's Prototype label, with its dirge-bass riff packing the doomquake
heft of Black Sabbath. The gap between this stuff and gabba is only that
thin, and as the Doc Scott/Drumz 95/Machines style "butcher's block" beats
get more simplistic and punishin' and funkless, it's gonna verge on the gabba
4/4 kick-drum. It's enough to give Fabio and Bukem nightmares.
DJ RENO & EASTSUM presents THE KIDZ
"I've Got Something" (Happy Trax/Rogue Trooper)
Dig the blurry hypno-bass on this trance meets happy-core stomper, with a
nicely modulated and reversed sample ('I've got something within me-you')
from The House Crew's "Euphoria (Nino's Dream)"
Muzique (Source Lab 2 compilation)
Remix of I-Cube's "Disco Cubizm"
Tower of Bass (on Recuts II, Aphrodite Recordings)
Back on form after going off the boil fo the last 4 or 5 releases; his best
since the Urban Shakedown dub remix of 88-3's "Wishing On A Star". The last
pop-junglist in town, at least now that Omni Trio's gone all Vangelis on
Loops of Fury (Astralwerks)
Both mashing up hip hop and techno and turning it into something like punk
rock. 'Firestarter' has got to be the most radical UK number one hit this
decade--reminds me of the Young Gods! And is that a sample of T.Rex's "Solid
Gold Easy Action" in there?
MAURIZIO #6 (M6)
B-side is my favourite of all the Basic Channel/Chain Reaction/M dub-house
By Night EP (UR)
Return in fine fettle of the mysterious James Pennington, whose Detroit-darkside
classic "The Art Of Stalking" was such a big influence on PCP's mainman The
Mover (aka Mescalinum United), inspiring the "Frontal Sickness"/"Final Sickness"
trilogy and tracks like "Nightflight (Nonstop To Kaos)".
For You (Shock Wave LP)
The funniest and most fun-packed gabba album ever, and with unusually high
production values. Speedfreak = Martin Damm = Biochip C (force inc artists)
= Search & Destroy (mokum happy-gabba artist = Steel (mille plateaux
artist) = several other alter-egos. This guy has a discography running into
the hundreds. As Biochip C, he did a great breakbeat hardcore EP for Force
Inc in 1992 called "Hell's Bells".
Make 'Em Mokum Crazy: Popcore (Mokum)
Choice cuts on this happy gabba comp. are all by Party Animals: "Hava Naquila"
(yes a version of the tune they play at Jewish weddings), "Aquarius" (yes
the Fifth Dimension classic), and "Have You Ever Been Mellow" (yes, with
Olivia Newton-John's voice sped up to helium-chipmunk pitch).
Ready Or Not (Dope Dragon)
A Roni Size alter-ego. This is all about bass--the most creaky, faecal,
buttquaking, anal-fissuring low-end sound since John & Julie's "Circles"
and the golden age of Warp.
Funkula (DJ Hype Remix) (No Smoking)
"Elevators (You and Me)" and "ATLiens", off ATLiens (La Face LP)
Seriously Sun Ra influenced rap--"Strange Celestial Road"-style chorus,
Nubian/Egyptological/UFO/Fingerprints of the Gods/ambassadors of the Omniverse
fixations in the video--with an A.R. Kaney dubbed up snares.
JACOB'S OPTICAL ILLUSION album
More crank cosmology. Dig the vocoderization on "Harsh Realities".
Colonized (Mille Plateaux/Virgin)
Punisher-beatz from those Techno Animal guys. Jeff Mills meets Throbbing
hypermodern Jazz 2000.5
Les Etoiles De Filles Mortes (both Mille Plateaux)
In Memoriam Gilles Deleuze (Mille Plateaux)
"Hypermodern" is a sort of twisted riposte to the E-Z listening fad, with
a cheesy-but-deranged vibe that recalls Wagon Christ, only even more fucked
up. Think Sun Ra teaming up with Juan Garcia Esquivel to create the 'space
jazz' for the famous bar scene in "Star Wars". One track is called "My Funk
Is Useless". Taken literally, this is true: there's no use-value to be gleaned
from "Hypermodern Jazz", you can't dance to this music and you can't really
chill to it (unless you're some kind of psychopath, or the Man Who Fell To
Earth). You can, however, boggle at its barmy brilliance. "Les Etoiles" is
modern electro-coustic malarkey. Of special note on the essential "In Memoriam"
are Empire's "Bon Voyage", a Stockhausen-meets-The Clangers electro-blip
reverbscape; Christophe Charles' "Undirections/Continuum", a (musique) concrete
jungle of found sounds, tone-blobs and reversed glissandi; Rome's "Intermodal",
a dyslexic drone-mosaic of dirty analog synth and grievously wah-wahed guitar;
and Mouse on Mars' "1001", whose quizzical and creaky cyber-sounds sound
like the enervated sighs and "why-bother?" grumbles of an artificial intelligence
that's suddenly lost all motivation to carry on computing.
SIGNS OV CHAOS
The darker side of Technohead's Michael Wells.
Days of Our Lives (from the "Set It Off" soundtrack)
The softcore inside the hardcore. Sentimental rap (see also Tupac's "I Ain't
Mad Atcha") is big right now. Heart-string plucking synth refrains, dewed-eyed
production, mawkish whispers low in the mix of "only time will tell who dies",
and a we're-misunderstood chorus: "Oh come into our world and you will see/We're
more than thugs we're more than thugs we're more than thugs."
THIRD EYE FOUNDATION
In Version (Domino)
Mainly for the last track, 'Way out Like David Berman", where the quasi-jungle
beatz are dropped for a Penderecki-in-dub dreadscape of delirious and tormented
USSR Repertoire (The Theory of Verticality) (Ninja tune)
Salvaging trip hop from the abysm of blunted beatz/pot smoker's muzak. Like
Wagon Christ, only emaciated and cheerless.
Jazz Satellites (Virgin compilation)
Kevin Martin doing for the tangled lineages and bastard offspring of 'electric
jazz' (70's Miles, Alice Coltrane, Herbie Hancock circa 'Sextant') what he
did for dub on 'Macro Dub Infection'.
Sirenes (Linda's Strange Vacation)
Where It's At (both on "Odelay", but best enjoyed as videos on MTV)
REDISCOVERED TRACK OF THE YEAR:
Rogue Unit (Steve Gurley ex-Foul Play) did a remix of S/O/R's "Peace Sign"
for Labello in '94--a gorgeous, exquisitely arranged, bittersweet slice of
ambient jungle before that style got jazzed-out into smoothcore soporifics.
Overrated Records and Artists of 1996
A word of explanation: over-rated does not necessarily mean that the artist or
artifact in question is devoid of worth, it may even be pretty good, it just
means that the esteem in which it is held, and radicalism imputed to it, is out
of all proportion, IMHO. And so--pausing only to offer heartfelt apologies for
the long overdue nature of this column--let the dissing begin! Revolt into bile!
By now, LTJ is a kind of obvious target. What with Muzik magazine comically
rising to offer a stout defence of Danny Boy against his detractors and Mixmag's
Bethan Cole daring to make little digs about his softcore sensibility, a major
Bukem-backlash is clearly brewing on the horizon(s). What once seemed like
heresy (an excommunicable offence, and don't I know it) is now verging on an
acceptable opinion. So let me start, perversely, by making the point that in many ways it's impossible to over-rate Bukem. Should we not, in fact, revere this guy 'til the End of Time for "Music" and "Atlantis (I Need You)" --tracks that invented ambient jungle/oceanic hardcore/underwater funk? With its scintillating waves of breaks and bongos, its langorously blissed "mmmm's" and angel's breath sighs, its tremulous harp-ripples and spangle-trails, "Atlantis" remains one of my five favourite jungle tracks of all time; I was shocked that it wasn't included on
the "Logical Progression" album.
The question remains, though: what has Bukem really done otherwise to merit his
godlike reputation? When people rave about early singles like "Demon's Theme"
and "Logical Progression", this is surely just the over-eager piety of the
recently converted; these tracks are at best flimsy. "19.5", his aqueous
collaboration with fellow vapor-head Peshay , was Bukem-by-numbers; "Horizons",
overblown and far too New Agey. Remixes excepted, this is the Bukem oeuvre so
far: approximately a track per year. Compared with your 4 Heros and Dillinjas,
this isn't exactly an amazing work-rate.
The other reason Bukem is worshipped is for starting Speedd. Initially a good
idea, and for about five months a great club, Speeed quickly degenerated into a
smug salon for the hip-oisie; a testament to the desire of a certain faction
within drum & bass to remake their scene as just another West End metropolitan
elite, a la Balearic, rare groove, acid jazz and Mo Wax. Bukem was the perfect
figurehead for this make-over and gentrification of jungle: his disowning of
rave ("I can count the number of E's I've done on one hand") reassures
latecomers that they were justified in ignoring hardcore in favour of Hard
Hands/Guerilla/ B12. They certainly didn't miss the most turbulently thrilling
musical era (breakbeat '91 through to mid-94) in recent memory, oh no. Quite the
contrary, in fact: they just happened to start paying attention at precisely the
right moment, when jungle started to get "musical". (In retrospect, the title
"Music" seems like a pathetic plea for legitimacy--I'm a musician, honest; I
like Chick Corea, Roy Ayers, Lonnie Liston and Azymuth; I got Grade Five piano).
Bukem is one of those artists who is also a genre (e.g. Lou Reed); often great
artists can be terrible influences. And so the problem with Good Looking/Looking
Good is that, like all artist-controlled labels, it's full of Bukem acolytes and
cronies whose one true desire is to sound like the maestro. The results can be
heard on "Logical Progression" the album: apart from PFM and "Music" itself,
this is two and a half hours of wispy, samey snooze, all of which suffers from
the Bukem trait of downplaying rhythmic disruption (i.e. the most exciting
element in jungle) in favour of wafty atmospherics.
(While we're dissing the Billingsgates, here's some choice Fabio discourse heard
the other week on KISS-FM. Fretting about the (mis)use of jungle as background
music in adverts and TV "links", a mystified Fabio complained about the music's
reduction to "some sort of wallpaper-fodder"--even as his patented brand of
fatally slick fuzak simmered tepidly in the background! It didn't seem to occur
to him that his jazz-step crusade might have played some small part in jungle's
gentrification/muzak-isation, although maybe it was subconscious guilt that lay
behind his repeated recourse to the word "real" throughout the programme: "real
music", "real emotions"....)
THE "BUG IN THE BASSBIN" REMIXES (MO WAX)
Carl Craig's original 1992 versions--mystified out of all proportion, largely
because they've been for so long impossible to hear--revealed themselves, on
their re-release late last year, to be engagingly peculiar and damn fine pieces
of music. But for the life of me I can't hear them as drum & bass prototypes:
the breakbeat is looped, sure, but not fucked with or chopped up, and the
jungalistic feel just isn't there. Maybe Fabio and Grooverider did drop "Bug"
down at Rage, legendarily pitched up to 45 rpm--but the idea that the track was
a seminal and formative influence on the nascent jungle sound is preposterous.
It's one of those myths cultivated by A/ drum and bass producers grasping for a
supposedly more elevated ancestry for what they do, and B/ johnny-come-lately
technoheads and breakbeat-niks like James Lavelle (i.e. people who would never
have gone within sneering distance of Rage), for whom the idea that Carl Craig
and Black Dog devised the blueprint for drum and bass is reassuring. It allows
them to avoid the truth: the real inventors of jungle were oufits like 2 Bad
Mice/Kaotic Chemistry ("Waremouse", "Bombscare", "Drum Trip II"), Noise Factory
and the rest of the Ibiza/Third Party crew, Urban Shakedown, the Suburban Bass
acts (Krome & Time/Q-Bass/Hype/Sonz of A Loop Da Loop Era,etc), DJ SS and the
Formation crews, Shut Up and Dance, hell, even The Prodigy. These people,
utterly ignored and marginalised, invented the future. Rave producers, in other
words; 'ardkore, in all its pilled-up, made-in-two-minutes, spotty teenager,
Amiga-in-the-bedroom glory. Belgium had more to do with jungle than Detroit,
Anyway, the "Bug In The Bassbin" remixes constituted one of the year's great
non-events, although that didn't stop that organ of Detroit-pietism Jockey Slut
from running a 5 page feature.
HEADZ 2 (MO WAX)
In the age of compilation gigantism, Headz 2 dramatically upped the ante. Mo
Wax's latest anthology consisted of not one but two separately sold double-CD's
(or two quadruple albums, boxed like Wagner's Parsifal), which contained nearly
five-and-a-half hours of music spanning not just trip hop but leading innovators
in drum & bass, techno, art-rap and electronica. Before I even saw these
dauntingly oversize collections in the stores, I was put off by the air of
hubris and self-congratulatory connoisseurship hanging over the project. When I
saw them, the deluxe vinyl sets instantly reminded me of those calfskin-bound,
gilt-inlaid editions of Dickens (sold through mail-order ads that appeal to
"your unstinting pride"), which remain unread on the shelf but testify to an
interest in being cultured. In Headz case, the word is subcultured.
Despite their garish abstrakt covers, the vinyl Headz also resemble headstones,
perhaps because Mo Wax supremo James Lavelle has herein constructed a kind of
mausoleum of late '90s "cool". Appropriately, the music itself is sombre and
subdued, mostly cleaving to the trip hop noir norm: torpid breakbeats, entropic
sub-bass, dank dub reverb. (When it comes to non-junglistic breakbeats, give me
the rowdy, rockist furore of the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and their amyl
brethren, any day). The same Mo Wax kiss-of-def that resulted in Luke Vibert's
only uninteresting release to date affects contributions from the likes of Danny
Breaks, whose abandons his normal hyper-kinaesthetics for the idling headnooding
tempo of "Science Fu Beats". (Perking the track up to 45 r.p.m improves this,
and several other tracks, considerably).
Mo Wax belong to what you might call the "good music society", or more
precisely, they belong to a specific "good music society" which dates back to
the "eclectic" list of influences on Massive Attack's "Blue Lines" (wherein PiL,
Mahavishnu Orchestra, Isaac Hayes and Studio One coexisted in smug
self-congratulation). The sensibility is pure fusion: "it's all music, man",
"what kind of music don't I like? -- just bad music!". Every area of music has
it own "good music society", its little cabal of cognoscenti, what Kevin Martin
calls the "taste police": Junior Boys Own for deep house, Creation (in the late
Eighties at least) for leather-trousered rock, Grand Royal for white American
B-boyism. Each maintains a canon of cool, and as with all canons, what is
excluded is as significicant as what is included. What is excluded tends to be
both the vibrantly vulgar and the genuinely extremist/out-there: neither The
Sweet nor Stockhausen make it. (Although Pierre Henry, bizarrely, has been
canonised --as a pioneer of E-Z listening alongside Jean-Jacques Perrey!!!).
ALEX REECE/DJ PULSE/WAX DOCTOR/AL'S RECORDS/"REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION" ET
CETERA, AD NAUSEAM
The kind of pony-tailed twats who put me off listening to house music for
years... Ever notice how Alex Reece never gives props to anyone in jungle and
says he loathed hardcore, but then testifies that he'd "cry if I ever lost my
house classics" and that his ambition is to get house bods to dance to breakbeat
rhythms? This he and his cohorts have achieved by the simple expedient of
removing the rude, disruptive energy from drum and bass and flattening the
rhythms out into a slinky, E-Z rolling flow. White-bre(a)d jungle with all the
THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON -- "DEAD CITIES"
Seldom has a group's "we're cutting edge and you're not" arrogance been so
groundless and unwarranted. Typical middlebrow pseudo-progressives, they have
merely transferred the prog-rock notion of ostentatious virtuosity to
sample-based music; their great bugbear is "obviousness" in sampling. And so
every last drop of "vibe" and "aura" is addled out of their sources by their
onanistic knob-twiddling; their music sounds as disgustingly denatured and
plasma-morphic as those godawful videos and Buggy G. Riphead cover images. As
sampladelic auteurs, 4 Hero (whose studio, funnily enough, is next door to
FSOL's in Dollis Hill) piss on Cobain & Dougans from extreme height. It blows my
mind that back in '93, darkcore EP's like "Journey From the Light" and "Golden
Age"/"Golden Age Remixes" were universally ignored, while dreck like "Lifeforms"
was hailed to the heavens. Amazinglyly, FSOL are still getting rave reviews.
BLOOD AND FIRE/PRESSURE SOUNDS
With one or two exceptions--Keith Hudson's "Pick A Dub", "The Heart of the
Congos" (or so I'm reliably informed)--these labels seem to specialise in
beautifully packaged, superbly remastered/restored, authoritatively annotated
reissues of decidedly second-rate material: the marginalia and out-take effluvia
of otherwise illustrious careers. (Maybe this is because the rights to the real
dub and roots classics are owned by established companies like Trojan, or by
dodgy companies who put out shoddy CD's -- like the re-release of Prince Far I's
"Under Heavy Manners" I picked up that sounds like it was remastered from vinyl,
and vinyl played on a crap hi-fi to boot). Musts to avoid: Lee Perry "Voodooism"
(Pressure Sounds), King Tubby "Dub Me Crazy" and "Freedom Sounds In Dub", and
Scientist "Dub In The Roots Tradition" (all Blood and Fire)-- all of which
average 1 and a half really exciting tracks each. Dub reggae appears to have
reached the same strip-mined-to-exhaustion point as Sixties garage punk had by
the mid-Eighties. All those collections like Pebbles, Back From the Grave,
Mindrocker, etc, were generally fabulous up to about Volume 5. Thereafter, as
the labels continued to milk the sub-market and proceeded to #11 and beyond, the
compilers inevitably began to dredge up the dregs from the nadir of the Sixties
punkadelic barrel. If stuff is undiscovered or neglected, it's often with good
reason: buried treasure is actually a pretty scarce occurrence.
This weirdy-beardy has done a few genuinely startling tracks, and is generally
quite amusing. What galls is the sheer arrogance and temerity of Squarepusher
and other similar "drill and bass" dilettantes --they actually believe they are
improving on jungle!!! All that Squarepusher has brought to drum & bass is some
Jaco Pastorius bass-frills, a dys-funk-tional rhythmic convolution, and a
quirked-out daftness that recalls nobody so much as Primus. On a purely
technical level, nothing that Squarepusher does with breakbeats surpasses
engineer-poets like Hype, Aphrodite, Dillinja, 4 Hero or Danny Breaks, to
mention only the most obvious leaders-in-the-field. It is only Squarepusher/Plug
etc's distance from the scene that allows them to convolute the breakbeats
beyond any use-value to DJ or dancer; the wilful incongruity of the samples is
all well and good, but if junglists use the same old gangsta/cyberpunk
soundbites and apocalyptic textures, it's because they're trying to create and
sustain a vibe, a feeling-full and meaningful mood that crystallises a certain
kind of worldview and life-stance. By comparison, drill and bass is vibe-less
non-sense. The drill and bass/"fungle" concept seems to exist to make a certain
sort of "margin-walker" feel okay about not really having engaged with jungle as
a subculture. And of course, as with most soi disant progressive iniatives,
drill and bass is utterly parasitic on its populist counterpart--do you really
think the idea of chopping up breakbeats would have independently occurred to
the weirdy-beardy technoids in a million years?
FULL CYCLE/V RECORDINGS/DOPE DRAGON/REPRAZENT
At the close of '95, after "11.55", "Set Speed", "Fashion" and other stone
killas, the Roni Size/DJ Die/Krust cabal seemed untouchable. In 1996, they and
their Bristol cohorts like Bill Riley maintain a prolific work-rate, but
generally underwhelmed these ears. Oh, there was Krust's "Angles" (with its
"Carlito's Way" soundbite), and there was "Ready Or Not" by Roni Size alter-ego
Gang Related/Mask, with its terrific bleep-and-bass era robot-fart of a B-line
-- a sound subsequently caned into tedium on virtually every subsequent Dope
Dragon release (which all suffer from the general hardstep/jump-up malaise of
rationing out a mere two ideas per track). But "Music Box", the long awaited
Full Cycle compilation, was disappointingly sedate, apart from the fierce
Scorpio track "Breakbeat Era" with its sultry, staccato Leonie vocal. On the 12
inch front, DJ Die's "Reincarnations" had a great hydroponic glow-bass sound,
but not much else to recommend it. Spiritually rather than sonically, the
Reprazent project has a rather worthy, rare-groove meets Bob Marley-style "roots
and vibes" aura to it. Overall, the Bristol boys seem to have developed a sound
that, while thankfully minimal and non-muso (no live instrumentation yet), is
nonetheless a little bit too refined and tasteful: you keep waiting for the
tracks to brock out but they just simmer crisply in a mildly ganjadelic mode.
Techstep has made this approach seem pretty safe.
LIFETIME UNDER-ACHIEVEMENT AWARD -- BILL LASWELL
Has this guy ever done anything of consequence? (Apart from the B-lines on "On
Land", and Material's "Bustin' Out"). All his Fourth World super-jams read like
a great idea, but the results are uniformly less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts. And
he's so desperate to get in on every new trend. As soon as jungle broke,
media-wise, I just knew it'd only be a matter of months before Laswell would
pitch in with his own take--and sure enough, he did (I forget which of the 25
albums that year it was on), and sure enough, it was embarassing. As with the
Squarepusher types, it's that perennial margin-walker arrogance of thinking you
can improve on any style or genre, "take it further"....
No, not the compilation (although that's certainly a symptom); rather, it's the
concept itself that has become grievously over-subscribed and, dare I say it,
middlebrow. Unless I'm very much mistaken, it was actually me who came up with
phrase "breakbeat science" back in the summer of '94, in a Single's review. I
was arguing that ambient/intelligent jungle's melodic/atmospheric ideas often
lagged behind the astounding futurism of its breakbeat science, whilst so-called
intelligent techno suffered from the exact opposite: interesting
texture-and-tune-play over dull, anaemic rhythms. If only each genre could get
together, I speculated, establish a trade in ideas.... And this is more or less
what happened: just about everybody in Planet Electronica and Beyond is having a
stab at breakbeat-science: not just the Orbitals and Underworlds, Aphexes and
Mike Paradinas-es, but the David Bowies and Trent Reznors and Everything But The
But, as indifferent as the results of this drum and bass dilettantism have
mostly proved, this is not my real bone of contention here. Even when practised
by "authentic" originators and experts, breakbeat sicence has simply gotten too
scientific, too anal and joyless. The term spread like a cultural virus, I
guess, because it captured the essential paradox of this mode of creation. Like,
say, gene-splicing, making jungle is dreary, anti-Romantic, tricky and
time-consuming. (Some drum and bass producers spend 10 days on the rhythm
programming of one song; obsessive-compulsives like Photek have been known to
spend several months on finishing a single track). Like laboratory research,
making this music is no fun, but the hope is that the end result is specactular
The thing about real-world scientific experiments, though, is that for every
Onco-mouse with a human ear grafted into its body, cloned sheep or groovey new
device for mass annihilation, there's thousands of non-conclusive or abortive
results: fault-ridden machines, test-tubes full of useless precipitates and
cloudy suspensions. And that's the stage we're at with breakbeat science: too
many examples of fiddly, funkless, up-its-own-arse programming, devoid of joy or
rush. Which is why the relative simplicity of techstep (it's no coincidence,
surely, that all No U Turn tracks are started and finished on a single night),
or even better the Chemical Brothers, is so appealing. Simplify the breakbeats,
bring back a bit of rigour, and you get more impact; that's the secret behind
Doc Scott's "Drumz '95" and his Nasty Habits' monster-tune "Shadowboxin'".
Taking this retreat from ungainly and un-gainful complexification even further,
after years of being a breakbeat-junkie and anti-4-to-the-floor snob, I've come
to appreciate the monolithic kick-drum pulse-rhythm of house and gabba, the
endless tiny inflections around a basic surge-and-thrust that you hear in a Daft
Punk, Chain Reaction or PCP/Dance Ecstasy 2001/Cold Rush track.
Back in 1992, the breakbeat was the symbol of techno's corruption by rave;
purist clubs like Knowledge rallied to the banner "no breakbeats, no lycra". But
by 1996, breakbeat science was installed as the new orthodoxy. From jungle to
trip hop to drill and bass to breakbeat house to the amyl Brit-hoppers, there
are just too many folks fruitlessly messin' with breaks. Time for a rethink,
And now, after all that negative energy.... some more fave records of 1996 (and
DR DRE -- "Been There, Done That" (Aftermath)
Here G-funk's "supple and vacant muzak" (Howard Hampton) evokes the ennui of the
fabulously rich who are "on another level that you ain't seen yet". The version
on the "Aftermath" album fades out before the best bit of the song as heard on
the video: the bizarre New Romantic waltz segment, reminiscent of nothing so
much as Ultravox's "Vienna" or Spandau Ballet's "Work Til Your Musclebound",
during which the starched-shirt, stiff-upper-lipped, tuxedo-ed Black Republicans
dance in a grotesque parody of upper-class Euro swank and hauteur. The stiff
rhythms seem to be Dre saying: "if joining the ruling class means ditching da
funk, hell yeah, I'll ditch it!"
MO THUGS --"Thug Devotion" (Relativity)
Typically weird Bone Thugs combination of syrupy doo-wop sentiment and "straight
up soldier" militancy.
NASTY HABITS -- "Shadowboxin'" (31)
The Numanoid synth-riff on this choon-of-the-decade sears the ear with its
glacial grandeur, while the trudging beat make me imagine a commando jogging
under napalm skies with a rocket launcher on his hip.
Carmina Burana-gone-cyberpunk, the synth-fanfares slash and scythe like the Grim
Reaper himself. Another No U Turn tribute to 1991, the year Belgium ruled
techno. Talking of which...
VARIOUS ARTISTS -- 80 AUM RECORDS: THE DIAMOND SERIES
Classic Belg-core anthology, complete with hoover noises and amphetamine
psychosis. Standout: the hair-raising, hell's bell's chimes and shiver-riffs of
Incubus's "The Spirit". Look out also for the 1997 Remix of Set Up System's
"Fairy Dust", with that classic skullpan-scouring brain-eraser riff.
Heroin-house is what some people are calling the Chain Reaction
abstract-expressionist take on house. This actually reminds me of "Heroin" by
the Velvet Underground. A slow-mo, vein-suffusing, ego-melting, rush that's
undescribable. Beauty will be amnesiac or it will not be at all.
VARIOUS ARTISTS -- ELECTRO JUICE (Sabotage)
By far the most interesting neo-electro excursions available; highlight is
Ectomorph's glassy and glancing "Telekinesis", cryogenic crystal-funk somewhere
between Man Parrish, Nitro Deluxe and Sweet Exorcist.
NEARLY GOD--Nearly God
Ever closer to utter entropy; this sounds like Tricky's blood is so full of THC
it's turning to mud.
BOYMERANG -- "Still/Urban Space" (Prototype)
Paranoid, in both the urban and Black Sabbath senses. How come no one's thought
of doing a techstep version of "Sweet Leaf" yet?
DR MACABRE'S GHOST STORIES CHAPTER 1 (Powerplant)
PCP-aligned gloom-core, notable for the unusually flexible and panther-nimble,
almost jungalistic rhythms on "Voodoo Nightmare"
SHIMON & ANDY C -- "Recharge" (on "The Speed of Sound", Ram)
SWIFT -- "Just Roll" (on "Pure Rollers", Breakdown compilation)
MONOLAKE --Lantau/Macao (Chain Reaction)
I-CUBE --Disco Cubizm (Daft Punk Mix)
PORTER RICKS -- Vol 1 and Vol 2 (Force Inc)
More Chain Reaction dub-house narcosis-swirl, albeit via a different label. Also
check out the Porter (Thomas Koner and Andy Mellwig) Ricks remixes of
Experimental Audio Research (Sonic Boom, K.Martin, Eddie Prevost etc), titled
"The Koner Experiment", and released on Mille Plateaux.