Portals: Atmospheric Drum & Bass Vistas

Following the recent release of Illuvia’s d&b album ‘Iridescence of Clouds’ on A Strangely Isolated Place, I’m proud to present my contribution to the ASIP ‘Portals’ series. Tracing the links from the halcyon days of the 90s to the present, from the classic to the obscure, this is a selection of 26 tracks showcasing the evolution of the atmospheric d&b sound or at least my own perception. The feature is supplemented with a mix, liner notes and fan facts. A long trip down memory lane for d&b fans, as well as an introduction of atmospheric drum & bass to a non-d&b audience. I hope this feature served its purpose and that you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.

You can read the original post here and listen to the mix on Soundcloud, Mixcloud or the ASIP Podcast.

For archiving purposes, I attach the full transcript of the feature below.

Words and layout by Ryan Griffin/ASIP
Comments in italics and track notes by Spyros/GodIsNoLongerADj

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Liner notes on 2020 – Part II

“It was my own countryside and I loved it with an intimate feeling, though all its associations were crude and incoherent. I cannot think of it now without a sense of heartache, as if it contained something which I have never quite been able to discover.” – Wardown Liner Notes

With a slight delay, this is the second part of my annual list (the drum & bass edition) featuring 21 of my favourite d&b records released in 2020, which I find worthy of your attention and – why not –  your credit card. The list is supplemented with liner notes, background stories and comments, trying to maintain an equilibrium between the (sorely missed) club sound system and the living room listening experience. A complicated epoch triggers complicated emotions and music can be the nostalgic reminder of simpler times.

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Liner notes on 2020 – Part I

“When someone isn’t there any more, the empty space is charged with emotional power. As if the act of vanishing leaves behind an ethereal, supernatural signature. As ever, the closing of one door leads to the opening of another. Without the experience of loss, this album would not be in existence and that is a silver sliver of light in an otherwise clouded sky. Everything at once, then nothing …” – ‘The Sound of Someone Leaving’ Liner Notes

It’s that time of the year again. Like you haven’t suffered enough, the list with my favourite 2020 releases, which I find worthy of your attention (and your credit card) is here. Amidst a second wave of the pandemic, where our social reflexes have been stretched to the limit, one of the positives in this mess is that home listening is no longer relegated to background music until dinner is ready; it’s become a routine to look forward to, a refuge and a remedy. So, I would like to take the opportunity once again to thank all artists and record labels for gracing this relentless year with their beautiful music, channelling isolation and insecurity into works of art, safeguarding the passion and the romance. A complicated epoch triggers complicated emotions and music can be the nostalgic reminder of simpler times.

Bandcamp has launched an initiative to support the many artists, who have seen their livelihoods disrupted by the pandemic this year. On the first Friday of every month since March, they have waived their revenue share and plan to continue accordingly in the next year, on February 5th, March 5th, April 2nd, and May 7th. More details here.

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Tracks I Wish I’d Written (issue #21): Nuyorican Soul feat. Jocelyn Brown – I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun (4hero Remix)

“The most important thing about any version of ‘I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun’ is the fact that it’s a great, incredible song at the heart. The energy of Charles Stepney’s arrangement will inspire anyone who does a version of that song” – Marc Mac

Reinforced Records celebrate their 30th anniversary this year; a remarkable feat for an independent label, which has always been at the forefront of new and ground-breaking developments. Charter Road, Dollis Hill has been a melting pot for UK’s most innovative underground music: home to 4hero’s famous attic, FSOL’s ‘Earthbeat Studio’ was in the same building and even Suede, before reaching stardom, used to rehearse downstairs (as Goldie vaguely recalls in his memoirs). The list of collaborators and/or producers who were mentored and kick-started their recording career with Reinforced is impressive and quite long: Goldie, Doc Scott, Kemistry, Storm, Grooverider, Photek, Roni Size, Krust, Die, Randall, J Majik, Peshay to name a few.

4hero came to prominence in the late 80s. Embracing the dynamics of populist rave culture, they spearheaded the transition from breakbeat/hardcore to drum & bass via their own label Reinforced and maintained an avant-garde status as innovative and experimental producers. The label’s ethos and vision reaches well beyond the musical sphere. A community with strong allusions to their cultural roots and a creative hub, Reinforced has garnered praise across the electronic music spectrum, as well as a dedicated fan base.

In the words of co-founder Marc Mac:Reinforced Records will always be known for their experimental ground-breaking and pioneering style of Jungle/DnB pushing the whole scene to be more creative”.

It would be at least naïve to try and capture 4hero’s musical contribution and legacy in a single post. Instead, I will attempt a closer view into one of their finest musical moments. Words like classic, timeless, iconic or legendary, once reserved to laud people and exceptional gravitas, conveyed far more merit and accomplishment than they do these days. I’d style argue though that this edition of the series is a track which encapsulates all those terms in a literal sense; a cross-genre remix staple if ever there was one.

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The Dutch Connection: GodIsNoLongerADJ for Radio Salto Amsterdam

I’ve had a friendly chat with the lovely people Trademarc, Morty and Kredo for their radio show ‘The Drum and Bass Break’, which is broadcasted every Sunday (22.00-00.00, GMT+1) on Salto Radio Amsterdam, selecting also the music for the show. I’m afraid though I couldn’t spare you my rantings about blogging, music, artwork, air traffic control, regrets and gratitude.

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Neon Loneliness: Inside Eschaton & Parallel’s ‘PM:AM’ LP

“Reflective, haunted by something and praying for absolution, then realizing that you had the power to change it all along”

In the last decade, the rapid advancements in technology effectively changed the channels of publishing and promoting music. A plethora of artists and smaller net labels emerged to fill in the new creative space, as it became significantly easier and cost-effective to set up a label and release new music without the restrictions of manufacturing and distribution. In a brave new world of endless possibilities opportunity is a double-edged sword, but that’s a topic for a future post.

One of those labels that have consistently carried the torch of atmospheric drum & bass is Omni Music. The ‘yin & yang’ logo encompasses the vision and ethos of the label: the symbol of dualism, the vicious pendulum between light and dark, reality and fiction, hope and despair, where seemingly contradicting forces actually interconnect and counterbalance. Omni gradually evolved beyond the confines of tempo and genres representing a sound and movement that never really went away; just moved on the fringes of the scene and re-surfaced with a modern twist.

I have the pleasure to host Chris Wright (aka Eschaton), music producer, writer and founder of the label to discuss his latest album with Parallel and the Omni Music canon.

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Tracks I Wish I’d Written (issue #20): Intense – Only You

“If you want an example of mid-90s liquid this is it; lush, warm and beautiful. Not claustrophobic like today’s 4-minute ‘slam bam’ drum & bass tracks. It has a nice sense of pace. Nothing sounds rushed, which is a homage to late 70s jazz funk. To me this is their finest moment. The thing here is the breakdown. Complex chords change, filled with atmospherics and probably the best use of a female vocal of all the intelligent d&b from that golden age. On par with the wonderful ‘Being With You’ by Foul Play. Much lauded yet still underrated. One of the very best examples of that exotic mix of Bukem’s cosmic vibe and Creative Source’s more stripped down funky essence, superb.” – Fabio

It’s been exactly six years since the premiere of the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’, however its conception dates further back. I’ve always had this vague idea of keeping a musical diary to capture those moments that defined my journey in electronic music and drum & bass in particular. Although the scope of the series has been expanded also to more recent titles, as well as non-d&b material, my affinity for the formative years of drum & bass has been repeatedly stressed, hence themes and features often revolve around this axis.

Intrigued, inspired and seduced by the faceless mystique and the self-reliant attitude of so many artists and labels exploring this bold new cultural form in the early 90s, I have tried to reflect in the series that experimental fearlessness, where no approach was off limits. Tracks with long intros, string sections, artful vocal fragments and long emotional breakdowns, which sometimes had been met with cynicism, became an art form with an elevated degree of musicality.

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Tracks I Wish I’d Written (issue #19): Mouly & Lucida – Inertia

“Back then, you might hear an incredible new tune played exclusively on a plate by a DJ like Bukem or Fabio and you’d have to wait for months before you could get it on vinyl.  That was part of the magic of the scene at the time.  Nowadays, if you hear an amazing tune played on the radio you can typically stream it instantly online.  The convenience is great, but with this ease of access, people (myself included) are more inclined to take music for granted to the extent that its impact and mystique is lost”.

When I started listening to drum & bass I was intrigued, inspired and seduced by the faceless mystique and the self-reliant attitude of so many artists and labels exploring this bold new cultural form. That experimental fearlessness, an entry point and an outlier both at the same time, captured a vital moment – one that could probably never be replicated – where no approach was off-limits. In the early 90s, the connections with my musical heroes were the odd dj gig, cassette tapes changing hands, magazines and the liner notes/credits on the record sleeves. Then the internet revolution came, which provided a portal to a (brave) new world and unprecedented access to all of us who had been on the outside looking in.

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Sing me a line from your favourite song

“Ever get that feeling, when you experience some sort of musical epiphany and strive to memorize the melody and the lyrics of a song you have just listened to, before they‘re lost into the next morning’s haze?”

This month is my blog’s 8th year anniversary and to be honest I’ve never expected to make it this far. It has been a unique opportunity to connect with some of my musical icons, as well as with many like-minded people across the world and celebrate the music we all love. Traditionally, the anniversary features are retrospective accounts and this one will be no exception; another one of my tedious lists, supplemented with a few comments, liner notes and fan facts.

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The Morning of the Magicians: Inside the Album

“The fine art of deception”

This terrible world pandemic is unprecedented in our generation. At the time of writing, more than 3 billion people are self-isolating and most countries have enforced partial or total lockdown measures. Dismally, that’s not a ‘Black Mirror’ episode or a sci-fi movie script. The tragedy is literally on our doorstep, the infection rate is still escalating and has already affected our daily habits and routines, testing our social reflexes to the limit, as well as the way we will act and interact in the foreseeable future. The present looks ominous, but the sooner we accept the new reality and behave with responsibility and respect to one another, the better we are going to adapt to the day after. In turbulent and uncertain times art – and music in particular – is a refuge and a sanctuary; it lets you escape the bleak reality of your isolation and daydream far beyond.

Continue reading “The Morning of the Magicians: Inside the Album”

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