The sixth installment of the “Whatever happened to…?” series is dedicated to a highly influential music trio; one of the pioneering electronic music bands that came from hardcore beginnings, progressed through jungle techno to drum and bass and has been active throughout the first half of the 90s. Despite their short-lived career, the trio released timeless classics along the way, before they finally disbanded in 1996.
Essence Of Aura, referred to also as EOA onwards, were formed in late 1990, originally based in Kenilworth, UK before moving to Coventry in 1992. The founding members have been Tim Grantham (DJing, Management and Production responsibilities) Ian Scott (Sampling and Production) and James Mitton-Wade (Production, Programming and Engineering duties for all EOA tracks).
In 1992, they launched their own imprint Outstanding Productions (later renamed to Outstanding Records) in order to release their own material under the aliases Essence Of Aura and Original Substitute. Championing the transition from breakbeat hardcore to ambient jungle, their productions are an affecting blend of subdued dynamics, buried diva vocals and ricocheting drums, having paved the way for the emergence of a more jazz-influenced, Rhodes-inspired, atmospheric sound, often referred to with the contentious term “intelligent” drum and bass.
The label’s releases were dominated by Essence Of Aura works, as well as collaborations with some of the most prominent artists of the English Midlands; Tango & Fallout, the mighty Doc Scott and Watton G (aka Vext) of FBD Project have all contributed material for Outstanding Productions. The last release of the label saw the light of day in 1996, coinciding with the break-up of Essence Of Aura.
In the meantime, between 1991 and 1995, Essence Of Aura organised a couple of parties at their home town Kenilworth and one in Warwick under the name Insomnia and were performing live PAs in various raves including the likes of Eclipse, The Edge, Amnesia House, Fibre Optic, Dance Trance, New Age, Pandemonium, Quest and Club Kinetic among others, usually hosted by MC Hi-Fi, who used to be the resident MC at the famous Edge club in Coventry. They were also highlighted by Jumping Jack Frost and Carl Cox as one of the most important jungle artists of 1994 in the 10 years of Acid House feature in Muzik magazine.
The pivotal point to critical acclaim for Essence of Aura came in 1994, when they signed to Rob Playford’s Moving Shadow seminal imprint. Their track Northern Lights was included into the acclaimed Moving Shadow Two On One series (the eighth issue), followed by two exquisite releases on Moving Shadow before EOA finally disbanded in 1996.
Amicable band break-ups in music industry are a rarity and unfortunately EOA were no exception. Looking back in hindsight:
After a short sabbatical from recording, coinciding with Ian’s trip to USA, a series of disputes and disagreements escalated and led to the disband of Essence Of Aura. Ironically, their most successful production So This Is Love would be the trigger and the catalyst for the split. Two of the band’s members secretly decided to remix their biggest hit, without the participation or consent of the third member. That effectively resulted in breaking the bond of trust – which is always of the essence – among the EOA members, who have parted their music ways ever since.
It takes great courage to leave behind something you profoundly love, but there is a time for every purpose and there’s something romantic about letting go, no matter how painful that may be, instead of carrying on with a concept that no longer encapsulates the values and the vision it once stood for. The members of the band wish to discuss no further from this point …
PS. The So This is Love (’96 remix) that was the bone of contention, eventually featured in the regional Moving Shadow compilation entitled Trans-Central Connection, compiled by Mitton-Wade, showcasing contributions from artists from the English Midlands.
The early works
The first Essence Of Aura production saw the light of day in 1992 (I Give You b/w Cryogenic, SPKY 998, 1992) and has been released by Spooky Toons; a Liquid Wax sub-label. Consistent with the conventional breakbeat hardcore forms (4/4 kick-drums, synth stabs and pitched vocals) at the time, the first EOA effort was the stepping stone of their short but highly influential career.
That same year, Essence Of Aura set up their own label Outstanding Productions. The first ep on their label readily followed (The Destiny ep, Destiny & Floodlite b/w Spiral & Madder Than Adam, EOA001, 1992); a collective effort, with Mitton-Wade on programming and keyboards, Scott on sampling, Grantham on production as well as contributions by Tango and DJ Fallout. The highlight of the ep is the acid anthem Madder Than Adam, featuring also in various Amnesia House rave tape packs.
The second Essence Of Aura ep (The Pure Essence ep, Can I Dream b/w Intruder, Outstanding Productions, EOA 002, 1993) cemented EOA’s reputation within the jungle/dnb circles and has been one of the most sought after vinyl of that era. The skull logo featuring for the first time on the logo side of the record, designed by Toz of the Distortion Crew, would be readily adopted by Essence Of Aura for their future releases on the label. Furthermore, the seminal Can I Dream received the remix treatment by the man like Doc Scott featuring in the next EOA ep (The Never Trust Your Fantasies ep, Can I Dream (Doc Scott remix) b/w Never Trust Your Fantasy, EOA 003, 1993) and has also been included in the 5th volume of the acclaimed Jungle Techno compilation series.
That same year, a special one-off collaboration between EOA and the Distortion Crew took place (Essence Of Aura & Distortion Crew – Essence Of Aura & Distortion Cut b/w Essence Of Aura Remix, Outstanding Productions, DIS 001, 1993). On a darker tip, with dexterous drum programming, in an era marked indelibly by Goldie’s Terminator, Invisible Man’s The Beginning and the emergence of the sub-genres darkcore and jungle techno, that very release showcased EOA’s artistic versatility and was only the prelude of the events to follow.
Original Substitute and re-branding
In 1994 Outstanding Productions was renamed to Outstanding Records (hence the different catalogue numbering) and Essence Of Aura emerged with a new moniker for their releases. As Original Substitute, they recorded two essential productions on Outstanding Records: (Mekka Strings b/w Fall Down On Me, OR 004, 1994) and (Feel Free b/w What’s On Your Mind, OR 006, 1994). Fall Down On Me featured in the 7th volume of the Jungle Techno compilation series, whereas a VIP mix was released many years later in the 1st volume of EOA classics, repressed by Sublogic Recordings. The transition from jungle to drum and bass was already taking place at the time and Essence Of Aura were already riding the progression wave. In the meantime, Grantham, Scott and Mitton-Wade had released their last release as EOA on Outstanding Records (Soul Temptation b/w Innersence, OR 005, 1994). The impeccable Soul Temptation dominated by illustrious pads, flutes and a mesmerising female vocal (a part of it has been used also by Mouly & Lucida for the beautiful Inertia), introduced EOA to wider audiences and duly led to a great synergy with one of the major UK underground music outlets; Moving Shadow …
In the next two years, Outstanding Records released two more singles by Watton G (aka Vext and ½ of the FBD Project: (FBD – Just Visiting Mars b/w Velvet, OR 007, 1995) and (Vext – Recognition b/w Bubble, OR 008, 1996). In 1996 the label ceased operations coinciding with the EOA disband. Just Visiting Mars featured in the famous 3rd installment of the Mixmag! Mix series, compiled and mixed by LTJ Bukem.
The Shadow era
In 1994, each month and for nine months, Moving Shadow released a very limited edition run of head to head vinyl abstractions, featuring specially recorded tracks from guest artists back to back with new tracks from Moving Shadow artists. The record cover of each one of the nine formed a part of a 3×3 poster type display of the Moving Shadow logo.
Essence Of Aura contributed the track Northern Lights to the 8th issue (Essence Of Aura – Northern Lights b/w Foul Play, Cutting Loose, Shadow 201-8, 1994) of the 2 on 1 series; the run-out groove reading “THE EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM”. A remix of Northern Lights was also included in the seminal A History Of Hardcore compilation, with back to back tracks from the Suburban Base and Moving Shadow catalogues, joint-released by the aforementioned labels and mixed by Kenny Ken.
The next year, Essence Of Aura released their second output of their Moving Shadow trilogy (Let Love Shine Through, b/w So This Love & Northern Lights remix, SHADOW61, 1995). The cover artwork is a barcode printed on both sides. Let Love Shine Through has clear garage house influences, however the highlight of the release is So This Is Love, which uses a Mental Cube echoed vocal sample . So This Is Love has been remixed – arguably better than the original – by the prolific Rob Haigh, widely known as Omni Trio, for the last Essence Of Aura release (Everybody b/w So This Is Love (Omni Trio remix), SHADOW61R, 1995).
Essence Of Aura have also engaged into remixing duties. Their interpretation of Cloud Nine’s (aka Nookie) The Ultimate Seduction, sampling the techno classic The Realm, was released as a flipside to Nookie’s own remix on Sensory Elements by Moving Shadow (Cloud Nine, The Ultimate Seduction remixes, SHADOW78R, 1996).
In 1997, a previously EOA unreleased remix of the classic track Revelations by Tango & Fallout, was released on DJ Pulse’s Creative Wax, as part of a limited output (only in cd format) entitled Creative Wax Reviews.
The day after
After Essence Of Aura disbanded, Tim and Ian retired from the music industry, whereas James carried on his solo work as Carlito (a sobriquet inspired by Brian De Palma’s gangster flick Carlito’s Way) recording for Fabio’s Creative Source and Fellowship’s Defunked labels respectively, as well as forming Guardians Of Dalliance alongside Mike Hall and Sophie Perks recording for Moving Shadow.
Recent events and fast forward to the present
The Final Act
After a 15-years hiatus, Essence Of Aura re-emerged in 2011 for the final act. As a reconciliation and closure attempt, writing the final chapter of their story, they released two volumes containing some of their earlier works and previously unreleased material on Sublogic Recordings; a label (defunct to the time of writing) focused on repressing 90s hardcore/breakbeat/jungle/ drum and bass classics by the likes of The Invisible Man, Q Project, Skanna, Babylon Timewarp and Potential Bad Boy among others. Some of the most sought after EOA tracks have been available again on vinyl, as well as rare productions, available only on dubplates until then, never officially released.
The first volume (Volume One, SLRV016, 2011) includes Spiral and Destiny off their Destiny ep, as well as unreleased dubplate mixes of Fall Down On Me (originally released under their Original Substitute alias) and of Positive Chaos by Tango & Fallout. The second volume (Volume Two, SLRV017, 2011) includes Floodlite and Madder Than Adam again off their Destiny ep, as well as a VIP remix of Can I Dream (the original is on their Pure Essence ep) and a live PA rework at The Edge of Essence Of Aura & Distortion Cut.
Essence Of Aura disbanded while riding the crest of the wave, leaving a great musical legacy, having been a point of reference and a source of inspiration to the next waves of drum and bass producers. Their productions hardly left the bags of some of the major djs in the circuit in many years to come. Actually, until today, the odd Essence of Aura tune is included in various dj sets and radio shows, taking listeners and punters to a long trip down memory lane. Their untimely break-up has added to the romance and mystery of what might have happened, however their music has marked indelibly the evolution of the music we know today as drum and bass.
Excerpts of Tim Grantham’s comments on how he had envisaged Essence Of Aura and a brief account of their achievements:
“The dream in the beginning was to make some rave music and play the Eclipse, as that was our home town club and was the Mecca in our eyes for raving, which we managed to achieve. Then it was Amnesia House, which again we managed to do. Having great support from Mickey Lynas and Nev of Amnesia House in the early days, we played in Scotland, as well as Manchester and Coventry, at various events that they put on. They were a great support for us in the early days as well as Danny Maher of Fibre Optic. As we progressed, we would set goals and target DJ’s for our tunes to fit into their sets, such as Grooverider, Fabio, Carl Cox, Bukem, Stu Allen, Doc Scott and Top Buzz which we managed to achieve as well…”
“… my philosophy was not to promote what we did verbally. I always believed proof was in the pudding and had a vision of us getting to the top of the scene for what we did for talent and not blag and never to sell out, as we were underground and passionate about that side of the scene. I always said that if our music did break through commercially, it would have been down to being good at what we did, without any target towards commercial adventure. I felt the music had to come from the soul and be something that you feel for it to succeed. What we were doing was also a rebellion against the commercial scene that was awful in the early nineties. Other than a few quality indie bands, there was a lot of tacky pop music going on and what we were doing was a progressive way of creating new and fresh styles in unexplored territory for music … “
“… so I guess we just about managed to achieve most of the goals we had set; with plays on Radio 1 and recognition from House DJ’s such as Paul Oakenfold and Pete Tong; with them being in a different genre, showed we were opening doors to a wider audience. The philosophy was that if you are doing the right thing, people will come to you; you then know you are winning your quest and doing things right. When I look back at it now, I guess we did hit many goals and achieved a lot of good things, but obviously at the time I felt there was more ground to cover and would have liked to have DJ’ed out as well, which I felt would have raised the profile for us and provided income into the band as we never earned a lot from our early stuff it always went back in to run the record label, buy equipment pay the rent on the studio petrol and general expenses of running an underground band…”
An extensive discography and all things Essence Of Aura can be found following the links below:
If you have ever wondered whatever happened also to Hidden Agenda, Creative Wax, Partisan Recordings, Endemic Void, Voyager, Foul Play, Precious Material and Mouly & Lucida, visit the blog’s archive following the link below: