This is the first installment (an updated version in terms of content and structure) of the blog’s “Whatever happened to …?” article series, inspired by the eponymous Hidden Agenda album, released on the Swiss label Straight Ahead in 2000.
“They’re talented boys! Fusing old-skool jazz, with a touch of the Miles stylez. They deal with a genre which was previously missing from Metalheadz. Our Urban Break-beat representatives up north”. – Goldie on Hidden Agenda
“Metalheadz gives us the freedom to try out new things and to develop our music without the usual constraints alongside like-minded artists”. – Hidden Agenda
(Notes taken from the inner sleeve of the first Platinum Breakz volume, released in 1996)
Hidden Agenda is one of the most talented, pioneering drum and bass outfits, formed by Jason and Mark Goodings, based in the town of Gateshead, UK in the early 90s. Though unconventional, their tracks have garnered much praise and respect along the years. Their impeccable sample manipulation and clinical production skills, smoothly integrating seemingly conflicting feelings of dark ambience, tough but funky beats and soulful melodies, have established Hidden Agenda’s reputation as the most exciting fusioneers of jazz/funk in a drum and bass context. With clear jazz and rare groove influences, their production style, a bold nouveau-funk, characterized by free-form Cubase improvisations, constantly alternating tempos and distinctive bass-lines, collages micro-contradictions.
With love for music inherited from their father, who had been a drummer, Mark and Jason were encouraged to take up guitar and drums at an early age. After graduating from audio engineering courses, the brothers began to build their studio setup. Their first sampler, the vintage EMax, with its crisp high-end, but limited sampling time, was stretched to the limit. Always on a mission to seek out obscure samples for inspiration, their unique output, sharp, precise and efficient, is still recognizable today as the Hidden Agenda trademark sound.
The Goodings brothers have been members of the legendary OCP collective set up by Paddy Freeform in the early 90s; a group of artists and DJs who joined together to organize parties and promote the new music produced by the members of the collective. The catalyst, leading to the collective reaching beyond the local area, has been the record deals offered to Hidden Agenda and Elementz Of Noise by the iconic labels Metalheadz and S.O.U.R. respectively. With Mark’s studio wizardry and Jason on the decks, the pair ranged all over the British northern country.
Although Fabio has been credited for discovering Hidden Agenda, it was Goldie who first signed Hidden Agenda on his Metalheadz imprint; a glorious start for a prolific recording saga. Under the Metalheadz umbrella, Hidden Agenda graced the label’s back catalogue with many classics from 1995 until 2003. The duo’s special talents were instantly recognized by the drum and bass community; Hidden Agenda recorded also for Fabio’s Creative Source and 4 Hero’s legendary Reinforced a couple of years later.
In 1998, Marc relocated to Zurich, Switzerland to launch his own label Zest, shifting away from drum and bass, experimenting with broken beats and future jazz under the guise Max Fresh. Their long overdue first (and only) personal album, entitled “Whatever happened to …?”, saw the light of day in 2000 and was released on the Swiss label Straight Ahead.
Following up the Dispatches trilogy on Metalheadz, Hidden Agenda started their own label Dispatch Recordings as a platform to release a second album and their own solo material as NOS (Jason) and Max Fresh (Mark). Initially aided by Ant TC1 on managerial duties, due to life circumstances Jason had to step away and Ant TC1 was offered the management of Dispatch Recordings.
Two years later, in 2003, Hidden Agenda recorded their last single for Metalheadz and their discography “swan song” has been their contribution to a 4-track ep on Teebee’s Subtitles, celebrating the label’s 50 releases milestone in 2006.
To the time of writing, Hidden Agenda have released 1 full album, 12 singles & EPs and have been credited with more than 20 remixes until 2006, when apparently their last release as Hidden Agenda saw the light of day. Furthermore, their tracks have appeared in numerous mixes and compilations throughout the years.
The Hidden Agenda discography debut took place in 1995 with the 3-track Is It Love? EP (Is It Love? b/w On The Roof & The Flute Tune, MET009); the highlight being The Flute Tune. As the title implies the track is dominated by a beautiful flute riff and clipped, stuttering beats, transforming the basic jazz elements into detached melancholy. The Flute Tune featured in the first volume of the paradigm-shifting Platinum Breakz compilation, released the next year. An unreleased remix by Doc Scott surfaced in 2011 on a Metalheadz podcast with unreleased music, compiled by DJ Lee.
The next single on Metalheadz followed suit that same year: (Pressin’ On b/w Get Carter, METH017). Pressin’ On, starts with a bass-driven groove, but quickly transforms into a claustrophobic affair with a swift take on the “Apache” break over the vocodered hook “Pressin’ On”. It was selected for the second installment of the Platinum Breakz series. The flipside, Get Carter (named after Mike Hodges’ eponymous 1971 British crime drama, starring Michael Caine) is frequently overlooked, but is by no means inferior, with a superb breakdown in the middle; a trademark Hidden Agenda practice exercised in the majority of their tracks.
The third single of 1995 was Swing Time b/w The Wedge, METH020. Swing Time samples the desolated riff off the track Oh Honey by the British soul act Delegation over the mesmerising echoed male vocal “I have a vision … Let me take you back … Listen …“, using similar breaks with the Flute Tune. The Wedge, on the flipside, is dominated by silk jazzy snippets over two-step breaks.
Hidden Agenda were already establishing themselves as a prominent member of the Metalheadz roster. In 1996, the next release on Goldie’s label showcased their artistic versatility, embracing the kind of dark paranoia, introduced by Photek and Source Direct. Dispatches #1 & #2, METH025, a seminal release, with complex, precise programming and editing rather than looping beats, characterised by synth fx and blasts of howling metallic wind, has been one of the finest moments of the label. The track Dispatches #2 samples the short intro of Iggy Pop’s African Man and a Steve Reich guitar loop from his track Electric Counterpoint. The dialogue excerpts “It’s a hard world for little things” and “I come not with peace but with a sword” appear in the 1955 movie “Night of the Hunter”. The sleeve is designed by Jon Black and features snapshots taken from an airport.
Hidden Agenda have never failed to innovate, experiment and explore new musical paths and the following year they released another 3-track EP on Metalheadz (Channel b/w Channel Beyond & No Man’s Land, METH031). Perhaps overshadowed by the emergence of the wave of noir that was sweeping the scene at the time, the Channel EP has been ahead of the curve, uniquely combining elements of jazz, electro and steely synth washes, illustrating a defiant re-imagination of the drum and bass blueprint.
The last chapter of their Metalheadz history was written in 2003. Clearly influenced by the prevalent drum and bass trajectory of the new decade, Far Out b/w Stay, METH049 (written and produced by Jason) is a liquid funk affair, with extensive use of sparse theme vocals and a typical Hidden Agenda drums arrangement.
In the meantime, Hidden Agenda had contributed tracks exclusively (never released as singles) for the following Metalheadz compilations:
- Big Lamp and Dispatch #3 (side-titled No Guard) for the collectible Metalheadz Boxset, released in 1997.
- The Life (a downtempo track written by Jason under his solo recording alias NOS) and Kramberry Juice (written by Mark), both tracks credited as Hidden Agenda, for the third installment of the Platinum Breakz series, released in 2001.
- Relentless (written by Jason), credited as Hidden Agenda, for the MDZ.02 album , released in 2002.
Fabio, the man who has been credited with the discovery of Hidden Agenda, before they were introduced to public and critical acclaim, signed them in 1996, just a year after their discography debut, and the brothers generously returned the favour with two seminal releases.
Their first output on Fabio’s Creative Source, (Rogue Soul b/w The Slide, CRSE008) has been a follow-up of their first three Metalheadz releases; warm, smooth captivating melodies, showcasing Hidden Agenda’s endless toolbox, in full accordance with the less-streamlined side of the jazzy drum and bass spectrum Creative Source had been championing.
The highlight however, has been their second and last recording for Creative Source, the pivotal (The Sun b/w 12 Seconds, CRSE016, 1997). The Sun, with a glorious intro followed by cascading rhodes and synth keys over a haunting sub-bass, shifted away from the sharp, angular corners they had been with Dispatches, instantly qualifying as a classic.
1997 had been a prolific year for Hidden Agenda. They made a cameo appearance on 4 Hero’s legendary Reinforced Records for a joint-release with one-off producer Seven. Their track Fish Eggs (Hidden Agenda – Fish Eggs b/w Seven – Transmission, RIVET122, 1997) revisits the tech-step template, with an extensive use of attenuated handclaps and echoed vocal hooks.
Straight Ahead to the new millennium
The millennium started with Hidden Agenda releasing (Inside-Outski b/w Return, SAR016) on Straight Ahead, prefacing their long awaited album entitled “Whatever Happened To…?”, which was released later that year; the title implying a triumphant comeback. The album contains 9 tracks, including Vindication, Redress and Something Somewhere, which had featured in various compilations in the previous years, but had not been released as singles. Clearly up-to-date with the ever-changing and evolving landscape of urban music, the album is not drum and bass-oriented as one might have expected; in fact it is a mosaic of electro, jazz-swing influenced pieces emphasizing on sophisticated breaks improvisations. “Whatever Happened To…?” is a personal album, showcasing Hidden Agenda influences rather than a retrospective demonstration of their earlier works. Highlight of the album is perhaps Low Jazz Fidget, a jazz interlude as the title obviously states, remixed some years later by Fauna Flash of Compost Records.
In 2001, Hidden Agenda launched their own platform to accommodate for their new material under their solo recording aliases NOS (Jason) and Max Fresh (Mark) and perhaps with a vision to record a second album. Named after their trilogy on Metalheadz, Dispatch Recordings was born.
The first release of the label was (New Day b/w Quiet Days, DIS004, 2001), a sequel to the Dispatches saga, hence the Dispatch Recordings catalogue numbering starts with #4. The second and last Hidden Agenda release on Dispatch (Daylight b/w Shut Down, DIS010, 2003) came out two years later chronologically coinciding with their last release on Metalheadz; Mark and Jason contributed one track each on both occasions. Jason in the meantime, has been responsible for the majority of the Dispatch releases until 2003, when life priorities changed and he had to step back, passing control to Ant TC1, who was engaged with managerial duties until then. Under Ant TC1’s management Dispatch turned out to become one of the leading labels of modern drum and bass, with more than 80 releases to the time of writing; a success that has earned him a prestigious post as the Metalheadz label manager.
The last drum and bass release as Hidden Agenda is apparently Episode, as a guest appearance for a 4-track EP, celebrating 50 releases on Teebee’s label Subtitles (SUBTITLES050PT2, 2006).
Compilations and Mixes
A plethora of their tracks has been included in various compilations, EPs and mixes throughout all these years; some already released as singles, some have been exclusives for the respective compilations. Hidden Agenda have contributed tracks to all three volumes of the critically acclaimed compilation series “Metalheadz presents Platinum Breakz”, as well as to many other box-sets, mixed and unmixed series released by renowned labels such as Metalheadz, Creative Source, Reinforced, FFRR, Ministry of Sound, Dispatch, Volume (Breakbeat Science series), Ninja Tunes, Compost, Combination, Experiment Collective Intelligence, Farside, Future Talk, Higher Ground, Trade 2, Beats Beyond, Irma, Clear, Grand Central, Novamute, Avex Trax (exclusively for the emerging Japanese market at the time) and Straight Ahead to mention a few.
Last but not least, Hidden Agenda have engaged into a series of remixing duties from 1997 onwards. They have provided remixes for a wide array of great artists of the electronic music scene: Amon Tobin, Spring Heel Jack, King Kooba, the Japanese duo Reflection, Funkanova, Minus 8, Lemon D, Clara Moreno, Total Science and Sequel among others.
From 2001 until 2003, when he apparently retired from producing drum and bass, Jason enjoyed a successful recording period under his NOS guise, with a string of releases on Dispatch Recordings, Defunked Recordings, Straight Ahead, Eastside, Cirquit and his brother’s Zest Records.
Mark after relocating to Zurich, had started his own label Zest; a side project exploring new venues in the realm of deep, tech-house and broken beats, under his Max Fresh alias. Zest after six releases seems defunct as of 2002. Mark’s non-drum and bass productions have featured in various compilations released by Slip ‘n’ Slide Blue, Diamond, Wagram Electronic and Loungin’.
A few days ago, the fourth installment of the genre-defining Platinum Breakz was released, thirteen years after the third one, marking 20 years since the label’s launch. Essential for every listener of contemporary drum and bass, Metalheadz has been always pushing the music frontiers further. Although drum and bass has progressed into different forms, I cannot help imagining a Hidden Agenda credit somewhere in the record sleeve; the act that helped with its vision to shape the early Metalheadz sound. How so much groove, feeling and funk could be coded into such a minimal and precise technique is still breathtaking. As of late 2016, Mark Goodings is no longer with us; the feature is dedicated to his memory …
Detailed and extensive discography of Hidden Agenda, NOS and Max Fresh can be found following the links below:
If you have ever wondered whatever happened also to Creative Wax, Partisan Recordings, Endemic Void, Voyager, Essence Of Aura, Foul Play, Mouly & Lucida and Precious Material visit the blog’s archive following the link below: