“… At Basement Records we also wanted the artists to sample as little as possible, to create pioneering and original material, hence the label title ‘Precious Material’. Some of the releases are produced in the studio and some are recorded live performances…”- Phil Wells reflects on the label’s ethos and purpose
After a long hiatus, the blog’s “Whatever happened to …?” series return with the 9th installment. This time into the limelight is Precious Material; one of the most exhilarating and pioneering drum & bass labels of the mid-90s. Though short-lived, Precious Material has been one of the finest outlets of experimental drum and bass, integrating elements from various musical genres into the drum & bass template, defying stereotypes, constraints and agendas.
Established by Phil Wells in 1994 as a Basement Records’ subsidiary, during a time when drum & bass was still in its infancy, the main driver had been to foster a creative environment for established, as well as up-and-coming artists, free from dance-floor reactions and limitations. Following the huge success of the parent label Basement Records during the early rave years and the jungle/drum & bass evolution, Phil’s aspiration and incentive had always been to spearhead a new musical direction and introduce drum & bass to wider audiences.
“… with desolate, even mournful piano notes, oscillating effortlessly between the robust and the fragile, ‘Another Silent World’ is a streamlined, almost cinematic take in a drum & bass context …”
Black Rain (album front cover)
The fifth installment of the blog’s “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series is about an obscure track, produced in 2003 by one of my all-time favourite musicians/artists. At first glance, Black Rain might not ring any bells, as it was a cross-genre, one-off musical project, which was active in the first half of the new millennium, but regrettably stayed under the radar. Nonetheless, the members of Black Rain have been two of the most respected and celebrated drum & bass artists; Robert Haigh and Sean O’Keeffe, widely known by their primary recording aliases Omni Trio and Deep Blue respectively.
“We’re suddenly in a period when it’s de rigueur to buy records” – Alan Scholefield, Honest Jon’s Records, London
“… but those clerks are still there, still sneering at your bad choices, offering you an understated but supportive raise of the eyebrow for your good ones.” – Nick Hornby, writer
“There was always interesting music playing, but I was too timid to actually buy a record, you know, in case I bought the wrong record” – Damon Albarn, musician, singer-songwriter
Chapter 2: Record Stores
At different times in my life, I have daydreamt about owning a record store. These days however, running one seems like a first class ticket to financial disaster. Apart from the obvious incentives, including satisfaction of my vanity and intimidation of unsuspected customers (Jack Black’s portrayal of an erratic assistant in “High Fidelity” has brilliantly set the bar too high), I have very fond childhood memories from my casual visits with my dad to the local record stores in the late 80s. I still remember a particular owner slipping mix-tapes in the bag for my school parties (an early form of piracy I guess, but this is for another chapter). I was exposed at a very young age to various musical genres, which I regrettably snubbed or simply ignored, due to immaturity and stubbornness. Very late at the party, but after a long time I gradually started to appreciate and embrace various genres and styles.
“I lost the plot for a while then. And I lost the subplot, the script, the soundtrack, the intermission, my popcorn, the credits and the exit sign” – excerpt from ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby
Chapter 1: Intro
This is the first of a multi-part thematic series about obsessions, music and obsession with music. Based on my own experiences, I will attempt to explore and rationalize the profound impact of music on our habits, daily routine and life in general. With music being the focal point, each part of the series will be focusing on a different aspect; all-day long visits to record stores, endless queues outside clubs, late night radio listening with the record button on, mixtapes, the digital era emergence and the inevitable changes to the way we perceive, consume and enjoy music.
The series title is a paraphrase of an excerpt from the book High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, featuring also in the eponymous film adaptation a few years later (replace obsession with misery for the original quote). Although the essence of the question is totally different in the book and I am pretty certain Hornby didn’t have electronic music in mind, it has prompted a psychological dilemma that has been bothering me for years. What came first, the music or the obsession? Did I listen to electronic music (and drum & bass in particular) because I was obsessive? Or did I become obsessive because I listened to electronic music? Continue reading
“I don’t feel I was trying to be anyone else, I was drawing from my influences when I was younger, a bit of reggae, hip-hop … It was coming straight from the heart and I think that’s important” – Digital on his first production steps calling for individuality – Red Bull Music Academy, Rome, 2004
The next international guest of the blog’s “Jump the Q” series is Digital; one of the most prolific, influential, consistent and widely respected drum & bass artists. Two decades after his inaugural solo release, with an enviable and extensive back catalogue under his belt, as well as a plethora of classics for the genre’s most prestigious record labels, Digital celebrates the 20 years milestone of his recording career with the re-launch of his own imprint Function Records.
“A passion for music that gradually escalated over time into a controlled obsession”
It has been three years since this blog went online, although its conception goes further back, so I eventually decided it’s about time I shared some thoughts about how it all started, as well as provide a retrospective account of the events that influenced the blog’s thematic basis. At the end of the feature, there is a quick walk-through the blog’s various categories/series and a brief background story behind each one of them.
“I’m not a big believer in magic. But this place is different. It’s special. The others don’t want to talk about it because it scares them. But we all know it. We all feel it … But what if everything that happened here, happened for a reason? … That’s impossible … I looked into the eye of the island, and what I saw … was beautiful.”
Lost TV series, Season 1, Episode 5 “White Rabbit”, aired October 2004
Future Engineers – Eden
This is the fourth installment of the blog’s “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series. Every track that is presented here has been hand-picked from my personal record collection and has had a profound impact on my musical taste. Featuring a variety of tracks across the electronic music spectrum, emphasizing mainly on drum and bass, from undisputed classics to underrated gems, all are tracks I wish I had written, as the title of the series implies.
The fourth issue is about a modern classic by Future Engineers (Lee Batchelor & Keir Kleminson); the outfit that re-designed the atmospheric drum and bass blueprint in the second half of the 90s, borrowing from the immediacy of techno, without neglecting their trademark musicality. Continue reading