“… 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 …”
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.
Their paths crossed in the early 90s, when drum & bass was still in an embryonic state. A series of fortunate events brought them together under the same creative roof, the iconic Moving Shadow Records and the rest has been written with indelible ink on the drum & bass history book. With impressive back catalogues, which include a plethora of classics, both Haigh and O’Keeffe, have contributed to the design of the modern drum & bass blueprint and are rightfully regarded among the genre’s pioneers. Let’s take a trip down memory lane …
Robert Haigh’s rich musical heritage traces back to his school days, when he joined a local band called Labyrinth as a guitar player and songwriter, influenced by the glam rock luminaries David Bowie and Roxy Music. In the late 70’s he formed the Truth Club with Trevor Reidy, Deborah Harding and Trefor Goronwy; a post-punk, experimental and unconventional outfit. Although they released only one single on their own platform Le Rey Records, as the band’s aspiration were mainly live performances, they achieved appearances on bills headlined by established bands like Cabaret Voltaire and The Associates. The bassist Trefor Goronwy left the group shortly after and the Truth Club changed their name to Fote.
A couple of years later Fote disbanded and Haigh created his electro-acoustic solo project Sema; a homage to the eponymous union associated with the expressionist artist Paul Klee. Having the artistic freedom to experiment with sound collages and new composition approaches, as he had no intention to play live, the recording studio was an integral part of the creative process, as opposed to merely a conventional set up. During the 80’s he also contributed work for Steve Stapleton’s Nurse With Wound avant-garde project, whereas for his piano improvisations and classical recordings he used his real name Robert Haigh.
In 1988, life circumstances dictated a move outside London. The daily commuting soon became unbearable, as Haigh worked at the Virgin Records branch (Oxford Street, London) at the time, and in the summer of ‘89 Haigh made the pivotal decision to open his own record shop on Parliament Sq. in Hertford. Aptly named Parliament Music, the shop soon became the focal point in the wider area to find all sorts of rare house imports, techno, bleep and white labels of the emerging hardcore scene. Robert became immersed with this new innovative music, as he discovered a direct connection with his post-punk background.
A regular customer turned out to be the catalyst to a series of life-changing events. That customer was Paul Rhodes, who struck an instant friendship with Robert Haigh; before long, Paul was working at the shop. Parliament Music started to stock more and more vinyl, creating a steady stream of followers and the next step seemed to be the natural progression; writing their own music and sell it at the shop.
Robert Haigh reflects on the conception of Omni Trio:
“The next piece in the jigsaw fell in to place when a customer (Paul) told me about a track he’d made on his computer. I was impressed and I offered to put it out – and started a label on the strength of it. I was also intrigued as to how he’d done it. It was all done on a £250 Amiga computer with freeware tracker software. I found this inspiring. It really appealed to my post-punk D.I.Y ethos. I immediately got an Amiga and started to fuse my existing ideas with the new possibilities of sequencing and sampling. Omni Trio grew out of this experimentation.”
A little unknown fact is that Haigh had originally sent a cassette tape demo of his tracks to Warp Records, but (luckily for drum & bass) he never heard anything back from them.
Around that time, Robert made a connection with Sean, who used to frequent Parliament Music alongside friend Simon Colebrooke. Sean and Simon knew each other from the early BMX and skate scene. They had met briefly at skate parks around Hertford, but it wasn’t until Simon listened to Sean dj at a small club called “Stags” in Hertford, that galvanized their friendship and common interest in music. From that point on, they started to explore the early rave scene. It was around that time that they had heard of a man, who lived in a village near Hertford and was making music in a bedroom studio. That man was Rob Playford, who would soon be the founder of the legendary Moving Shadow Records and a leading figure in the drum & bass scene. Through Rob’s girlfriend, Sean and Simon met with Rob, but it wasn’t until the first Moving Shadow release (by Earth Leakage Trip) was in place, that they convinced Rob to let them into the studio, which had already moved to Stevenage.
The first sessions were a bit chaotic, however soon ideas and suggestions started to evolve and with Rob’s engineering astuteness, material and arrangements were ready for the first two tracks. A random record from Simon’s bag, an audible story for kids, provided the missing piece; 2 Bad Mice (as in ‘The Tale of Two Bad Mice’ which featured on the album) was instantly adopted as the group name, the famous vocal was integrated to the track, Sean designed the collage-style cover and one of the most successful UK hardcore acts was born! The trio released also two EPs under the moniker Kaotic Chemistry; the name being an implicit reference to the “recreational” drug side of the early rave scene.
The Moving Shadow days (1991-2002)
As Playford was getting busy with the managerial aspects of running a label, Sean’s and Simon’s roles would develop to A&R Director and Creative Director respectively. Caroline Butler came on board as label manager, Paul Rhodes and Gavin Newman also joined the management team and the label relocated from Stevenage to the renowned “Trident Studios” old premises, off Wardour Street in Soho, London. Moving Shadow was starting to grow rapidly, signing a constellation of exciting artists (Blame, Foul Play, Hyper-On-Experience, Mixrace and of course Omni Trio among many others) and embarked on an ambitious crusade for world domination.
Although Sean O’Keeffe produced only a few singles and remixes as Deep Blue for Moving Shadow and its sub-labels, his first solo work has been one of the most influential jungle/drum & bass tracks, the seminal The Helicopter Tune. In the summer of ’97, Sean and the rest of the managerial staff, apart from Rob Playford, resigned from their posts and founded Partisan Recordings that same year under One Little Indian Records’ wing. If you have ever wondered whatever happened to Partisan Recordings (label history, discography highlights, quotes and artist profiles) visit the blog’s archive here. After Partisan ceased operations in 1999, Deep Blue recorded two singles (for Doc Scott’s 31 Records and the New York-based label Offshore Recordings).
Omni Trio enjoyed a glistering, prolific and acclaimed recording career with Moving Shadow, especially throughout the 90s. With five personal albums, dozens of stellar singles, EPs and remixes, including an endless list of drum & bass anthems like Renegade Snares, he garnered universal recognition and praise from his peers and fans alike, despite keeping a low, often mysterious profile.
The Black Rain project
Fast forward to 2002, the first official collaborative work (remixes aside) between Omni Trio and Deep Blue, a track entitled Station To Station, was released by Good Looking Records on the promotional compilation “Studio-X” with studio exclusives. A year later, Station To Station was also released as a single (with Greenfly’s Blue Corvette on the flipside, GLR061). That was the prelude to the creation of the Black Rain project. The duo launched Scale Records, a short-lived platform to accommodate for new album-centered material, free from conventions and musical constraints. Drawing from a wide palette of sounds and influences, the first release was the brilliant album “All Tomorrow’s Food”; an amalgamation of advanced studio techniques and ideas, showcasing their artistic maturity and versatility, wavering effortlessly bliss and sorrow, a conscious endeavour to apply a new perspective in terms of musical production.
Taken from the aforementioned album, the track I wish I’d written and my personal album highlight is Another Silent World. In the sleeve notes, Robert Haigh is credited with exclusive mixing and arrangement at the Mainline Studios for the particular track. Another Silent World is a trademark Omni Trio piece, emotionally draining, with ethereal ambient textures, a minimal drum loop, desolate, even mournful piano notes, underpinned by a distinct, masterfully programmed bass-line, oscillating between the robust and the fragile; a streamlined, almost cinematic take in a drum & bass context.
A previously unreleased version of Another Silent World (side-titled ‘Director’s Cut’) almost identical to the original, emerged out of the blue in 2012 (unclear if it is a demo version or a re-work) in a digital album. The compilation, licensed by Moving Shadow, contains rare and unreleased Omni Trio works, under the title “Cut Out Shapes”. That seems to be Moving Shadow’s and Omni Trio’s swan song.
The day after and recent events
After Black Rain, Haigh released his 6th personal album “Rogue Satellite” under his Omni Trio alias. The following year, O’ Keeffe produced his inaugural Deep Blue album “Metropolitain Chic”. Defying genre restrictions and audience expectations, steering away from the traditional drum & bass template, both albums showcase a more minimal and experimental outlook, compared to their previous works.
After the wave of noir, that swept the scene in the late 90s, drum & bass was already following a different trajectory at the turn of the new millennium. A new breed of exciting artists and record labels emerged into the scene and productions became more dance-floor oriented, sometimes at the expense of innovation and experimentation; a period described by Omni Trio as claustrophobic. As a result, both artists moved to fresh pastures.
Sean O’ Keeffe’s long-term dalliance with house music, culminated in a string of singles and remixes for labels such as Freerange and Modern Urban Jazz (MJAZZ) among others. Alongside Simon Colebrooke and Paul Rhodes he created the second incarnation of 2 Bad Mice, djing and touring the world with remarkable success. For everything regarding 2 Bad Mice (news, history, gallery, discography and bookings) visit their official website.
After a short sabbatical, Haigh returned to his musical roots and in fact to what he does best; writing sonic narratives in album contexts. Prolific as ever, Robert Haigh revisited his classical alter-ego. Since 2007, he has recorded 7 exquisite albums (on Seal Pool, Crouton, Primary Numbers and 4 for the avant-garde Japanese record label Siren). With free-form structures, piano improvisations characterized by a melodramatic timbre, Haigh unveiled his modern, emotional take on classical and ambient music.
In 2015, Robert Haigh made an unexpected cameo return to drum & bass. Alongside old friend and Parliament Music recording partner Simon McCutchen, they contributed the track Open Your Mind using The Dicemen moniker for the first part of the “Outer Reaches EP” released by Omni Music; a nod to the Omni Trio days. The track was a sampler for the album “Pharaoh’s Lounge“, a nouveau jazz, funk and breaks fusion, released by Omni Music a few months later.
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’d written, as the head title suggests.
Credits and further reading
Visit the blog’s archive for the previous installments of the “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series here.
For a colourful account by Simon and Paul on 2 Bad Mice and the early Moving Shadow days click here.
For a rare, career-spanning Robert Haigh interview for Red Bull Music Academy click here.
For another post-Omni Trio Robert Haigh interview for Headphone Commute click here.
If you have ever wondered whatever happened to Partisan Recordings (label history, discography highlights, quotes and artist profiles) visit the blog’s archive here.