Home » Inside The Album » Savage Times: Inside Modern Urban Jazz

Savage Times: Inside Modern Urban Jazz

“… when I refer to the music now as d&b, I never really considered it much then. I know that may sound strange, but I think we always operated as outsiders; I personally always felt on the outside looking in, which is why our Glider-State track was called so…”

“… I hadn’t done anything on Modern Urban Jazz since the ‘Emotions With Intellect’ LP, so to keep the ethos going, we decided that this would be an ideal collaboration by using the Modern Urban Jazz tag on the Creative Wax label. I don’t think either of our labels had been ones to follow trends and certainly at the time we were ripe for a more experimental sound…” 

Modern Urban Jazz

Modern Urban Jazz front cover (CWLP001, 1997)

Modern Urban Jazz 01 is a seminal compilation album, curated by Tony Justice Bowes and published by Creative Wax. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the official release, this is a retrospective account of the series of events that culminated in the realization of a brilliant project, which transcends genres and time. Titled after Justice’s eponymous record label, the compilation shares similar aesthetics and musical direction. An amalgamation of sounds with allusions to musique concrete; jazz noir, hip hop, funk, techno and electro instilled into drum & bass, with all contributing artists showcasing their musical backgrounds and creative influences, free of formulas, dancefloor reaction and genre constraints. Walking down a long, nostalgic and captivating trip down memory lane, this is a colourful and emotionally charged narrative, through the protagonists’ looking glass, filled with fond and distant memories that capture vividly the atmosphere of the mid-90s drum & bass scene.

By the time of the album’s release, drum & bass had already garnered media attention and exposure, which in turn lured the major record labels. Counter-intuitively, the scene retreated back to introversion, inaccessibility and darkness. Many artists struggled to find their place in the new bleak reality; marking the end of the romance and the beginning of ‘savage times’. The feature is supplemented with a track by track presentation, artist profiles, anecdotes, history flashbacks and sleeve notes. Instead of an epilogue, the feature concludes with a recount of the day after and that elusive Modern Urban Jazz sequel …

History and background notes:

Justice reflects on the conception and vision of the project:

“ … to simplify the background to this LP is quite straight-forward really. I had met DJ Pulse, Creative Wax head honcho, two, maybe three years earlier, at a Moving Shadow photo-shoot. We got talking and became good friends and collaborators from that point going forward. I had just remixed The Underwolves [‘The Crossing pt.2 (Words)’] for Creative Wax and there was talk about doing a single or something. I was always one for a project, as was Pulse, so we started throwing ideas around. At the same time I had recorded ‘Savage Times’ and ‘Tension’ for a 12”. I was down at Vinyl Distribution in Reading one evening and Pulse had come down also. I said to him I had a couple bits I had been working on in the car on a tape. I had probably brought them to play to Phil (Phil Wells of Basement Records), I can’t remember, but I played them to Pulse in the car and he really liked them, especially ‘Savage Times’. The tracks were an extension of what I had been doing with tracks like ‘Aquisse’, but with a definite tougher, darker edge on ‘Tension’ and more Detroit techno on ‘Savage Times’.  So, we definitely decided on a 12” there and then, but wanted to tie it into something bigger, a project. I hadn’t done anything on Modern Urban Jazz since the Icons LP, so to keep the ethos going we decided that this would be an ideal collaboration by using the Modern Urban Jazz tag on the Creative Wax label. I don’t think either of our labels had been ones to follow trends and certainly at the time we were ripe for a more experimental sound. So, we set up gathering together tracks and artists. To be fair this was quite easy, as we concentrated on a very small tight circle of artists and collaborators. The first guy I turned to was Danny Endemic Void …”

Artist Profiles, Track List & Sleeve Notes:

The feature’s head title obviously refers to the eponymous Justice track, which was released prior to the album as a sampler; a limited vinyl edition included the 12” as a bonus. The double vinyl (2×12”) version features 8 tracks by Krash, Louis Coultrane, Tertius, Machine, Seeka and Steel. All tracks are studio exclusives, apart from ‘Off The Kuff’, which was released the next year (b/w a Spirit remix) as the last Creative Wax 12” (CW121), before the label became dormant. The digital (CD) version includes all 10 tracks.

Tony: “The track list was always going to be a diverse affair, as all the artists were influenced by a wide range of different music. Dan and myself would sit around searching through Throbbing Gristle and Pierre Henry LP’s for samples, as we always wanted to push boundaries, which was what it was all about, for all of us”.

Sleeve Notes

Track List & Sleeve Notes

Bonus 12”: Justice – ‘Savage Times’ b/w ‘Tension’ (CW117)

Photography and packaging by Thought

Discogs listing

Youtube playlist

Bandcamp

  • Krash (Tony Bowes aka Justice & Dan Coffey aka Tertius, Endemic Void)

Krash was a side-project to cater for experimentation and creative freedom, beyond the confines of drum & bass. After the LP, the duo met with a guy called Sirwan, who was doing A&R for Carl Cox’s Ultimatum Breaks and recorded two EPs for them, one d&b and one more alternative breaks/house/electro. Under their solo guises, Justice & Tertius recorded the Essential 4 Life EP on Echo Drop and the single that concluded the first period of Justice’s label (‘Chain’/’Asulym Seekers’, MJAZZ5). Their musical paths crossed again almost a decade later for MJAZZ (the re-branded incarnation of the Modern Urban Jazz label) with the Ghetto For The Minute EP. As of 2017, there are talks about entering the studio again soon …

Tony: “The first guy I turned to was Danny Endemic Void. We had met the year before in Paris; I was djing and Dan was doing some press stuff for his ‘Equations’ LP. We established that we lived in the same area back home, so we started writing some tracks on our return to the UK. I can’t remember clearly, but I think the tracks we wrote on here, under the Krash moniker, were some of the first ones we did. ‘Motoworld’ is still a particular favourite and I can remember clearly doing that one. I remember we were recording ourselves doing mad vocal bits and putting it through effects and just enjoying being creative in the studio. We also recorded ‘Never Again’, which was the closing track to the LP. It was a much slower breakbeat take and at the time we had a French journalist over, who was at the studio interviewing us, so we got him to do some name checks of the artists over the track. The Krash project allowed us to push things further and allowed us to carry on recording and effecting vocals, as well creating our own sounds and percussion out of inanimate objects and things that were lying in or around the studio”.

Dan: “Writing the Krash material was without doubt the best laugh I’ve had in the studio. The music pretty much wrote itself and we experimented a lot with this project; we ‘miked up’ and recorded Tony playing some industrial steel step ladders with cardboard tubes. We also experimented with twisting up our own vocals with lyrics inspired by the sleepy Hertfordshire town my studio was in at the time”.

Side A

A1: Krash – Motoworld

 

“Metallic percussion, twisted vocal snippets and staccato jazz moments overlay an eerie cinematic sound track of machines and mechanical devices; this is ‘Motoworld’, a collision course of two sinister psyches, Krash, exploring dark jazzy shit. This is the storm …”

 

 

Side D

D2: Krash – Never Again

 

Krash provides the cool old-skool hip hop influenced roll of honour, which is the end of part one”

 

 

 

  • Louis Coultrane (Louis Smith aka Momentum)

Louis Coultrane is the recording alias of Louis Smith, exclusively for the Modern Urban Jazz compilation. His first foray into producing has been as member of the production outfit Sy-uss & Reality for Justices’ former offshoot Flavour Tracks (one of Bukem’s favourite small labels, ‘Mind Adventures’ being often included in his sets at the time. The engineer for Flavour Tracks, as well as for earlier Justice releases like the Icons LP or ‘Aquisse’, had been Simon Donohue, better known as Odyssey of the Good Looking fame). Louis has been a long-term co-producer and engineer for Justice, on a variety of projects, most notably for Offshore and MJAZZ (Constructed Works).

Tony: “Louis had recorded for me many years prior to this release on one of my former labels, Flavour Tracks in the duo Syuss & Reality with the release being ‘Tribal Instinct’. Louis (Reality) had continued to produce and wanted to do something on his own. So when he presented ‘Placid Frequency’ it just seemed to fit so well. He was definitely on the same page as the rest of us and all he needed was a fresh name to go with it. So we played around with a few things and eventually teamed a misspelling of Jazz legend John’s surname with Louis’ first name and, hey presto!”

Side A

A2: Louis Coultrane – Placid Frequency

 

“This (‘Motoworld’) is the storm and to follow is calm technoid b-boy soundscape ‘Placid Frequency’, brought to you by the next generation Louis Coultrane, for futuristic reference”

 

 

 

  • Tertius (Dan Coffey)

Tertius is Endemic Void’s alter-ego. Endemic Void began as a side-project deviating from the rigid demands of breakbeat/hardcore and ragga jungle, although the project’s popularity quickly transformed it to full-time status. In 1996 Endemic Void released his debut LP Equations to critical acclaim. The album earned instant praise as some of the most characteristic blends of jazzy drum and bass, yet retaining a hard, innovative edge. For Tertius’ discography highlights and full artist profile visit the archive section of the feature.

Tony: “Dan obviously took care of the Tertius track on the LP which is the sublime breakbeat workout ‘Breath Of Life’ …”

Dan: “The Tertius track ‘Breath Of Life’ was inspired by the recovery of my nephew who narrowly escaped drowning in a car accident. Ha, he doesn’t actually know that …”

Side B

B2: Tertius – Breath Of Life

 

“Handing over to Tertius who slows down the proceedings with a slice of groovy bleep induced pure funk, which is ‘Breath Of Life’ …”

 

 

 

  • Machine (Dan Coffey aka Tertius, Endemic Void & Oliver Lomax aka Shogun, Artemis)

Machine has been an exhilarating project, but regrettably short-lived. Under his Shogun guise, Lomax already had a string of brilliant releases for TOV, Renegade and R&S. After signing with Bukem’s Good Looking Records (GLR), Lomax adopted his Artemis moniker, which became synonymous with GLR’s deep, atmospheric drum & bass sound, also taking over engineering duties for various GLR artists. The precursor to the Machine project has been Shogun’s beautiful re-interpretation of Endemic Void’s ‘Hydrosphere’, the opening track to the Equations LP.

Dan: “The ‘Machine’ project with Oli Lomax again was an effortless experience. We had a real flow in the studio and it was a shame it came to an end after these 2 tracks. Unfortunately, I lost contact with Oli. He is a true master of his craft and made some absolute masterpieces in my opinion over the years. He was a pretty accomplished brass player, so hopefully he’s still making music.”

Sleeve Note: On the back sleeve production credits, Oliver Lomax is referred to as S. Gunn (a nod to his Shogun alias).

Side B

B1: Machine – Blowfish

 

Machine turn up and construct an organic jazz funk symphony which sends shards of sound to orbit the warm distant planet of ‘Blowfish’ …”

 

 

 

Side C

C2: Machine – Off The Kuff

 

Machine re-appear for an ‘Off The Kuff’ performance of freestyle jazz dynamics, driven by a tight bass already proving to be one for the good lookers”

 

 

 

  • Seeka (Alex Blyth)

Justice is credited with the discovery of the unsung, but incredible talents of Seeka; the electronic reverie ‘Momento’ being probably my personal highlight of the LP. Blyth’s discography debut, as ½ of the production outfit Protaflight, had been released by the obscure Basement offshoot Test Press Records. Although Seeka’s releases have been only a handful (for Modern Urban Jazz, Terry Wilson’s Funk 21 and Nu Directions), each one is outstanding.

Tony: “Seeka I had discovered early in the year in a studio I was using at the time in London called ‘New Age’. I had arrived early for my slot one evening and found a young guy producing some of the most interesting d&b I had heard for a while. I subsequently released two of these tracks as a 12”, MJAZZ 004, ‘Divers’ and ‘Wasteland’ and still had a track left on the DAT which was ‘Momento’, so it was an easy choice to include it, as along with all his productions it was some of the most challenging and different d&b around that time. Just as a side note, when I refer to the music now as d&b, I never really considered it much then. I know that may sound strange, but I think we always operated as outsiders, I personally always felt on the outside looking in, which is why the Glider-State track was called so. It was always much more about the vibe of the track and its sound, texture and how they fitted together or sounded alongside one another. Seeka’s stuff was just that, I never heard it and thought that’s a stunning d&b track, I always just thought that’s a great sounding track that fits in with the ethos of what we were doing or are about”.

Side D

D1: Seeka – Momento

 

Seeka casts his mind back, a memory that is a soundscape created by melodic strings and electro funk beats”

 

 

 

  • Steel (Tony Bowes)

Steel has been another of Tony Bowes’ many recording guises. Originally conceived as an alias for an album project for Hydrogen Dukebox, Steel appeared (alongside Selim) on the flip-side of Terry Wilson’s Funk 21 inaugural release. Justice’s artist profile, as well as a top-ten countdown of his prolific discography is available in the archive section of the feature.

Tony: “Steel was another one of my guises, I had originally started to write a Steel LP for Hydrogen Dukebox when we had initially started talking about doing something, but I quickly realized that it was really a Justice LP I should be doing, which is what happened (‘Viewpoints’, 1998).  I started to write some Steel tracks one of which was ‘Cortez’. It was a shift towards a bit harder, colder maybe, in the same way ‘Tension’ was, there is definitely a synergy between those two tracks”.

Side C

C1: Steel – Cortez

 

“Dark clouds suddenly close in on a barren grey landscape. A heavy but minimal electro influence explodes with a sub bass worthy of the Underground Resistance rattling along in a live mixdown situation with Steel on the controls creating the sound name after the Nike sneaker ‘Cortez’, classic retro, but looking forward”

 

A time for every purpose

Tony: “The LP dropped and was well received and critically acclaimed, the ‘Savage Times’ 12” came out as a precursor and certain editions of the LP contained it as a bonus. It was a time when there was a lot going on and I guess that was one of the main reasons that I did the project on Creative Wax (CW), as the workload of running a label and being artist are not always creatively compatible. And it’s true to say this is probably why MUJ took a rest, I was happy being an artist and creating the whole label thing takes up time and energy and I just wanted to concentrate on the craft. Myself and Dan did kind of wrap things up nicely though and it seems fitting that we did with ‘Chains/Asylum Seekers’, where Dan donned his Tertius hat this time. We also dropped on Echo Drop with ‘Essential 4 Life’ around the same time too.

I went on to do one last 12” for CW which was ‘Airsign/ Lounge Lizard’. ‘Airsign’ was initially one of the tracks I was recording for my debut LP (‘Viewpoints’) that I was also right in the middle of recording, but again Pulse was really into it so we teamed it up with ‘Lounge Lizard’ and put it out. I did however go into the studio with Pulse and we did a version for the LP, which we entitled ‘More Air’. CW did another 12” and then the ‘Reviews’ LP which pretty much rounded up the CW output. I think Pulse had his whole LP thing going on and the scene was changing and there were shifts going on behind the scenes with distribution, that it was probably always going to be inevitable that CW would take a break. It had been a long haul from ‘93 and there had been a lot of prolific CW releases, it was probably the perfect time for a break.”

The day after and fast forward to the present

In the late 90’s and into and beyond the new millennia, Justice took a much more experimental aspect to his productions with singles and LP’s (Viewpoints, The Greatest Hit, Hears To The Future and Modern Retro) for a plethora of labels including Recordings of Substance, Hydrogen Dukebox, Partisan, Echo Drop, Offshore, Nu Directions and more.

In 2006, celebrating a decade since the release of his stellar anthem ‘Aquisse’, Justice re-launched and re-branded MJAZZ, with the same forward-thinking approach and contemporary aesthetics. That MUJ 01 elusive sequel came in the form of The Modernists compilation series. The first (of 4 volumes in total) was published in 2009.  Featuring an eclectic selection, across a wide palette of electronic bass music, from techno to deep drum and bass, with clear electro, house and hip-hop influences, the series encapsulated the Modern Urban Jazz vision and ethos. In 2014, Justice created Muj, the home of bespoke, unique and limited hip hop, breaks, beats, tapes, LP’s and 45’s.

As most things in life, Creative Wax completed its natural course around 1998, with DJ Pulse focusing on his sophomore album, which regrettably never saw the light of day. In 2002, Creative Wax repressed the Creative Wax Classics series, featuring 3 volumes with classics from the label’s back catalogue. In 2009 several other tracks of the catalogue were released in digital file format.

In 2013 Creative Wax re-launched in style with a remix edition of Tango’s classic ‘Understanding/Spellbound’, previously unreleased tracks from Pulse, The Underwolves & Wax Doctor, the much anticipated return of Alex Reece with the Electroflyz series, as well as new music by Furney, Madcap, Mindmapper & Silvahfonk.

Related posts from the archive:

Whatever happened to … Creative Wax?

Whatever happened to … Endemic Void?

Whatever happened to … Partisan Recordings?

Count To Ten: Justice

MJAZZ presents The Modernists

 

for Modern Urban Jazz, Autumn 2017

comments by Tony Bowes and Dan Coffey

 

 

 

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