This is the first part of a mini-series focusing on cross-genre drum & bass remixes; from subtle re-interpretations to complete re-constructions. The burgeoning d&b popularity in the mid-90s attracted media attention and interest from independent, as well as major record labels, which commissioned d&b remixes for their artists across the music spectrum; from post-punk and progressive rock, to indie-pop and acid jazz. The syncopated, sample-based drum & bass template accommodated for experimentation and fostered an adventurous environment to introduce innovative production techniques and sonic landscapes.
In hindsight, efficient promotional, publishing, licensing and distribution models exposed UK drum & bass to the large emerging markets of Japan and USA and the genre has been effectively embraced by a wider audience. Many artists seized the opportunity to explore new musical paths. However, what started with bona fide artistic and creative intentions came with a price. In certain cases, it was no more than a sly scheme to cash in on the niche genre emerging from the underground. As a counter-measure, a few years later, the d&b scene retreated back to introversion, inaccessibility and darkness with many struggling to find their place in the new bleak reality (more on part 2).
The first part of the series spans the years 1995 and 1996. The selection is indicative and represents my personal taste and mood at the time of writing, as these lists are always subjective and open to debates. In an attempt to cover a variety of d&b artists, styles and labels in just 10 entries, bootlegs and unofficial releases exempted, inevitably some firm favourite entries (like 4 Hero, Omni Trio, Goldie, The Underwolves etc.) have been intentionally permuted in order to appear in the next parts of the series. Drawing a vague and dim line between the evident and the obscure, the presentation criteria have been the aesthetic and musical quality of the record, the nature of its production, the relationship to the original and obviously my personal attachment. Without much contemplation and in random order, 10 of my favourite cross-genre drum & bass remixes that were written and/or released in the biennial 1995-96 are presented below:
- The Shamen – Transamazonia (LTJ Bukem remix), One Little Indian, 1995
“The vine of the soul must be immortal”
The Shamen, a forward-thinking fusion of electronica, acid house and psychedelia, bridged the multi-dimensional possibilities of electronic music with remarkable chart success. One Little Indian’s label manager Derek Birkett, known for his long-term affinity for drum & bass, conceived the Nemeton project: d&b remixes of tracks taken from Shamen’s magnum opus ‘Axis Mutatis’. LTJ Bukem, Source Direct (under their Sounds Of Life moniker), Foul Play and Alpha Proxima (Tech Itch & Decoder) were commissioned to contribute their own drum & bass interpretations, on a limited edition run of 10” records, intended mainly for promotional dj use, featuring dub and vocal mixes. The highlight of the series has been definitely LTJ Bukem’s stunning take on ‘Transamazonia’. Bukem retained only snippets from Richard West’s and Victoria Wilson James’ guest vocals and applied a sublime touch of Good Looking aesthetics to the original with his trademark strings and glorious breakdown.
- Therapy? – Loose (Photek remix), A&M, 1995
“Your body is loose and you’re going down”
At the pinnacle of their popularity, world touring and commercial success, when they were even compared with grunge pioneers Nirvana, Therapy? enlisted David Holmes and photographer and video director Anton Corbijn attempting a more cinematic approach to their musical direction. ‘Loose’ was one of the lead singles of their fifth album ‘Infernal Love’.
Iconic d&b figure Photek delivered one of the finest remixes of his illustrious career. Manipulating the guitar theme into a desolate melody, over stuttering beats and a relentless amen break, Photek produced a masterpiece that transcends genres and styles, foreshadowing the dark paranoia of ‘Modus Operandi’. Absolutely magnificent!
- Ken Ishii – Stretch (Shogun remix), R&S, 1995
Japanese producer Ken Ishii debuted on R&S in 1993. Two years later, his acclaimed album ‘Jelly Tones’ was released on R&S and distributed worldwide by Sony Music; the standout tracks being the lead single ‘Extra’, which won MTV Europe’s “Dance Video of the Year” award for the brilliant animation and ‘Stretch’, which was remixed by Ian Pooley, Frank de Wulf and Shogun. Embarking on a prolific recording career, Ken Ishii went on to compose the musical theme of the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
Shogun, the recording alias of the charismatic d&b unsung hero Oliver Lomax, who had prior releases on Renegade Recordings, delivered an exquisite d&b rendition of the techno dancefloor belter ‘Stretch’. Completely re-constructing the original, with breathy ambience and shimmering pads, Shogun’s remix featured on Bukem’s famous ‘96 Essential Mix. After signing with Good Looking, Lomax emerged as Artemis and graced the label’s back catalogue with exemplary productions and engineering work.
- Tortoise – Galapagos Version 1 (Spring Heel Jack remix), Thrill Jockey, 1996
“Along the Banks of Rivers”
Tortoise the Chicago-based instrumental quintet has nodded to dub, rock, jazz, electronica and minimalism throughout its revered and influential discography and the resulting sounds have always been distinctly, even stubbornly, their own. Thrill Jockey commissioned a remix compilation for the album ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ with contributions from artists across the music spectrum including UNKLE, Luke Vibert and Spring Heel Jack.
Spring Heel Jack have been one of the most exciting d&b outfits of the mid-90s, focusing mainly on d&b LP concepts with an inclination towards dub and techno fusion. Having co-produced with Everything But The Girl one of drum & bass’ most emotional crossover tracks ‘Walking Wounded’, Spring Heel Jack delivered a brilliant bass-driven, jazz noir re-interpretation of the song ‘Along The Banks of Rivers’, aptly renamed for the remix as ‘Galapagos Version 1‘.
- Art Of Noise – Something Always Happens (Doc Scott remix), Indochina, 1996
“The Art of Noise is paranoid, The Art of Noise is weird”
Grammy award winners and electronic music luminaries Art Of Noise formed in the early 80s. They have revolutionized music with allusions to art and literature and their innovative use of electronics, basing their instrumental composition and sound collage on digital sampler technology, which was at its infancy at the time. The group during its first phase hid through a veil of mystery adopting a “faceless” image with minimal public appearances, thereby blurring the distinction between the artistic product and the creator. Although Art Of Noise had officially disbanded in the start of the 90s, Dudley and Jeczalik sanctioned the promotion of various remix compilations published by China Records, notably ‘The Ambient Collection’, ‘The Drum & Bass Collection’ and ‘Art Works’.
Beautiful d&b remixes of Art Of Noise classics comprise ‘The Drum & Bass Collection’, produced by some of the genre’s most talented artists, such as Doc Scott, PFM, Lemon D, J Majik, Dom & Roland, Seiji, Aquasky and ILS. Every remix is outstanding on its own right, but it’s Doc Scott who magically transformed the eccentricity and quirkiness of ‘Something Always Happens’ into an ambient drum & bass masterpiece. Doc Scott’s and J Majik’s remixes were released as a promotional album 12” sampler on China Records’ imprint Indochina. D&B Last Action Hero meets Avant-Garde Pop.
- St. Germain – Alabama Blues (Wax Doctor Mix), F Communications, 1996
“I’m gonna leave this town, nothing here that I can do”
Parisian producer St Germain has been one of the most recognizable purveyors of the “French House” movement, inspired by jazz and live instrumentation as opposed to vocal disco, which has been the prevalent influence of his peers. His debut album ‘Boulevard‘ and the single ‘Alabama Blues’ on Laurent Garnier’s F Communications cemented his reputation and forged the path for the worldwide recognition that came a few years later with the album ‘Tourist‘, published by the legendary label Blue Note.
Wax Doctor started djing in the late 80s, juggling part-time mixing and a promising football career (!), eventually made his discography debut on Basement Records in 1992. One of the originators of jungle techno, with clear Detroit influences instilled into his productions, alongside recording partner Alex Reece, Wax Doctor helped into shaping the early sound of Metalheadz, Precious Material and Creative Wax, before drifting towards the mellower and jazzier side of the spectrum for Talkin’ Loud and R&S. His rendition of ‘Alabama Blues’ captured the melancholy of the American South and translated it into a drum & bass context. His own words encapsulate the essence of his music: “I’ve played abroad and people try to dance to the actual breakbeat, but it’s the soul inside the breakbeat you have to go for. Some jungle tunes are slower than garage, and if you can’t hear it, I think you haven’t got any soul.”
- Saint Etienne – The Sea (PFM mix), Heavenly, 1996
“Down by the sea”
The eclectic and forward-thinking indie dance band Saint Etienne has always been receptive to electronic music, since the start of their career, combining sonic elements from decades past with digitally synthesized sounds, demonstrating a wide palette of music offerings, with an emphasis on writing songs involving romance and introspective themes. In 1996, Saint Etienne commissioned a remix compilation album titled ‘Casino Classics’. Acclaimed artists across the electronic music spectrum, including the likes of Aphex Twin, David Holmes, Andrew Weatherall, Underworld, Way Out West, Death In Vegas, Billy Nasty, Chemical Brothers, Lionrock and PFM contributed remixes to the project. ‘Casino Classics’ was released in both vinyl and digital format (an augmented multi-cd deluxe edition, with a different running order, was released in 2012) containing remixes that had already featured as b-sides on Saint Etienne’s previous singles, as well as remixes especially commissioned for the collection. One of the compilation highlights is the impeccable remix of ‘The Sea’ by PFM. The original track, titled ‘Down By The Sea’, had been previously unavailable in its original form and eventually featured a year later in Saint Etienne’s ‘Continental’ LP, exclusive to the Japanese market.
PFM, an artist synonymous with sophisticated atmospheric drum & bass, delivered a breathtaking remix. An exquisite showcase of quality synths and layered up hybrid textures, with masterfully programmed percussion, the track features one of the most spellbinding breakdowns, with sounds of sea waves breaking ashore. Sarah Cracknell’s ethereal voice concludes a drum and bass symphony. For PFM’s artist profile and the full background story of ‘The Sea’ visit the blog’s archive here.
- Count Basic – Speechless (Kruder & Dorfmeister remix), Spray/Regroovable Vinyl, 1996
“Fire-walk with me”
With their second album ‘Moving in the Right Direction’ the acid jazz outfit Count Basic made an international name for itself in the sector of sophisticated pop music with a jazzy touch. Right from Count Basic’s early days there was a friendly connection between founder Peter Legat and Austria’s own turntable and remix celebs Kruder & Dorfmeister. This resulted in more than seven remixes to be released on the Count Basic ‘Remix Hit Collection’ in July 1996, and made Count Basic the “most remixed” artist by K & D.
Peter Kruder twisted the haunting bass riff from Angelo Badalamenti’s ‘Twin Peaks Theme’, effectively rendering ‘Speechless’ one of their most recognizable remixes. The K&D drum & bass version of ‘Speechless’ featured also on the seminal compilation ‘K&D Sessions’ two years later.
- David Bowie – Telling Lies (Adam F remix), Arista, 1996
“Gorgeous girls are bound to meet, to talk of stars and kings and feet”
This one made the list in order to illustrate David Bowie’s long-term dalliance with drum & bass. Frequenting the Metalheadz Sessions at Blue Note, and citing Goldie’s ‘Timeless’ LP as an influence, Bowie experimented in various phases of his career with d&b structures. ‘Telling Lies‘ is the lead single of his ground-breaking ‘Earthling‘ album, a celebration of British music culture; a collision of electric guitars, synthesizers, sampled sounds and d&b loops engulfed in a bespoke McQueen Union Jack jacket.
Mark Plati, A Guy Called Gerald and Adam F were selected for remixing ‘Telling Lies’. Adam F opted for a streamlined version in the vein of ‘Circles’ rather than the bleak, dystopian corners of ‘Metropolis’; a mélange of jazz bass, filtered flutes and melodic synth washes. Bigger things were just around the corner, as Nick Halkes, the label manager of EMI’s dance division Positiva, signed Adam F’s debut album ‘Colours’, which earned Fenton a MOBO award.
- UB40 – Until My Dying Day (Icons remix), DEP International, 1996
“If you’re looking for a war”
By the first half of the 90s, UB40’s constant touring had taken its toll and the band was ready for a well-earned rest. During that period, several of the band’s members worked on their own musical projects. Earl Falconer, the group’s bassist, would follow his passion outside UB40, engaging into jungle/drum and bass production and promotion activities. In 1996 Falconer commissioned a limited edition series with drum and bass mixes of UB40 tracks. The likes of Grooverider, Deep Blue, Dj Ron, Blame & Justice, Swan-E and Ellis Dee, remixed UB40 early classics, as well as later singles.
‘Until My Dying Day’ was the UB40 song touted to be the theme for the latest Bond film at the time (GoldenEye, 1995. Tina Turner’s eponymous song was used as the film’s main theme eventually). Blame & Justice, under their Icons guise, gave a modern urban jazz feel to the mix, stripping the vocals and retaining Brian Travers’ original captivating sax riff. Tony Justice reflects on the events:
“… this was the track we were given, which was great, because it had the great sax bit and nice bits of vocal work, which we used with a nice reversed reverb effect on them. We added a nice break, some guitar licks and stabs along with an 808 bass. We gave the track to Danny Bukem and he used to hammer it at Speed nights. I think Fabio had it as well, which propelled it into being a bit of a Speed anthem, which still gets interest to this day.”
For Icons’ artist profile and the full background story of ‘Until My Dying Day’ visit the blog’s archive here.
The next part of the mini-series “Count To Ten: Cross-genre drum & bass remixes – part 2 (1997-2000)” is coming soon.
Visit the blog’s archive for the previous installments of the “Count To Ten” series here.