Every track presented in the series has a special place in my collection and is associated with a different period of my life, hence the time leaps. Throwback to 1997 for the 13th installment of the Tracks I Wish I’d Written; a stellar classic with one of the genre’s most recognizable and revered lead synths, written and produced by one of drum & bass’ unsung heroes that captures elegantly a nostalgic time and place.
“… God bless the path of the musical children, walking the steps of change going forward-bound, our music’s taking you to higher ground …” – MC Conrad
Simon Donohue (also known by his primary recording alias Odyssey) was one of the in-house engineers at the innovative and popular ‘33’ Studio, located in the eponymous Arts Centre in Guildford Street, Luton. Founded in 1978 and ran by Luton Community Arts Trust, the building has now unfortunately been demolished. Justice and Blame, who lived nearby, used to frequent the ‘33’ Studio and Simon engineered all the early Blame & Justice and Flavour Tracks projects there, as well as the seminal Icons album ‘Emotions With Intellect’ and Justice’s anthem ‘Aquisse’ at the studio setup in his own garage, after he left ‘33’.
“We always had a great rapport in the studio and he was a really good engineer, who got things chopped up and laid out on the keys, so I could get on with playing stuff back and keying in breaks, whilst he would do the engineering bits. It made it really easy to concentrate on the business of creating. He was a creative guy …” – Justice
“A lot of guys didn’t put the engineer on the record sleeve, but we thought he deserved the recognition. He would operate the studio gear, while we would come into the studio with all the musical ideas for the tracks. He was technically great with the equipment, which allowed all our music to flow out” – Blame
Simon Donohue had formed with Andy Smith the techno outfit Esoterica in 1993. After a single release the duo re-named the group as Sunrise Society and signed the next year with the newly-founded Pacific Records, becoming instrumental members of the label’s early vanguard. Their fourth release for Pacific (Matter b/w Astral Sunset) deserves a special reference, as it’s been the source of inspiration for the main theme of Expressions.
Also, in 1996, the bassist of UB40 Earl Falconer commissioned a limited edition series with drum and bass mixes of UB40 tracks. Sunrise Society were selected alongside acclaimed jungle/d&b artists (Grooverider, Deep Blue, Dj Ron, Blame & Justice, Swan-E and Ellis Dee) to remix the band’s early classics (One In Ten – an explicit reference to UK’s record number of unemployed in the early 80s – King and Burden Of Shame) as well as later singles (Where Did I Go Wrong? and Until My Dying Day). All remixes were released on UB40′s own label Dep International.
After an array of brilliant releases for Moving Shadow, Blame signed with Good Looking Records in 1996 initially as a graphic designer and soon became of the label’s main artists in the late 90s. A year later, he started his own platform 720 Degrees, to showcase his unique sci-fi take with own new material, as well as riveting and futuristic music from like-minded artists, covering the full spectrum of drum and bass sounds. Good Looking offered a manufacturing and distribution deal and 720 Degrees launched in a head-turning fashion.
Blame reflects on the launch of 720 Degrees:
“It was going to be called ‘360 Degrees’ to reflect the full d&b spectrum, but about 10 minutes before the first release was getting printed I got a call to say that there was another 360 Degrees label already! So I just thought hey let’s double it to ‘720’… two revolutions instead!”
The label’s back catalogue is graced with productions from exceptional d&b artists like Blame, Odyssey, Alaska & Nucleus, Blu Mar Ten, KMC, Pariah, Future Engineers, Seba, Aural Imbalance, Total Science spearheading a mesmerizing, tech-oriented atmospheric sound emulated by many the following years. This however didn’t last long as Blame and GLR parted ways in 2001 and Blame took 720 Degrees with him in order to exercise total control and creative freedom. Later that year, he rebranded and re-launched the label with new catalogue numbering, discovering the talents of Dragonsword and Plex for the label’s new incarnation.
Odyssey – Expressions (b/w Ritual, 720-002, 720 Degrees, 1997)
“Simon was part of a techno group called ‘Sunrise Society’. They made a great track called ‘Astral Travel’, which had an amazing lead synth sound in it. I told him he needed to use that sound in a d&b track, and that ended up being the main magical lead synth in ‘Expressions’. The track sounded pretty cool, but the drums and bass were a bit too techno sounding/drum machine-based, so I gave him the drum break sample and helped him simplify the 808 bassline to make it perfect for d&b. And the rest is history as they say!” – Blame
On April 1997, LTJ Bukem alongside Blame, PHD and MC Conrad played at my hometown Athens as part of the ‘Logical Progression Level 2 Promotional Tour’ and I had the privilege to take a glimpse of the future that night. It was one of those life-changing events and that was the first time I listened to Expressions. I vividly remember sitting on the club’s balcony, with a panoramic view of the dj booth and the dancefloor (never been much of a dancer). Bukem dropped Expressions and the world suddenly stopped for a moment. People were looking at each other in disbelief, jaws dropping; a real spectacle. The chord progression, the drum-work from hi-hats to tambourine rolls, that subtle 808 bassline and the emotionally draining breakdown literally took my breath away; history in the making.
A few days later, the acclaimed Logical Progression Level 2 compilation, curated and mixed by Blame, was officially released and I eventually discovered the producer and the track title. Luckily enough, after a few months I found copies of the first 720 releases and still hold them dearly to this day.
Fast forward to the present
Simon Donohue re-appeared briefly as Native Force in 2000, recording a break beat/future jazz EP for Zozan Records, which was also licensed to Compost Records. After a short break from d&b Blame re-emerged with his new project Social Misfits on V Recordings. He recently gave away through mailing list a batch of 720 Degrees tunes, set up a bandcamp page and there are thoughts about a 720 Degrees re-launch.
“I’m just making loads of new music, and I’m gonna see if any fits ‘720’. I’ve got a new Blame project almost ready, and we’ve had great success recently with our ‘Social Misfits’ project on V Recordings, which has been supported heavily in the clubs and on national radio and has been amazing for us”. – Blame
All tracks of the series have been hand-picked from my personal record collection and have had a profound impact on my musical views and aesthetics. 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 title of the series suggests.
Visit the blog’s archive for the previous installments of the “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series here.