“Love and other tragedies are recurring themes in the series. Whoever thought that d&b is cold, emotionless and monotonous music, clearly haven’t been paying attention…”
I realize that the series read like another generic countdown list, however there are deeper connotations to me. It’s a retrospective musical diary; a timeline that reflects and documents what I’ve been listening to in various periods of my life. Over time, my militant musical views have – thankfully – attenuated and I’ve come to embrace and appreciate a broader musical spectrum. Hence, all the producers who feature on the series are artists that have resonated with me and have steered away from rigid, formulaic corners.
The third part of the mini-series covers the period 2000-09. At the dawn of the new millennium the majors had turned their backs to drum & bass and adopted a more chart-friendly policy. The halcyon days seemed abruptly over, artists turned almost overnight from media darlings to pariahs and the music press headlines proclaimed the death of the genre. But drum & bass was too cool for that. After a short period of introspection and re-invention, d&b returned stronger than ever. A new wave of artists and record labels pushed the musical boundaries beyond genre confines and soon d&b regained its well-deserved place in the electronic music map; from a limited connoisseur circle to a global audience, from sweaty basements and midweek slots to headlining club main stages and festivals.
Love and other tragedies are recurring themes in the series. Whoever thought that d&b is cold, emotionless and monotonous music, clearly haven’t been paying attention… Oscillating between the obscure and the classic, I happily present in chronological order 10 of my favourite cross-genre drum & bass remixes from the past decade (bootlegs and unofficial releases intentionally excluded).
The Underwolves – So Blue It’s Black (Peshay vs Photek Mix), Blue, 2000
The Underwolves started as a side-project in 1996, with members Adrian Shortman (aka Professor Stretch of the Dance Conspiracy fame) and Creative Wax label manager Ned Kelly. After recording a string of singles for Creative Wax and Filter, The Underwolves evolved into a collective joined by producer/engineer Jules Evans and singers/songwriters Jeb Nicholls, Stephen Townsend (Squidly), Madeline Edgehill, Xavier Barnett, Beverly McClean and Paula Crawford. In 1999, they signed with Island’s subsidiary Blue Records to record their brilliant crossover debut album ‘Under Your Sky’, a record deal that regrettably didn’t go further than the promotional stage. Ross Allen, who signed The Underwolves to Blue, recollects: “there was always drama, lack of money, hustling …”.
In 2000, Blue commissioned remixes for the album’s lead tracks. Photek x Peshay and Origin Unknown contributed excellent d&b re-interpretations of ‘So Blue It’s Black’, but I am inclined towards Photek & Peshay’s version. Although they stripped Townsend’s emotive vocal parts apart from the chorus line ‘look at the sky’, the desolation and finesse of the original are retained with a beautiful reconstruction of Betty Davis’ ‘Shoo-B-Doop And Cop Him’ super funky bassline.
It wasn’t until 2001; two years after its slated release, before ‘Under Your Sky’, as well as a comprehensive remix project, were eventually relicensed to Jazzanova/Compost Records.
Silent Poets – I Will Miss This Holy Garden (Doc Scott Remix), Idyllic, 2000
Silent Poets started as an acid jazz/leftfield musical outfit from Tokyo, Japan with founding members Takahiro Haruna and Michiharu Shimoda. After their 8th studio album ‘To Come…’ for Toy’s Factory sub-label Idyllic, Haruna left the group and Shimoda leads the solo project to this day. ‘To Come …’ garnered a massive 2-part remix project and Doc Scott was enlisted for a drum & bass re-imagination of the melancholic and eerie lead track ‘I Will Miss This Holly Garden’. The vocals, haunting and intimate as a whisper, are by acclaimed songwriter, poet and singer Virginia Astley, who has made a stunning career in Japan collaborating with musical luminaries Ryuichie Sakamoto and David Sylvian.
Rounding up a string of crossover remixes, from the avant-garde pop of Art Of Noise (featured on the 1st part of the series) to the mainstream sensibility of Olive and everything in between (remixes for Yokota, Miles Davies and System 7), Doc Scott adopted a different, more 31-centric approach. Retaining parts of the original’s stunning orchestral strings and Virginia Astley’s vocals, Doc Scott delivered a claustrophobic version with relentless drums and a harsh bassline reminiscent of his Nasty Habits alter ego.
Röyksopp – Sparks (Roni Size Mix), Wall Of Sound, 2001
Röyksopp is a Norwegian electronic music duo formed in 1998. After their debut single for local label Tellé, they signed with Wall of Sound for their first studio album ‘Melody AM’, which became certified platinum in the band’s native country Norway and sold over a million copies worldwide. Their meteoric rise to fame and commercial success has culminated in two Grammy nominations, sold-out performances across the globe often highlighted with eccentric outfits, high-profile remix projects, several top chart entries and their music has been used for commercials and TV series soundtracks.
During a transitional period, after the short-lived project Breakbeat Era and Reprazent’s second album ‘In The Mode’ and before returning to solo recordings (his first solo LP ‘Touching Down’ was released the next year), Bristol’s d&b ambassador and Mercury Award winner Roni Size was commissioned to remix ‘Sparks’, the last single from ‘Melody AM’. Blending those trademark double bass notes and filtered flutes with Anneli Decker’s hypnotizing vocals, Roni Size presented a fusion of northern electronica with the revered Bristol urban sound.
J Majik x Hatiras – Spaced Invader, Defected/Infrared, 2001
If the previous entries sound rather esoteric, this one is surely instantly recognizable, as I’ve seen with my own eyes the dancefloor impact at Fabric’s Room 2. After a brief period of experimentation and self-reflection, J Majik followed a new musical direction collaborating with renowned singer Kathy Brown with striking crossover success. Fusing drum & bass with 21st century Chicago soul, he produced club anthems that entered the UK charts and re-designed the d&b template. The ‘Spaced Invader’ remix effectively captures that transition and J Majik narrates the background story:
“Spaced Invader … The sound of the late 90s was getting quite ‘techy’, which I loved, but I had always had a huge passion for the French disco house scene and wanted to experiment a bit and see if I could match that same energy and vibe on a drum & bass record. I had just released ‘Love Is Not A Game’ on Defected and they had a track from a Canadian artist called Hatiras, which was bubbling on the house scene. I wanted to keep the feel of the loop, but to also create the feeling of a huge breakdown that builds the excitement of the drop similar to what was happening in the house scene at that time. I remember playing the demo down the phone to Andy C and he suggested he send a taxi to pick the DAT up and played it that same night!”
Jaheim – Put That Woman First (Calibre remix), Warner, 2002
Not just your ordinary love song; if there’s a track that epitomized the emergence of liquid funk, then it’s probably it. A certified Swerve classic played to death by Fabio and Aaron Jay and a ladies’ favourite, this is definitely one of the tracks that bring back vivid and nostalgic memories of my London days. Calibre was already cementing his reputation and rise to the d&b elite and that was a glimpse of the bright future that readily followed; a phenomenal recording career with literally countless releases for every record label that matters.
The affinity between soul/r&b and drum & bass has resulted in remixes and bootlegs that range from the sublime to the ridiculous, however Calibre’s take must be the pinnacle. The piano line and the up-tempo rhythmic elements firmly encapsulate the fragility, the desperation, the passion and the emotional gravity of love and pretty much surpasses the original; simply breathtaking.
Calibre’s remix has been repressed twice since its first release (the most recent in 2016) with no credits though on the labels (or sleeves).
Annie Lennox – A Thousand Beautiful Things (Blu Mar Ten Mix), BMG, 2003
Former Eurythmics singer, songwriter and social and political activist Annie Lennox published her third personal studio album titled ‘Bare’ in 2003. Pre-dated by her first solo tour, the album achieved great commercial and chart success, which garnered a Grammy nomination. The next year she won the Academy Award for the end credits song from the last installment of the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy. ‘A Thousand Beautiful Things’ is the lead single from ‘Bare’. It’s a song of gratitude as Lennox explains: “There was some beauty after all. It was like a little mantra, to remind myself to live, breathe, sleep, to try to make your life complete. Beauty is everywhere… in a sunrise, a drop of dew, the warm breath of a child, or a flower opening. That is the sacred gift of life, even if we don’t always acknowledge it.”
Entering the new millennium, Blu Mar Ten quickly grew and mutated beyond the confines of jungle into lush experimentation with downtempo, ambient, house, breaks, techno & left-field. Coinciding with the release of their impeccable album ‘The Six Million Names Of God’ (an album I acknowledge here given only half a chance), Blu Mar Ten were invited to deliver their d&b take on ‘A Thousand Beautiful Things’. Orchestral parts from the acoustic version of the original, Tim Cansfield’s guitar riff and Peter Vetttese’s keys combined with those BMT trademark electro-infused synths and whistle sounds (reminiscent of their sublime bootleg of Erykah Badu’s ‘You Got Me’) over a catchy bassline and a two-step break variation of ‘Storyteller’ gracefully reflect the original song’s meaning. Chris Marigold recollects: “All I can remember about making it was knocking up the backbone of it at home, then taking it to the studio for the others to take a look at and we polished it up. The remix came about from a guy called Jamie Topham, who worked at BMG and who also commissioned us to also do remixes for Alicia Keys and Olive (which didn’t come out in the end)”.
Adam Freeland – We Want Your Soul (Ed Rush & Optical remix), Maximise Profit, 2003
‘We Want Your Soul’ is Adam Freeland’s insinuated contempt at the destructive side of consumption culture and senseless materialism and still sounds as relevant as ever. A massive crossover hit with social and political ramifications, accompanied by an award-winning video, ‘We Want Your Soul’ is the lead track of Freeland’s debut album ‘Now And Them’, released on his own label Marine Parade. The lyrics are written by Adam Freeland and are highlighted by a Billy Hicks famous speech sample: “Go back to bed America, your country is in control again”. The track vocals are by Taylor, Georgia G, Victoria Titanium and Freeland himself, although certain parts are recorded using a vocoder.
Ed Rush & Optical, one of the most dynamic and pioneering duos of the d&b scene, applied their ‘organic’ analog studio wizardry and future funk beats to create a frenetic and infectious as a virus d&b version of the original, nodding at dancefloors and mosh pits and the result couldn’t be more fitting.
The Streets – It’s Too Late (High Contrast Remix), 609/Locked On, 2004
The Streets is Mike Skinner’s musical project. Combining UK garage with lyrical content narrating the ordinary life and little misadventures of a Midlands youngster, Skinner’s music captures stark vignettes of submerged urban realism. ‘It’s Too Late’ is taken from Skinner’s debut album ‘Original Pirate Material’ released in 2002, which received triumphant reviews from the musical press. The song is about a story so common, pretty much anybody can identify with at some point of their lives; a relationship taken for granted that inevitably ends in tears and the downward spiral of regret and guilt.
Welsh wunderkind Lincoln Barrett (High Contrast) rapidly climbed the ranks to become an integral member of Hospital Records’ vanguard. Following the release of his debut album ‘True Colours’ and the instant classic ‘Return Of Forever’, Barrett emerged as an in-demand producer/remixer and earned a prestigious BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix slot on April 2003. A showcase of the emerging sub-genre of liquid funk, High Contrast opened his mix with a mesmerizing d&b rendition of ‘It’s Too Late’. Keeping snippets of Skinner’s vocals and Jackie Raw’s reflective and emotive backing vocals at the chorus, High Contrast captured the original’s ill-fated romance, melancholy, sadness and grief and translated it into a heartbreaking d&b power ballad.
Alice Russel – To Know This (Nu:Tone remix), Tru Thoughts, 2006
British soul singer Alice Russel has made some of the most arresting blues soul since the glory days of the 70s. Her strong, emotional tones have captivated a whole host of producers from Gilles Peterson and David Byrne to Daddy G and Groove Armada. Lending her powerful voice to releases by Mr Scruff, Quantic, DJ Yoda and Nostalgia 77, Alice Russell has been a firm BBC Music favourite. ‘To Know This’ is taken from Russell’s 2nd album ‘My Favourite Letters’.
Dan Gresham (Nu:Tone) was the first of the Cambridge crew (the other members being his brother Logistics and Commix) to make a breakthrough into the drum and bass scene. After several releases on John B’s labels and his own imprint BrandNu, Nu:Tone signed with Hospital Records in 2003. His classical musical training has proved a valuable production and remix asset (evident on his debut album ‘Brave Nu World’ and the brilliant remix of Lenny Fontana’s ‘Spread Love’)
Making excellent use of the horn section, retro soulful vignettes combined with his unique ability to incorporate extensive vocal parts in a drum & bass context, Nu:Tone delivered an awesome fusion of contemporary soul with modern drum & bass.
Steve Angello & Laidback Luke feat. Robin S – Show Me Love (Blame Remix), Data Records/Ministry of Sound, 2009
An obscure house-pop crossover song originally released in 1990, Robin Stone’s ‘Show Me Love’ turned into a global hit 3 years later, after being remixed by Swedish producer Sten “Stonebridge” Hallström. An almost accidental switch to the Korg M1 settings that produced that ‘organ sound’ effect for the bassline, a stab in the intro, a two-chord chorus and Robin Stone’s disco flamboyant lyrics were enough to create one of the most celebrated club anthems, which effectively became the genre’s blueprint, emulated to the point of nausea.
‘Show Me Love’ has been sampled countless times along the years; even cover versions with different vocalists have appeared with remarkable success. In 2008, producers Steve Angello & Laidback Luke reconstructed a mash-up of a ‘Show Me Love’ cover with their own track ‘Be’ featuring Robin S re-recording her original vocals. The track was released on Ministry of Sound’s subsidiary Data (and then re-licensed across Europe) and topped the UK chart a few months later. Ministry of Sound requested a d&b treatment and at the other side of the line was one of the most prolific and versatile d&b producers Blame. Conrad Blame reflects on the background story:
“I loved where d&b was heading at that time, and as a producer I was maturing. I was studying music theory and songwriting and I felt like I was making the best music of my life. My tracks ‘Stay Forever’ and ‘Because Of You’ were getting lots of love in the d&b scene, as well as making an impact on national BBC Radio. This was the first time that I had major radio support. Off the back of those records ‘Ministry of Sound’ contacted me to ask if I would like to remix ‘Show Me Love’. I had loved this classic house anthem from the early days, and I even remember seeing ‘Robin S’ perform live at ‘Garage City’, a huge house/garage night in London back in the day. So it was a massive honour for me, and I instantly said yes. Funnily enough, the idea of how to translate the track into a d&b version appeared fully formed in my mind, while I was actually on that first phone call with ‘Ministry’. Getting the complete idea for a track that easily never happens for me! As soon as I received the samples I played what was in my head and it worked perfectly. This was the easiest remix I’ve ever had the pleasure to work on and it’s still probably my most popular remix of all time”.
Read the previous parts of the mini-series:
The 4th and final part of the cross-genre drum & bass remixes (2010-2019) coming later this year.
Visit the blog’s archive for the previous installments of the “Count To Ten” series here.