“A song for a life I left behind”
When I started the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series six years ago, I had an abstract vision in mind: to hand-pick, document and present sentimental music from my collection in an endeavor to unlock something magical, to capture that moment in time and that beautiful place, which are both tantalizingly at your fingertips, but seem always out of reach. The blog is mainly d&b-oriented, as is my record collection, so intuitively most installments feature drum & tracks, or to be more precise tracks loosely or directly related to the drum & bass template and aesthetic.
The next edition of the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ was in fact pencilled to feature at the start of the series, but somehow I didn’t feel confident enough or emotionally detached to talk about it, until now. It’s a track that gracefully reflects the arrogance and naivety of an earlier life, which I wasn’t quite ready to leave behind. Quoting Johnny Lee Miller’s character ‘Sickboy’ in Trainspotting 2: “Nostalgia. That’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth”.
The narrative will deviate from the standard format of the series, shuffling pages from my mental diary and recounting the events of two ‘Hospitality’ nights in the autumn of 2004, so excuse the pseudo-romantic tone. People, dates and places are intentionally accurate.
Throwback to the season 2003-04, an eventful period of my life I occasionally reminisce with bittersweet nostalgia. I was living in London for postgraduate studies at the time, indulging the city’s night life like there was no tomorrow, camouflaging in an attitude dangerously close to pretentiousness the cultural shock of rubbing shoulders with my musical icons. The London drum & bass scene was flourishing with regular club nights talking place downtown: Mid-week events with Fabio’s ‘Swerve’ Wednesdays at The End and ‘Movement’ Thursdays at Bar Rumba, the main Friday residencies with Fabriclive Room 2 label takeovers, Good Looking’s ‘Progression Sessions’, Ram and Renegade Hardware at The End, Sunday evenings at Herbal with ‘Hospitality’ and Grooverider’s ‘Grace’, as well as ad hoc d&b parties at Jazz Café, Heaven, Ministry of Sound, Carling Academy, Cargo and Plastic People. Regrettably, most of the places I used to frequent have closed their doors since. There must have been definitely many more I have forgotten to highlight. Memories tend to fragment and blur after all these years, but there was always something happening to accommodate for every musical taste.
Hospitality @ Herbal, High Society Album Launch (Friday, September 17th, 2004)
Welsh wunderkind Lincoln Barrett (High Contrast) had 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’, High Contrast earned a prestigious BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix slot on April 2003. Riding a wave of success, the lead singles (‘Racing Green’, ‘The Basement Track’, ‘Twilight’s Last Gleaming’) of his second album ‘High Society’ were already receiving massive dj support and radio airplay.
Celebrating the official launch of the ‘High Society’ LP, Hospital Records hosted a 2-room event at Herbal with label co-founder Chris Goss and Landslide playing leftfield/downtempo upstairs and High Contrast, London Elektricity, Matrix and Logistics in the main room with MC Wrec on mic duties. It wouldn’t be long until venues like Herbal would prove too small for Hospital’s growing popularity and their ‘Hospitality’ events would move to venues with larger capacity like Heaven.
I have vivid memories of two particular tracks that were played by every single dj that night. The first, I instantly recognized as a new remix of the Moving Shadow classic ‘Cold Fresh Air’ by Higher Sense. When the night was over, I timidly asked High Contrast about it, assuming it might be his work. The exact dialogue is a story for another day, but for the history it was Cyantific’s remix, which was eventually released a year later and sadly turned out to be the last Moving Shadow single, as the label ceased operations soon after.
The other track, which really struck a chord was ‘Hypnotise’, as you have probably guessed, for which I hadn’t had a single clue. Riding the N205 night-bus back to Paddington, tapping my knee and pressing imaginary keys, I serenaded my co-passengers with the melody, praying that I would still remember it the next morning, when the night’s haze had faded out.
Fabriclive, Hospital Records Room 2 takeover (Friday, October 1st, 2004)
Two weeks later, we alighted at Farringdon station just before midnight and frustration was literally just around the corner; a roadblock, which meant queuing up for at least an hour with no entrance being guaranteed. Everyone got impatient, so I tried to convince them to wait for a few minutes just to check if the queue was moving. Ten minutes later and we hadn’t moved a step, so everybody apart from a friend, who stayed to keep me company until I came to terms with disappointment, headed for Turnmills just a few blocks away, where Paul Oakenfold, Hernan Cattaneo and Nic Fanciulli headlined the ‘Gallery’ monthly residency. Well, I am not proud to admit a sense of schadenfreude, as the queue at Turnmills tuned out to be equally long. Then out of the blue, a random Italian guy approached us offering two spare pre-sale tickets at face value. I didn’t let him complete his sentence; we bought the tickets and shortly after we were in.
Half-way through Tony Colman’s set, there was that melody again. It’s still not quite clear to me if MC Stamina had actually mentioned Calibre or I had retrospectively imagined it. A couple of months later, while previewing the new releases on the D&B arena website, I finally discovered that elusive title and ordered it from the now defunct Chemical Records.
Calibre - Hypnotise / The Water Carrier, SOULR016, Soul:R, Dec 2004
Calibre had already cemented his rise to the d&b elite and his reputation as a producer, dj and in-demand remixer, spearheading the emergence of a musical movement that stylishly accentuated the genre’s endless possibilities and epitomized the affinity between soul/funk and drum & bass. In 2003, Calibre also launched his personal platform Signature Recordings to accommodate for his prolific output. That was only a glimpse at an evergreen future and a phenomenal recording career which readily followed, with literally countless releases for every record label that matters.
Certainly, there have been Calibre tunes around that time, tearing roofs and setting dancefloors alight, like ‘Mr Majestic’, ‘Drop It Down’ and the ‘Swerve’ anthem and ladies’ favourite ‘Put That Woman First’, which could unreservedly feature on the series. However, the melancholic, almost mournful notes of ‘Hypnotise’ have always resonated with me, foreshadowing a fitting farewell to a life I would soon leave behind.
‘Hypnotise’ marked Calibre’s return to Soul:R, Marcus’ outstanding label and one of the most consistent d&b outlets renowned for their artistic versatility and uncompromised quality, with his first dedicated solo release since the label’s beginnings (Interphaze/Fire & Water, SOULR002, 2001) and was published on December, 2004. Ever the perfectionist, Calibre allegedly hadn’t been completely satisfied with the end result, like something was left unsaid, which is perhaps the reason it didn’t come out on Signature.
Not just your ordinary love song, ‘Hypnotise’ is a sublime soul-inspired masterpiece. The track’s lead synth line masterfully samples the mesmerizing opening notes and female panting from ‘Sweet Stuff – Freaky (To You)‘, which in turn is an obscure cover version of Leon Haywood’s ‘I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You’ 1975 soul classic. Adding layers of faint disco strings and humming vocals, the rhythmic elements and groovy bass-line, encompass the passion, the desperation, the fragility and the emotional gravity of a love letter that was never sent.
Flyers taken from my personal collection
Visit the blog’s archive for the previous editions of the “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series here.