Following the recent release of Illuvia’s d&b album ‘Iridescence of Clouds’ on A Strangely Isolated Place, I’m proud to present my contribution to the ASIP ‘Portals’ series. Tracing the links from the halcyon days of the 90s to the present, from the classic to the obscure, this is a selection of 26 tracks showcasing the evolution of the atmospheric d&b sound or at least my own perception. The feature is supplemented with a mix, liner notes and fan facts. A long trip down memory lane for d&b fans, as well as an introduction of atmospheric drum & bass to a non-d&b audience. I hope this feature served its purpose and that you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.
For archiving purposes, I attach the full transcript of the feature below.
Words and layout by Ryan Griffin/ASIP
Comments in italics and track notes by Spyros/GodIsNoLongerADj
After we announced Illuvia’s, ‘Iridescence of Clouds’ on the label earlier this year, the nostalgia and admiration for atmospheric Drum and Bass within both myself (and I’m sure many of you) it seemed, was quick to rear its head once again. There were two things I wanted to make sure would happen around the same time of the Illuvia release. First, was inviting Ludvig (Illuvia) to record an ‘isolatedmix’ with some of his many inspirations behind the record (listen here), and second, to create an in-depth Portals feature on the genre. Not only to keep the conversation going but for me to also learn a thing or two, amongst a style I would never profess to be an expert in.
There are no-doubt many experts on the atmospheric Drum and Bass genre, and indeed, many artists to this day still creating music in this style who would be more than suitable to provide a feature. But there’s been one blog/website that I can draw many parallels to ASIP in approach, that also obsesses over this style of music and became the perfect candidate to help out.
Spyros Papatzitzes began God Is No Longer A DJ in 2012 and the blog has become (like many ‘blogs’ nowadays) a rare gem of a resource on the Drum and Bass genre.
“Paraphrasing Nick Hornby: “What came first, the music or the obsession?”
I’ve always had this vague idea of keeping a musical diary to capture blurry memories and reflect on the arrogance and naivety of an earlier life I wasn’t quite ready to leave behind, with drum & bass being the focal point. Thoughts and scribbled notes gradually took the form of this blog, which went timidly online in 2012. Fast-forward to the present, this has been a unique opportunity to connect with some of my musical icons, as well as with many like-minded people across the world and celebrate the music we all love.
Along the years, the content and the scope of the blog expanded to contemporary music, as well as non-d&b material, mainly ambient and modern electronica; music I enjoy when I am not listening to drum & bass, emphasizing on the ‘encyclopedic’ aspect, if I am allowed this self-indulgent term”. – Spyros/God Is No Longer A Dj
It was an easy decision to invite Spyros to help create this Portals feature, and along with his encyclopedic knowledge and passion, he partnered up with an old friend, DJ Sin, whom he used to run a DnB radio show with to provide the Portals-specific mix. For this accompanying journey, all tracks were hand-picked from Spyros’ record collection bar three, (‘Callisto’, ‘Icefields of Proxima’ and ‘Exhale’) which are only available in digital format.
“When I started listening to drum & bass I was intrigued, inspired and seduced by the faceless mystique and the self-reliant attitude of so many artists and labels exploring this bold new cultural form. That experimental fearlessness, an entry point and an outlier both at the same time, captured a vital moment – one that could probably never be replicated – where no approach was off-limits. In the early 90s, the connections with my musical heroes were the odd dj gig, cassette tapes changing hands, magazines and the liner notes/credits on the record sleeves. Then the internet revolution came, which provided a portal to a (brave) new world and unprecedented access to all of us who had been on the outside looking in.
Tracks with long intros, string sections, artful vocal fragments and long emotional breakdowns, which sometimes had been met with cynicism, became an art form with an elevated degree of musicality, rather than formulaic dj tools to facilitate the transition from one track to another. It’s beautiful music inviting the listener to a long idyllic journey, beyond the walls of a mundane reality.
So, essentially, this playlist consists of snapshots that capture and reflect various moments from my musical journey in the realm of atmospheric music (and drum & bass in particular) for more than 25 years. To be more precise, as I see purists’ eyebrows raising already, there’s a handful of tracks here that are not bona fide d&b, but I’d still argue that they fit in terms of tempo and overall aesthetic and demonstrate the evolution of the atmospheric sound, explicitly representing a counterpoint to the misconception that drum & bass is a musical genre with emphasis on fast beats, which are resolutely cold and mechanical.
I contemplated too long about which tracks should feature on this list, applying some self-imposed restrictions. If I were to compile this list again, it would probably be different, but I had to draw the line somewhere. On reflection though, every single entry is a track I wish I’d written”. – Spyros/God Is No Longer A DJ
We hope you enjoy reflecting upon the greats of the style or discovering something new amongst one of electronic music’s most beloved genre ‘glues’ – whether it’s forming a bridge between Ambient music, Jungle or Dub – Atmospheric Drum and Bass has continued to be a genre loved by the majority of electronic music’s followers in some shape or form, whether they know it or not. Spyros has done an amazing job going into detail on the music included here, so grab your headphones, hit play, and carve out some time to admire the storied commentary behind the music behind one of the genres most passionate writers and collectors.
A big thank you to Spyros, and DJ Sin for the effort and detail.
Full Mix Tracklist (Track Notes + introductions + links, ordered by year of official release follow below)
- Photek – T-Raenon (Op-Art, OP1, 1996)
- Ulrich Schnauss & ASC – 77 (Auxiliary Music, AUX007, 2012)
- Akasha – Brown Sugar (PFM’s Cosmic Journey Mix) (Wall Of Sound, WALLT028X, 1997)
- Bungle – Astral Travel (Soul:r, SOULR060, 2013)
- Jonny L – Underwater Communication (XL Recordings, XLT74PR2, 1996)
- Voyager – Apollo (Good Looking Records, GLR027, 1998)
- Blu Mar Ten – Believe Me (Blu Mar Ten Music, BMT002, 2009)
- Bop x Synkro – Blurred Memories (Punk’s Not Dead LP, MEDIC41LP, Med School, 2014)
- Omni Trio – Who Are You? (Aquasky Mix) (Haunted Science LP, Moving Shadow, ASHADOWLP6, 1996)
- Forme – New Element (Headz 2A, Mo’Wax, 1996)
- Justice – Aquisse (Pseudo Jazz EP, Basement Records, BRSS54, 1996)
- Om Unit – Adventures in Eden (Torchlight Vol. 2, Cosmic Bridge, CBR014, 2016)
- Future Engineers – Exhale (Exhale EP, Transference Recordings, TRF003, 2013)
- KMC – Space Echo (Partisan Recordings, PART015, 1998)
- Aural Imbalance – Icefields Of Proxima (Legacy LP, Cadence Recordings, CADLP001, 2012)
- Seeka – Momento (Modern Urban Jazz 01, Creative Wax, CWLP001, 1997)
- Intense – The Genesis Project (Earl Grey Remix) (Rugged Vinyl, RUGGED17, 1996)
- Wax Doctor – Offshore Drift (R&S, RS96103, 1996)
- Alaska – Jasheri (v2) (Arctic Music, AM009, 2017)
- Klute – Angel Makers (Read Between The Lines LP, Commercial Suicide, SUICIDELP018, 2017)
- Boymerang – Soul Beat Runna (Regal, REG14, 1997)
- Naibu – Opium Lady (Horizons Music, HZN030, 2008)
- Shogun – Together (Nautilus EP, Renegade Recordings, RR008, 1996)
- Seba – Dangerous Days (Warm Communications, WARM015, 2009)
- Eschaton – Callisto (Drum & Space Vol. 2 LP, Omni Music, OMNI016, 2013)
- dBridge & Instra:mental – Translucent (Sepia Tones EP, Darkestral, DARKESTRAL 004/005, 2009)
Artwork photo by Spyros P: “I took the original photo on a cloudy November afternoon in 2017. The view is from the hill where Glasgow Necropolis is located, the 19th century Victorian cemetery overlooking the city. The still loosely reminded me of the record sleeve of the Trans-Central Connection, one of the Moving Shadow regional compilations in the 90s and I tried to capture that moment. ”
Photek – T’Raenon
(Op-ART, OP1, 1996)
Rupert Parkes’ and Kirk De Giorgio’s long-term friendship culminated into a record which introduced, for the first time, the crossover sensibility that earned Photek a record deal with Virgin’s sub-label Science and catapulted him to mainstream fame. Rupert and Kirk used to exchange studio tips and rare records to sample from and ‘KJZ’ from Photek’s seminal ‘Modus Operandi’ stands for Kirk’s Jazz.
Written for De Giorgio’s imprint Applied Rhythmic Technology ‘T-Raenon’ is a tribute to techno and its Detroit origins within a drum & bass context. The EP includes an elegant extended version, where Photek replaces his signature breaks with techno kick drums and celestial snares that still carry the production prowess and majesty of his previous works.
Omni Trio – Who Are You? (Aquasky Mix)
(Haunted Science LP, Moving Shadow, ASHADOWLP6, 1996)
Robert Haigh is a seasoned musician and one of the most respected artists in drum & bass. Under his d&b alias Omni Trio he enjoyed a prolific and acclaimed recording career with Moving Shadow, especially throughout the 90s. With five personal albums, dozens of stellar singles, EPs and remixes, including an endless list of drum & bass anthems, he garnered universal recognition and praise from his peers and fans alike, despite keeping a low, often mysterious profile.
The Aquasky remix is taken from ‘Haunted Science’, Omni Trio’s 2nd album for Moving Shadow. Robert Haigh’s extended artist profile and discography highlights from the blog’s archive here.
Justice – Aquisse
(Pseudo Jazz EP, Basement Records, BRSS54, 1996)
Named after a short-lived dilutable soft drink ‘Aquisse’ is a track with anthemic status and probably the one Justice has been most associated with and he’s proudest of. How the track came about has been well documented; one of those precious moments when it becomes apparent that something special has been created. Justice used to work with Vinyl Distribution at the time, who signed it for Basement Records and a couple of weeks later it was licensed by R&S for their ‘In Order To Dance Vol. 6’ compilation. To celebrate the track’s 15th anniversary in 2010, an Aquisse remix project brought it up to date for a new generation of d&b fans including also the original mix and the ’06 reboot by Justice & Neil Trix.
‘Aquisse’ is set for a re-release on a vinyl pressing of Justice’s debut album ‘Viewpoints’ this year (fingers crossed!). It was due last year, but circumstances delayed it. It has a fully redesigned artwork and contains all the tracks from the LP on vinyl this time around. Also at some point, there will be a few ‘Aquisse’ re-workings dropping on a limited edition lathe cut.
Shogun – Together
(Nautilus EP, Renegade Recordings, RR008, 1996)
Under the Shogun guise, Oliver Lomax released a string of brilliant classics for Trouble On Vinyl, Renegade and R&S. After signing with Good Looking Records, Lomax adopted the Artemis moniker, which became synonymous with GLR’s deep, atmospheric drum & bass sound, also taking over engineering duties for various GLR artists. He also formed the one-off project Machine with Danny Coffey (Endemic Void) for Creative Wax. The precursor to the Machine project was Shogun’s beautiful re-interpretation of Endemic Void’s ‘Hydrosphere’, the opening track to the ‘Equations LP’. A little fan fact: On the back sleeve production credits of the ‘Modern Urban Jazz’ compilation (CWLP001, 1997) Oliver Lomax is referred to as S. Gunn (a nod to his Shogun alias).
Despite being overshadowed by the undisputed classic ‘Nautilus’ on the flipside, I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Together’, hence its place in this list.
Jonny L – Underwater Communication
(XL Recordings, XLT74PR2, 1996)
Inspired by the tectonic shift in sound that paved the way for the emergence of techstep, Jonny L (John Lisners) released his seminal debut LP ‘Sawtooth’ with a glowing return to his hardcore breakbeat origins (he’s been label-mates with The Prodigy at XL Recordings). Combining the immediacy of techno with the raw edge of drum & bass and delicate synths with retrofitted 303-style acid effects, Jonny L created a drum & bass staple, although apparently it was not premeditated:
“Sawtooth is a mix of sounds I was into at that time. I wasn’t completely sure what I was doing. I knew how I wanted it to sound, so it was a matter of putting that into reality as best I could. I wasn’t trying to make a statement. I was interested in topics like life and space, and using those themes in the music.” – Jonny L
‘Piper’ and ‘Tychonic Cycle’ have been the obvious hits from ‘Sawtooth’, however, it’s ‘Underwater Communication’ (taken from the 2nd part of the promotional 10” single series) which has resonated with me the most. When dolphins sing …
Wax Doctor – Offshore Drift
(R&S, RS96103, 1996)
Wax Doctor (Paul Saunders), who started djing in the late 80s juggling part-time mixing and a promising footballing 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.
“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”. – Wax Doctor
In a plethora of classics, I’d argue that ‘Offshore Drift’ is Saunders’ magnum opus and can be also found into his retrospective compilation ‘Selected Works 94-96’ (R&S, 1998).
Intense – The Genesis Project (Earl Grey Remix)
(Rugged Vinyl, RUGGED17, 1996)
Intense (Dan Duncan, Simon Vispi & Beau Thomas) have been one of the most innovative and exciting production outfits that have graced drum & bass. From their UK hardcore origins to their live PAs accompanied by a full band under their brand name, their sound has been rich with ingenious and ground-breaking ideas, even when electronic dance music was limited to standard analogue sounds. Their unique studio approach, the polar opposite of calculated austerity, mapped jazz free form sensibility into a drum & bass context, sprinkled with the stardust of avant-garde ambience and nouveau funk, ripping the seams of technology and recasting the fragments into new alluring shapes and structures.
Transitioning from the hardcore fringes to the emerging drum & bass sound, Intense made a statement of intent applying a cinematic outlook to their productions for Rugged Vinyl. Drawing inspiration from a wide palette of sounds, from cult sci-fi and horror films (‘Predator’, ‘Army of Darkness’) to Enya’s dreamy pop, Aaliyah’s and Mary J Blige‘s diva vocal lines, they forged an idiosyncratic yet distinctive musical profile, which cemented their reputation. However, it would be their jazz and rare groove aesthetic influences that would open the door to fame and a worldwide audience.
Counter-intuitively, I have chosen the Earl Grey remix instead of the original version of ‘The Genesis Project’, partially because it featured in one of my favourite mixed CDs (LTJ Bukem – The Rebirth); every track from that mix could/should be on this playlist.
Forme – New Element
(Headz 2A, Mo’Wax, 1996)
Forme is the recording moniker Richard File (aka DJ Aura) used for one of the most venerated atmospheric d&b classics of the 90s ‘New Element’. He later resurrected the project for Martin Freeland’s Marine Parade label. Originally hidden in the Mo’Wax ‘Headz 2A’ compilation and featuring on the mixed CD version of ‘Logical Progression’, as well as on Bukem‘s legendary 1996 Essential Mix (BBC Radio 1, 24-03-1996), ‘New Element’ has recently got a new lease of life with a new track on the flip-side by the Russian label Okbron. Another previously unreleased track from that mix and well-sought after by Bukem aficionados (‘G-Force – Proximity’) has been also made available now from Okbron.
Seeka – Momento
(Modern Urban Jazz 01, Creative Wax, CWLP001, 1997)
Justice is credited with the discovery of the unsung, but incredible talents of Seeka (Alex Blyth); the electronic reverie ‘Momento’ being my personal highlight from the ‘Modern Urban Jazz 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 and every-one is outstanding.
“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” – Tony ‘Justice’ Bowes
“Seeka casts his mind back, a memory that is a soundscape created by melodic strings and electro funk beats” – MUJ Liner Notes
Akasha – Brown Sugar (PFM’s Cosmic Journey Mix)
(Wall Of Sound, WALLT028X, 1997)
“I am the first word in motion, my moments are eternities…”
PFM (stands for Progressive Future Music) is a drum and bass outfit synonymous with the atmospheric and mellower side of drum and bass. PFM were formed in Suffolk by Mike Bolton and Jamie Saker, after meeting with Bukem in the early 90s, who eventually convinced them to enter the studio a few years later. They returned the favour with a string of seminal classics for Bukem’s labels. Around 1997, Saker left PFM and Bolton effectively continued the project solo with remarkable success, establishing himself as one of the most in-demand cross-genre remixers. PFM has remixed: Art Of Noise, Lisa Moorish (Saker is credited also for the remix of ‘Love For Life’), David Holmes, Mandalay, Mulu, Eat Static, Trickbaby, Espiritu, Forces Of Nature, Lil’ Louis & The Party and Akasha.
Akasha (Charlie Casey & Damian Hand) formed in 1994 in Brixton and released their debut EP on Wall of Sound the same year. Following a performance at Glastonbury’s Jazz Stage, Akasha released the singles ‘Spanish Fly’ and ‘Brown Sugar’, foreshadowing their acclaimed debut album ‘Cinematique’, with guest appearances by Maxi Jazz from Faithless and Neneh Cherry, who deliverd a stunning cover of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’.
PFM’s ‘Cosmic Journey Mix’ retains the esoteric lyrics and stylishly captures the emotional gravity of the original.
Boymerang – Soul Beat Runna
(Regal, REG14, 1997)
I can hardly recall a producer who’s had a brief spell at drum & bass and left such an indelible musical print other than Boymerang. Graham Sutton, member of the post-rock band Bark Psychosis turned Grooverider’s acolyte, has been a purveyor of an apocalyptic breakbeat noir. ‘Soul Beat Runna’ is the lead single from Boymerang’s ground breaking album ‘Balance of The Force’, released on Regal (a part of EMI Group) and features on the main menu of the FIFA Series, France ’98 video game (by EA Sports).
I have found an excerpt of Sutton’s comments on the making of the iconic drum loop in my digital archives. Sadly, I don’t remember where I copied it from (DOA perhaps), so I apologize for not properly crediting the original source:
“You’ll have to throw your mind back to a time before computers were audio-manipulators, to when everything was hand-made in a hardware sampler, and the computer was merely a MIDI sequencer. The gear at the time consisted of:
Atari ST running Cubase
Emu E4 – 16 outs
Sony Portable DAT
…and that was pretty much it!
Step 1: got the original Amen Break, played at original speed, and hand-chopped it in the E4 up into *every* constituent hit, including tiny-tiny flams etc etc.
Step 2: sequenced all the fragments, moving the pieces by the tiniest of amounts, so they played identically time-wise to the original.
Step 3: Using the timing refs from step 2, replaced all the sounds (still at old school original tempo). Only rule was no sound could come from a break that I’d heard already used. You can probably spot at least a JV ride in there.
Step 4: Kept engineering different layers of background noise etc etc, till it sounded “new but old”, at least to me.
Step 5: Re-sampled the whole break to DAT, then dumped it back to the E4.
Step 6: Replay back at sped up DnB speed to check for tone and vibe etc. Usually this would then involve going back to Step 3.
Step 7: CHOP CHOP CHOP – one new break to use!
Hehe, it sounds like an easy operation written like that, but honestly, it was fucking time consuming. Probably took a week or two till I was happy. I was so happy when I started hearing others using it, starting with Dilinja’s Silver Blade, as I’d left a couple of free bars of just the break in the track, so it could grabbed …”
Voyager – Apollo
(Good Looking Records, GLR027, 1998)
Pete Parsons’ musical career started around the dawn of 90s as an in-house producer, remixer and sound engineer at the famous ‘Monroe Studios’ based on Holloway Road, London and has been involved in production and engineering for a large cross-section of musical styles for many different labels, including the likes of Dee Jay Recordings, Lucky Spin, Moving Shadow, Impact, Suburban Base, Soapbar, Proper Talent and Sound Entity. In 1994, Lucky Spin Records relocated from King’s Road (the premises were taken over by Moving Shadow setting up their own record shop and sub-label Section 5) to Holloway, next door to the Monroe Studios and Parsons soon became the main engineer for Dee Jay & Lucky Spin. After a string of collaborative releases (under various monikers alongside Slipmaster J), Parsons adopted the Voyager recording guise for his productions. With tracks garnering anthemic status at the ‘Speed’ club nights hosted by Bukem and Fabio, it was only a matter of time until he recorded for their labels. The cinematic and breathtaking orchestral strings of ‘Apollo’ render it one of GLR’s finest moments.
Spearheading a more streamlined approach to drum & bass, the artwork has been in tandem with the musical output; futuristic, unconventional and thought-provoking. The sleeve design by Propeller Studio is self-explanatory and depicts blurry parts of the inscriptions on the ‘Voyager Golden Records’, which are two phonograph records that were included aboard both ‘Voyager’ spacecrafts launched in 1977. The records contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them. Those records are considered as a sort of a time capsule. Had it been recorded 20 years earlier, ‘Apollo’ could easily feature on the discs; drum & bass’ future legacy.
KMC – Space Echo
(Partisan Recordings, PART015, 1998)
A short-lived, but highly influential label, Partisan was formed by the former Moving Shadow managing crew under Derek Birkett’s One Little Indian Records wing. Sustaining the quality standards established at their previous posts, the ethos of the new label was to champion distinguished production and artists who were possibly overlooked for not being within the high-profile glittering circle (history, label profile and discography highlights here).
KMC (Keith McKnight) has been the first d&b producer from Scotland to release a d&b record, as well as a owner of Drastik Plastik Records, the mastermind behind the ‘Jungle Book’ d&b events in Edinburgh and artistic supervisor of Temple Music. Regrettably, he abruptly left drum & bass at the end of the 90s due to wranglings with GLR over their record deal; however every single one of his productions is an atmospheric d&b staple and ‘Space Echo’ for Partisan is one of the highlights. In 2009 he launched the digital label Micro Deep Beats offering a bundle of older unreleased tracks for free, as well as new material.
Naibu – Opium Lady
(Horizons Music, HZN030, 2008)
French producer Naibu’s (Robin Leclair) meteoric rise to drum & bass came in 2008. His talents were readily picked up by Fabio’s Creative Source and Horizons Music, the latter becoming Naibu’s creative home in the following years.
‘Fireflies EP’, where ‘Opium Lady’ is taken from, has been the prelude to his sophomore self-titled album, which was released a year later with a similar artwork concept and the lead track was remixed by Seba. The Japanese culture references are ubiquitous in the graphic illustration designed by Foldesign. The title of the EP is inspired from the emotionally draining 1988 Japanese animated war drama ‘Grave Of The Fireflies’ and the geisha portrait in the sleeve completes the concept.
Blu Mar Ten – Believe Me
(Blu Mar Ten Music, BMT002, 2009)
A few weeks before the official release of the album, I had a casual online conversation with Chris Marigold, which turned out to be prescient; he had been booked on late October 2009 to play Athens for the first time in light of the ‘Natural History’ promotion tour.
‘Believe Me’ is the lead single and a highlight from Blu Mar Ten’s ‘Natural History LP’, paying homage to Steve Reich (the main riff is sampled from Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’). The emotionally draining and intimate vocal hook is sampled from The Carpenters’ ‘Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again’. The song was recorded in 1975 but was not officially released until 1994 for The Carpenters’ 25th anniversary. A cover version by Barry Manilow became a hit in 1976. Blu Mar Ten aficionados will recognize the vocal from an older Blu Mar Ten track ‘The Feeling’ (released on Deep Structure, 2003).
A 2-part remix package was commissioned the next year, featuring remixes by Klute, Seba, Stray, Bop (who contributed a microfunk re-interpretation of ‘Believe Me’), Kastle & Badmammal. The alluring hand-painted imagery sleeve illustrations of the first singles as well as of the next BMT projects are designed by ithinkitsnice.
An inside view into all Blu Mar Ten albums from the blog’s archive here.
Seba – Dangerous Days
(Warm Communications, WARM015, 2009)
Blade Runner and Vangelis’ musical theme have been the unofficial sample pack for electronic music, but if you are looking for a captivating d&b rendition, then look no further. Seba is one of the genre’s most prolific and consistent artists, having recorded literally for every label that matters; with a signature sound that effortlessly sways from the deep and emotive corners to the darker edges of the d&b spectrum. ‘Dangerous Days’ is the second in a string of releases (7 to the time of writing) for the finest Texas-based outlet Warm Communications.
dBridge & Instra:mental – Translucent
(Sepia Tones EP, Darkestral, DARKESTRAL 004/005, 2009)
In 2007, Instra:mental signed with Darkestral Recordings, the eclectic leftfield drum & bass label run by Paul Laidlaw aka Rico Drkstr. Though short-lived, Darkestral introduced cinematic aesthetics, with outstanding releases, supplemented with bespoke vinyl art and packaging. The label’s ethos is summarized in the maxim: “170… respect the speed limit”. Instra:mental found their natural habitat and forged their own musical path with a string of ground-breaking records.
The pinnacle of their Darkestral discography has probably been the ‘Sepia Tones’ EP (where ‘Translucent’ is taken from), co-produced with dBridge; literally a musical artifact, which foreshadowed the emergence of the ‘Autonomic’ movement. ‘Sepia Tones’ was published in three vinyl variations limited to 500 copies (one in plain black, one in gold and black and one in sepia; the latter probably the most collectible and sought after version) beautifully packaged in reversed heavy board sleeves, coloured pantone black, both inside and out, with gold foil block logos and lettering front and back.
Instra:mental’s discography highlights, profile, interview excerpts, and the background story of ‘Photograph’ from Sepia Tones narrated by Damon Kid Drama has featured on the blog’s ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ here.
Aural Imbalance – Icefields Of Proxima
(Legacy LP, Cadence Recordings, CADLP001, 2012)
Another label that gracefully and unabatingly championed the atmospheric d&b movement in the new millennium is Cadence Recordings; part of the movementinsound music group and home to a wide array of veteran and new producers.
Aural Imbalance (Simon Huxtable) has been a stalwart of atmospheric d&b, who has also broadened his repertoire to accommodate for a more nostalgic electronic sound drawing from his rich production palette. ‘Icefields of Proxima’ is taken from his debut album ‘Legacy’, which is rather poetic, as Cadence is the label Simon’s recording career started from. ‘Legacy’ is a mixed album, as it has been Simon’s intention from the start; each individual track is part of a larger story.
“I have put my heart and soul into every track with a nod to the past and an eye to the future, in terms of both production and sound. I find it poignant that ‘Legacy’ has found its natural home, as it were on Cadence Recordings, which is where my astral d&b adventure started many moons ago. It’s with this in mind that the artist wishes you the listener, a deep and atmospheric voyage with both Cadence and myself! Enjoy” – Legacy liner notes
ASC & Ulrich Schnauss – 77
(Auxiliary, AUX007, 2012)
James Clements (ASC) and Ulrich Schnauss are two of my all-time favourite producers, purveyors of the finest electronic music. Their musical paths had crossed in the past (they had both signed tracks with Good Looking Records in the early 00s) and apparently they were both into each other’s music, so the collaboration seemed inevitable. The title ‘77’ refers to another thing James and Ulrich have in common: their year of birth.
“It’s always been my lucky number too due to that, and I know Ulrich has used it before with his Ethereal 77 project, so it seemed like a natural choice for our first collaborations” – ASC
Beyond the confines of drum & bass, despite being written within the 85/170 framework, ‘77’ is an elegant and adept study of modern electronica. James’ and Ulrich’s long-term dalliance with vintage synths is omnipresent, evoking IDM memories of times past.
A feature dedicated to ‘77’ as part of the blog’s ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series is available here.
Bungle – Astral Travel
(Soul:R, SOULR060, 2013)
Soul:R was created by Marcus Intalex and S.T Files in 2001 and soon became the focal point for drum & bass in Manchester and beyond. With an impressive back catalogue and home to some of the genre’s most influential artists, the label is now dormant due to the untimely death of Marcus in 2017. In his loving memory, the ‘Marcus Intalex Music Foundation’ has been established; a cultural hub for Manchester’s electronic music scene and a platform to support and nurture talent in many aspects of music development (Read more about MIMF here).
‘Astral Travel’ (b/w ‘Aura’) is one of the label’s finest moments; in fact I still haven’t decided which side I like the most. Written and produced by one of Brazil’s first-class d&b ambassadors Bungle (André Oliveira Sobota), it was released as part of the 10th soul:R anniversary celebrations.
Future Engineers – Exhale
(Exhale EP, Transference Recordings, TRF003, 2013)
Future Engineers are among my all time favourite producers and have made their name synonymous with the ‘atmo-tech’ pole of the d&b spectrum (alongside Blame, ASC etc.). An exclusive interview with Lee Batchelor, when he was our guest in Athens, Future Engineers’ artist profile and discography highlights are available from the blog’s archive here, so I’ll pick up narrative after Keir and Lee went their separate ways (ca 2007) and Future Engineers became Lee’s solo project.
Lee launched Transference Recordings in 2010 to release new Future Engineers material. ‘Exhale’ is the lead track of the eponymous EP on Transference, which marks a shift towards more experimental and dystopian avenues. Lee explains:
“I consciously set out to have a variety of styles on the compilation. The bulk of the tracks are primarily aimed at the dance floor but tracks like ‘Exhale’ and Dystopia’ have given me the opportunity to experiment a bit more with the music and the beats. It is quite nice to work on music and not have the restraints of ‘dance floor compatibility’ in the back of your mind. So, I would like to work on some more experimental releases going forward. The flexibility of digital I think also gives you more freedom to experiment”
Eschaton – Callisto
(Drum & Space Vol. 2 LP, Omni Music, OMNI016, 2013)
One of those labels that have consistently carried the torch of atmospheric drum & bass is Omni Music. The ‘yin & yang’ logo encompasses the vision and ethos of the label: the symbol of dualism, the vicious pendulum between light and dark, reality and fiction, hope and despair, where seemingly contradicting forces actually interconnect and counterbalance.
Eschaton (Chris Wright) is Omni Music’s founder; a prolific producer and an avid fan of the album format (he has released 21 LPs at the time of writing). Concepts and themes usually revolve around science fiction, cosmology objects and dynamics, real and imaginary travels, as well as the mysteries of the universe that have regaled human imagination for centuries. His affinity for sci-fi literature and cult horror films is demonstrated in his latest venture; book writing. The third and final part of his ‘Survival’ series is out now and the accompanying OST is available here.
‘Callisto’ is taken from ‘Drum & Space Vol. 2’ and the track title refers to the second-largest moon of Jupiter. It is the third-largest moon in the solar system after Ganymede and Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Through a telescope, Callisto is brighter than our Moon, due to its surface made up of a very thick layer of ice.
Bop x Synkro – Blurred Memories
(Punk’s Not Dead LP, MEDIC41LP, Med School, 2014)
After 13 years and over 90 releases, Med School completed their natural cycle last year. Med School has been the sister label of Hospital Records and started as a platform to promote new talent, groom them for the main label and accommodate for music that wasn’t exactly suitable for the Hospital sound. Bop is one of the most prominent ‘graduates’ of a special project that in some cases I’d dare say it outclassed the parent label.
Entering a grey area, where the lines between genres become vague, ‘Blurred Memories’ is taken from Bop’s 3rd personal album playfully titled ‘Punk’s Not Dead’ featuring the Autonomic star (and owner of Synkro Music and SK1 record shop) Synkro, who brings new influences to the ‘microfunk’ sub-genre and beyond.
Om Unit – Adventures in Eden
(Torchlight Vol. 2, Cosmic Bridge, CBR014, 2016)
A keen music scholar and a significant presence in various bass music circles from hip-hop to drum & bass, Jim Coles adopted the Om Unit moniker to re-imagine and cross-breed new sonic tropes, mapping the stylistic links of jungle and footwork with a series of edits, which drew the attention of the drum & bass scene. In 2011 he set up his own label Cosmic Bridge as a platform for his own material and like minded-artists. Operating on the fringes of various musical styles, Om Unit has methodically enfolded the endless possibilities of bass music under the Cosmic Bridge umbrella.
After two decades in London, Coles relocated to Bristol in 2015. From his new studio on the English west coast he continues his search through production work and aesthetic exercises. ‘Adventures in Eden’ is taken from the second volume of the ‘Torchlight’ trilogy.
Alaska – Jasheri (v2)
(Arctic Music, AM009, 2017)
Paradox (Dev Pandya) in an older interview cited Future Bound’s ‘Blue Mist’ (Timeless Recordings, 1996) as an inspiration for his early Alaska ambient jungle material. In 2006, Pandya released his second album titled ‘Arctic Foundations’ on 13 Music (a Vibez Recordings’ subsidiary), which foreshadowed the creation of Arctic Music the same year as an exclusive platform for future Alaska recordings. The original version of ‘Jasheri’ was released in 2014 and has been reissued 3 years later with a heartbreaking alternate version (which features in the mix). I can’t help imagining Kiyomi’s fragile and whispery vocals somewhere in the breakdown.
Klute – Angel Makers
(Read Between The Lines LP, Commercial Suicide, SUICIDELP018, 2017)
A certified album artist with a rare consistency that spans more than two decades, Klute (Tom Withers) has opted for full-lengths as a means of artistic expression, although he could get away with releasing music for pretty much any label he deemed fit. ‘Read Between The Lines’ is Klute’s 8th studio album; a distraction, refuge and personal remedy from the white noise and political hysteria of his surroundings and encapsulates the artistic maturity and versatility of an artist that has defied trends, formulas and genre confines. Renowned for his unique talent to instill a multitude of influences in his productions, from his punk/hardcore origins to techno, house and dub, Klute’s broad repertoire abounds with incredibly inspirational music.
‘Angel Makers’ is taken from ‘Read Between The Lines’ and is a tribute to Brian Bennet’s ‘Rock Dreams’ closing vignette. I also attach Withers’s poignantly prophetic comment that captured the vision and essence of the album and still sounds as relevant as ever:
“We can’t take things at face value. Work out what people are getting at, question their motives. We’re being led down a dark garden path. Something suggests to me that this was the plan all along” – Interview for UKF, March 2017