“What came first, the music or the obsession?”
This coming month is the sixth year anniversary since the blog went officially online. Three years ago I shared some thoughts here about how it all started, a retrospective account of the events that influenced the blog’s thematic basis, as well as a quick walk-through the blog’s various categories/series and a brief background story behind each one of them. A lot has changed since then, so I thought it would be apt to update regular and non-regular readers about the new direction, forthcoming features and what the future holds for this blog. Certain categories have completed their cycle, new have been added and some remain dormant until the right trigger or inspiration comes up.
“… hearing my track loud on a sound system, watching people’s reactions. That’s all you need as a producer. That’s pure approval right there. People loving what you make; it ‘s mission accomplished …”
MI5 – Experience (LSR020)
Throwback to 1995 for the 11th edition of the blog’s ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series. The artist name might not ring a bell at first glance; however behind this one-off recording guise has been one of the most influential and celebrated drum & bass producers of the mid-90s DJ Crystl. Combining old-school hip-hop breakbeat mechanics with ethereal sci-fi soundscapes, his productions have been paramount to the flourishing of ambient jungle. With a cinematic approach, collating and transcending contradictions – en vogue yet timeless, benign yet sinister, nuanced yet evident – Crystl has envisioned the soundtrack of imaginary film scenes.
Happy New Year everybody! For the first post of 2018, I have compiled a continuous playlist with some of my favourite electronic tracks from the last few years; essentially music I’ve been listening to, when I am not listening to drum & bass. Although this is clearly a drum & bass-oriented blog, regular readers must have spotted my affinity for ambient, film scores and modern electronica. I have contemplated the expansion of the blog’s scope quite often, however I eventually decided to publish non-drum & bass content only sporadically for the time being, as it seems impossible to stay up-to-date with more than one electronic music genre in a consistent fashion these days.
“The soundtrack of daydreaming, adding widescreen vistas and deep, saturated hues to the monochrome silence”
The playlist selection has been quite diverse. Blurring the lines between composition and improvisation, from spacey ambience and dystopian interludes, to avant-garde electronica and contemporary classical music, the common denominator encompasses musicality, sound aesthetics and subtle emotional gravity. Continue reading
The second part of the blog’s mini-series covers the period 1997-99. What may have started timidly for artistic purposes or exclusive dj promotional use, by 1997 it became almost de rigueur for record labels to commission drum & bass versions for selected singles and various remix compilations. The niche underground genre infiltrated the mainstream and many d&b producers signed with major labels to curate collections or record personal albums. On reflection, it turned out to be a double-edged sword.
On one hand, d&b found its well-deserved place on the electronic music map. Artists were finally rewarded and vindicated for their efforts and their work was introduced from a limited connoisseur circle to a wider audience, providing them with a vital and creative space for experimentation. Commercial success and critic appreciation motivated accomplished, as well as up-and-coming producers to master their craft, pushing the musical boundaries beyond genre confines. On the other hand, the roller coaster of media exposure, politics, cloudy distribution and licensing agreements, self-indulgence and the drama that inevitably occurs when money and temporary fame enter the equation, terminated careers and friendships untimely and ingloriously. Effectively, drum & bass re-entered a phase of introversion, darkness and belligerence marking the end of the romance. An injection of fresh air was desperately needed and a new breed of producers and record labels emerged to fill in the gap created by those who helped the scene flourish, but sadly realized that they no longer fitted in the d&b reality of the new millennium.
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).
“… 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 our Glider-State track was called so…”
“… I hadn’t done anything on Modern Urban Jazz since the ‘Emotions With Intellect’ LP, so to keep the ethos going, we decided that this would be an ideal collaboration by using the Modern Urban Jazz tag on the Creative Wax label. I don’t think either of our labels had been ones to follow trends and certainly at the time we were ripe for a more experimental sound…”
Modern Urban Jazz front cover (CWLP001, 1997)
Modern Urban Jazz 01 is a seminal compilation album, curated by Tony Justice Bowes and published by Creative Wax. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the official release, this is a retrospective account of the series of events that culminated in the realization of a brilliant project, which transcends genres and time. Titled after Justice’s eponymous record label, the compilation shares similar aesthetics and musical direction. An amalgamation of sounds with allusions to musique concrete; jazz noir, hip hop, funk, techno and electro instilled into drum & bass, with all contributing artists showcasing their musical backgrounds and creative influences, free of formulas, dancefloor reaction and genre constraints. Walking down a long, nostalgic and captivating trip down memory lane, this is a colourful and emotionally charged narrative, through the protagonists’ looking glass, filled with fond and distant memories that capture vividly the atmosphere of the mid-90s drum & bass scene.
from Kiel and Berlin to London and San Diego, cool has been re-imagined
“… ‘77’ seems a piece that has a rather elegant flow, something I always appreciated about d&b very much. Although this might not be a d&b release from a ‘genre-stalinist’ perspective, I’d still argue that it at least attempts to relate to that kind of aesthetic …” – Ulrich Schnauss
James Clements and Ulrich Schnauss in their studios
Leaping in time from the nostalgically distant 1994 and Foul Play to 2012 for the 10th installment of the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series. It’s been a rare occasion that two of my all-time favourite electronic music artists have combined their studio wizardry for an exquisite collaboration, which succinctly encapsulates their cinematic aesthetics. Having a visionary and eclectic scope, sophisticated production and composition qualities, as well as enviable back catalogues transcending genres and styles, James Clements and Ulrich Schnauss are purveyors of fine electronic music.