“The Luke Skywalker of Breakbeat. He is unbelievable, he is so talented. I’ve been watching him grow up in the last two years. I’ve seen him grow from this inquisitive street kid to that age where he’s humorous and simply enjoying life. I do feel like a big brother to him.” – Goldie on J Majik, Platinum Breakz inner sleeve notes, 1996
This week is the blog’s 7th year anniversary. Traditionally, the anniversary features are retrospective accounts. To celebrate the occasion, I’ve taken a nostalgic trip back to 1997; the pinnacle of drum & bass’ golden era and a seminal year for full-length albums and various artists compilations*. Drum & bass had already attracted the media spotlight, which in turn exposed the niche genre from a limited connoisseur circle to a wider audience, providing artists with a vital and creative space for experimentation. However, what started with bona fide artistic intentions came with a price, but this is a story for another day.
As manifested in previous posts, over the years I have developed an affinity for albums. Immersing in the underlying atmosphere, I am intrigued by the influences, the samples, the lyrical motifs, the artwork, the concept, the evident or cryptic messages they convey; everything eventually culminates in a narrative with a purpose and a profound personal touch. I prefer conventional structure: an opening track foreshadowing the main theme, which is divided perhaps into multiple sections with interludes or vignettes and a closing track that concludes the musical journey. Some artists get it right effortlessly, some lose the plot midway and others end up with a collection of selected works. It doesn’t matter anyway; the merit of album writing as an art form is to evoke different emotions and interpretations, gradually unveiling beauty and truth in time.
“Sacrificing time, energy and money to keep an independent record label afloat in a niche and saturated market is a reality we often ignore or overlook, especially when it comes to investing on the vinyl format. So, I take the opportunity to thank all artists and record labels for gracing this year with their beautiful music and safeguarding the art, the passion and the romance”.
The last blog post of the year is traditionally a retrospective countdown. Though our culture of distraction and minimal attention span seems unrelenting on burying new releases beneath an endless scroll, 2018 has been exceptional for important things like new, fascinating music. From the establishment of new boutique record labels and classic album re-issues, to much-anticipated debuts, spectacular or dramatic comebacks, this year abounded with great music. My penchant for LPs was more than clear in the previous post, however I feel the urge to express it once again: Album writing has always been and still remains an art form. When you want to make a statement in music, you write an album and at the moment those statements are more exciting, varied and relevant than ever before.
“… a touching piece of graffiti appeared on a wall during the gig – a vertical line, a horizontal line and then the two conjoined – we control the vertical, we control the horizontal, we control the Zig Zag…”
The Emperor’s New Clothes LP
Over the years I have developed a penchant for albums. Immersing in the underlying atmosphere, I am intrigued by the influences, the samples, the lyrical motifs, the artwork, the concept, the evident or cryptic messages they convey; everything eventually culminates in a narrative with a purpose and a profound personal touch. I prefer traditional structure: an opening track foreshadowing the main theme, which is divided perhaps into multiple sections with interludes or vignettes and a closing track that concludes the musical journey. Some artists get it right effortlessly, some lose the plot midway and others end up with a collection of selected works. It doesn’t matter anyway; the merit of album writing as an art form is to evoke different emotions and interpretations, unveiling beauty and truth in due course.
So far, all the tracks presented in the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series have been taken from singles or EPs – the only exception being issue#5. However, this time around I revisited the albums of my collection for the latest edition: throwback to 2007 for a track written and produced by a certified d&b ‘album artist’. Having released 8 studio albums and a 9th due next year, Klute has proved to be one of the most prolific, diverse and revered drum & bass producers, renowned for defying trends, formulas and genre constraints. His unique talent to instill a multitude of influences in his productions, from his punk/hardcore origins to techno, house and dub has resulted in a broad repertoire of incredibly inspirational music.
“ … when I’m creating music, I mostly envision different worlds. Once you stick with astronomy and the mysteries of the universe, there’s no turning back, hence the track titles are all universe-related. I’m all about stargazing, what I imagine is what I create and through the process I’m feeling it. The album title says it all really …”
“The Hidden Worlds” is the debut personal album of the Serbian producer Slobodan Oljaca, known by his recording alias Okee. An inertial and stellar navigation to distant constellations and planets, the album beautifully emulates premium atmospherics, creating a mood of existential uncertainty. Profoundly influenced by vintage science fiction films and the exceptional drum & bass sound of the 90s, “The Hidden Worlds” captures sense and sensibility as grandly as Okees’ musical icons, investing every glacial synth shimmer with a hope even solar wind at the termination shock can’t kill.
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.
“… 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.
Blu Mar Ten Music
“We release music we like made by people we like.”- Blu Mar Ten on the ethos of their label
After experimentation with various electronic music genres, two non-d&b studio albums and a string of drum and bass releases on a wide array of prestigious labels, Blu Mar Ten marked their glorious comeback to familiar musical paths with the establishment of their own imprint Blu Mar Ten Music (BMTM) in 2009. The label was initially set to accomodate for their own material and Blu Mar Ten released two studio albums in the next two years, entitled Natural History and Love Is The Devil respectively. They also commissioned a multi-part remix series to augment both projects, with contributions from established artists across the scene, achieving critical acclaim and remarkable chart success. Continue reading