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.
“… it would be true to say the labels would not be where they are without Scott’s invaluable vision, design and input” – Tony ‘Justice’ Bowes
Despite having a soft spot for bespoke artwork design and illustration, it has taken me an embarrassingly long time to adopt a decent site icon and logo for the blog and my social media accounts. After almost six years of blogging and some hopeless scribbling on photo editors, I eventually decided to add a touch of art and aesthetics; a logo that would reflect the blog’s vision and output. For that purpose, the graphic studio Metro Design has delivered brilliant brand-new icons and logo. A complete retouche of the site though is a project for another day. The rather incomprehensible head title is the result of a stream of consciousness, paraphrasing a song written by Tricky (original title ‘Brand New You’re Retro’, featuring on his ‘Pumpkin’ EP, released on Island Records’ offshoot 4th & Broadway, 1995), which in all honesty caught my attention due to Alex Reece’s remix.
Metro Design is the new venture of Scott London, the electronic music producer known as Metro. Continue reading
“… At Basement Records we also wanted the artists to sample as little as possible, to create pioneering and original material, hence the label title ‘Precious Material’. Some of the releases are produced in the studio and some are recorded live performances…”- Phil Wells reflects on the label’s ethos and purpose
After a long hiatus, the blog’s “Whatever happened to …?” series return with the 9th installment. This time into the limelight is Precious Material; one of the most exhilarating and pioneering drum & bass labels of the mid-90s. Though short-lived, Precious Material has been one of the finest outlets of experimental drum and bass, integrating elements from various musical genres into the drum & bass template, defying stereotypes, constraints and agendas.
Established by Phil Wells in 1994 as a Basement Records’ subsidiary, during a time when drum & bass was still in its infancy, the main driver had been to foster a creative environment for established, as well as up-and-coming artists, free from dance-floor reactions and limitations. Following the huge success of the parent label Basement Records during the early rave years and the jungle/drum & bass evolution, Phil’s aspiration and incentive had always been to spearhead a new musical direction and introduce drum & bass to wider audiences.
“We’re trying to push the sounds that were around in the mid-1990s, but update them … We’re keen to bring back experimentation. I think it’s something that has been lost over the past ten years. You’ve got more and more dance-floor fodder coming out. Drum and bass became about the same people for too long. We’re well aware that in two years it won’t be our stuff that’s being played, it’ll be someone else’s. That’s what makes it healthy” – Guy Brewer, prior to a Commix set at Aperture, June 2008
This is the second installment of the blog’s new series “Tracks I Wish I’d Written”.
Every track that will be presented in the series has been hand-picked from my personal record collection and has had a profound impact on my musical taste. Featuring a variety of tracks across the electronic music spectrum, emphasizing mainly on drum and bass, from undisputed classics to underrated gems – all tracks I wish I’d written, as the title of the series clearly states.
Commix – Be True
The first feature of the series has been about a Photek production released in 1996. Making a leap in time and fast forward to 2007, the second issue is about a modern drum and bass classic; perhaps the most celebrated track from one of the most fascinating and talented drum and bass outfits of the last decade, Commix.
The seventh installment of the “Whatever happened to …?” series is dedicated to Foul Play; a pioneering, genre-defining and innovative electronic music act, heralding the transition from hardcore breakbeat to jungle/drum and bass. Being active almost throughout the 90s (the band’s synthesis changed twice during its activity, due to unforeseen circumstances) constantly re-inventing themselves, with dexterous, second-to-none programming and sample manipulation, their illustrious productions have marked indelibly the UK underground music map.