“Love and other tragedies are recurring themes in the series. Whoever thought that d&b is cold, emotionless and monotonous music, clearly haven’t been paying attention…”
I realize that the series read like another generic countdown list, however there are deeper connotations to me. It’s a retrospective musical diary; a timeline that reflects and documents what I’ve been listening to in various periods of my life. Over time, my militant musical views have – thankfully – attenuated and I’ve come to embrace and appreciate a broader musical spectrum. Hence, all the producers who feature on the series are artists that have resonated with me and have steered away from rigid, formulaic corners.
The third part of the mini-series covers the period 2000-09. At the dawn of the new millennium the majors had turned their backs to drum & bass and adopted a more chart-friendly policy. The halcyon days seemed abruptly over, artists turned almost overnight from media darlings to pariahs and the music press headlines proclaimed the death of the genre. But drum & bass was too cool for that. After a short period of introspection and re-invention, d&b returned stronger than ever. A new wave of artists and record labels pushed the musical boundaries beyond genre confines and soon d&b regained its well-deserved place in the electronic music map; from a limited connoisseur circle to a global audience, from sweaty basements and midweek slots to headlining club main stages and festivals.
Every track presented in the series has a special place in my collection and is associated with a different period of my life, hence the time leaps. Throwback to 1997 for the 13th installment of the Tracks I Wish I’d Written; a stellar classic with one of the genre’s most recognizable and revered lead synths, written and produced by one of drum & bass’ unsung heroes that captures elegantly a nostalgic time and place.
Odyssey – Expressions (720-002)
“… God bless the path of the musical children, walking the steps of change going forward-bound, our music’s taking you to higher ground …” – MC Conrad
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).
“Musically it’s the same button we’ve been pressing since day one, trying to find that particular and delicate place between sadness and hope. We rarely find it, exactly, but we come close sometimes. It’s like what they say about jazz players, always trying to find the ‘lost chord’ …” – Interview for UKF, November 2016.
Blu Mar Ten Album Covers
A common trait among music fans is their ability to recollect little details regarding their musical icons. A series of coincidences and seemingly unrelated events acquire a whole different gravity in hindsight. Although I firmly believe in the maxim “Don’t meet your heroes”, happily enough, meeting Blu Mar Ten has been a distinct exception to the rule and I feel quite honoured to have known them in person and consider them friends.
I accidentally discovered Blu Mar Ten in 1996 and I have closely followed their musical career path ever since. Their sophisticated approach, art and literature connotations, eclectic taste and cinematic aesthetics have never ceased to amaze me. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of their discography debut, Blu Mar Ten recently released their 7th studio album entitled ‘Empire State’. What follows is a retrospective, but not exhaustive account of their career from my biased perspective, emphasizing on releases, which I have associated with fond memories and have had a profound impact on me; an array of reminiscences printed on vinyl grooves. Browsing through my record collection, I also present my personal highlights from each LP, instead of a track-by-track review, trying also to deduce and identify their creative influences. This is essentially my own perception and an attempt to capture the essence of the album narratives, which is completely arbitrary and probably nowhere near Blu Mar Ten’s actual vision and purpose. Nonetheless, I believe that the value of an artistic product is to create different emotions, thoughts and interpretations.
“Until My Dying Day was a tune UB40 had written, which was touted to be the theme for the latest Bond film at the time (GoldenEye) …”
Until My Dying Day (Icons remix)
By the first half of the 90s, UB40’s constant touring had taken its toll and the band was ready for a well-earned rest. During their sabbatical, several of the band’s members worked on their own musical projects. Earl Falconer, the group’s bassist, would follow his passion outside UB40, engaging into jungle/drum and bass production and promotion activities with remarkable success.
“… 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.
“… with desolate, even mournful piano notes, oscillating effortlessly between the robust and the fragile, ‘Another Silent World’ is a streamlined, almost cinematic take in a drum & bass context …”
Black Rain (album front cover)
The fifth installment of the blog’s “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series is about an obscure track, produced in 2003 by one of my all-time favourite musicians/artists. At first glance, Black Rain might not ring any bells, as it was a cross-genre, one-off musical project, which was active in the first half of the new millennium, but regrettably stayed under the radar. Nonetheless, the members of Black Rain have been two of the most respected and celebrated drum & bass artists; Robert Haigh and Sean O’Keeffe, widely known by their primary recording aliases Omni Trio and Deep Blue respectively.