“The name Killer Smile just seemed to fit with our vision of the label, a multi-genre label putting out dancefloor tracks built around killer breaks and basslines, as well as more emotive tracks made to put a smile on your face…”
There’s music that captures and echoes a beautiful time and place, staying with you forever. Foul Play have resonated with me from the very first moment and will always reserve a special place in my heart and record collection. On November 2013, I published “Whatever happened to … Foul Play?”, a retrospective account of their history, discography highlights and musical legacy. A later edition of the blog’s “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series included some edits and finer details. Fast forward to the present, jungle/drum & bass legend and Foul Play founding member John Morrow picks up the narrative where it left off: from the last chapter of Foul Play for Partisan and his cross-genre solo musical explorations as Johnny Halo and Skeleton Army, to the chain of events that rekindled his passion for drum & bass and the launch of his new boutique label Killer Smile (the 4th after Oblivion, Panik and Cellar Door). The sequel I never thought I’d write …
“As musical cultures, I think ambient and drum & bass certainly find parallels in each other – they both loosely connect around personal freedom – be it euphoric or mindful, as genres they are similar in the emotions they elicit …” – Ryan Griffin
In last year’s anniversary feature I had given a hint about expanding the blog’s scope to sporadic non-d&b material, essentially to music I love and enjoy, when I am not listening to drum & bass. The maxim is always the same: “I write about music I like, written by people I like”. My affinity for album covers, liner notes, film scores, ambient and modern electronica has been manifested in previous posts to the point of nausea. What I have not talked about yet though, is that I have often day-dreamt about my own vanity project, or becoming a glorified post-boy as a friend has playfully stated in a past interview here. The mechanics of creating a record label are easier than ever, however I guess that the ship has sailed for now. Counter-intuitively, one of the labels that has inspired me with their passion, meticulousness and visual aesthetics has not been covered on the blog yet and is far from what you have probably guessed. And that brings us to this month’s post. I have the privilege and pleasure to host Ryan Griffin, owner and curator of A Strangely Isolated Place, who shares his insight and narrates the background story of one of the most fascinating labels you are about to stumble upon.
“The words ‘Every second takes an hour’ explained perfectly the strange time-warp-like atmosphere in ‘The Fridge’; it was so easy to lose track of time in there. Then the next line ‘and each one seems the last’ illustrates that feeling of impending doom that I felt at the time …”
Rise Of The Phoenix EP, WYHS040, 1995
I have been contemplating a Bay B Kane blog feature for years. I had even drafted several sketches, but for one reason or another they remained buried in my digital archive. So, in that sense, the 16th edition of the “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” is long overdue. I was recently listening back to Bay B Kane’s ‘Rise Of The Phoenix EP’, when my daughter playfully asked me about the vocal sample. That was the trigger to finally pay my respects to one of the true pioneers, who heralded the transition from hardcore to jungle; a master manipulator of breaks and samples from the most unusual sources (from hip hop and obscure techno to art rock and pop) and whose musical contribution should be sung really louder.
“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.
“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.
“I wanted to use a methodical, timeless word, which could have different meanings. Obviously, ‘Rotation’ for circular motion on a turntable, ‘Rotation’ in life’s cycle, ‘Rotation’ in art forms that appear, fade, reappear, ‘Rotation’ as a whole; and then ‘Audio’, because audio production is what we’re involved in”.
I have been browsing through my notes pondering about the blog’s 7th year anniversary feature (due this coming April) and couldn’t help wondering about the lengths d&b has reached after all these years. The scene seems as exciting and healthy as ever, abounding with great new music literally every week. It’s been definitely easier, almost de rigueur to establish a new record label nowadays, as opposed to the 90s, however to carve a niche in a small yet saturated market without vision, purpose and commitment is a first class ticket to disappointment.
The next installment of the blog’s ‘This Side/That Side’ label profile series, is about a brand-new, boutique independent record label based in Bournemouth UK, which has been a creative hub the last few years. The brainchild of dj/producer Joe ‘Ride’ Rideout, Rotation Audio was founded through love and dedication to electronic music. The new label will aim to showcase some of the rawest well-known and underground talent in the drum & bass and jungle scene and will focus on the darker roots of the spectrum. Their first release emphatically validated that statement.
“All our music is there to capture the imagination and we were writing tunes so they could be listened to as whole pieces or stories, rather than dj tools. The idea of people interpreting the songs in different ways and creating their own narratives is really interesting to us”.
‘A good sample is worth a thousand synths or plug-ins’
Blocks & Escher – Broken/Sagan (NARRATIVES001)
The next installment of the series is about one of my favourite tracks of recent years, which has all the qualifying attributes of an instant classic. In a previous post I had manifested the importance of a memorable, intriguing, even cryptic artist name or an appealing title/logo for a record label. Our culture of distraction and minimal attention span seems unrelenting on burying new music beneath an endless scroll. An attractive name won’t compensate for dreadful music, but it’s definitely a head-start and if there’s a chance to go down in musical history, then it’d better take place in style. I can see eyebrows raising already; however following the aforementioned maxim I have made brilliant discoveries over the years.
I stumbled upon Narratives Music, while browsing Surus, the now defunct online store managed by ST Holdings. It’s been one of those cases that I was sold, before even listening to a single clip. The austere brand logo, featuring the ‘NARRATIVES’ title enclosed in brackets, with white font superimposed on a plain black background (the logo has later appeared in various artistic coloured variations), as well as the label name itself were an overture to cast my own interpretations and visualize my own subjective account of the images, the stories and the sentiments the music conveyed.