“… drawing a fine line between the sublime and the ordinary, the initial presentation criteria have been the aesthetic quality of the imagery, the nature of its production, the relationship to the music on the record and obviously my personal attachment …”
Drum & Bass Record Sleeves
Something completely different for the last post of 2016; instead of the music per se, the next installment of the blog’s ‘Count To Ten’ series is dedicated to artwork design, an essential aspect of the physical product. The size and tactile experience of the record sleeve is one of the reasons why vinyl records remain the most enjoyable way to listen to music. The recent vinyl resurgence has rekindled the art of the record layout. Whether it’s hand-made or mass-produced, meticulously arranged or spontaneously created, the cover artwork adds a literal dimension to the music that a digital thumbnail simply cannot replicate.
“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.
“We’re suddenly in a period when it’s de rigueur to buy records” – Alan Scholefield, Honest Jon’s Records, London
“… but those clerks are still there, still sneering at your bad choices, offering you an understated but supportive raise of the eyebrow for your good ones.” – Nick Hornby, writer
“There was always interesting music playing, but I was too timid to actually buy a record, you know, in case I bought the wrong record” – Damon Albarn, musician, singer-songwriter
Chapter 2: Record Stores
At different times in my life, I have daydreamt about owning a record store. These days however, running one seems like a first class ticket to financial disaster. Apart from the obvious incentives, including satisfaction of my vanity and intimidation of unsuspected customers (Jack Black’s portrayal of an erratic assistant in “High Fidelity” has brilliantly set the bar too high), I have very fond childhood memories from my casual visits with my dad to the local record stores in the late 80s. I still remember a particular owner slipping mix-tapes in the bag for my school parties (an early form of piracy I guess, but this is for another chapter). I was exposed at a very young age to various musical genres, which I regrettably snubbed or simply ignored, due to immaturity and stubbornness. Very late at the party, but after a long time I gradually started to appreciate and embrace various genres and styles.
“I lost the plot for a while then. And I lost the subplot, the script, the soundtrack, the intermission, my popcorn, the credits and the exit sign” – excerpt from ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby
Chapter 1: Intro
This is the first of a multi-part thematic series about obsessions, music and obsession with music. Based on my own experiences, I will attempt to explore and rationalize the profound impact of music on our habits, daily routine and life in general. With music being the focal point, each part of the series will be focusing on a different aspect; all-day long visits to record stores, endless queues outside clubs, late night radio listening with the record button on, mixtapes, the digital era emergence and the inevitable changes to the way we perceive, consume and enjoy music.
The series title is a paraphrase of an excerpt from the book High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, featuring also in the eponymous film adaptation a few years later (replace obsession with misery for the original quote). Although the essence of the question is totally different in the book and I am pretty certain Hornby didn’t have electronic music in mind, it has prompted a psychological dilemma that has been bothering me for years. What came first, the music or the obsession? Did I listen to electronic music (and drum & bass in particular) because I was obsessive? Or did I become obsessive because I listened to electronic music? Continue reading
“I don’t feel I was trying to be anyone else, I was drawing from my influences when I was younger, a bit of reggae, hip-hop … It was coming straight from the heart and I think that’s important” – Digital on his first production steps calling for individuality – Red Bull Music Academy, Rome, 2004
The next international guest of the blog’s “Jump the Q” series is Digital; one of the most prolific, influential, consistent and widely respected drum & bass artists. Two decades after his inaugural solo release, with an enviable and extensive back catalogue under his belt, as well as a plethora of classics for the genre’s most prestigious record labels, Digital celebrates the 20 years milestone of his recording career with the re-launch of his own imprint Function Records.
“A passion for music that gradually escalated over time into a controlled obsession”
It has been three years since this blog went online, although its conception goes further back, so I eventually decided it’s about time I shared some thoughts about how it all started, as well as provide a retrospective account of the events that influenced the blog’s thematic basis. At the end of the feature, there is a quick walk-through the blog’s various categories/series and a brief background story behind each one of them.
“I’m not a big believer in magic. But this place is different. It’s special. The others don’t want to talk about it because it scares them. But we all know it. We all feel it … But what if everything that happened here, happened for a reason? … That’s impossible … I looked into the eye of the island, and what I saw … was beautiful.”
Lost TV series, Season 1, Episode 5 “White Rabbit”, aired October 2004
Future Engineers – Eden
This is the fourth installment of the blog’s “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series. Every track that is presented here has been selected 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 are tracks I wish I had written, as the title of the series implies.
The fourth issue is about a modern classic by Future Engineers (Lee Batchelor & Keir Kleminson); the outfit that re-designed the atmospheric drum and bass blueprint in the second half of the 90s, borrowing from the immediacy of techno, without neglecting their trademark musicality. Continue reading