“Back then, you might hear an incredible new tune played exclusively on a plate by a DJ like Bukem or Fabio and you’d have to wait for months before you could get it on vinyl. That was part of the magic of the scene at the time. Nowadays, if you hear an amazing tune played on the radio you can typically stream it instantly online. The convenience is great, but with this ease of access, people (myself included) are more inclined to take music for granted to the extent that its impact and mystique is lost”.
When I started listening to drum & bass I was intrigued, inspired and seduced by the faceless mystique and the self-reliant attitude of so many artists and labels exploring this bold new cultural form. That experimental fearlessness, an entry point and an outlier both at the same time, captured a vital moment – one that could probably never be replicated – where no approach was off-limits. In the early 90s, the connections with my musical heroes were the odd dj gig, cassette tapes changing hands, magazines and the liner notes/credits on the record sleeves. Then the internet revolution came, which provided a portal to a (brave) new world and unprecedented access to all of us who had been on the outside looking in.
“Ever get that feeling, when you experience some sort of musical epiphany and strive to memorize the melody and the lyrics of a song you have just listened to, before they‘re lost into the next morning’s haze?”
This month is my blog’s 8th year anniversary and to be honest I’ve never expected to make it this far. It has been a unique opportunity to connect with some of my musical icons, as well as with many like-minded people across the world and celebrate the music we all love. Traditionally, the anniversary features are retrospective accounts and this one will be no exception; another one of my tedious lists, supplemented with a few comments, liner notes and fan facts.
“The fine art of deception”
This terrible world pandemic is unprecedented in our generation. At the time of writing, more than 3 billion people are self-isolating and most countries have enforced partial or total lockdown measures. Dismally, that’s not a ‘Black Mirror’ episode or a sci-fi movie script. The tragedy is literally on our doorstep, the infection rate is still escalating and has already affected our daily habits and routines, testing our social reflexes to the limit, as well as the way we will act and interact in the foreseeable future. The present looks ominous, but the sooner we accept the new reality and behave with responsibility and respect to one another, the better we are going to adapt to the day after. In turbulent and uncertain times art – and music in particular – is a refuge and a sanctuary; it lets you escape the bleak reality of your isolation and daydream far beyond.
“A song for a life I left behind”
Calibre – Hypnotise (SOULR016, 2004)
When I started the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series six years ago, I had an abstract vision in mind: to hand-pick, document and present sentimental music from my collection in an endeavor to unlock something magical, to capture that moment in time and that beautiful place, which are both tantalizingly at your fingertips, but seem always out of reach. The blog is mainly d&b-oriented, as is my record collection, so intuitively most installments feature drum & tracks, or to be more precise tracks loosely or directly related to the drum & bass template and aesthetic.
The next edition of the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ was in fact pencilled to feature at the start of the series, but somehow I didn’t feel confident enough or emotionally detached to talk about it, until now. It’s a track that gracefully reflects the arrogance and naivety of an earlier life, which I wasn’t quite ready to leave behind. Quoting Johnny Lee Miller’s character ‘Sickboy’ in Trainspotting 2: “Nostalgia. That’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth”.
“There is a thread that runs through all this music that ties it together. Listening to ambient came much later, but again you hear similarities. I mean, in the early days you could just remove the beats and call it ambient! No beat? Ambient!”
The first blog post of 2020 is the third part of an impromptu mini-series exploring the subtle links between ambient and drum & bass cultures, before returning to more familiar d&b territory. Apparently there are more common threads, ramifications and intersecting trajectories in our musical micro-universe than I had initially imagined and it’s been really fascinating to find out that the curators of the brilliant labels presented in the series (Ryan from A Strangely Isolated Place, Dennis from 3Six and Huw from Serein) share a similar musical background. Their labels’ output – beatless in most cases – might sound worlds apart, however I’d still argue that there are reflections of drum & bass somewhere hidden or implied in their influences; eventually all music is connected.
“Forget the times ahead”
As another exceptional year for important things, like new wonderful music, draws to an end, I would like to take the opportunity once again to thank all artists and record labels for gracing this year with their beautiful music and safeguarding the art, the passion and the romance. Despite our culture of distraction and minimal attention span that seems hell-bent on burying new releases beneath an endless scroll and the convenience and luxury of streaming technology, the beauty of music transcends through time or media formats and listeners that are really into music are still paying attention.
“… I can’t understand those musicians who make the most beautiful music, but show little care or attention for the visual side. It’s like stuffing a Rembrandt painting inside a £5 plastic frame from IKEA …”
36 – Fade To Grey
The ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series is perhaps the most personal, preferential and esoteric category of the blog. The title is self-explanatory and the concept straightforward. I hand-pick records from my collection – records I am fondly attached with and I wish my name was credited on the sleeve – and present them emphasizing on the background stories, the imagery and the messages the music conveys.
When I started the series, I had in mind a set of restrictions, a self-imposed dogma in order to confine the scope. The blog is mainly d&b-oriented, as is my record collection, so intuitively all previous instalments featured drum & tracks, or to be more precise tracks loosely or directly related to the drum & bass template and aesthetic. The concept has been captured eloquently by Ulrich Schnauss in the opening line of the 10th edition of the series:
‘77’ seems a piece that has a rather elegant flow, something I always appreciated about d&b very much. Although this might not be a d&b release from a ‘genre-stalinist’ perspective, I’d still argue that it at least attempts to relate to that kind of aesthetic…
‘Whatever It Takes’ is a phrase I’ve been saying to myself over the last few years, when I despair with manipulative behaviour, in the face of what seems to be happening in the current climate of media/consumer culture; the lengths that people will go to, the things that they will do to get attention or change people’s opinions. Often people will do whatever it takes to get noticed.
Klute – Whatever It Takes (SUICIDELP20)
I firmly believe that if you want to make a statement in music, you write an album and at the moment those statements are as relevant and interesting as ever. There are still artists that invest time and effort working on well-considered, profound narratives and multi-layered album concepts. Some get it right effortlessly, some lose the plot mid-way 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. Despite the convenience and luxury of streaming technology, the beauty of music transcends through time or media formats and listeners that are really into music are still paying attention.
Last year, Klute featured on the blog’s ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series and revealed that his 9th album was already in the making. Fast forward eleven months later and his new LP titled ‘Whatever It Takes’ is finally released tomorrow (October, 25th). A certified album artist with a rare consistency that spans more than two decades, Klute has opted for full-lengths as a platform of artistic expression, although he could get away with releasing a string of singles for pretty much any label he deemed fit. His latest album is a distraction, refuge and personal remedy from the white noise and hysteria of his surroundings and encapsulates the artistic maturity and versatility of an artist that has defied trends, formulas and genre confines. Renowned for his unique talent to instil a multitude of influences in his productions, from his punk/hardcore origins to techno, house and dub, Klute’s broad repertoire abounds with incredibly inspirational music.
“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.