“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.
“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”.
“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 think things are cyclical and in the advent of digital, people crave the physical”
“And I think record collectors will always be buying vinyl and building a collection of good music, then passing on that knowledge to others who might not collect yet, because it’s great and fun and a way of life!”
This is the second installment of the blog’s new series titled “On The Outside, Looking In”. As the title suggests, it is a retrospective sneak view into my guests’ photo albums, collections, musical diaries, hazy memories and internal monologues. The discussion timeline is non-linear, jumping back and forth in times and places, as it would probably be in a real-time conversation with friends, whose music-related work I admire and respect. The concept of interviewing my guests in pairs has been intriguing and thought-provoking, trying to find out how their paths have periodically intersected and eventually converged through music: from rented studio time in the early 90s to custom-made studios and modern production, from raves in warehouses and sweaty basements to transatlantic tours and remixing punk priestess Siouxsie (well, that’s a story for another day), from tape packs and pirate radio to record fairs, eclectic record collections, running boutique record labels in 2019 and everything in-between.
Justice & Dissect
The head title of the series has been inspired from the first Modern Urban Jazz release by Glider-State (Blame & Justice), so it is with great joy that I present the man himself Tony ‘Justice’ Bowes alongside one of the most interesting figures of the new generation of producers Michael ‘Dissect’ Walsh.
Most of the blog’s features are thematically based on informal conversations with my guests. Although I often include verbatim excerpts, it’s been a long time since I posted an actual interview. This is the first installment of a new category introduced to replace one of the blog’s oldest series “Jump The Q”, which has unceremoniously completed its cycle. The “Jump The Q” questionnaire template was designed to be short and simple rather than thought-provoking; the general idea being to discover a few personal details about artists and djs (from their favourite drink to the worst live performance they’ve witnessed), whose music-related work I admire and respect.
The new category titled “On The Outside, Looking In” will encompass a broad and conceptual music-centered scope. The timeline is intentionally non-linear, jumping back and forth in times and places and the head-title is borrowed from the first Modern Urban Jazz release by Glider-State (Blame & Justice); a casual chat between friends and a retrospective sneak view into old photo albums, collections, musical diaries, hazy memories and internal monologues.
Sicknote x Soul Beat Runner
The new series kicks off with two guests, who share common musical taste, vision and aesthetics, dating back to the early days of drum & bass. Really intrigued to find out more about their views, perspective and insight, I am very happy to present Lewis ‘Sicknote’ and Michael ‘Soul Beat Runner’ (SBR) discussing all things music.
“… definitely there’s something about you…”
Golden Girl (GLR066)
Throwback to the season 2003-04, a happy and eventful period of my life I reminisce about with bittersweet nostalgia. I was living in London at the time immersing myself in the city’s night life like there was no tomorrow, camouflaging the cultural shock of rubbing shoulders with my musical icons. The London drum & bass scene was flourishing, club nights talking place in abundance. From mid-week events like Fabio’s ‘Swerve’ Wednesdays at The End and ‘Movement’ Thursdays at Bar Rumba to the main Friday residencies like Fabric Room 2 label takeovers, Good Looking’s ‘Progression Sessions’, Ram and Renegade Hardware at The End, to the ad hoc d&b parties at Jazz Café, Heaven, Ministry of Sound, Carling Academy, Cargo and Plastic People to Sunday evenings at Herbal with ‘Hospitality’ and Grooverider’s ‘Grace’. There must have been definitely many more I have forgotten to highlight as memories tend to blur after all these years, but there was always something happening to accommodate for every musical taste. It was evident, even then, that it was only a matter of time, before drum & bass would sell out big clubs and headline festivals across the world.
What the sleeve notes never tell you
It’s been 16 months since the original post , which was meant to be a one-off feature; however I always felt that it’s been somehow incomplete. The constructive feedback I received, occasionally bordering on debate over a matter de facto subjective, convinced me to revisit the topic; paraphrasing Nick Hornby “a sneer at the bad choices, an understated but supportive raise of the eyebrow for the good ones”. So, instead of updating the list, I decided to compile a new one containing record artwork I had intentionally omitted for a variety of reasons, as well as couple of recent entries.
“… hearing my track loud on a sound system, watching people’s reactions. That’s all you need as a producer. That’s pure approval right there. People loving what you make; it ‘s mission accomplished …”
MI5 – Experience (LSR020)
Throwback to 1995 for the 11th edition of the blog’s ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series. The artist name might not ring a bell at first glance; however behind this one-off recording guise has been one of the most influential and celebrated drum & bass producers of the mid-90s DJ Crystl. Combining old-school hip-hop breakbeat mechanics with ethereal sci-fi soundscapes, his productions have been paramount to the flourishing of ambient jungle. With a cinematic approach, collating and transcending contradictions – en vogue yet timeless, benign yet sinister, nuanced yet evident – Crystl has envisioned the soundtrack of imaginary film scenes.
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).