“… 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).
“… 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.
“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.
“I work for the company. But don’t let that fool you; I’m really an okay guy.”
“A track that has stood the test of time and will still be a classic even if you wake up after a 57-years hypersleep”
‘Hypersleep’ record label
Celebrating the 20th anniversary since the seminal ‘Hypersleep’ first saw the light of day, a track written and produced by Voyager (the primary recording alias of Pete Parsons), the sixth installment of the blog’s “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series is about the background story behind ‘Hypersleep’. Eloquently narrated in-depth by Parsons himself, an iconic figure of the drum and bass scene and one of the most respected and recognized producers and sound engineers, the story is a nostalgic and colourful account of the series of events that inspired and motivated him to write a timeless classic; a trip down memory lane capturing vividly the atmosphere of the mid-90s drum & bass scene.
“Intrigue came about from a desire to put on liquid funk nights in Bristol and showcase our sound. After a few years it developed into a record label, which was something I’d wanted to do since getting into production back in 2000.” – Ben Payne
The fifteenth installment of the blog’s “Count To Ten” series is dedicated to one of Bristol’s finest drum & bass outlets Intrigue Music. The brainchild of Ben Payne, Intrigue has been an integral part of the Bristol drum & bass landscape. Named after the successful eponymous club night in Bristol, which in turn was inspired by Fabio’s famous “Swerve” nights in London (hence Intrigue Music has been arguably considered as the natural successor of Creative Source), the label’s inaugural release saw the light of day in 2009, however its conception dates back to 2003. Continue reading
“… 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.