A Mermaid’s Dream: Inside J Majik’s Slow Motion LP

“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.

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Tracks I Wish I’d Written (issue #15): Blocks & Escher – Broken

“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’

NARRATIVES001

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.

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On The Outside, Looking In Vol. 2: Justice x Dissect

“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

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.

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Liner notes on an exceptional musical year

“Sacrificing time, energy and money to keep an independent record label afloat in a niche and saturated market is a reality we often ignore or overlook, especially when it comes to investing on the vinyl format. So, I take the opportunity to thank all artists and record labels for gracing this year with their beautiful music and safeguarding the art, the passion and the romance”.

Mosaic

The last blog post of the year is traditionally a retrospective countdown. Though our culture of distraction and minimal attention span seems unrelenting on burying new releases beneath an endless scroll, 2018 has been exceptional for important things like new, fascinating music. From the establishment of new boutique record labels and classic album re-issues, to much-anticipated debuts, spectacular or dramatic comebacks, this year abounded with great music. My penchant for LPs was more than clear in the previous post, however I feel the urge to express it once again: Album writing has always been and still remains an art form. When you want to make a statement in music, you write an album and at the moment those statements are more exciting, varied and relevant than ever before.

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On The Outside, Looking In Vol. 1: Sicknote x Soul Beat Runner

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 SBR

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.

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Count To Ten: Drum & Bass Illustrations and Record Artwork (part 2)

What the sleeve notes never tell you

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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.

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Count To Ten: Cross-genre drum & bass remixes – part 2 (1997-99)

The second part of the blog’s mini-series covers the period 1997-99. What may have started timidly for artistic purposes or exclusive dj promotional use, by 1997 it became almost de rigueur for record labels to commission drum & bass versions for selected singles and various remix compilations. The niche underground genre infiltrated the mainstream and many d&b producers signed with major labels to curate collections or record personal albums. On reflection, it turned out to be a double-edged sword.

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On one hand, d&b found its well-deserved place on the electronic music map. Artists were finally rewarded and vindicated for their efforts and their work was introduced from a limited connoisseur circle to a wider audience, providing them with a vital and creative space for experimentation. Commercial success and critic appreciation motivated accomplished, as well as up-and-coming producers to master their craft, pushing the musical boundaries beyond genre confines. On the other hand, the roller coaster of media exposure, politics, cloudy distribution and licensing agreements, self-indulgence and the drama that inevitably occurs when money and temporary fame enter the equation, terminated careers and friendships untimely and ingloriously. Effectively, drum & bass re-entered a phase of introversion, darkness and belligerence marking the end of the romance. An injection of fresh air was desperately needed and a new breed of producers and record labels emerged to fill in the gap created by those who helped the scene flourish, but sadly realized that they no longer fitted in the d&b reality of the new millennium.

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