“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”.
“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.
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.
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.
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).