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).
“… 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.
A Frenchman, a card, a broken arm and the epiphany
Saturday afternoon, December 3rd 1994, somewhere in western Athens
He entered the cafeteria, where all his schoolmates used to gather on a Saturday afternoon for coffee and small talk. His mates waved at him. They were sitting on a table beside the big boys. Good choice, he thought, it was always entertaining to overhear the big boys chat about footie, music and clubbing. The main topic was the opening party several weeks ago and the blast everybody had had. He was well familiar with what the big lads were talking about. He and his mates had witnessed what would be a point of reference, a milestone in Athens nightclubbing for the years to come. They were so excited that they had become members that very night in order to jump the queue and save some money on the admission fee. That night a Frenchman was the special guest. He had run across a record of his, earlier that morning. At the time, there were no music genres – let alone subgenres – in his mind. As long as it was electronic and sounded right, he was game.
Saturday around midnight, December 3rd 1994, somewhere in central Athens
They took the last bus service, as per usual, to the city center. It was a good 20 minutes walk to the club, but that was no fuss. They were so anxious about what was going to happen that the distance and the cold were of minor importance. Outside the club a large queue was already forming. Three weeks ago, on the opening party, they were standing patiently one and a half hours in the cold to get in. Not this time he thought. They approached the bouncer and the face-controller jumping the queue with audacity. Upon showing their membership cards they were allowed in, amidst yelling and insults from the people in the queue. He smiled sardonically, as they walked the main entrance, already feeling goose bumps. He couldn’t tell if it were the lights, the smell, the banners, the people, but he would feel the same rush, every time he walked that door in the future. Any regular punter at the time would add to that. Continue reading