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.
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.
“… when I refer to the music now as d&b, I never really considered it much then. I know that may sound strange, but I think we always operated as outsiders; I personally always felt on the outside looking in, which is why our Glider-State track was called so…”
“… I hadn’t done anything on Modern Urban Jazz since the ‘Emotions With Intellect’ LP, so to keep the ethos going, we decided that this would be an ideal collaboration by using the Modern Urban Jazz tag on the Creative Wax label. I don’t think either of our labels had been ones to follow trends and certainly at the time we were ripe for a more experimental sound…”
Modern Urban Jazz front cover (CWLP001, 1997)
Modern Urban Jazz 01 is a seminal compilation album, curated by Tony Justice Bowes and published by Creative Wax. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the official release, this is a retrospective account of the series of events that culminated in the realization of a brilliant project, which transcends genres and time. Titled after Justice’s eponymous record label, the compilation shares similar aesthetics and musical direction. An amalgamation of sounds with allusions to musique concrete; jazz noir, hip hop, funk, techno and electro instilled into drum & bass, with all contributing artists showcasing their musical backgrounds and creative influences, free of formulas, dancefloor reaction and genre constraints. Walking down a long, nostalgic and captivating trip down memory lane, this is a colourful and emotionally charged narrative, through the protagonists’ looking glass, filled with fond and distant memories that capture vividly the atmosphere of the mid-90s drum & bass scene.
“I made this tune at the request of my old friend Stephen Bradshaw aka “Braddie” RIP from Foul Play. I’m honored to be part of his musical legacy & to know what it has meant and still means to some many over the years” – Denise Gordon
From left to right: Steve Gurley, Steve Bradshaw, Denise Gordon, John Morrow. Picture taken from the back cover of Foul Play Vol. 4, photography by NSL.
Throwback to 1994, the 9th installment of the blog’s ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series is about a seminal record, written and produced by Foul Play; one of UK’s most respected and influential jungle/d&b acts. Heralding the transition from hardcore to jungle/drum & bass, the fourth volume of their recording series includes two tracks that have transcended time: ‘Being With You’, one of the genre’s most celebrated anthems, which is still being played to date (Om Unit and Doc Scott included it in their sets during their recent gigs in Athens) and ‘Music Is The Key’, one of the genre’s most lyrical and emotionally charged vocal tracks.
“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.
“… 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.
“… with desolate, even mournful piano notes, oscillating effortlessly between the robust and the fragile, ‘Another Silent World’ is a streamlined, almost cinematic take in a drum & bass context …”
Black Rain (album front cover)
The fifth installment of the blog’s “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series is about an obscure track, produced in 2003 by one of my all-time favourite musicians/artists. At first glance, Black Rain might not ring any bells, as it was a cross-genre, one-off musical project, which was active in the first half of the new millennium, but regrettably stayed under the radar. Nonetheless, the members of Black Rain have been two of the most respected and celebrated drum & bass artists; Robert Haigh and Sean O’Keeffe, widely known by their primary recording aliases Omni Trio and Deep Blue respectively.