“Back then, you might hear an incredible new tune played exclusively on a plate by a DJ like Bukem or Fabio and you’d have to wait for months before you could get it on vinyl. That was part of the magic of the scene at the time. Nowadays, if you hear an amazing tune played on the radio you can typically stream it instantly online. The convenience is great, but with this ease of access, people (myself included) are more inclined to take music for granted to the extent that its impact and mystique is lost”.
When I started listening to drum & bass I was intrigued, inspired and seduced by the faceless mystique and the self-reliant attitude of so many artists and labels exploring this bold new cultural form. That experimental fearlessness, an entry point and an outlier both at the same time, captured a vital moment – one that could probably never be replicated – where no approach was off-limits. In the early 90s, the connections with my musical heroes were the odd dj gig, cassette tapes changing hands, magazines and the liner notes/credits on the record sleeves. Then the internet revolution came, which provided a portal to a (brave) new world and unprecedented access to all of us who had been on the outside looking in.
“Ever get that feeling, when you experience some sort of musical epiphany and strive to memorize the melody and the lyrics of a song you have just listened to, before they‘re lost into the next morning’s haze?”
This month is my blog’s 8th year anniversary and to be honest I’ve never expected to make it this far. It has been a unique opportunity to connect with some of my musical icons, as well as with many like-minded people across the world and celebrate the music we all love. Traditionally, the anniversary features are retrospective accounts and this one will be no exception; another one of my tedious lists, supplemented with a few comments, liner notes and fan facts.
“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 name Killer Smile just seemed to fit with our vision of the label, a multi-genre label putting out dancefloor tracks built around killer breaks and basslines, as well as more emotive tracks made to put a smile on your face…”
There’s music that captures and echoes a beautiful time and place, staying with you forever. Foul Play have resonated with me from the very first moment and will always reserve a special place in my heart and record collection. On November 2013, I published “Whatever happened to … Foul Play?”, a retrospective account of their history, discography highlights and musical legacy. A later edition of the blog’s “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series included some edits and finer details. Fast forward to the present, jungle/drum & bass legend and Foul Play founding member John Morrow picks up the narrative where it left off: from the last chapter of Foul Play for Partisan and his cross-genre solo musical explorations as Johnny Halo and Skeleton Army, to the chain of events that rekindled his passion for drum & bass and the launch of his new boutique label Killer Smile (the 4th after Oblivion, Panik and Cellar Door). The sequel I never thought I’d write …
“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.
Every track presented in the series has a special place in my collection and is associated with a different period of my life, hence the time leaps. Throwback to 1997 for the 13th installment of the Tracks I Wish I’d Written; a stellar classic with one of the genre’s most recognizable and revered lead synths, written and produced by one of drum & bass’ unsung heroes that captures elegantly a nostalgic time and place.
Odyssey – Expressions (720-002)
“… God bless the path of the musical children, walking the steps of change going forward-bound, our music’s taking you to higher ground …” – MC Conrad
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.
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.