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.
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).
“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.
“… the track had a very heavy nostalgic feeling to it, like you were looking at an old photo album with the faded film of childhood memories, simpler times. We are both massive fans of video and with ‘Photograph’ it’s like we envisioned it to be scene of a film …” – Damon Kirkham reflects on the track’s conception
“… ‘Photograph’ takes the deep, emotive route of previous releases ‘Pacific Heights’ and ‘Sakura’ into the most beatific, blissful and evocative music they have yet conspired to create… in short, a modern masterpiece” – Triple Vision Distribution, Press Release, May 2009
Leaving the mid-90s drum & bass golden era and fast forward to 2009, the 8th installment of the blog’s ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series is about a distinctive and quintessential track of the ‘Autonomic’ era, written and produced by Instra:mental, the masters of electronic reverie. Introducing a wide palette of sound sources and analogue production techniques, profoundly influenced by a variety of musical styles from years past, Instra:mental re-imagined the drum & bass blueprint, applying a cinematic vision with a cross-genre appeal to their production output.
“… 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.
The seventh installment of the “Whatever happened to …?” series is dedicated to Foul Play; a pioneering, genre-defining and innovative electronic music act, heralding the transition from hardcore breakbeat to jungle/drum and bass. Being active almost throughout the 90s (the band’s synthesis changed twice during its activity, due to unforeseen circumstances) constantly re-inventing themselves, with dexterous, second-to-none programming and sample manipulation, their illustrious productions have marked indelibly the UK underground music map.