30.11.15

Joyride



I just couldn't leave it alone could I? I just had to have another crack didn't I?

I thought the best way to illustrate my point that: the Reggae influence on Hardcore was greatly overstated; that Reggae, when it worked best, was largely a "flavour" a "sample-source"; and that when Jungle (eventually) became too literal about aping dub or in using actual dancehall MCs it lost its way - was not in becoming argumentative, but by making a mix.

This way one can actually hear, and pretty clearly I think, that UK Hip-Hop was the chassis upon which Hardcore was built. It's not always a pleasurable experience - but I guess that's the way with these protean things. I suppose too that because Brit-Hop was occasionally ugly and a bit silly is another reason why people are in a rush to forget it...

See, I remember in 1990 desperately wanting to hear more Reggae than Hardcore would allow. And that's why I ended up getting into Dancehall.

-

Mantronix: King of the Beats (White Label 1990)
Public Enemy: Show Em Watcha Got (Def Jam 1988)

The source.

Depth Charge: Bounty Killers (Vinyl Solution 1989)
Phuture Assasins: Phuture Assasins Theme (Boogie Times 1990)

I couldn't resist putting Depth Charge in there. Sped up to +8 that'd sound like a nutty Hardcore tune. But I drew the line at Eon and Renegade Soundwave. Though they're still Hardcorey - but like a big-beat Electro.

"Phuture Assasins Theme", off the first Boogie Times release, is a gift for my argument.

London Posse: How’s life in London? (E1 1993)
MC Duke: I’m Riffin' (English Rasta) (Music Of Life 1989) 
Hijack: The Syndicate Out of Jail (Warner 1991)

Probably should have cut straight to these. Proper UK Hip-Hop entirely in thrall to Public Enemy. Check the "can't beat the system - go with the flow" sample from "I'm Riffin'". Left out Gunshot.

Hardnoise: Untitled (Music of Life 1990)
Criminal Minds: Prepare for The Holocaust (TCM 1991)
Blapps Posse: Don’t Hold Back (Tribe 1991)
Shut Up And Dance: Rap’s my occupation (SUAD 1989)
Code 071: Stand Together Yo Breakthrough (Reinforced 1992)
Rebel MC: Wickedest Sound (Desire 1990)

On the other hand these six, though they sound identical to the previous 3 (more PE clones) are all within the 'nuum. The Hardnoise "Untitled" instrumental was caned on the pirates. Criminal Minds from their seminal second EP. Almost exactly "Baptised in Dub" - but with MCs. Blapps Posse ressiued on the Rebel MCs label. SUAD, make no mistake, this is 100% Hip-Hop. Code 071 from the same EP as a "London Sumtin'".

Demon Rocka: Hard Drugs (Unity 1988)
The Ragga Twins: Ragga Trip (SUAD 1991)
Ninjaman and Flourgon: Zig It Up (Main Attraction Remix) (Jet Star 1990)
Smith & Mighty: Killa (Three Stripe 1988)
Dee Patten: Who’s the Badman (Hard Hands 1991)

Yes. Certainly. Here is Reggae.

Barring the Demon Rocka track however I would argue that it's firmly from the prism of Hip-Hop. Like Busta Rhymes' bits of chat with L.O.T.N.S. or the bits of Tribe Called Quest. Fu-Schickens. Mad Lion. Not really Ragga. The remix of "Zig It Up" by Nookie (later of Reinforced) falls squarely in this camp.

Smith and Mighty and Dee Patten show how the dalliance with Reggae is frequently just one with very deep jeep beats. Apache in effect on "Who's The Badman".

Tek 9: Kingdom of Dub (Reinforced 1991)
Code 071: A London Sumtin’(Reinforced 1992)

The roots of Jungle. "Kingdom of Dub" with almost no Reggae whatsoever in it. It's 100% Public Enemy really.

"A London Sumtin'" - again more Public Enemy. Could the fragile bass line be described as dub-like? In fairness to detractors I think it is probably supposed to be reggae-ish but perhaps owing to lack of production skills it isn't thick or prominent enough. And let's face it - Hip-Hop had plenty bass.

Bang The Party: Rubbadubb (Warriors Dance 1990)
The Black Dog: The Weight (Black Dog Productions 1989)

So far however, barring 2 Bad Mice, breaks were used quite faithfully. These two tracks were from outside the 'nuum, but were arguably influential within it.

Without the MCs there was a big hole in the music and polybreaks were one of the first to fill the hole.

DJ SS & EQ: The Beat (Formation 1992)
Dance Conspiracy: Dub War (Metamorphosis 1992)
Sonz of a loop da loop era: Calmdownizm (Suburban Base 1992)
DJ Crystl: Warprdive (Dee Jay 1994)

The first a persy. Dance Conspiracy with the "Darkest Light" sample via Public Enemy. Unabashed Hip-Hop from Danny Breaks with "Calmdownizm". Finally, a leap forward in time, to former Brotherhood member DJ Crystl's "Warpdrive" which would seem to owe something to the absent Eon.

26.11.15

Mixcloud


Uh huh.

So all those mixes were clogging up the blog a bit. Suffice to say that I now have a Mixcloud account which is here. Head over there to hear them. It seems like a really great service. Thanks to Jim Backhouse for blazing the trail and Dan Selzer for the tip off.

More mixes coming up.

21.11.15

Hardcore, Jungle and Drum & Bass Compilations

TLDR: Don't like Jungle Techno? "FUCK OFF AND DIE".
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Welcome to the terrordome! This is the bloggin' equivalent of an eight-hour party. Sorted for e's and whizz? Plenty of rizzla? Some refreshments? Whistle? Tracksuit, tight trainers and your stamina body? Hold tight! Here we go!



Jumpin & Pumpin (Jumpin' & Pumpin' 1991) (4/10)
Only For The Headstrong (ffrr 1991) (3/10)

The first UK compilations were put together as indigenous acid house variants stormed the charts. They mixed the work of now well-known 'nuumologists with all sorts of other stuff. Disco diva Loretta Holloway and a whole lot of Techno on TFSOL's Jumpin' and Pumpin' label features alongside Phuture Assasins on "Jumpin & Pumpin" from 1991.

"Only for the Headstrong" from 1991 on ffrr has The Prodigy, Shaft and Isotonik (DJ Hype) rub shoulders with altern 8 and Orbital. The message? Boundaries hadn't hardened; it was all simply rave music.

To be honest, barring the DJ, I don't think anybody knew which track was by who in these early days. The whole "trainspotting" thing was a much more niche activity. By-and-large one raved in total ignorance though, yes, increasingly one became more of a connoisseur and more aware of one's aesthetic preferences.

In the intervening years people who were serious about the music became more authoritative about it. In an era before Shazam often this has meant finally nailing the IDs of choons off rave tape-packs or tracking down highlights from one's own pirate radio home recordings.




Fuck off And Die (SUAD 1992) (7/10)
Callin For Reinforcements (Reinforced 1992) (8/10)
Base For Your Face (Suburban Base 1992) (9/10)

Quite quickly however, identities emerged. These records all came out in 1992 when labels Shut Up and Dance, Reinforced and Suburban Base produced these iconic roundups of their key releases. Empires were being formed. 21 year old Dan Donnelly boasts just that in the gatefold of "Base for your face" as he creams yet more ca$h from previously-released tracks.

With Hardcore the profit motive was never far from the surface - that's precisely what drove the 'nuum forward. Check this from the rear of the later "Classic SubBase" compilation:
"All of these titles are genuine anthems and many made a significant impact on the on the national top 75 (even top 40) and dominated the national dance charts in the early 90's with many number ones and top tens. In a gallop (sic) poll of the Top 100 dance labels in the U.K. published in Music Week in 1992 Suburban Base ranked 4th, and the label accounted for over 2% of the total dance market during this period leaving the rest, including many major labels, trailing behind."
Market percentages! Gotta respect that in-your-face ambition. These people weren't messing about, normal record sales in the Hardcore era were huge, a big release could easily sell 10,000 copies. Donnelly's own Drum & Bass Selection LP sold an astonishing 300,000 copies and even had a TV advert. Why were there so many Hardcore records put out? Because everyone wanted a piece of the action! The tax man never saw a penny of it. It shouldn't need saying, but with the luvvies of the left drooling over the 'nuum clearly it needs emphasising, Hardcore Jungle had nothing whatsoever to do Socialism.

Aged 21 I bought the SUAD compilation, this very copy, the day it came out in Rhythm Records in Camden. Very early on I had come across some records which, with the benefit of hindsight, we could portentously describe as belonging to "the Hardcore Continuum": tunes like The Criminal Minds' "Baptised By Dub" (1991), MI7's "Rockin' Down The House" (1991). However at the time these were just rave records, albeit ones which stood out to me because of their Reggae twist. I also owned copies of Rum & Black's "Without Ice" (1991) and The Ragga Twins "Reggae Owes Me Money" (1991). 

People didn't think of such a thing as the 'nuum until Simon Reynolds' "Energy Flash". Yes, there were the occasional moments of self-reflexiveness, but these generally came in the form of remixes of older tunes. The scene was simply moving too fast for such navel-gazing. It wasn't until Dubstep, and its attendant anxiety of influence, conferences of serious middle-aged white academics wringing their hands, that anyone saddled themselves with the concept. Fittingly, though Grime may have been the true heir, it was largely oblivious.

The music on these three LPs is jointed and raw; still in thrall with its combinative genius. We have dirty Hip-Hop breaks, AND Reggae sub bass, AND morse code bleeps, AND House music pianos, AND churning mentasm synths, AND diva wails. It's like a pie, a not unappealing one, with ingredients poking through its crust; a sausage, a carrot, a chicken wing perhaps, oozing gravy.

At times the appeal lies precisely in this Frankenstein-like nature, like for instance on The Ragga Twins sublime "Wipe The Needle". First there comes a lazy introduction over a lovers rock skank, Deman Rockers calls "Wheel Up!" "Hang on?!", you think, "that's a KLF sample..." It loops for an interminable 16-bars before, "Oh my gosh", those delicious, clippity-cloppety, wooden, mid-range drums slide in. In your mind it's like Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire. One of the greatest moments in music.

On the other hand there are examples of how the scene was already navigating towards something wholly original. From "Callin For Reinforcements", Code 071's "London Sumtin'" is rightly fĂȘted as a kind of turning point - bearing the unmistakeable stamp of London's Black music. It was years ahead of its time in its mellow temperament and absence of excoriating synths. Its vocal sample hocket, shuffling high-speed breaks and undulating bleeps spin a dreamy gaussian weft - never smooth as such - but hinting at a kind of creaminess.

Likewise, in terms of moving from the primordial soup, from "Base for your face" there is the astonishing 2 Bad Mice remix of Phuture Assassins "Future Sound". As early as 1991 2 Bad Mice had set off on their drumtrip. While their own tracks could occasionally lack melodic flair, they pull the excellent but slightly ponderous Phuture Assassins original into their rhythmic hall of mirrors. The resulting Vegas-style marriage of convenience and intensity is a snapshot of the transcendental delirium that's right round the corner in '93. Also it shows the way forward for Hardcore lay in the remix. No other music has used the remix to such dizzyingly brilliant effect.




Hardcore (Leaders of the New School) (Kickin 1992) (7/10)
Hardcore Leaders II (Kickin 1993) (8/10)
Hard Leaders III (Kickin 1993) (9/10)

These three came in reasonably quick succession. Kickin brushed close to the 'nuum with DJ Hype's remix of Scientist's "The Bee" but they were generally known for the brutalist, functional rave techno of Kicksquad, Messiah and Wishdokta. A common strategy with the Hardcore compilation was (a) get some of your labels best tunes together then (b) pad out the selection with tracks licensed from other labels and (c) to cast the net as wide as you could, call the compilation something as unrelated to your own label as possible so as to lure in unsuspecting punters. Production House's "Best of Jungle" series (notably absent from this breakdown because I've never felt sufficiently impelled to buy 'em - I have the twelve inches) or Labello Blanco's "Jungle Massive" series follow this formula.

What's strange about the Kickin' compilations is that they contain almost none of their music. Someone must have come to the conclusion that they had the platform, distribution and enough understanding of the scene to make some money by licensing from smaller labels. Mainly this was labels like Formation, 3rd Party, Production House, Basement Records, Earth Recordings, Tone Def and The White House. There's a little more of Sub Base later on. The first one was put together by Michael B - these last two by the mysterious and brilliant Easiman/E-Z Man/DJ E-Z Man. E-Z Man also compiled the following two React compilations. Clearly of man of exquisite acumen.

"Hardcore (Leaders of the New School)" is solid if a bit stodgy. However, "Hardcore Leaders II" is strikingly consistent. The music has taken to the sky. My highlight would have to be Satin Storm's "Think I'm going out of my head" - the curiously mournful pinky and perky vocal enunciates the raver's now fragile position on the cusp twixt ecstasy and insanity. Mirroring this is in the sonics are on the one hand spangly bells and quivering pads; on the other a demonic sequence of sludgy, reversing bass stabs and a braying, lemurian horn. Although there's no indication as such in the fine print it's a different, and I believe superior, mix to the one on the twelve inch.

"Hard Leaders III" is better yet. Whilst packed with better known tracks it's equally strong on the peripheries with a strong showing from the generally less well-known Formation label in Tango's four-to-the-floor "Timebomb". "Timebomb" whips along at staggering pace, its mnemonic bass-line riff reverberating just out of the range of physical logic. Also Rhythm for Reasons "Music In Search Of Light". There's not a single bad track - the inventiveness is tireless, the quality breathtaking.

In 92 and 93, away at university in Glasgow, I was not in the loop. I was DJ-ing though, at the art school in Glasgow and at Tribal Funktion in Edinburgh which, alongside Pure, had a mention in Irvine Welch's "Trainspotting". I used to play a lot of Reggae-tinged stuff and breakbeats but more dancehall. To be honest I found the headlong plunge friends and family members made into raving absolutely terrifying. I don't think the sixties, when it was very much a narrow "elite" indulging, can have had anything on the culture-wide extremity of madness and drug-use of the early nineties. There's mental illness in my family, and wary of the demise of Syd Barrett from my previous musical life, I simply didn't trust myself to abandon on Class A drugs. Thank god. However, while my colleagues can boast of old tunes activating old e-rushes my pleasure in the Darkcore-era is strictly vicarious.




The Dark Side: Hardcore Drum and Bass Style (React 1993) (8/10)
The Dark Side II: Jungle and Technology (React 1993) (9.5/10)

The React label were chiefly known for GTO (also Tricky Disco). My brother and I knew Greater Than One, Lee Newman and Michael Wells, because they both used to work for my dad. My beloved dad was managing director of a company which made limited edition artists prints which they sold to cruise ships and hotel chains. Proper artisanal screen prints.

Presumably much like Kickin, React thought they could make a quick bob off these more disorganised kids. Again E-Z Man is in the driving seat and the selection is note perfect. Talking of E-Z man, I wonder if he was responsible for the telegrammatic liner notes? I gotta admit, these have always made me giggle:
"Hardcore has once again astounded the House Nation with its' (sic) diversity. No longer is a rave track a selection of obscure noises from an ancient analog keyboard. The modern rave tune is now more likely to contain a multiplicity of elements such as soul, techno and rap from diverse musical cultures."
or
"The sound of the Urban Jungle of the 90's is now firmly set in a complex mixture of breakbeats, atmospheric keyboards and ethnic/tribal samples. UK 'rave' music has reached a level of sophistication that puts it on a par with the most advanced sounds. Every drumbeat is designed to fire the pleasure transmitters of the brain, providing the disillusioned youth of today with relief from the drudgery of everyday life in the urban wasteland."
Yeah, so (chastened) not actually a wrong statement in there...

"The Dark Side" is an occasionally bleak round-up of "Dark" tunes. Rhythm is in the starring role but there's nothing homogenous about these beats. Widely lauded as the greatest thing to happen to mankind ever, the "Amen" break signalled the beginning of the end of Jungle. Something like Edge of Darkness' "Come Together" here has an extraordinarily eccentric riddim - slightly mismatched and sloppy even. Rufige Cru's "Terminator" is here - signalling a highpoint of Darkcore's search for a rhythmic psychedelia. "Amen" on the other hand brought a kind of Pot Noodle, "just add water" approach to beat-making in jungle - just slap it on. The highlight of "The Dark Side" has to be DJ Seduction's "Sub Dub" with it's Sandy Denny sample, up there in unlikeliness with DMS "Love Overdose" and its Fleetwood Mac sample. The effect of this pastoral, quintessentially english voice in its now desolate context is somehow dank, like a gutter hauntology.

"The Dark Side II" brings out E-Z Man's auteur streak. It is dedicated, at least in part to the Techno end of Jungle. Techno was a clear presence in the work of Doc Scott, Basement Records (Basement Phil, Wax Doctor, Kev Bird) but in the tug-of-war in jungle as 93 turned to 94 (Amen and the Reggae influence) it had lost ground.

Eventually, come 96 with Techstep I suppose Techno was back in the driving seat, with almost everyone else (Hip-Hop, Ragga, Soul etc) thrown out of the car. Generally derided as purist or white-bre(a)d the Techno influence on Jungle was the key contribution to what made the end of the Darkcore era one of the high-water marks of post-war music. If you buy that, then "The Dark Side II", strafed with crisp metallic bleeps, uproariously contorted mentasm flourishes, high-speed Reese bass-lines, 303 squiggles, often mechanical-sounding breaks and racing 4/4 kicks is essential listening.

The great thing about these compilations, beyond being able to slap a record on the deck and be entertained by four great tracks in a row, is their artwork. Expunged from 95% of twelve inches of the time the compilations really make up for this. They form a direct line to the artwork of rave flyers. Gloriously silly and garishly pregnant with their promise of fantasy.


The Definition of Hardcore (Reinforced 1993) (9/10)

This was the second Reinforced compilation and comparing it to "Callin' For Reinforcements" shows the giant steps the music was making. The search for the sickest, most insane sonics had pushed the crews into new territories. At this point it really does make sense to compare Hardcore to the weirdest edges of Post-Punk, especially seeing as how the records had yet to acquire the glorious sheen and four-dimensional production value that came in 94. They retained a DIY feel. Here are the ghosts of 23 Skidoo's "Coup", Cabaret Voltaire's "Badge Of Evil, The Flying Lizards' "Trouble, " This Heat's "24 Track Loop" or P.I.L's "Careering" and yet thrillingly, not from bands of esoteric former art-students tuned to the John Peel show, but being played out at massive raves and on pirate radio.

Particularly twisted here are: Nasty Habit's savage, leering "Dark Angel"; Nebula II's "X-Plore-H-Core" which drives sped-up breaks in a linear style and drapes them with radioactive drones punctuated only with eerie disruptive interludes; 4 Hero's "Journey from the Light" an improbable jacob's ladder of cascading, pitch-shifted rhythms with its only-too-short pizzicato orchestral section; and the underrated Underground Software's "Different Ting" which stutters and wobbles like a coal-powered robot.

I came back from Senegal in the summer of 93 where I'd been travelling around with a sound-system playing Detroit Techno and Chicago House. Tuning in to the pirates in Brixton I heard the version Manix's "You Held My Hand" from Enforcers 4 with its oceanic drums lapping like waves, and realised that the rules had changed. In 93 Reinforced were at the top of their game. The watershed was 94's "Parallel Universe" LP. Nothing seemed to gel after that point.

Quite coincidental to my writing this Simon has just worked up a post on the Enforcers series. What a sequence of masterworks they were but after "Parallel Universe" even Enforcers 8 was a disappointment.


The Joint LP (1993) (7/10)

Just as the Enforcers series can't quite qualify as compilations, neither can Suburban Base's Sub-Plates. That makes this Suburban Base's second compilation.

Subsequent to my summer Manix epiphany, and after reading Simon Reynolds in The Wire on Hardcore, the second of his attempts in that magazine to develop an aesthetic of the 'nuum, back at university I bought "The Joint" at Glasgow's 23rd Precinct. This was a slightly grotty basement in town. It was Autumn 1993. Deprived as I was of pirate radio and still firmly lodged in the analog-era the compilation was the only means available for me to tune in to what was going on. There, in part, lies the appeal of comps, the ability to open scenes up to the outside.

There are classics on here, but often the selection misses the mark. The best bits are Foul Play's "Open Your Mind", Krome and Time's "The Slammer" and the DJ SS & EQ Remix remix of D'Cruze's "Want You Now" - the latter, a rattling, low-riding jalopy hurtling at 90 miles an hour round the M25, fully delivers on Jungle's promise. Generally though one gets the sense that too much airtime is given to lesser players on the Shadow roster with not enough emphasis on solid tunes.

The statement on the cover partially explains this: "Includes Previously Unreleased and Specially Remixed Tracks". I'm guessing Rob Playford, on this Moving Shadow's first compilation, had his eyes fixed too firmly on the punters buying tracks at the usual outlets and not on the wider audience. Why would they stump up money to hear tunes which had already come out on twelve inches? This impulse was eventually the undoing of The Joint series, and the rocky shore that the Drum and Bass Selection (with its woeful third outing) broke up on.


Hard Leaders 4: Into the Jungle (1994) (9.5/10)

One look at the artwork here should silence the notion that 94 was all about the Reggae influence. Again, I was lucky to buy this when it came it out. This must be E-Z man's swan song because he was out of the picture by the lacklustre "Hard Leaders 5". Though the compilation has plenty of rudeboy swagger, this is Jungle which is correctly aligned with Hardcore's ravin' roots.

So while the "think" break is in full effect (as much, if not more of, a signifier as the encroaching influence of Black music as "amen") and we have the demented chipmunk gospel choir on Fusion's classic "Love for the World Part 2" and the half-speed Ragga chatter on Flat 47's sublime "Hideaway" but also there is the profoundly technoid virtual Drum and Bass of Soundcorp's eldritch "Toll (remix)" and the massive bleak-bleeps of Skanna's "Nightstalker".

Where "Hard Leaders 4" excels is both in its single-mindedly original selection (no obvious hits barring "Renegade Snares") and this sense of continuity. The core Hardcore community was facing an imminent invasion from the left-field of Techno as well as the wider Black music scene. You can't get purist about such a mongrelised music facing (gasp) further mongrelisation; but up till 93 the original scene had built up something unique away from media scrutiny and trendy wastemakers like myself. Of course, if it had been allowed to crystallise any further in isolation it would have only weakened, but "Hardleaders 4" clearly depicts a final manifestation.

The good news was that original signal was so strong that we had a further three good years (94, 95, 96) till it was game over. Some critics are less charitable.




Drum & Bass Selection 1 (Breakdown 1994) (10/10)
Drum & Bass Selection 2 (Breakdown 1994) (8/10)
Face The Future: The Album (Breakdown 1994) (4/10)

With needlepoint accuracy Kodwo Eshun describes "Drum and Bass Selection 1" in the liner notes of "Routes from the Jungle" in the following terms: "widely regarded as the best compilation ever".  What other contenders are there? Nuggets. FAST Product's "The First Year Plan". No New York. Verschwende Deine Jugend. Streetsounds Rare Groove Volume 1. Run The Road. Rebel Music. Music In The World Of Islam. Retro Techno Detroit Definitive. The New Dance Sound Of Detroit. It beats them all on a bad day.

Put together by Suburban Base's Dan Donnelley BDRLP01 embraced rising stars like Renk records, genius one-offs like Acro, outsiders like Roni Size, as well as "family" like Ram, Dee Jay and Back to Basics. Its effect was electrifying.

Certain electrifying on me. Finishing up my degree I had headed back to London head-first with the intention of embracing this new music. I got a job as a runner working in Soho for Ridley Scott's advertising production company. Those two years I wandered the streets doing deliveries rinsing tapes I recorded off the pirates on a SONY Walkman. I was hanging out at Unity, the basement in Black Market or Section 5 on the Kings Road and checking the producers, spending all my money on twelve inches, going to the parties (AWOL, Paradise Garage, Voodoo Magic, Speed but also many un-named one offs) and smoking spliffs. Long before the eponymous club I even had a Metalheads logo cut into my hair. In fact generally annoying Goldie. With pills now largely off the menu I found my own filthy habits in sync with the culture. This was an unexpected bonus.

My friend Hugo from Glasgow had also come to London and was writing for a small music mag. Hugo spoke to Reinforced for a piece, they complained they'd been ripped off by Ambient Jungle: "we were doing that a year ago". Together we visited the Kemet headquarters in Tottenham, me in capacity as photographer, and interviewed Mark X. We liked Adam F's early tracks on Lucky Spin and so headed off to distant suburbia to interview him. I didn't really have a crew so much as dragged various people along to these raves. It did end a bit messily in October 96 but I have fond memories.

You'd think after establishing such a strong modus operandi Breakdown couldn't go wrong. However BDRP2 was a bit disappointing. Somehow it seemed to squeeze too many tracks in and perhaps the pressing was consequently compromised. "Volume 3" was a waste of time, exclusive dubplates? Who cares! Then with collections like "Face The Future", a tedious set of techy, tasteful amen tracks (with only Complex State's "Revival" holding its corner) it seems like they'd blown it.



Counterforce: A Collection of Deep Beats (Internal 1994) (7/10)
Routes from the Jungle (Virgin 1995) (8/10)

Internal was a division of ffrr most well-known for Orbital, and "Routes from the Jungle" grew out of the same ambitious Wire-magazine-affiliated atmosphere at Virgin records which brought us the Isolatonism compilations, Kevin Martin's "Macro Dub Infection" and David Toop's "Ocean of Sound" compilations. Essentially therefore here are forces outwith the jungle moving into its territory. The results were still good.

"Counterforce" collates Ambient Jungle cuts. These were immediately appealing to a wider audience. It is a mixed bag but there's still a few nice tunes especially the softcore, creeping horror of Inna Rhythm's "Carrie", DJ Crystl's dramatic "Let It Roll" and Hyper On Experience's rollocking "Disturbance". "Disturbance" is peppered with frantic, fantastic detail and snatches of vocal samples. H-O-E had yet to ditch the playfulness of their majestically wacky four EPs for Moving Shadow and become EZ Rollers.

The CD-only "Routes from Jungle" attempted something more ambitious - it is practically a history of Jungle chronicled through 18 tracks positing Lennie De Ice's "We Are IE" as ur text, working its path through the darkcore era via "Bludclot Artattack" and "The Dark Stranger", taking in the elaborate polyrhythms of Gerald's "Nazinji Zaka" before cruising into its glorious present, the minimal end of Drum and Bass. While it occasional misses a trick, the wrong mixes of "Music Box" and "Dropping Science" for instance, it still makes for a fantastic journey and a superb introduction to a recondite field.




Renegade Selector Series 1 (Re-Animate 1994) (7/10)
Renegade Selector Series 2 (Re-Animate 1994) (7/10)

I was so busy buying twelves in 1994 that when these came out I entirely dismissed them. They're actually pretty consistent. I can picture them on the wall behind the decks in the shops as I type this. They take the "exclusive dubplate" methodology and run with it, doing it properly for a change. Almost everything on them is a remix! Maybe this meant licensing was cheaper?

Of the twelve tracks on "Series 1" ten are remixes. Of course with Jungle, while it could mean "off-cut", it did not necessarily mean bad music. A remix is usually yet more ornate and baroque by design. Tunes will fidget stylistically as more individuals coax intricacy from them, layer them with signature samples and flip them in their own styles. With sympathetic producers this sonic hyperactivity can have magick results - think only of the ongoing transaction that was happening between Omni Trio and Foul Play.

On "Series 1" the Rufige Kru VIP Mix of Deep Blue's (aka 2 Bad Mice) "Helicopter Tune" is one such example of a perfect synergy. I always felt that the original peaked too quickly and didn't know where to take its ever-ascending excitement. Goldie sucks the life from it - like the vampire he is. Immediately the track flatlines and snakes around in the darkness quivering like one of those dying zombies in a "shoot-em-up" video game.

On "Series 2" it's Dillinja's own remix of "Deep Love" which shines. At first its star is the Bob James style rippling vibes and an extravagantly poised guitar lick. However, as you reach further into the track, the bass steps forward, and you realise that the bridge (a lightning-fast, inwardly-toppling interplay between snare and hi-hat, closed with a four note percussive salvo) is in fact the mnemonic.


This is... Jungle (Ultrasound 1994) (9/10)

Compiled by my all-time favourite record shop clerk, the ever-cheerful Nicky Blackmarket.

I assume this must have been some kind of cash-in. Although this is its first release, the label Ultrasound went on to compilations of Handbag house and Hip-Hop. I just now did some research on the guy who pulled it together, one Rupert Lord (who "conceived and produced" it) and was really amused to find he had been at school with me. I think he used to let me use his hifi to record my LPs to tape. I remember skipping round his room listening to The Undertones aged 15.

Commercially cynical it may have been (in the true spirit of Hardcore) but it was a timely release and it's an absolutely excellent selection.




Jungle Hits Volume 1 (Jet Star) (3/10)
Hard Leaders 5 presents Jungle Dub (Kickin 1994) (5/10)

From one cash-in to another. "Jungle Hits Volume 1" was on Jet Star, the UK dancehall label that grew out of Pama Records. Ironically, if "Reggae Owes Me Money" was Flinty Badman and Deman Rockers expressing frustration at Reggae business, then "Jungle Hits" was effectively "Jungle Owes Me Money". Everywhere you went Reggae people were complaining about how Jungle was ripping off their style. I remember the legendary curmudgeon Keith from Daddy Kool lecturing customers on the subject.

In reality Jungle and Hardcore owed very little to Reggae, Dub or Dancehall. It's a particularly facile argument that critics make but one which has almost no bearing on musical truths. 90% of the time Hardcore and Jungle was made by former B-Boys. Shut Up and Dance, Danny Breaks, DJ Crystl, DJ Hype and Goldie are just the most prominent examples. There's hundreds of frustrated kids like The Criminal Minds, Genaside II, DJ Trax, Liam Howlett or Rebel MC - all Hip-Hop fanatics who couldn't carve a niche in the non-existent, wearyingly purist UK Hip-Hop scene.

10%, and that's probably a generous estimate, like A Guy Called Gerald the older DJs like Fabio and Grooverider came from Techno or Acid House. You could probably count the migrants from Reggae on one hand. The touch-paper for Hardcore was likely US Hip-Hop instrumentals like Terminator X's sonic pile-ups on Public Enemy's productions (the "Darkest light" sample in Jungle always came via PE), Mantronix's "King of the Beats" (the original "amen" track) or The 45 King's "900 Number".

And did Jungle really have a musical debt to Reggae? This is strictly wishful thinking. Reggae was never anything more than a flavour. You don't talk about Jungle having a musical debt to Horror movies. Certainly there were some spellbinding tracks that used reggae samples but it was the very act of sampling those voices which activated their vibe. And the amount of tracks which sampled reggae? Even in 94 it was in a minority.

For a moment forget Ragga Twins "18" Speakers" or SL2's "On A Ragga Tip", if you want to hear a Hardcore tune which tries to engage with Reggae and displays the characteristic degree of baffled misunderstanding try Austin's "Unity in Dub" - it has only the most slender slither of a connection, an occasional offbeat skank. And this a track ostensibly claiming to be "in dub"!

What about the MCs? Again, not really, no. With the likes of Moose, Conrad, MC Det, 5ive-0, possibly there is structural debt to the fast chat of the Saxon sound system, but the flavour and styling are rarely inflected with patois. I think the spectre of the so-called reggae influence did a lot of damage. Sure, there was the fury that participants felt towards interlopers like General Levy but more critically the use of real MCs on jungle tracks precisely echoed the equally risible pretensions of "mature" junglists to work with "real" drummers and "real" orchestras. There's not a single good jungle track with a live MC on it.

"Jungle Hits Volume 1" features two particularly crass examples: General Levy's execrable "Incredible" (not a tune at all - the instrumental is utterly perfunctory) and also, almost heresy to say, UK Apachi/Shy FX's "Original Nuttah" (a little better granted - but I always hated it). The MCs who did wind up on live on Jungle records were usually bad too. What did work well was when the likes of Goldie and Dillinja remixed tunes like Cutty Ranks' "Armed and Dangerous" or Shabba Ranks' "Let's Get It On" but that was a testament to their skills more than anything else.

"Jungle Dub" clarifies the other example of the negative effects of an ill-considered Reggae influence. Dub here means a tastefully emptied-out sonic canvas. There's no nasty mentasm skronk, no chattering samples, no helium vocals, no over-excited piano vamps. I was a fan of the reductionist school at the time. In fact I remember following Dillinja and Roni Size's early productions and being delighted to read Simon Reynolds celebrating them. However, it's a fine line to tread. In parts "Jungle Dub" is simply boring. For instance, not on the record I should add, something like Size's "Bonanza Kid" is still gripping, but I always thought his "11.55" was drawn-out.





Jungle Massive 1 (Labello Blanco 1994) (6/10)
Jungle Massive 2 (Labello Blanco 1994) (7/10)
Jungle Massive 3 (Labello Blanco 1995) (5/10)

I am inclined to rate Labello Blanco, they absorbed former Foul Player and 'nuum icon Steve Gurley from Moving Shadow and put Dave Nodz to work after Suburban Base stopped calling. Labello Blanco even had a signature production sound: a deeper, richer, classier (sometimes disguising a lack of energy and a musical blandness) with lots of specially recorded moaning divas. However the tendency towards professionalism and a conscious drift towards adult music was their undoing. Labello Blanco also seek out "quality" tracks to license the combination of which really marks these compilations.

Rogue Unit's "Nocturnal" from Jungle Massive 1 is a case in point. It's simply too nuanced. Sometimes it does all come together, sampling an MC live off the mixing desk at a party (always a good tactic) Smokey Joe's "A Special Request" has everything that made the jump-up style so exciting, an exacting riddim spliced with sirens and drones. In fairness there's a lot else here besides including the House Crew's "Superhero" and Bukem's "Music".

"Jungle Massive 2" is an improvement. Bizzy B contributes The New Cru's "Run Come". This is a fascinating case study in the confusion around Reggae and Jungle. Crafted with a tailor-made dancehall performance it's neither a good ragga track (no strong vocal hook) nor a good Jungle track (limps along rather). Strictly on its own merits its not a bad record but... DRS and Kenny Ken's "Everyman" makes the same mistakes with its godawful Sugar Minnot-style "real" vocals and renta-ragga MC. Excellent though are System X's "Got To Believe", Remarc's "Drum & Bass wise" with its delightful "Christ Almighty!" sample straight off the BBC) Alladin's dreamy "We Enter" and, frankly there's no faulting Krome and Time's "The License" which keeps faith with the sonic violence of Hardcore.

"Jungle Massive 3" however is a slightly depressing document. I think the CD has more tracks which might improve it as an offering. Hearing it I got a bit gloomy and went through my old 1995 twelve inches just to check I wasn't entirely misremembering that year. There was masses that was good: V, Full Cycle, Philly Blunt, Dropping Science, Ram, Formation, all Dillinja's things so I guess it's just not a great selection.





Music Box: A New Era in Drum and Bass (Full Cycle 1996) (9/10)
V Classic (V Recordings 1997) (7/10)
Origin Unknown Presents The Speed Of Sound A Drum + Bass Odyssey  (RAM 1997) (6/10)
Torque (No U Turn 1997) (5/10)

And then the mausoleums started appearing; massive, inscrutable and tediously inclusive. They're like those armour-plated, stretch-SUV Hummers that struggle to turn corners in central London.

To this day I'm baffled by the impulse behind these over-weight packs of vinyl. Music Box: 3 records, V Classic: 5 records, the ridiculously titled Origin Unknown Presents The Speed Of Sound A Drum + Bass Odyssey (I'm exhausted just typing it): 4 records, Torque: 3 "plates" (their terminology not mine).

"Music Box" remains a delight. They had so much to draw on and they succeeding in doing the obvious and intelligent thing (many labels in the past had failed) by simply bringing together their best tracks in one place. The gorgeous "I Remember", a half-speed breakbeat paean to those fuzzy ecstatic dawns, one's body still trembling, remains one of my favourite ever tracks.

"V Classic" was pretty weird because while V was the label of the hour, very few of its actual classics, its tearin' first twenty one releases up to DJ Die's "Special Treat/Something Special", are included.

In putting this post together I've listened to all these records in the chronological order that they're presented here. With the last two, the unwieldy "OUPTSOSAD&BO" and "Torque" I really didn't relish revisiting them. They are both just a bit boring. Around this time Simon Reynolds wrote what was to be his unwitting epitaph to the scene as "Neurofunk" in The Wire. By this point we had met, a chance encounter by the secondhand Hardcore bin in Camden Music and Video Exchange both mopping up old releases for £2 and £3. Having looked them up for the first time - many of those scruffy old records I scarfed now fetch £50 and upwards. A very sensible investment :-p



Classic Sub Base (Suburban Base 1997) (9/10)
Absolute Classic Drum & Bass (Slammin' Vinyl 2000) (7/10)

And then in 1997 it was all over. I didn't switch off because of Roni Size winning the Mercury Prize that year, I simply remember my sense of weariness at each new release with its promise of harder, darker sounds. Krust's "Warhead" and Dillinja's "Violent Killa", the first release on his own label Valve, were my jumping off point. I mean, even their titles say it all don't they? 

The release of "Classic Sub Base" expressed the aftermath pointedly. Where previous Suburban Base LPs were breathless snapshots of a vibrant scene, this release was strictly for the casual archivist. Though, of course, it's all gravy.

Seeing "Absolute Classic Drum & Bass" in the HMV Oxford Street in 2000, the first of what has been many retro compilations of Hardcore, I remember my surprise. First a remembrance of what fun it had been; then a realisation that it was history.

15.11.15

Grievous Angel Midsummer Mix


More mixes. Mixes are now a conceptual outgrowth of both the "mixtape" of Hip-Hop and the cassette for one's lover. Supplanting the "LP" or the "single" they have become the true lingua franca of the post-internet musical universe.

With the classic "Move Down Low" on Soul Jazz records (for me the highlight of Kode 9's DJ Kicks mix) my old pal Paul Meme escaped orbit for a moment. He shares with Ekoplekz the success of transcending this our sphere.

This summer Paul sent me a link to this excellent mix he'd made. We spoke extensively at the time about it and most particularly on the subject of Big $hot's "Glitch". Paul has a digital copy as well as the original. I was transfixed by the track and went and found what was then the only copy left on Discogs. I was really delighted with the slightly scratchy twelve inch that arrived in the post a week later.

This morning, having finally found time to catch up with myself (working four jobs at the moment) I looked to dig it out of the Grime section of my collection. Echoing Leo's experience as recounted at Dissensus I was, I dunno, confused, to find two copies of the twelve inch.



On reflection, while certainly proving (a) I have too many records (b) I must be getting a bit old in the head (c) My tastes have completely ossified - it does bring back to me the rampaging intensity and excitement of 2003 when I would have bought it from some shop or other on the basis that I loved it. There was so much great music being put out that everything was a blur.

14.11.15

Woebot Burning Decks Mix


This mix has never been posted before. I really liked it at the time. It's a very cold and hard selection which was mixed 100% live on air off vinyl in the old Denmark Street studio. It ranges over Gloomcore, Techno, Jungle, Hardcore, Hip-Hop and Grime. Features some vintage Woebot speak and spell DJ vo.

I've gone off Soundcloud, it's harder and harder to get mixes to upload owing to "restrictions". Google seems to have the political clout to get away with hosting just about anything. Also when I'm listening to mixes these days it's largely on Youtube. And it's free. So if this one sticks I'm going to start to upload the others. Enjoy. (Update - now on Mixcloud).