Nineties Electronica Gems

It's 2017 and suddenly the nineties seem like a very long time ago...

In the late eighties I remember the hoo-ha about The Beatles' Sergeant Peppers in 1987. "Twenty Years Ago Today" rang the headlines. It seemed such an impossibly distant time. And yet now suddenly 1997 is not ten years ago, but twenty years ago. 1987 itself is thirty years ago. It's enough to make me feel extremely old were I not to still look and feel like a 16 year old ;-)

The dance music I've been covering this past year was a massively energising phenomenon to many forms of music. It's exactly analogous to the electric shock punk gave musics at the end of the seventies which took till the end of 1983 to assimilate - for everyone to find positions which seemed acceptable in the face of its implicit critique.

The possibility of music being ruptured by such an equivalent volcanic force in 2017 is, if you cared enough to think about it, depressingly unlikely. Music appears now to be nowt more than entertainment. We actually accept that at face value! It has ceased to be an expression of free-thinking. Some might blame Capitalism - I blame the death of imagination, courage, foolishness and self-discipline that has come with an endemic spiritual laziness. Just saying innit.

Microstoria were Jan St Werner of Mouse on Mars and Markus Popp of Oval. Like the sixties supergroop Blind Faith then innit. This was something I listened to a lot at the time. I had it mixed up with old French avant-garde stuff on tapes which I would listen to as I drove myself to film sets at 5 in the morning. I particularly remember this on the stretch of the M3 which heads to Shepperton Studios.

 Very futuristic electronics even now, these are the equivalent of fairy cakes. Pretty, ambient madeleines inspired by Music Concrete and in thrall to their own micro-gyrations. Some surprisingly deep bass here too. Looking back it's easy to see that the cultural context of this post-rave electronica was burn-out - just as in the early seventies there was a proliferation of bombed-out avant-garde and far out ethnic music.

I was a big Mouse on Mars fan. I even contacted them to make a video once and they very sweetly took great care to write back and patiently explain why my ideas wouldn't work with where they were at. MOM just seemed to get better for a while as they drifted further and further from the Stereolab indie-axis and deeper into electronic music. Instrumentals might seem from its title as though it would be off-cuts - but actually it's brilliant. Long, dubby, generously melodic driftpieces.

And this, Glam, was their swansong. Made as the soundtrack for an aborted Hollywood movie, mention was made at the time of the involvement of the son of a movies legend. I remember hazily, phone-calls were not returned - everyone was very bummed out. Lovely ramshackle stuff. And then! Dramatically and very much for the worst, MOM shifted direction. The subsequent stuff was less psychedelic, became shiny, brusque perhaps even coked-up? I hung in there for a while only...

Anthony Manning's "Islets in Pink Polypropylene" on Irdial is named after one of Christo's installations and in an utterly bonkers fashion was made on a single, entirely inappropriate instrument - the Roland R8 drum machine. That in itself was a fantastic gesture - an antidote to G.A.S and a noble artistic gesture. At the time we were beginning to be lambasted with the whole "infinite palate" of electronic music bullshit. Such a fucking stupid argument which it seems has never quite gone away. Nice little piece here on the record at FACT.

Big, big love for this shamefully forgotten masterpiece. Originally I had this on cassette, which stolen from my car back in the day when criminals actually broke into cars and didn't just perpetrate internet fraud. Quite something to be nostalgic for I admit...

I caned this collection of fluffy Italian house (Sueno Latino, Morenas) and oddball British Techno (Aqua Regia, KLF, Orb). I remember walking round Bombay for days with this on my earphones. Walking, walking, walking. Best KLF track they ever made is on this.

Actually picked this up in Iceland last month. A disgusting copy which was literally en-caked in grease from years of all-night summer Reykjavik raves. You can just picture the scene - a trestle table set up beside a hot-spring, girls with multiple pony-tails, rented speakers and a generator chugging away somewhere at the end of a long lead behind a bush.

I was going to say behind a tree but there are no trees in Iceland. There's a good Icelandic joke I heard. About the fact that Polar Bears have recently started to alight on the northern coastline. What do yo do if you come across a Polar Bear? Climb a tree.

At that time I outta hand dismissed T.Power - a "jungle" album recorded in Wales!? Pshaw. And the unthinking inkies at the time praised it to the skies - this crusty-looking bloke pulling a Sukhasana in Leicester Square - puhlease! Ok, so once I got past the idea that this is NOT a jungle lp and actually accepted it on its own wonky terms, as "suites" of "electonica", yeah, I kinda liked it. In fairness too T.Power was connected to Hardcore, but yunnuh so was Gilles Peterson. The record cleaned up OK too FWIW.

Always liked this. Great photography on it and the accompanying twelve inches too.

And this was Matthew Herbert's finest hour. The conceptual baggage used to annoy me - alright so you've sampled sounds from "Around The House" - I'd maybe buy into this "weighty" idea if the record was a 100% avant-garde thing but it's simply, I dunno how best to describe it, Melodic Indie House? It's like calling yourself the King of Swindon. Still, you gotta hand it to him, as Melodic Indie House albums go it's a corker.

OK, so this was a "The Wire" record. I have a grudging admiration for it. It is a little ugly. Something about the strain of cleverness on display was always off-putting.

I never really got into Big Beat. There was simply too much else going on to have the time to follow it. BRA, the REQ stuff (which always left me a bit cold) and Beachcomas that's it really isn't it? In spirit it's quite like the T.Power - a self-conscious "drawing-out" of dance music as though someone is saying, with naive delight, you thought THAT was cool?!? Check THIS out. And yet somehow this "added value" at once misses the point and the result is slightly underwhelming. But, if one's (very briefly) being less of a twat - it's fun!

Woops! This actually came out in 2000! But, heh heh, safe to say it was recorded in the nineties. Nice ornate electro-noodling.

On SKAM. Beautiful artwork. Cool but ever so slightly disappointing sounds. I remember picking this up at John "Matey" Reynolds great Atlas record store in Archer Street along with such Post-Rock stuff as Kreidler, To Roccoco Rot and Arovane. John had previously been at the legendary Fat Cat Records off Seven Dials. It's impossible to overstate the importance shops like this, and certainly the old Rough Trade store, had in fostering and disseminating.

Another Wire thing. The Wire was massive in the nineties. I mean, it's still a great magazine but the nineties was definitely a heyday for the journal. By the man Kingsuk Biswas. This is like an updated Jon Hassell "City: Works of Fiction" - lyrical Sino-Techno with synthetic percussion. Shades of Sakamoto's "Riot in Lagos" that great nineties Ur-text.

Ho ho! Pole was everywhere wasn't he! Everyone loved those first three records. All the Basic Channel fans wasn't it. The first record was the best one for me because it was the least cartoon-reggae-ish. The "dub" influence became more and more obvious and the cod Jamaican thing became more and more pervasive till the point that it was a bit silly. The same charge could be leveled at the Basic Channel operation IMHO.

I was talking earlier about how Punk forced people to assimilate its influence. To music fans at the time Rave was a real shock to assimilate too. You could either throw away all your old records - lots of people did this - or try and figure out how to reconnect it all. Drain Rave it of its vital life-force - lol. Anyway the most useful agents in this process of assimilation were (a) Dub (b) German music. So, yeah, that's the context in which I understand things like Pole.

Cool. Covet my vinyl, dudes.

Intriguing electronic covers LP by the Senor Coconut guy. Like a Silicon Teens for the nineties. Only better results.

I listened to this on Rephlex a lot. Had that crooning guy Luca Santini on it whose voice was distinctive but which I was never quite sure about. Came with a 7". In some ways it was Rephlex's great crossover hope. The hotly-tipped Leila Arab had the extraordinary honor of being on Rephlex, XL AND WARP but didn't break-out on any of those labels. Oh well, there's no shame in that!

Isolee's first and best. Nearly as good as Kraftwerk at moments!

The splendid second Ultramarine album. Note to self - must check out their debut on Les Disque De Crepuscule one day.

Another Rising High release. Rising High was definitely the ugly duckling of nineties music labels. Probably because they put out so much absolutely filthy mass-market techno bollocks from the likes of Harthouse. There's still the odd great twelve inch release though - a couple of lovely Black Dog EPs.

Mixmaster Morris' debut from 1992 predates the mid to late nineties drive towards the minimal and avant-garde and benefits tremendously from it. I will always love the cheesy near-Ardkore Ambience of "Symphony in E".

Can't remember anything about this.

Luke Vibert's finest. Again a Rising High outlier. Very low-key but charming Trip-Hop.

The legendary Orb SPACE album. S'funny to think that a lot of the stuff like this that was released will never be reissued being as they are sample minefields.

Nice. Belated shout out to Martin BTI who did a survey of FDHK.

The lesser-known first Casino-vs-Japan album.

Handy Ambient gubbins from Kid 606.