Wednesday, March 19, 2008

sleevenotes to Planet Mu's compilation Soundmurderer, 2003

by Simon Reynolds

This is the story of a beat and the story of a beatmaster.

The beat is the immortal "Amen" break, originally from an early funk track called "Amen Brother" by The Winstons. Someone who should know better once described "Amen" as jungle's default option--but that's like saying the Bo Diddley beat, or the twelve-bar blues shuffle, is something people fall back on when their imagination fails. Actually "Amen" is jungle's highest common denominator: its hard core, the absolute foundation and essence of the genre. Those two bars of stuttering kicks, driving snares and splashy ride cymbal, laid down in the late Sixties in seemingly throwaway fashion, have been dissected, processed, and reassembled to create near-infinite polyrhythmic possibilities.

If you listen to the original "Amen" today it sounds kinda tepid, after all the damage that has been done to it, and with it. But the junglists heard something in that break--it's not exactly funky, it's got this surging, explosive quality--and amplified it a hundredfold, turning the snares into machine-guns, the hi-hats and cymbals into strafing shrapnel, the bass drum kicks into landmines under your feet.

Between 1993-1996, thousands upon thousands of jungle tunes were built around "Amen." And some of the absolute best were made by a young man who went by the name of Remarc. When it comes to the "Amen" break, Remarc is King of the Beat. If the "Amen" is the genetic drumcode of the junglist generation, Remarc is one of the supreme genetic engineers, dicing and resplicing that primal riddimatic DNA, and creating mutant monsters that stampeded the dancefloors of mid-90s Britain. For his ultimate burial tune "RIP" alone, he'd be assured of his place in the Junglist Hall of Fame. But what about "Thunderclap": have beats ever been more mashed, rinsed, shredded to fuck, and still funked? Catch me in the right misty-eyed mood and I might tell you that no dance music has gone further than the "Amen" tear-out circa 1994-5. "RIP", "Thunderclap" and a precious handful of others represent a pinnacle that has yet to be surpassed.

Remarc is one of those DJ/producers--see also his peers Hype, Pascal, Bizzy B, Dead Dred, Marvellous Cain, and others--who never got the puff pieces in The Face, iD or Mixmag. They never became professional faces or quote merchants. They were simply too busy--building the soundboy killers that mashed up venues like the Roast and AWOL and Thunder & Joy. People used to
talk about "intelligent drum'n'bass", but the tunes that ruled the true junglist dancefloor represented a kind of rhythmic intellect at its most penetrating and ferociously complex. Pure science. No need for wishy-washes of synth, pseudo-sophisticated jazz chords, or embarrassing attempts at "proper" songwriting. Just snare-rushes, a cyberskankin' B-line, and some sparingly used vocal samples (ragga boasts, gangsta threats, and sweet diva licks). That's all it took to put you in jungle heaven. So let's hear it for Remarc, the bashment bombardier. REWIND selecta!!!!

* this reissue dedicated to Winstons drummer Gregory Sylvester Coleman, RIP

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