Monday, July 28, 2008
DANCE MUSIC JOURNALISM'S STRANGE SILENCE
Dazed and Confused, spring 2008
by Simon Reynolds
Everybody knows the famous saying, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" (attributed variously to Frank Zappa, Thelonious Monk, and Elvis Costello). Some may have heard, or independently come up with, the less-famous retort: "hmmm, 'dancing about architecture' --that actually sounds cool, like some kind of performance art, street theater thing". The erudite will also point to Goethe's famous dictum: "architecture is frozen music". But amid all this merry perennial back-and-forth about the futility and absurdity of music criticism, no one ever addresses the burning issue of our epoch: why do dance journalists never talk about dancing?
It's true, you know. Scrutinise the features on new genres and scenes in Mixmag or DJ, dredge up your back copies of now-deceased publications like Muzik and Ministry. There'll be stuff on leading deejays and producers, about crucial labels and clubs; the geneaology of the sound will be traced, its location in the contemporary genrescape will be situated. But invariably there'll barely be a single reference to the music's primary function and its fans' major form of expressive response: getting down, shaking stuff, throwing shapes. What's odd about this deficit of attention is that the different styles of dancing play a huge role in creating each scene's vibe. Second only to the music itself, dancing is what supplies the colour and character of dance subcultures. The ritualized crowd responses: rewinds in jungle, UK garage, grime, dubstep. The mass Pavlovian reflexes: all the builds and drops built into the music that are only meaningful because of the way they trigger collective responses like hands flying in the air at the breakdown.
So why don’t dance writers deal with this stuff? Are they just not terribly observant? Or does it seem too obvious to talk about? Perhaps it's felt to be non-revlealing compared to establishing who pioneered such-and-such a sound, or what piece of technology underpins the genre. Maybe it smacks too much of anthropologists monitoring the tribe's rituals. I wonder if it's got something to do with the dance mags' original orientation, which was very much towards servicing deejays . And deejays are notorious for never dancing, possibly because it's too much of a role reversal for them to let themselves be 'controlled' by another deejay.
In my rave culture chronicle Energy Flash, just reissued in an expanded update with material on the last decade of dance, I do regularly take a close look at how the massive moves to the ever-changing grooves. From trance's ecstastic, arms-aloft, open-body gestures to junglist's shadow-boxing and panther steps, the way people dance tells you a lot about the spirit of the scene. Trance offers a quasi-mystical refuge from reality, whereas jungle is about bringing the street's tension and dread onto the dancefloor. In America, the rave style of dancing known as "liquid"--full of complex undulating moves that bring to mind the rippling frond-like shapes of Mandelbrot fractals--gives you a good clue to what drugs these kids are on, but also expresses the deep philosophical principles of America's version of rave (all those cyberdelic stuff about data flow and connectivity).
Gabba dancing started out looking like a cross between kickboxing and skating (loads of motion, but only below the knees) and has recently evolved into "jumpstyle" (imagine speedfreaks Morris dancing on a freshly buttered pavement). But the common thread is a folk dance-like quality that totally fits the Nordic funklessness of gabba music. You can even tell something from when people don't dance, whether it's grime (where fans either mosh frenziedly, or stand stock-still headnodding to the word-flow) or microhouse, where those who do dance jig about in a mild, indistinct sort of way but an awful lot of punters just seem to be there to drink and talk.
I follow these shifts and differences in dancefloor behavior not just because of the sociological information they manifest, but because it's fascinating. And as someone who's moved through a number of scenes over the years as a participant-observer, I've noticed how quickly you become trained in the right way to move. Immersion in the massive triggers our human impulse to fit in, belong, share. I love to watch dancers, both the exceptionally graceful virtuosos in every crowd and the multitude's standardised moving-and-grooving. But I also like to have a go, to join the crowd and contribute in my own small and clumsy way to the tribe-vibe. Dancing is the surest way to get inside the music, to feel it and know it (in almost the Biblical sense). The music is the screenplay, but it's we the dancers who make the movie.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
RAVE THEORY TOOL-KIT
Blissout aka A White Rave Aesthete Thinks Aloud website, 1999
by Simon Reynolds
Researching my rave history, I slogged through scores of books looking
for juicy quotes. Maybe I have a warped perspective, but I was stunned how frequently Adorno or Deleuze & Guattari or Virilio or even Harold fucking Bloom seemed to be talking about jungle, gabba, pirate radio, MDMA, Basic Channel, and so forth. In the event, most of the quotes I gathered never ended up in the book. But
waste not want not --here I offer a do-it-yourself rave theory
tool kit: raw material for you to construct your own analyses of your
favourite post-rave sub-genre. Have fun......
RAVING I'M RAVING
"Now I am light, now I fly, now I see myself beneath myself, now a
god dances through me!" ---Friedrich Nietzche
"[A] will for glory exists in us which would that we live like suns,
squandering our goods and our life" ---Georges Bataille
"A dizziness that reduced [the] environment to a sort of
luminous chaos" ---Paul Virilio, Aesthetics of Disappearance
"All energy must ultimately be spent pointlessly and unreservedly,
the only questions being where, when, and in whose name this useless discharge
will occur," --Nick Land, The Thirst For Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism
"[Heavenly angelhood is] a tensely vital peace, and... a calm yet
active ecstasy" --Harold Bloom, Omens of Millenium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection.
"Extremely subtle, brilliant particles of some immaterial substance,
shooting up and down, this way and that, combining to present an appearance of a circling, shimmering pool of light" ---June Singer on kundalini energy in Androgyny: Towards A New Theory Of Sexuality
"[Tao, the body-without-organs, the courtly lover etc] testifies... to
an achieved state in which desire no longer lacks anything but finds itself and
constructs its own field of immanence" --Gilles Deleuze & Felix
Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
"To be drugged by the embrace of nature into what we call most natural
in us, our sleepiness and our sexual desires, is at once a pleasant and an
unhappy fate, since what remains immortal in us is both androgynous and sleepless. So get right on one, matey" --Harold Bloom, Omens of Millenium. I tampered with this quote
"Their ecstasy is without content.... The ecstasy takes possession of its
object by its own compulsive character. It is stylised like the ecstasies savages
go into in beating the war drums. It has convulsive aspects reminescent of St
Vitus's dance or the reflexes of mutilated animals. ... The same jitterbugs
who behave as if they were electrified by syncopation, dance almost exclusively the
good rhythmic parts" --Theodor Adorno "On The Fetish-Character in Music and the
Regression of Listening"
"Why are rhythmical sounds and motions so especially contagious? A
rhythmical call to the crowd easily foments mass ecstasy: 'Duce! Duce! Duce!'.
The call repeats itself into the infinite and liberates the mind of all reasonable
inhibitions.... as in drug addiction, a thousand years of civilisation
fall away in a moment.... Rock'n'roll is a sign of depersonalisation of
the individual, of ecstatic veneration of mental decline and passivity. If we cannot stem the tide with its waves of rhythmic narcosis... we are preparing our own downfall in the midst of pandemic funeral dances. The dance craze is the infantile rage and outlet of our actual world." ---Dr Joost A.M. Meerlo, New York Times, 1957
"Epidemic Tanzwuth [Medieval dancing mania or St. Vitus Dance] was
characterised by 'stimulating' music and fits of wild dancing, leaping, hopping, and clapping that ended in syncope [fainting]. The condition was not always unpleasant;
victims sought out musicians to play the music that brought on symptoms,
and sometimes they planned for annual attacks. Physicians documented such
familiar features as hyperventilation, tachycardia, palpitation, and histories of recent fasting, lack of sleep and binge drinking of wine.... [Youths] followed
minstrels who played intoxicating music on noisy instruments with shrill
tones to 'demoniacal festival[s] for the rude multitudes'. Tarantism, an Italian
version of Tanzwuth superstitiously linked to tarantual bites, affected
young victims dressed in curious vests and necklaces and such-like ornaments... [and] clothes of a gay color.... Mass fainting at rock concerts may simply be an old
phenomenon reappearing in a new electronic age." ---New England Journal of
Medecine, Volume 333 No. 20.
"Not a public scene or true public space but gigantic spaces of
circulation, ventilation and ephemeral connection." Jean Baudrillard, Simulations
"They call themselves 'jitter-bugs', bugs which carry out reflex
movements, performers of their own ecstasy. Merely to be carried away by anything at all, to have something of their own, compensates for their impoverished and barren
existence." Theodor Adorno, "Perennial Fashion - Jazz"
THE RAVING MASSIVE
"The totality of all BwO's [bodies-without-organs].... a fusional
multiplicity that effectively goes beyond any opposition between the one
and the multiple" ---Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
"The compensation for schizophonia [the splitting of musical sounds from
their embodied human source through recording and commodification] is precisely in the creative responses.... ranting and raving... leveling and digging
and dubbing and rapping. Singing along.... getting into humanising and personalising
mechanical processes". ---Steve Feld, Music Grooves
"We have grown used to connecting machines and funkiness"
-----Andrew Goodwin, "Rationalisation and Democratisation in the New Technologies of Popular Music". In Lull, James, ed. Popular Music and Communication.
"Music is nothing but organised noise. You can take anything
-- street sounds, us talking, whatever you want -- and make it music by organising it" --Hank Shocklee of the Bomb Squad/Public Enemy.
"What I want to suggest here is that the machine too, is, in a sense,
'created' by the user in the act of making music' --Paul Theberge, Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology.
"We don't like musicians. We don't respect musicians.. We have a better
sense of music, a better concept of music, of where it's going, of what it can do" --Hank Shocklee (quoted in Rose, Tricia. Black Noise)
'ARDKORE AND TOYTOWN TEKNO
"A sort of musical children's language is prepared for them; it differs
from the real thing in that its vocabulary consists exclusively of fragments and
distortions of the artistic language of music... It swarms with
mistakes in phrasing and harmony. There are wrong pitches, incorrect doublings of thirds, fifth and octave progression, and all sorts of illogical treatments of voices, sometimes in the bass.... No less characteristic of the regressive musical
language is the quotation. Its use ranges from the conscious quotatioin of folk
and children's songs, by way of ambiguous and half accidental allusions,
to completely latent similarities and associations"
--Theodor Adorno --who died twenty years before Prodigy's "Charly", Agent Orange's "Sounds a Bit Flakey", Smart E's "Sesame's Treet", Bolt's "Horsepower", Urban Hype's "Trip To Trumpton", E-Kude's "Weed", Major Malfunction's "Ice Cream Van", Shaft's "Roobard & Custard" et al-- from "On The Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening",
"The joyous freedom and inexplicable obedience to will in the play
of musical movement is, according to my opinion, a regressive repetition and idealised intensification of bodily pleasure in that early period of infancy, when the discovery of limbs is followed by the gradual mastery of the whole body"
"[The 'black hole' is] a BwO [body-without-organs] that shatters
all the strata, turns immediately into a body of nothingness, pure self-destruction whose only outcome is death.... There is a fascist use of drugs, or a suicidal use."
--Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
"A panic search for identity which, like the laws of
mechanical thermodynamics, alternates between the inertia of indifference and the ecstasy of intense affects" ---Arthur Kroker, The Possessed Individual: Technology and the French Postmodern.
"From the assemblage of sounds to the Machine that renders it sonorous,
from the becoming-child of the musician to the becoming-cosmic of the child, many dangers crop up: black holes, closures, paralysis of the finger and auditory
hallucinations, Schumann's madness, cosmic force gone bad, a note that pursues
you, a sound that transfixes you." --Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand
"Similarly, loud, aggressive drum sounds are often referred to
[by studio engineers] as 'rude'" --Paul Theberge, Any Sound You Can Imagine
"['Lift-up-over-sounding'] creates a feeling of continuous layers,
sequential but not linear; nongapped multiple presences and densities; overlapping chunks without internal breaks, a spiralling, arching motion tumbling slightly forward, thinning, then thickening again..." Charles Keil and Steve Feld, Music Grooves
"Since the Atlantic slave trade, ancient African organising principles
of song and dance have crossed the seas from the Old World to the New. There they took on a new momentum, intermingling with each other and with New World
or European styles of singing and dance. Among those principles are the dominance of a percussive performance style (attack and vital aliveness in sound and motion); a
propensity for multiple meter (competing meters sounding all at
once); overlapping call and response in singing (solo/chorus, voice/instrument
--"interlock systems" of performance); inner pulse control (a "metronome sense",
keeping a beat indelibly in mind as a rhythmic common denominator in
a welter of different meters); suspended accentuation patterning (offbeat phrasing of melodic and choreographic accent); and... songs and dances of social allusion
(music which, however danceable and "swinging", remorsely contrasts social
imperfections against implied criteria for perfect living)." --Robert Farris
Thompson, Flash of The Spirit: African and Afro- American Art and Philosophy
"[Faced with vast networks of power, the individual] can henceforth only
try to outwit them, to pull tricks on them, to rediscover within an electronicised and computerised megalopolis, the 'art' of the hunters and rural folk
of earlier days". --Michel deCerteau, The Practice of Everyday Life
"Anxious melancholy and manic buoyancy.... Frenzy and inertia,
ecstasy and catastrophe, speed and slowness" --Arthur Kroker and Michael A. Weinstein, Data
Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class
"Let us imagine these hip hop principles as a blueprint for social
resistance and affirmation: create sustaining narratives, accumulate them, layer,
embellish, and transform them. However, be also prepared for rupture,
find pleasure in it, in fact, plan on social rupture" --Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America.
"The vortex of vulvo-cosmic dissolution" --Nick Land,
The Thirst For Annihilation
GABBA AND TERRORCORE
"Speed is a key category for the soldier body. It needs to heat up, rev up,
and race physically, before charging physically toward the site on which it
expects to experience itself in the streaming of pleasure" ---Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies
"Almost everything that has happened in the mass domains of
non-institutional pharmacology, sexuality and electric music in the wake of this conflict [the Vietnam War] attests strongly to such a longing. What is desired is that one be 'wiped out'" --Nick Land, The Thirst For Annihilation
"Homo-eroticism... lubes the merger with the war machine"
- Lawrence A. Rickels, "Psy Fi", from Alphabet City, issues 4 & 5: "Fascism and its Ghosts"
"[Dance music] immediately expressed their desire to obey...
Coordinated battalions of mechanical collectivity... Thus do the obedient
inherit the earth" --Theodor Adorno, who died twenty years before Inferno Bros.'s "Slaves To The Rave"
"Music has a thirst for destruction, every kind of destruction,
extinction, breakage, dislocation. Is that not its potential 'fascism'?" --Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
"Atonal punk reggae scored for gamelan, synthesiser,
saxophone & drums -- electric boogie lyrics sung by aetherial children's choir -- ontological anarchist lyrics, a cross between Hafez & Pancho Villa, Li Po & Bakunin, Kabir & Tzara -- call it 'CHAOS - The Rock Video!'... No... probably just a dream. Too expensive to produce, & besides, who would see it? Not the kids it was meant to
seduce. Pirate TV is a futile fantasy...."
....but pirate radio ain't! Hakim Bey, from Chaos: The Broadsheets of Ontological Anarchism
"A throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialised
languages." --Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
"The hybrid posed a special problem for those who worried about
purity of forms... and unnatural mixtures... The metaphyiscal and physical dangers thought to inhere in artificial grafts surfaced in threatening metaphors of infection, contamination, rape and bastardy." ---Barbara Stafford, Body Criticism: Imagining the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medecine. (Compare with D. May on breakbeat hardcore as a "diabolical mutation, a Frankenstein monster" and "I don't even like to use the word 'techno' because it's been bastardised and
prostituted in every form you can possibly imagine", or E. Fowlkes on UK rave as
"cultural rape" of Detroit techno).
INTELLIGENT TECHNO, PROGRESSIVE HOUSE, INTELLIGENT JUNGLE
"Nothing classifies somebody more than the way he or she classifies"
--Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste
"Styles of music intended for dancing have a way of evolving into
music for listeners only" --Charles Keil and Steve Feld, Music Grooves
FUZAK-JUNGLE AND JAZZ-STEP
"Competition on the culture market has proved the effectiveness of
a number of techniques, including syncopation, semi-vocal, semi-instrumental sounds,
gliding, impressionistic harmonies and opulent instrumentation which
suggests that 'nothing is too good for us'" ---Theodor Adorno, "Perennial Fashion - Jazz"
"Hegemony, like truth, is what people come to believe, so we can't really
know what is or was at stake in a style until it has run its organic course."
---Charles Keil, Music Grooves
TECHSTEP, ARTCORE NOIR, NEUROFUNK & NU-DARK
"We now longer feel that we penetrate the future, futures
now penetrate us" --John Clute, introduction to Interzone: The Second Anthology.
"The result is neither ecstasy nor alienation, but some deeply
ambivalent entwining of the two" --Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject In Postmodern Science Fiction
"A terminal blast of music... the field across which bodies are coded,
tattooed and signified in an endless circulation of spectral emotions" --Arthur Kroker, The Possessed Individual--possibly after listening to Torque -- possibly not.
SOUNDTRACK-ISM FROM PHOTEK'S "THE HIDDEN CAMERA" TO WU TANG
"The film is the art form that is in keeping with the increased threat
to his life which modern man has to face. Man's need to expose himself to shock effects is his adjustment to the dangers threatening him. The film corresponds to
profound changes in the apperceptive apparatus" --Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of
Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction'
"An auditory zoom-lens that scans from micro to wide-angle to
telephoto as figure and ground shift" --Charles Keil and Steve Feld, Music Grooves
"The glissades of datascape mastery"
--Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity
BASIC CHANNEL, CHAIN REACTION, MAURIZIO
"Moment time uses the linearity of listening to destroy
the linearity of time" -- Jonathan Kramer, The Time of Music
"The richer the sensory interface, the more reduced is the function
of narrative" -- Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity
PCP/COLD RUSH STYLE "GLOOMCORE"
"A will to nothingness... A will running counter to life, a revolt
against the most fundamental presuppositions of life, yet it is and remains a will! And, to repeat at the end what I said in the beginning: rather than want nothing, man even wants nothingness" --Friedrich Nietzche, The Genealogy of Morals
"[The] principle of asignifying rupture [is opposed to] the
oversignifying breaks separating structures or cutting across a single structure. A rhizome may be broken, shattered at at given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines... Musical form, right down to its ruptures and
proliferations, is comparable to a weed, a rhizome." --Deleuze & Guattari, A
"A universe of ambivalent signs flickering randomly between psychosis and
"This terrible terrain of decoded flows, dematerialised bodies,
and decontextualised desire"
"Cold seduction, then, for a cool hallucinatory culture of
special effects personalities moving at warp speed to nowhere."
---all from Arthur Kroker, The Possessed Individual
"... archived body parts are disguised in the binary functionality of
data and pooled into larger circulatory flows..."
"... Nietzche's body and conscience vivisectionists, vampiring
organic flesh, and draining its fluids into cold streams of telemetry...."
"... the harvesting of the energy from the local and the bounded for
the global and unbounded.... Ours is a time of non-history that is super-charged by the spectacular flame-out of the detritus of the bounded energy of local histories"
---all from Arthur Kroker and Michael A.Weinstein, Data Trash
"[The sampladelic producer is] a cybernetic pathogen,part-predator/part-parasite, always engaged in a sadistic hunt for unlikely new sound combinations"
"Here is where all the experimental breakthroughs
are being made in understanding the unfolding cultural logic of technological society: looping, partitioning, layering, panning, aliasing, filtering, mutating... We can actually hear our approaching fate as we are sampled for our history, dreams.
"Just like virtual sound-objects in sampler music technology, subjectivity
today is a gaseous element, expanding and contracting, time-stretched, cross-faded,
"Sleights of ear, mirror shifts of sound, waveforms, sound warps,
phasal noise: this is the illusional space that marks the imaginary territory of the digital ear."
"....an urgent requirement emerges to speed up the ear to match the
aural velocity of digital reality, to pump up the genetics of hearing to equal the
sounds of the datascape. Sampling technology, therefore, as a filter for
"Music, then, as a force field through which processed subjects pass,
with its privileging of pure speed, of sound approaching the velocity of light; with its vectoring of random subjects across a keyboard of outered emotions; with its
inscription of the codes of frenzy and desire onto the body without organs; and
with its fatal promise of pure inertia when the sound switches off and all the
dancing bodies collapses."
"Which is to say that culture is not a reflex of political economy, but
that society is now a reflex of key shifts in music theory and practice....
[Sampladelia is] the sound made by those early-twentieth-century discoveries
in particle physics and relativiity theory, the projection of the minds of
Einstein, Heisenbery, and Bohr, their fateful explorations of liquid time,
curving space, uncertainty fields and relativity theorems, into densely
configured and fully ambivalent android music tracks"
---all from Arthur Kroker, Spasm: Virtual Reality, Android Music and Electric Flesh.
THE POLITICS OF ECSTASY CULTURE: PRO'S AND CON'S
"Music seems to have a much stronger deterritorialising force, at once
more intense and much more collective" --Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
"There are no longer any necessary connections between culture and politics:
it is possible to be culturally hip, yet politically reactionary." --Arthur Kroker,
"We didn't get a proletarian revolution. I think the only thing we did get
was style" --Charles Keil, Music Grooves
"IT DIDN'T MEAN NOTHING" ---Jarvis Cocker, sleevenotes for
"Sorted For E's And Whizz"
[Any suggestions for further additions to the tool kit are welcomed]
THE EMUSIC DOZEN: CLASSIC RAVE
director's cut / extended mix, eMusic, 2007
by Simon Reynolds
Rave was the last blast of full-on futurism in the mainstream of pop culture. Okay, there’s certainly been some mind-and-body bending rhythmic science going on in rap and R&B and (in Britain) the whole 2step/UK garage/grime explosion. But a lot of the futuristic electronic tones in hip hop have actually been echoes or steals from rave (OutKast are big fans of drum’n’bass, Timbaland digs the Prodigy, Lil Jon heard house music in Atlanta strip clubs and stole the riffs for Usher’s “Yeah”). And rap/R&B/2step/grime have a lot more truck with conventional pop structures and the whole star system of videogenic charisma, personality and sex appeal. Whereas rave, at its purest, was about “faceless techno bollocks”. The producers typically hid between machinic/robotic/numeric aliases (Nexus 21, 808 State), vocals were either absent or they were sampled soundbites that simply didn’t have the focal prominence that the singer has in pop. The whole culture was organized around a credo of anonymous collectivity, a radical egalitarianism where there were no stars. Okay, admittedly that changed quite a bit as rave became an industry, with DJs getting treated as celebrities. But early on the audience didn’t turn their faces to the DJ booth (which was tucked away in some dark corner rather than on a podium), they looked at each other, buzzing on the spectacle of mass delirium, the synchronized collective rush of thousands of people “coming up” at the same time.
Ecstasy opened a lot of minds to listening to abstract instrumental music that had no truck with verse-chorus-verse structure or conventional hooks. As Graham Massey of 808 State (whose album 90 is one of the dozen rave picks below) put it in 1989: "Mainstream clubs are just so out there and futuristic. You get beer boys and Sharons and Tracies dancing to the weirdest crap going. Yer average Joe Bloggs is dancing to stuff that's basically avant-garde.”
This makes the music sound slightly forbidding. Rave music could be dark and sinister, and at its more extreme end, the pounding beats, rapid-fire tempos, and searing synth-noise could make for a punishing experience. But the best of it was fierce fun, a rampage of celebration and euphoria. A lot of it was actually explosively poptastic, scattering hooks and melody-shrapnel every-which-way. Rave was pop too in the sense that it charged its way out of the underground and into the UK charts, a tidal wave that crested in the second half of 1991 and first half of 1992, when hardcore ruled the nation, and then enjoyed various resurgences, like the big beat explosion of Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim or the trance wave of the late 90s. This selection concentrates on the early part of that decade, but also includes a honored precursor and a fond homage.
The Todd Terry Trilogy: Past, Present & Future
Loudhouse Records / INgrooves
Although it was Chicago acid house that ignited the firestorm of rave culture in the UK, British rave music would ultimately be influenced more by the sounds coming out New York during the late Eighties. The Northern “bleep” style associated with Unique 3 and Warp acts like Sweet Exorcist and LFO owed a massive amount to the New York post-electro label Cutting and its acts like Nitro Deluxe, whose “Let’s Get Brutal” pioneered a style of bass-heavy and skeletally minimalist house music. And the breakbeat-driven hardcore rave style was hugely influenced by Todd Terry’s mental merger of house and hip hop. Remote in sound and spirit from the house styles we usually associate with New York (i.e. the soulful, lushly produced garage of labels like Strictly Rhythm and Nu Groove), Terry’s music was brash and street-raw, a fast-money music of uncleared samples, phat bass, and kickin’ beats. Just as Terry’s hybrid sound was vital impurist, so his insanely prolific output (the “various artists” on this overview are all him operating under different aliases) was fueled by an impure mixture of mercenary and artistic impulses. The muddy motivations proved to be fertile soil though, because even when recycling his own most successful riffs, he invariably reworked them and made them even deranged. Terry’s production of the Jungle Brothers’ “I’ll House You” basically super-imposed the group’s hip-housy rapping over his own Royal House track “Can You Feel It”, which had been a monster UK hit in the acid house-crazed summer of 1988. But he’d already versioned that track once before as the incredible “Party People”, a sort of drastic dub of “Can You Feel It” that turned reverbed after-traces of piano and vocal hubbub into a juddering pulse-riff. The effect is at once slammin’ and ethereal, like the air itself is wracked and palsied with disco fever. On this track and other early Terry tunes, the production has a curious cavernous, clanking quality, making you feel like you’re in a bunker-like space full of sound-reflections and muffled noise. Whether deliberate or a by-product of lo-fi studio conditions, the effect of playing them in a club must have been to double the “in the club” feel.
With this thrifty trackmaster (““I’m not a writer of songs, they’re too much trouble”, he once said) you don’t get any of the preciousness associated with, say, the Detroit techno auteurs. Terry wants to rock the party and he wants to get paid in full; his avant-gardism is almost a byproduct of the drive to catch listeners ears with crazy-making effects. Where your average New York producer would coat Dinosaur L’s mutant disco classic and Paradise Garage anthem “Go Bang” in an aspic of veneration, Terry eviscerated its nagging vocal riff for use in his own “Bango”. There are too many classics on this comprehensive anthology to list, but one deserves special mention: Black Riot’s “A Day in the Life”, its nagging techno motif and “fee-eee-eel it” sample-riff essentially making it the first UK hardcore track.
UK rave sucked a bizarrely disparate array of folk into the maw of its madness: Ecstasy-blitzed teens stepping out on the dance scene for the first time, B-boys derailed from their attempt to build a Britrap scene by the phuture shock of acid house, clubland types who’d frequented the soul/funk/jazz oriented scene of the Eighties but then had their minds blown. There were also a surprising large number of relatively elderly postpunk veterans and industrial types, people who’d spent the 1980s in the wilderness thanks to the return of guitar bands in independent music, only to find the kind of avant-funk grooves and electronic textures they’d championed suddenly becoming hugely popular on a mass plebeian level that had previously seemed way beyond the bounds of possibility.
808 State encapsulated UK rave’s motley demographics. Graham Massey, their main music guy, had been in the Manchester industrial outfit Biting Tongues. He hooked up with Martin Price, owner of the city’s premier indie rock/underground dance record store Eastern Bloc. These two older guys were joined by two virtual children, Andrew Barker and Darren Partington, a teenage DJ duo who went by the name the Spinmasters and played hip hop and house on Manchester pirate radio station. In its early days, 808 also included Gerald Simpson, better known as A Guy Called Gerald of “Voodoo Ray” fame, a black Mancunian electro-head and jazz-fusion connoisseur.
This rich mulch of inputs informs Ninety, actually 808’s third album but their first big-time release, coming out on ZTT. 808’s first hit “Pacific State” a/k/a “Pacific 202” was hailed as “New Age house” on account of its soothing sax sample and dawn chorus of sampled bird-trills, which made it perfect "coming down" music for the out-door rave as the sun rises. Still fondly regarded as a “golden age of rave” anthem , “Pacific” is actually the slightest thing here. Far more impressive are "Magical Dream," a dance of golden lights that invites you to "close your eyes and disappear"; the poignant "Ancodia", which turns samples of close harmony soul into an heavenly host hovering over a dense undergrowth of rainforest rhythms; and "Sunrise", its tendrils of flute and lambent horizons of synth making you picture a Polynesian island at dawn. Overall, the 808 State vibe is Weather Report meets Detroit techno.
The group’s 1991 sequel Ex:el is equally excellent, featuring more excursions into jazz-inflected exotica but also harder tracks like “Cubik” and “In Yer Face” attuned to the prevailing Belgian techno style of the day. There’s a couple of collaborations with name vocalists, including Bjork, prefiguring Massey’s later contributions as producer to her classic 1995 album Post.
Who's that Beat ? / Vital:PIAS Digital
For a couple of years in the early 90s, Belgium ruled rave culture, spewing out a series of innovatively abrasive tunes that rocked ravefloors across the world while also upsetting droves of Chicago house/Detroit techno purists, who saw the style as eradicating techno’s links to black music altogether. And its true, the Belgian sound, as pioneered by labels like Hithouse, Who’s That Beat, R&S and 80 Aum, did turn away from the Afro-American wellspring and drink deep on strictly Euro sources. Its secret ingredients were a strong dose of Electronic Body Music, that stiff-jointed but dancefloor oriented offshoot of industrial trailblazed by Belgium’s own Front 242, and a pungent tang of classical music, especially the more sturm und drang-y Carl Orff/Wagner end of it.
Out of all the Belgian hardcore hitmakers, t.99 were the biggest crossover success, reaching #14 in the UK charts in May 1991 with “Anasthasia” and also scoring with the near-identical “Noctune”. The principal hook in “Anasthasia” is a hard-angled stab pattern playing what sounds like a choral sample (possibly the famous “O Fortuna” sequence of Orff’s Carmina Burana). The intro to the track, a female voice saying “music, maestro, please” is at once a nod to the quasi-classical vibe of the tune and an advance rejoinder to the horrified hordes of house purists who would decry this slice of brutalist bombast as “just not music”. Actually the parts of “Anasthasia” that don’t feature the portentous fanfare-blare of the riff are quite pleasant: a chugging Euro-haus groove topped with wafting synths, almost like “Pacific State” without that cheesy saxophone. But the harsh ‘n’ doomy hook-stab does always return at regular intervals, sounding a bit like a flock of crows cackling in scorn. The four mixes are fairly indistinguishable (this was a time when remixes were precisely that, remixes, as opposed to virtually brand-new tracks), the “Out of History” version perhaps having the edge by a whisker. That’s an intriguing sub-title, actually: were t.99’s Patrick de Meyer and Olivier Abbeloos hinting that rave was a gigantic exodus of disaffected and politically disengaged youth leaving reality behind for a utopia of druggy noise? Or was the idea more apocalyptic, as in “we’re running out of time”? Or a bit of both, as suggested by the title of the debut t.99 album Children of Chaos? Sadly, following its 1992 release, the duo themselves headed straight for the dustbin of (dance) history.
The Prodigy’s career could be Exhibit A in the case claiming that rave, far from being anti-rock (like its precursor sounds techno and house) was in fact a futurised reinvention of rock. From ‘ardkore classics like “Everybody in the Place” and “Out of Space” to the digi-punk and Oi!-tronica of “Firestarter” and “Breathe”, the core essence of Prodigy is a teen rampage spirit of bring-the-noise mayhem. Producer Liam Howlett is a riff-master on a par with AC/DC’s Angus Young, while his grasp of tension-and-release, build-and-breakdown dynamics is as consummate as genius pulp hitmakers Chinn & Chapman (the team who wrote and produced most of the classic glam smashes for The Sweet). Yet his pre-rave past as a Public Enemy-loving British B-boy ensured a level of bass-knowledge and breakbeat-science that made the Prodigy sound utterly contemporary.
Only the group’s second single (the first, “What Evil Lurks” b/w Android”, has never been reissued for some reason) “Charly” was a Top 3 hit in the UK in August 1991. It singlehandedly spawned the hardcore subgenre of toytown rave, tunes that sampled children’s TV shows (especially where some kind of Ecstasy-pun or druggy double-entendre could be made out of the show’s name or a fragment of dialogue). In ‘Charly’”, the sample is a little boy from a Public Information Film advising children how to avoid getting lost or abducted. “Charley says, always tell your mummy before you go off somewhere,” the kid says, translating the words of a cartoon cat, Charly, whose miauow is transformed by Howlett into the tune’s killer riff. The joke here is the idea of UK teenagers sneaking off to raves where they get up to things that would make their mums blanch. The original version of “Charly” sounds slightly restrained, so the one to go for is the “Alley Cat” mix, its swirly Belgian-style techno-riff expertly simulating the timbre of the cat’s miaouw but turning it into a spine-tingling MDMA-activating noise. In between the two ‘Charlys” you’ll find two other terrific tunes, “Pandemonium”and “Your Love”
You are also recommended--nay, urged--nay, instructed--to check out The Prodigy’s debut album Experience, especially in the Expanded reissue version with its bonus disc of back-in-the-day remixes, B-sides and rarities.
Companion: Every Man and Woman Is A Star Versions
A lost classic of early UK techno, Every Man and Woman Is A Star is less a rave record than kind of audio essay about rave culture, drafted by two guys whose first-hand involvement in the scene was minimal and whose background lay in the more ethereally ambient end of industrial (prior to Ultramarine, Ian Cooper and Paul Hammond were in A Primary Industry). “Stella”, for instance, makes all the right noises (acid house-style wibbling Roland 303 basslines) but overlays them with commentary on the spiritual impulses behind dance culture (actually TV documentary samples of a New Age woman talking about how she healed herself emotionally through dance) that would be too distractingly analytical in an actual rave situation. Other tracks are almost acts of revisionist music criticism, situating the outdoor raves as the latest efflorescence from an English continuum of post-psychedelic pastoralism. Soft Machine alumni Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt are sampled on, respectively, Weird Gear” and “Lights in my Brain”,. It’s a clever move, pointing out the similarities between Ayers’ hippy-dippy belief that "everyone is high,
until there’s something makes them low" and the loose-minded positivity of early 90s UK rave, but neither of these track seem like serious bids for dancefloor action. No matter, the Ultramarine style of folkadelic techno is utterly gorgeous, weaving jazzy flutes, glistening acoustic guitars, soft-rock vocals and samples of birdsong and water-ripples amidst the snaking 303 basslines and chugging sequenced grooves.
This companion record to the album proper comprises a bunch of excellent and
refreshingly non-drastic remixes that retain pretty much everything that’s good about the originals. It’s useful for this survey of rave, too, in the sense that two of the three guest remixers are from an important phase in UK rave history, the style known as bleep. Or, as I prefer, bleep’n’bass, acknowledging as it does the floorquaking low-end frequencies that defined this sound, a vibration exactly midway between the 808-boom of electro and dub reggae’s tectonic rumble. Bleep’n’bass made Warp Records famous originally, and it is from their roster that two of the remixers here come. Sweet Exorcist amplify the skank rhythm of “Geezer” into a heavy, stripped-bare dubsway, while Coco Steel & Lovebomb take “Panther” and wrap its rasping flute-riff and owl hoots around a more dynamic techno groove as lithe and predatory as the title. Along with Ultramarine’s own remixes of Every Man tracks, this album contains some rarities, the best of which is “Saratoga”, a divinely sashaying slice of jazz-funk-tinged house whose summery insouciance is elevated with a touch of the cosmic sublime.
Moby is surely the single most successful crossover artist to emerge from rave, eclipsing even the Prodigy in sales and subliminal penetration (all those Play tracks in adverts and movies). Few would have predicted this outcome circa
1991's "Go", a likeable but hardly earth-shattering techno novelty. In truth, there’s not a lot to this tune: an efficient hypno-chug of a beat, the ghostly synth-refrain from Angelo Badalamenti’s score for Twin Peaks, a soul-diva’s moaned “yea-yeah-eah” and the shouted injunction “Go!”. But in its slight way, “Go” is perfect, and you could certainly plug the tune, with its ominous David Lynch allusions, into the continuum of “darkrave” and sinistronica, from acid house tracks about losing your mind, through Detroit techno pioneer Suburban Knight’s “Art of Stalking” and The Mover’s proto-gabba anthem “Nightflight (Nonstop To Kaos”) to the Gothick breakbeat of 4 Hero’s “Journey from the Light.” The ‘Rainforest Mix’ ought to be 808 State wafty or ethnotechno in flavour, but is actually full of jolting Belgian noise-blasts and histrionic diva shrieks; “Subliminal” lives up to its title with low-key gossamer-textured atmospherics; “Woodtick” is a mildly mesmerising slice of proto-trance; and “Soundtrack” starts well with a tip-toe feel of stealth and trepidation but soon drifts off into enervating amorphousness, the beat sinking low in the mix and the other instrumentation seeming vague and palimpsest-like. Strangely, the six minutes long “Original Mix” appears to have virtually no connection to its own pop edit, the groove over-run by baroque curlicues of acid-bass. So it’s the succinct and definitive “Radio Edit” that’s the one to, er, go for.
On A Ragga Tip ‘97
XL were on a roll in ’92 and it wasn’t just about the Prodigy. The plucky-and-canny dance independent also scored underground-to-overground rave hits with Liquid (see below) and SL2. “On A Ragga Tip” is a timeless classic from a period when ragga-rave meant buoyant fast-stepping euphoria as opposed to gruff rude-bwoy menace. Following their hardcore underground fave “Way In My Brain”, which had sampled Wayne Smiths’ “Under Me Sleng Teng”, SL2 lift the sing-songy scat-like vocal of Jah Screechy from his “Walk and Skank”. The vibe is nutty dread, a madcap friskiness that is less dancehall riddim as we think of it today than a hyper-speed skank. Jamaican-style after-beat piano comping alternates with Italo-ravy keyboard vamps, while the breakbeats rattle and twist at twice the speed of the reggae bassline. The best bit is when the beat halts, the octave-ascending piano riff revs frantically like the feet of an animated cartoon critter trying to escape but held in place, then the whole track surges forward again with an almighty whooshing noise. Equal second-best are the spine-tingling intro (fluttering cascades of flecked rhythm guitar and dub-wise shimmers) and the bridge section of bubbling bass and echo-chambered rim-shots gearing you up to go mental as the track takes off again.
The S and L in SL2 were the partnership of Slipmatt and Lime (the 2 were the dancers, for when the group did PAs at raves). Slipmatt, a big hardcore-era DJ, went on to grander fame still in the mid-Nineties as the happy hardcore scene took off. The latter was a reaction against the moody gangsta-rave vibe of jungle, an attempt to wind back the clock to 1991/92, except that the music kept getting faster and faster, and happy hardcore’s very attempt to banish the darkness and the ruffness meant that all the genre was left with was a near-psychotic chirpiness and an overpowering tang of cheese. The remixes on this EP are mostly misconceived attempts to update “Ragga Tip” for various 1997 dancefloors. So happy hardcore dons Force & Styles and Slipmatt whisk the track’s tempo up until it’s even more frenetic and flustered-sounding. You’re better off sticking with the untouchable original tucked away at the EP’s end.
The Future Sound of London
Papua New Guinea Translations
In between their early incarnation as UK acid house pioneers Humanoid and their interminable career as a “progressive” electronica outfit, the Future Sound of London made an immortal rave classic called “Papua New Guinea.” The track’s vibe initially is 4AD-meets-breakbeat-hardcore (I’m sure the “Papua New Guinea” is a sort of oblique nod to Cocteau Twins’ “Aikea-Guinea,” although it’s possible they just saw a TV documentary on the tribal peoples of those troubled paradise isles). Instead of Cocteaus singer Liz Fraser, though, FSOL sample a transcendent peal from Lisa Gerrard, the ethereal front-woman of 4AD’s #2 Goth-lite outfit Dead Can Dance. With its faintly Medieval aura of devotion and sacred ecstasy, the Gerrard vocal situates “Papua” in a mini-tradition of mystic-lady rave: Orbital’s “Halcyon”, Opus III’s “Fine Day,” Utah Saints’ Kate Bush-sampling “Something Good,” and The Beloved’s “The Sun Rising,” which uses an honest-to-goodness Medieval madrigal composed by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen. Oh and not forgetting another 4AD-goes-rave hit, Messiah’s “Temple of Dreams”, featuring Liz Fraser’s voice from This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren”.
Unlike Messiah, though, FSOL really do something with the sample rather than just ride on its blisstastic beauty. They frame Gerrard with rapturous ripples of synth and breathy wisps of flute, while seagull noises and sonar blips create a subaquatic “ambient dub” vibe. Indeed, the bassline is totally roots reggae in feel and anticipates jungle by running exactly half the speed of the looped breakbeat. The split-level tempos create a gorgeous feeling of propulsion and suspension, urgency and serenity.
The original five minute long version is the immaculate conception, but the seven additional versions of “Papua”, all executed by FSOL, offer compellingly radical treatments. Some, like the acid rock guitar spattered “Wooden Ships” barely relate to the blueprint, sounding more like a circa 1970 monsterjam convened by Spirit, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Santana, while “Requiem” is a beat-less ballad, ornate and vaguely Eastern (think Tori Amos in a kaftan). Although none of them can touch even the hem of the definitive version, at least the titles are (inadvertently?) amusing: “The Great Marmalade Mama in the Sky”, “Things Change like the Patterns and Shades That Fall.” Sadly, FSOL’s Brian Dougans and Gary Cobain soon spurned the rave culture, dismissing its output as cheesy trash compared to their own studio-addled experiments (and in a way, the sheer gigantism of the Translations remix project prefigures their downfall, with the progtronica hubris of Lifeforms and the rest). Still, “Papua New Guinea” indicates they must have briefly participated in the peaceadelic euphoria of the early ‘90s. Tapping into that vibe enabled them to create the single solitary piece of music that secures their place in the pantheon of rave.
By the time the big rave acts got around to making albums, the rapid-turnover scene had usually moved on, leaving the group plying an already dated sound and the debut CDs moldering unsold in record store. This cruel fate befell hardcore hit-makers like Altern-8, Bizarre Inc, Eon, N-Joi, Messiah, Unique 3, Shades of Rhythm and many more who were unable to make the transition from the fickle singles-oriented rave underground to the b(r)and-loyalty based long-term career-ism of mainstream pop. Few were as surreally tardy about it as Liquid, a/k/a Eamon Downes, whose much-loved rave classic “Sweet Harmony” hit big in 1992, but whose long-form debut came out in 1995. Culture is a pleasant listen, but it illustrates the lose/lose dilemma that faced many rave outfits looking to develop and endure: stay true to their original but now passé style or keep up with dancefloor trends and look like a bandwagon-jumper? There is too much accommodation on Culture to the reigning trance and progressive house sounds of 1993/94, a drifting-with-the-times that washes up on the cheesy beaches of Ibiza with the flamenco-fluttery Balearic track “One Love Family.” Although there’s plenty of vampy Italo pianos in the classic 1991 rave style, they feature in slowed-down form, so that instead of electrifying euphoria they transmit a vibe of mellow serenity. These torpid tempos suggest that Downes’ gameplan was to adapt rave into home-oriented chill-out muzak, preserving the style’s signature elements (plinky pianos, ecstatic divas) but stripping out all the mania. “Liquid Is Liquid (Falling into Dub)” shows he’s been listening to progressive house mavens like Leftfield and Spooky, while
“Drug Culture (vision dawn)” (great title!) sounds like an attempt to write Liquid’s very own “Papua New Guinea.” In the end, the CD’s best moment is “Sweet Harmony.” The heart-tugging piano chords and ecstatic twist of diva soul (both sampled from CeCe Rogers’ “Someday”) matched with a ruff breakbeat, a rolling bass-line and bursts of a trippy techno riff, made for hardcore heaven in 1992, and Downes at least had the sense not to tamper with its immaculate perfection by remixing it in line with circa-1995 dancefloor specifications.
The Guardian of Ruff--Whitehouse Records
MegabopGlobal-Aura / The Orchard
It’s well-known and abundantly documented that drug use has its dark side.
Why was it such a surprise, then, when hardcore rave, a genre of music brazenly fuelled by and celebratory of MDMA, plunged into the twilight-zone in the last months of 1992? “Darkside” was the name that scenesters started using to describe the new style of tracks that emerged during that grim winter. UK rave had started to get messy and moody, thanks partly to bad medicine (Ecstasy cut with the more intensely hallucinogenic MDA) and polydrug excess (ravers taking speed, marijuana, LSD, etc on top of the E), but also on account of a spate of muggings and violence at parties. While many fled the scene for the more controlled pleasures of the house clubs, the hardest of the hardcore plunged deeper into the beckoning abyss, creating a bad-trippy mutant of breakbeat hardcore that would actually aggravate the bad vibes on the dancefloor and thicken the malaise inside your head. “Darkside” sounds insane because it’s meant to soundtrack temporary mind-states on the border of mental illness: paranoia, catatonia, panic attack. Although figures like 4 Hero, Goldie and Doc Scott (all affiliated to the Reinforced label) pioneered the new sinister sound of ectoplasmic samples, death-ray riffs, and deliriously fractured breakbeats, Bay-B-Kane was a major supplier of dark-vibed tunes. This album contains his big 1993 dancefloor anthems, “Rhythm” and “Hello Darkness”. The former places its incongruously serene sing-songy sample--“rhy-thm, rhythm, rhy-thm, rhy-thm” (the last iteration vaulting several octaves on the sampling keyboard to a sprite-like shriek) amid wobbly bass-plasma and ungodly stabs of synth-noise. “Hello Darkness” cracks you up initially with its sample from “The Sound of Silence”, but the sped-up and slimy-sounding Simon & Garfunkel vocals become genuinely creepy, while the deathfunk groove and legion of eerie, forensically-untraceable noises create a mood of clammy apprehension. Other goodies include the hyper-syncopated rush of “Hyd & Seek” (over which bobs a tiny sample from Janet Kay’s gorgeous lover’s rock tune “Silly Games”) and “Ravin’ in the Twilight,” as febrile as a pill-popping raver whose metabolism is dangerously over-heated.
Better Living Through Chemistry
Norman Cook had already enjoyed two hugely successful pop careers before he became Fatboy Slim, first as the bassist of indiepop hitmakers the Housemartins, and second as the man behind the sample-collage oriented Beats International, who scored a UK #1smash with “Dub Be Good To Me”. (He’d also had a less successful stint in the dance-rock outfit Freakpower and made house tracks as Pizzaman and Mighty Dub Katz.) Although Cook’s affiliation is much more with the whole indie-dance tradition (the line that runs from Madchester through Primal Scream to the Chemical Brothers and Heavenly Social) than to the rave underground, there are moments on Better Living Through Chemistry that sound bizarrely close to hardcore. On“Song For Lindy,” a piano vamp, phased for spine-tingling Ecstatic effect, comes spiraling out of the speakers, and the sensation of back-to-92 is uncanny: this is exactly the kind of Italo-house keyboard lick that outfits like Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era used on tracks like “Far Out”. But then Cook himself is a son of that era too: he was a DJ before he joined the Housemartins, a hip hop fanatic with a deep feel for the aesthetic of looped breakbeats and cheeky samples. If Big Beat, the style Cook pioneered in tandem with the Chemical Brothers, is hip hop’s breaks’n’ bass’n’samples colliding with house music’s vamps and acid-riffs, well that’s what hardcore rave was made from too, its just that the latter ran at a good 20 beats-per-minute faster.
Better Living came out in 1996, just a little too early for the Big Beat explosion that took off the following year. After a couple of years of Teutonic trance and handbag house, people were ready for a dance style that was a little bit ruffer: more B-boy gritty on the rhythm front, but also enlivened with some rock’n’roll spirit, a messy exuberance and irreverence. Hence “Punk To Funk”, a stand-out tune on Chemistry: chunky breaks and obese bass wobbling like love handles at a Weight-Watchers disco, then a wondrously cheesy horn sample that huffs-and-puffs its way out of the mix. Even rockier in vibe is “Going out of My Head”, which pivots around a Who guitar riff. The track showcases Cook’s genius for driving crowds wild with whooshing builds and delirious vocal samples (in this case, a phased and stereo-panned soul voice confessing “I’m going out of my mind”). The album’s other stone killer is ‘Everybody Needs a 303”, which features at least four overlapping basslines (one is an old fashioned slap-bass run possibly played by Norman himself, the second is a low Roland 808 rumble of detuned bass-drum, and the other two are Roland 303 acid-burbles as referenced in the title). Big Beat’s appeal at the time was that it reinstated the role of “stupid noises” and gimmicky effects in dance music at a time when post-rave auteurs from techno to drum’n’bass were heading heroically up their own arses. But in their own stupid-fresh, instant-impact way, Cook’s productions are among the most intelligent of the Nineties.
Hardcore Owes Us Money
The Redeemer is a collaboration between DJ Scud (doyen of the post-rave sub-underground known as splatterbreaks) and Panacea (Germany’s don of darker-than-thou drum’n’bass). Where Better Living Through Chemistry came out too soon after the ’92 golden age to actually be a nostalgic harking-back, Hardcore Owes Us Money is a pure retro-rave: two true believers wistfully seeking to conjure the bygone rushes and vintage ruffage of breakbeat hardcore 1991-94. The title itself is a homage to Reggae Owes Me Money by the Ragga Twins, one of the acts on the pioneering hardcore label Shut Up and Dance. But thankfully, this isn’t a straightforward, period-detail-precise recreation of old skool rave , but more like a recombinant intensification. Scud and Panacea ransack effects from across the early ‘90s rave continuum, jumbling the sequence of styles and years, so that Belgian noise-riffs crash into eruptions of Jamaican dancehall patois. “Redemption” starts with ecstastic washes of sighing ‘n’ shivering synths, before a mad beat kicks in, a couple of different sampled rudeboys jump into the fray, and a veritable Panzer division of a techno-riff blitzkriegs its way across the track. “Well ‘Ard” features sickly-droopy darkside synth-riffs and some much-sampled ragga cries of “we gonna lick reality” (a raver’s call to arms? “if the the real-world sucks, we’ll beat it by making a mass exodus into oblivion”?), then drops into a pummeling groove across which a zig-zagging riff slashes like Freddie Kreuger brandishing a glow-stick instead of a blade. The album’s peak is reached with
“Squeeze with Eaze” (in which the alien pinging tones of a zither collide with dub-war sirens, a weird reverbed bassline, and the ghost of “Anasthasia”) and “Sound Killah”. The latter leaps out of historical sequence for a moment, ripping the looped diva-as-police-siren from Double 99’s 1997 speed garage monsterhit “Ripgroove”, but plunging the sample back through time to rub shoulders with ‘91’s swarming black clouds of synth-drones. The album is dangerously exhilarating up until this mid-way point and then it’s as though the duo snap out of their nostalgic reverie and revert to making standard-issue modern drum’n’bass, all ugly distorted basslines and maniacally fixated, funk-devoid beats. Indeed, even on the splendid first half of Hardcore, the sole defect and anachronistic element is that the beats aren’t the topsy-turvy breakbeats of classic-era hardcore but more like contemporary drum’n’bass, i.e. jackknifing-at-the-waist snares sprinting at 180 beats per minute. “Rollers”, they call this linear style, but you might as well call them treadmillers, since their vibe resembles an endless chase scene or videogame loop. You could argue that this aspect keeps Hardcore Owes Us from being a pure wallow in nostalgia. But personally, being a raver-dad, I’d have sooner had the full-blown time travel effect thank you very much.
truncated version of this piece at eMusic where you can also download the albums or tracks in question