Popular reaching May 1999 and "Sweet Like Chocolate" by Shanks & Bigfoot at UK #1 reminded me of the previous year's Doolally "Straight To The Heart" which was S & B + singer Sharon Woolf, who sang on "S L C". "Straight To the Heart" was one of the very first 2step breakthrough hits -- the actual first? - and it got to #20 in fact. Then it was re0released after "Chocolate" being such a smash, and made the Top Ten that time.
Looooooved this tune so much - the echt-2step beat at the intro, the kiddie's voices, the skankin' feel woven in throughout, the 2-Tone-y horn bits dropping into the echo chamber, Ms Woolf's warm vocal, that delicious melody and those sweet sentiments.
Funny thing, "Straight From The Heart" seemed really glossy at the time, reflecting this huge polar shift away from techstep darkness / jump-up ruffness into R&B and bling-rap polish - the pirate underground making a power move towards pop crossover. But now it sounds quite under-produced and stripped-down - if not exactly shabby, then nothing like the platinum-coated productions that anyone can make nowadays on an app and a phone.
"Sweet like Chocolate", though - as Tom Ewing notes, it's just a bit sickly and cutesy.
One was most chuffed on their behalf, getting to Number One. But I don't think ever played this much, indeed I'm not even sure I actually bought it.
No idea this video even existed. There must be a post to be done of 2step pop-crossover promo videos. I expect it is a fairly low point in the history of pop video, but perhaps not devoid of a certain period charm or wack / tack appeal....
"Doolally" reminded me of this mega-roundup of 2step twelves I did for the 1998 faves back when I had a website rather than a blog. Happy days indeed, and 1999 and 2000's crop would be even better.
2-STEP GARAGE (originally online in early 1999)
The book's verdict on speed garage was that it's "a composite (house plus
jungle) where drum and bass was a mutant (hiphop times techno)", that where
jungle "twisted and morphed its sources; as yet, an equivalent warp factor is
barely audible in speed garage". 1998 was when the warp factor really began to
make itself heard, with producers reasserting the breakbeat legacy of jungle and
creating the strange nu-funk style called 2-step--basically slow-motion jungle,
something for the ladies massive.
At the same time as being lover's jungle, 2-step is also like a UK response to
American R'n'B. Timbaland's twitchy hypersyncopation has long been widely
attributed to a drum and bass influence, something steadfastly denied by Tim 'n'
Missy. All through '98 you could hear that imagined (?) compliment being repaid
by the children of jungle, in the form of 2-step. Dropping the four-to-the-floor
house pulse and replacing it with Timbaland's falter-funk kick drum, producers
like Dreem Teem, Dem 2, Chris Mac, Steve Gurley, et al are basically making
smoov R'n'B filtered through a post-Ecstasy sensorium: midtempop bump'n' grind;
sped-up, succulent cyborg-diva vocals; a playa-pleasing patina of deluxe
production. At the same time, 2-step is geared towards the UK polydrug culture
(where cocaine has usurped E as the paradigm drug, the vibe-setter), so
alongside the sexed-up, VIP opulence there's all these dark-but-sensual elements
(warped vocal ectoplasm, convulsive hypersyncopations) that hint at coke
psychosis on the scene's horizon.
More on this in a thinkpiece in the April 99 issue of The Wire (it'll also later
get posted in director's cut form on the site--footnotes galore!). Right now,
the specifics--in no particular order, my fave 2-step tunes of 1998.
DEM 2--Destiny (Sleepless) [Locked On]
--Destiny (New Vocal Mix) [Locked On]
U.S. ALLIANCE --Grunge Dub/All I Know [Locked On]
GROOVE CONNEKTION 2--Club Lonely (DEM 2 Don't Cry Dub) [Locked On]
Dem 2--Dean Boylan and Spencer Edwards--are the outfit whose music makes the
most convincing argument that 2-step is a brand nu-funk for the Nine Nine. One
listen to "Destiny (Sleepless)" is enough to tell you it's not house music; it
barely has any relationship to garage as hitherto known. So deceptively simple
is its groove (every element--and they're all simultaneously
melodic/rhythmic/textural--dovetails with a Zen perfection) that it's almost
impossible to describe. It doesn't sound overtly avant-garde or abstract, but I
defy you to name a record before 1998 it resembles or owes much to: the
tremulous, heartbroken cyborg vocal faintly recalls Zapp, the darting and
stinging synth-lick recalls Gary Numan, there's an electro flavor in there, but
that's about it. Crisp and juicy, joyous yet tense, "Destiny" is one of those
key records in the hardcore/jungle/speed garage continuum, like 2 Bad Mice's
"Waremouse", Renegade's "Terrorist" or Gant's "Sound Bwoy Burial", that
announces a paradigm shift, codifies a new style, sets the blueprint.
Dem 2's "Don't Cry Dub" of "Club Lonely"--like the original "Destiny", released
way back in late '97--has a similar do-androids-weep-electric-tears? feel. Here
you can really hear Dem 2's virtuosity at the diva-manipulation techniques that
Bat from ukdance calls "vocal science." Texturally, they scintillate the voice,
fluorescize it, make it gleam and refract as though you're hearing it through
ears wet with tears; rhythmically, they shred the vocal into micro-syllable and
sub-phoneme particles--cyborg-sniffles, sounds as fleetingly iridescent as
spit-bubbles in the corner of a sobbing mouth--and make them syncopate against
the groove (pure Timbaland twitch-and-bump).
"Grunge Dub" by U.S. Alliance--a Dem 2 alias--shows the duo's darker direction
for 1999: a rhythm matrix so assymetrical, angular and stop-start off-kilter
it's almost impossible to dance to (this is 2-step's big break with house's E-d
up 4-to-the-floor egalitarianism--you have to be really good at dancing to move
to these beats), and a twisted, gibbering groan-riff of a male vocal.
CHRIS MAC--Plenty More/Get It [Confetti]
Possibly the most accomplished and inventive producer to arise out of UK garage
last year, Chris Mac is doing as much as Dem 2 to prove that 2-step is a new
thing. "Plenty More" is silky, svelte sensuality corroded with darkness: a
simultaneously brittle and supple rhythm track dominated by squishy, spongy
snares (possibly reversed), strings that slash across the stereofield like the
orchestral equivalent of a skid, and a mix so shiny you almost have to squint
your ears against its harsh gloss glare. The vocal is interesting too, plugging
into garage's rapacious appetitiveness (all those divas demanding "give me", "I
need it"). The voice is ambiguously pitched, recalling Prince's sped-up
alter-ego Camille on "If I Was Your Girlfriend"--the lyrics go "not a little
girl anymore/used to be the one I adore/but there's plenty more fish in the
sea/for me", but you're never sure if it's a diva putting down a guy and
asserting her sexual autonomy, or a playa putting a girl in her place by telling
her she's disposable, replaceable. Either way, "Plenty More" evokes the coked-up
roving eye feasting its gaze on the sexual bounty of the nightclub's babe-arama.
"Get It" is even more rapacious, transmitting an ants-in-your-pants alloy of
desperation and desire. Brass stabs and jungalistic sub-bass pressure-drops
weave around a dense web of drum some of which (in a typical 2-step sleight of
subtle avant-gardism) reveal themselves on close inspection as made of the human
voice: hiccups, chokings, winces, gasps and stutters.
OPERATOR and BAFFLED--"Things Are Never (STEVE GURLEY Remix) [Locked On]
LENNY FONTANA--"Spirit of the Sun" (STEVE GURLEY Remix) [public
"Things Are Never" is moody. (It actually reminds me of E.S.G.'s "Moody").
Crisper-than-crisp beats, a baleful bass-drop (making your stomach plummet like
you're on a rollercoaster), a one-note synth-bleep wincing like a hypertense
vein pulsing in your temple. In the new sonic context crafted by Steve Gurley
(ex-Foul Play, a/k/a Rogue Unit), the originally romantic-heartbreak themed diva
vocal ("things are never/what they seem") becomes a more general statement of
existensial instability. The lush-but-dark vibe reminds me of Nightmares On
Wax's "Aftermath", the plinkily metallic, melodic-percussive xylophone riff
recalls Unique 3's "7-AM". There's a bunch of tunes around in early 99--like
"Slamdown" off New Horizons' Scrap Iron Dubs No. 1 EP--that have a clonking
industrial feel that harks back to the bleep-and-bass era of 1990: the first
time the British merged house, reggae and electro to make a new sound system
"Spirit of the Sun" has the archetypal 2-step mood-blend of euphoria and
tension, retaining garage's overwraught diva histronics but resituating them
amid dynamics and drops that are totally un-house. The bit where the beat pauses
and the "shine on, shine on, shine on" chorus explodes never fails to send
goosebumps prickling up my neck. The lyric is kind of interesting too, the diva
talking about how she's going to be infused by "the spirit of the sun"--it takes
garage's traditional obsession with summer to the verge of Bataille-style
helioatry: his worship of solar extravagance and his exaltation of a "will for
glory" in the human soul "which would that we live like suns, squandering our
goods and our life." Bataille-style will-to-expenditure, aristocratic potlatch,
largesse, and garage 'n' R'n'B's luxury, commodity-fetishism and larging it --
same thing innit?
RICHIE BOY AND DJ KLASSE--"Madness On The Street (2 Step Mix)" [Stamp]
Another stunning torsion-and-treatment job on a female R'n'B vocal of unknown
(to me) provenance. "I can't stand/All this madness on the street"--this short
phrase, pretty funky to start with, is subjected to all kinds of vivisection and
resequencing over a sublime cyberfunk groove. Combining the anti-naturalism of
R'n'B vocal production with the filtering/panning techniques of late 90s house,
producers like Richie Boy and DJ Klasse fracture the voicee into tiny percussive
shards, create new accents and stresses, make the vocal haemorrhage or pulse,
fold in on itself, buckle, crinkle, or glow uncannily. It's serious posthuman
business, you're not listening to a person anymore but a passion that's being
enhanced and mutated through interaction with technology. A cyborg, in other
SOME TREAT -- Lost In Vegas (JBR)
A tribute to/remake of Shut Up And Dance's 1990 (or was it even 1989?) track
"Ten Pounds To Get In," this samples the Suzanne Vega vocal-riff from "Tom's
Diner" that SUAD must have got from DNA's unoffical-then-subsequently-sanctioned
dance version of the S. Vega track. We're talking multiple levels of citation
here, serious intertextuality. On a broader level it's a tribute to the hardcore
continuum--getting on for ten years of London's multiracial rave scene, a
culture of mixing it up, of hybridising hybrids and mutating mutations; the
continual reinvention of flava and vibe. A tradition of futurism. Roots N'
Future = the endlessly fresh now.
DOOLALLY--"Straight From The Heart" (Chocolate Boy/Locked On)
A lot of people have said there's a ska element to this tune. There's definitely
a skanking vibe-- the trace of a reggae afterbeat, a strange bubbling bassline
that winds and weaves around the crisp, push-me pull-you 2-step. So irresistibly
poppy and chuneful it made the UK Top 20, "Straight From the Heart"--and its
sequel, "Sweet Like Chocolate", released as Shanks and Bigfoot--make the
strongest case for 2-step as a millenial update of lover's rock: the UK-spawned
hybrid of US soul and reggae that emerged at the end of the 1970s as
second-generation Caribbean-British women demanded songs that addressed their
concerns (love, relationships) rather than a Rastafarian agenda. As Dick
Hebdiges says in Cut 'n' Mix, rather than the fantasy of utopia through
repatriation to Ethiopia/Zion, these women's (only slightly less unrealistic?)
dream was of a caring man. A song hymning devotion, commitment and holding out
for the long-term emotional dividend, "Straight From The Heart" is also a sign
that the hardcore nation's grown up and settled down. Borderline cheesy, it
reminds me of the way hardcore could alchemize the most cheddary pop hits and
make them sublime (c.f. Goldseal Tribe's '92 push-me-pull-you pirate monster
"Only The Lonely"). Love it.
AMIRA--"My Desire (DREEM TEEM Remix) [VC/Virgin/Slip'n'Slide]
N-TYCE--"Telefunkin' (FIRST STEPS Remix) [label unknown]
JODECI VS CLUB ASYLUM--Freak Me Up (Steppers Vocal Mix) [white label]
US R'n'B gods/goddesses (and some Brit-wannabes) given the now almost obligatory
2-step remix for the London market--sometimes official, sometimes strickly
bootleg. "My Desire"--glossy gamelan clatter'n'tinkle of percussion, B-line that
hops and skips and flutters like lovestruck butterflies in the stomach, a
perpetual forward tumbling flow (pivoting around a micro-second hesitation in
the groove that makes all the difference), a trembling-with-joy vocal
re-patterned to dovetail with the groove in such snugly funky ways you'll want
to leap out your own skin. "Telefunkin'"--slow-burning, svelte menace, hilarious
love-junkie phone-sex lyrics ("I've got the fever for your flava", "I'm addicted
to you baby/tied to the telephone line"). "Freak Me Up"--simply very, very
NEW HORIZON--"Find The Path" [500 Rekords]
--"It's My House (Bashment Mix)" [500 Rekords]
--Scrap Iron Dubs No. 1 EP" [500 Rekords]
Not 2-step, but a reggaematic and rootical reinvention of house music so
marvellous and peculiar I had include it here. '97's "Find The Path" whisks a
Gregory Isaacs-style nightingale croon into a falsetto froth of melisma-plasma
that quivers and ripples like the fronds of a jellyfish; organ vamps create an
almost Gothic-dub atmosphere. "It's My House (Bashment Mix)"has this amazing
dissonant-verging-on-microtonal blare of drones that's somewhere between the
Master Musicians of Jajouka and the old hardcore rave blow-your-own-horn classic
"One Time For the Foghorn". Scrap Iron Dubs No.1"--killer tune is "Slamdown"--
is part of what Bat from ukdance identifies as the "latest micro-trend in
2-step... weird techno bleepy clanging noises peppered all over the trax",
further pointing out that "This is a pretty radical departure for garage, which
has stuck to the same portfolio of 'organic' sounds (real instruments, proper
singing etc) for yonks. Now we get those organic noises mixed up with all manner
of strange vleeps and metallic klungs - something I haven't heard since the
heyday of hardcore and jungle around 1994."
KMA--Recon Mission EP (Locked On)
The title declares this EP a probe into the unknown (as does the sample "this is
a line to the future/leave a message). From the outfit responsible for the dark
garage classics "Cape Fear" and "Kaotic Madness," this is one of the most
emotionally and rhythmically confused records I've heard in years. My favorite
is the third track, "Blue Kards," a hybrid of the first two: disjointed beats
that seem to stampede out of the mix, gaseous swirls of phased vocals (sung by
producer Six), stricken guitar licks, and an overwraught doubt-wracked
bluesiness of mood. Alarmingly the new KMA jam "Kemistry" is a supersmooth
four-to-the-floor tune with a full-on vocal; Six's thinking seems to be that the
only unpredictable thing left for KMA to do was make a totally conventional
garage track. Shame, but the debut album The Unanswered Question, set for Jan
1st 2000 release, might well be 2-step's Timeless .
ANTONIO-- "Hyper Funk" (Locked On)
Crisp-and-spry 2-stepper whose simple drum machine beat, Scritti prickle of
glossy funk guitar, and block party MC exhortation ("hype hype hype hype the
funk") hark back to early Eighties simplicity. 2-step's very own "Rockerfella
GROOVE CHRONICLES--"Stone Cold" (Groove Chronicles)
Crafted by rising producer Noodles, this languid-yet-foreboding track samples
just a few vocal phrases from Aaliyah's sublime "One In A Million" (a Timbaland
production which I always though was like a jungle ballad) and totally reinvents
them; Aaliyah's hushed devotional tenderness becomes the ghost-of-my-former-self
whispers of a love addict going through emotional cold turkey. The key phrase is
"desire" (phrased "deee-siyah", putting a sigh in it): in the original, it's
Aaliyah promising to do anything her beloved wants, his heart's desire; here, it
becomes a floating signifier, pure intransitive craving, and yet another sign of
garage's relentless imagery of appetite and neediness ("what you want, what you
need', "giving you what you wanted," etc). Killer moment: when the beat and the
jazzy sax solo drops out, leaving just Aaliyah's pleas and reproaches ("you
don't know, what you do to me"), then in comes the moodiest wah-wah dread
bassline ever. Goosepimples a-go-go.
RAMSEY and FEN--"Love Bug" [BUG]
--"Love Bug Remixes" [BUG]
What blows me away about "Desire" is the amazing density of rhythmic information
RAF are able to cram in without the groove feeling cluttered. The intricate
high-end percussion--shakers, hi-hats (closed and open), tambas, the trademark
RAF ultra-crisp fills and rolls --is so dazzling and glitterball spangly that
the first time I heard it the phrase "cocaine music" sprung into my mind (and
it's not a drug I know much about). Turns out that (according to Kodwo Eshun,
who heard it from Portishead's engineer) the "cocaine ear" prefers bright, toppy
sounds. "Love Bug" is similarly dense-but-groovy with weird detuned drum fills.
There's also an amazing "Love Bug" remix out any day with an electro feel--if
it's the track I heard Fen playing out, it's got a Roland 808 bass-drop driven
groove that throbs and whirs like a monstrous clockwork mechanism.
CLOUD 9--"Do You Want Me (DEM 2 Steps To Heaven Mix) [Locked On]
CRAZY BANK--"Your Love" [Locked On]
These go together in my head for some reason; "Do You Want Me" is sheer amorous
euphoria with great percussive vocal stabs, which are contorted, twisted and
clipped short to make for an exquisitely tender frenzy. Crazy Bank does much the
same but with a more desperate tinge, making the diva sound like she's about to
leap out of her own skin. There's no narrative coherence to 2-step's love songs:
sentences are left hanging, the object noun or qualifier snipped to make the
phrase fit the funktionalist requirements of the track. Here it's like the
lover's discourse in random shuffle mode.
M-DUBS--"Over Here (Sugar Shack Break Beat Funk)" [Babyshack Recordings]
A minimal 2-step roller very much in the "Destiny" mold--crisp snare-kick
groove, simple synth-vamp, great organ licks and dub-wise flickers in back of
the mix. What really makes it though is the fantastic drawling and nasal ragga
vocal from the Emperor Richie Dan, playing a ladeez-man tendering his services
("if you wanna take a chance/I'm right over 'ere") while a female backing vocals
seem to be singing "Iron Mike" for some reason.
SKYCAP--titles unknown [white label]
Two tracks in the vein of their awesome dark garage tune from '97, "Endorphin".
So wired they're dsyfunktional, they make me think the next step after
charley-spliffs might be freebasing. The best side has a gibbering and mewling
male vocal (which eventually goes into single-phoneme scatting --imagine Bobby
McFerrin reduced to a crackhead) strung around an ultra-brittle 2-step
anti-groove. The flip, also good, features a seriously overwraught and
accusatory diva and some blues-wracked guitar licks. 2-step's journey beyond the
pleasure principle should be as interesting as '93 darkcore's.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Locked On, Vol 3: Mixed by Ramsey and Fen [Virgin]
DREEM TEEM Dreem Teem In Session Volume 2 [Deconstruction/4 Liberty]
Locked On is the best UK garage compilation yet (the full circumference, 2-step
to 4-to-the-floor), and also, I'm afraid, the American reader's best chance of
hearing this stuff: a few 2-step tunes are slipping through in the speed
garage/UK garage bins, but this is a London thing, inevitably if rather sadly.
You can find this comp in American specialist dance stores and also in Virgin
megastore. Mixed by RAF, it's the bomb: alongside above-mentioned lovelies
"Destiny", "Love Bug," Amira, Crazy Bank, it includes such killers as Dreem
Teem's bubblicious proto-2stepper "The Theme," the astounding Dem 2 cyberfunk
mix of Aftershock's "Slave To the Vibe," M.J. Cole's slick, Bukem-of-2step
"Sincere" and RandF's gorgeous Latin garidge mix of The Heartists's "Belo
Horizonti." The Dreem Teem comp has many of the same 2-step classics,, plus New
Horizon's "It's My House (Bashment Mix)" and a great woozily vocalized Chris Mac
cyberballad, "Set It Off".