Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On February 11 I'm going to be in Liverpool to give a talk on the Hardcore Continuum hosted by FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), in association with The Wire. There'll be an audio-visual component (expect: rude 'n' cheesy) and the main body of the talk will be followed by an onstage discussion with Mark Fisher (Acting Deputy Editor of The Wire/K-punk) and then a Q/A session with the audience.

Location: FACT, 88 Wood Street, Liverpool, L14DQ
Date: Wednesday February 11th
Time: 7.00pm to 9-00 pm
Admission: £7.00/£5.00 (members & concessions)
Information: tel. 0151 7074444 or

In parallel with the FACT lecture and as part of the magazine's 300th Issue commemorative program of online selections from its voluminous archives, The Wire presents my series of hardcore continuum articles: seven essays, midway between scene reports and thinkpieces, that appeared in the magazine between 1992 and 2005, documenting in real-time the paradigm shifts from rave to jungle, UK garage to grime.

Here's my introduction to the series archive
here's the first piece, on Ardkore and "Rush Culture", from November 1992
here's the second one, Ambient Jungle, from that glorious summer of 1994
here's the third one, on The State of Drum & Bass, June 1995
here's the fourth one , about Hardstep, Jump Up and Techstep, from June 1996
here's the fifth one, on Neurofunk versus Speed Garage, from December 1997
here's the sixth one, Adult Hardcore a/k/a Feminine Pressure, about 2step Garage, from April 1999
(while the footnotes to it, originally published online, are here)
the seventh one , on Grime (and a little bit of Dubstep), published April 2005

Once the whole set of pieces is up, I'm going to scribble down here some of my more straggly and whimsical afterthoughts/memories relating to this series, which after all constitutes, in a funny, veiled sort of way, a kind of autobiography.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Highly Recommended
Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

DJ SS, in-house producer of Leicester's Formation label, is one of jungle's
most undersung figures. 1995 was a banner year for both SS and Formation. They
dominated the drum & bass dancefloor with a series of killa trax--MA2's "Hearing
Is Believing", Sounds of The Future's "The Lighter", SS's "Rollidge" and In
Between The Lines' "95 Rampage"--all SS-produced, and all revisited/revamped on
"Highly Recommended".

"Lighter" starts daftly with the rinky-dinky melancholia of top classical
piano tune "Fur Elise" (better known as "Theme From 'Love Story'"), then drops
into a ragga-tastic swagger and pummel; the VIP remix injects a feverish stutter
and stammer into the rude-boy "lighter!!" chant. The LP mix of "Hearing Is
Believing" adds a squelchy bass-drone that mimics or maybe even samples "Public
Enemy Number One" from PE's debut album. The the original's portentous
hunting-horn fanfares are timestretched so they wilt and waver like Salvador
Dali's melting clocks, while the irresistibly surging bass-flow has been
displaced by a metallic, sproinggg-ing B-line, like a bouncing, giant-sized ball-

The revamp of "Rollidge" is astonishing; the breakbeats ripple and undulate
like they've been liquidified, and the original's reversed-diva is slowed and
processed 'til it's like a baritone drowning in the bath. Even more startling are
the voice treatments on "95 Rampage", where the diva-vocal is extruded into a
long thin streak of laser-intense light, then a single syllable is isolated and
oscillated into a spasming percussive tattoo. Less familiar tunes are also given
a vicious going-over. Black's awesome VIP Mix of "Black" features some
ear-confounding dub-FX--a snatch of MC chatter is shattered into syllables, each
of which is scattered through a sonic hall-of-mirrors.

While 'intelligent' drum & bass (Goldie, Photek et al) seduced the ears of
non-junglists and music press readers, Highly Recommended is an essential(ist)document of where the real action was in jungle '95, i.e. the purist
strain of drum & bass known as 'hardstep'. This compilation's title says it all.
It's All About the Stragglers
(ffrr/Public Demand)
Uncut, 2000

by Simon Reynolds

Could it be that 2step garage, like any sugary carbonated beverage, has already lost its fizz? Fabulous singles still stalk the higher reaches of the charts--Architechs' "Bodygroove", Monsta Boy's "Sorry", Truesteppers' "Out of Your Mind". But it no longer feels like UKG's got the UK 30 in hegemonic stranglehold. The backlash is well under way: not just from outsiders (Melody Maker's risible, straight-up racist "UK Garage My Arse" cover), but from within the scene. Like hardcore in '93, like drum'n'bass in '96, underground producers are going dark; they're literally stripping the sunshine out of the music by eliminating the treble frequencies (diva vox, singalong melody) and pushing basslick pressure to the fore. And now, here come the albums--as with jungle's crossover phase, almost always underwhelming and belated-seeming.

Britain's biggest-selling dance act, Artful Dodger have always been ultra-populist. That's what was good about them, and about UK garage: the transvaluation of London underground principles captured by the line in "Re-Rewind," where Craig David sings about being "real hardcore" in the most fey, velvety, softcore croon imaginable. Similarly, the hallmark of Mark Hill and Pete Devereux's production is that it's simultaneously dainty and raw, prissily finessed and speaker-mashing ruff. "Re-Rewind" is one of four killer tunes that make It's All About the Stragglers (crap title, innit) a de facto Greatest Hits: the insinuating bass-bubble of "Something", the classy, clever "Woman Trouble," the moody, loping groove of "What You Gonna Do". Of the rest, "Twenty Four Seven" is a notch above filler, and "RU Ready" is enhanced by MC Alistair's street ragga vibe.

Overall, though, Stragglers is further proof of the incompatibility of dancefloor-targeted genres with the album format. What is thrilling and singular as a single is inevitably diminished and muted when surrounded by similar-but-not-quite-as-good material (marked by the sort of semi-songfulness that's the downfall of all crossover house and jungle). It forces you to notice the faceless prowess of the "featured" vocalists, the over-used arrangement mannerisms: in Dodger's case, the same pizzicato string parts, shlocky piano trills, acoustic guitar spangles, and xylophone scampers that MJ Cole deploys as gestures at "musicality".

2step's hyper-gloss production and highpitched divas proved that extreme treble can be as intense as extreme bass, inducing a headspinning sensation, like champagne's running through your veins instead of blood. At its best, UKG has both--it's all top-end tingle and sub-woofer boom. But on Stragglers, not only is every track here in its perfunctory radio edit, but it sounds like they're radio mixes too: mid-frequencies flattening out the polar extremism of club-oriented garage into a dulled sheen. The result is disappointingly mild and characterless, pop music without the pop.
Tech Steppin
Melody Maker, 1996

by Simon Reynolds

This superb compilation captures the state of the artcore in drum & bass. Which is a flashback to the "dark side" vibe of 1993, when snide E's soured hardcore rave's luv'd up atmosphere, and the music began to reflect the long term costs of sustained over-indulgence: paranoia, melancholy and creepy sensations of the uncanny. Back then, dark-core classics like Boogie Times Tribe's "The Dark Stranger" still oozed a sinister, sickly bliss, if only because the scene was still caning the E in a desperate attempt to recover the old happy'n' hyper buzz. Today, with Ecstasy displaced by super-strong, paranoia-inducing strains of weed like skunk (hence band names like Cronic Crew, titles like "Get Stoned), the new darkside sound is claustrophobic, constipated and curiously deadened and dispassionate. Its cold-fever beats induce a numbing compulsion-for-compulsion's sake.

This compilation is dominated by producers of the moment Ed Rush, DJ Trace and Nico, from the No U Turn label. Ed's "Check Me Out" and Trace's "The Mutant", "Haze" and "Mid Town Method" all feature the patented No U Turn bass-sound, a dense, droning miasma of low-end frequencies, as malevolent as a cloud of Cyklon B or a swarm of African killer bees. As with Ed Rush's monsterpieces of last year, "Gangsta Hardstep" and "Guncheck", the effect is entropic, miring the listener in a molasses-thick mood of paralysing dread.

That's what intrigues me about this music: the breaks are still rolling at jungle's 150 b.p.m., but they feel slow, fatigued, winded, like the music's had the crap beaten out of it. Compared with the frisky, nimble rhythms of jazzy-jungle, the new darkcore's battery of beats seem relatively stiff, inflexible, almost industrial, and that's strangely refreshing. In a weird sort of way, tracks like Doc Scott's "Machines" (not quite as implosive and intimidating as his recent "Drumz '95", but damn close) remind me of The Swans: there's a similar punishment-aesthetic, flagellation-beats, and aura of aesthetic ordeal.

I guess I haven't made Tech Steppin sound too appetising! Certainly, as a listening experience, this album is as oppressive as it's impressive. But make no mistake, this stuff is where it's at in 1996. Eschewing pleasant, placatory textures and melodious, mollifying arrangements, the new artcore noir makes the fusion-jungle likes of Alex Reece sound as tepid and timorous as acid jazz. Cutting and edgy, Tech Steppin is the SHIT.

these were footnotes to the 2step article originally published as Adult Hardcore, April 1999, The Wire; now available in Bring the Noise collection or at the Wire magazine's archive of my Hardcore Continuum series (of which Feminine Pressure aka Adult Hardcore is was #6).

the footnotes appeared some months after publication on my website A White Brit Rave Aesthete Thinks Aloud aka Blissout.

by Simon Reynolds

1/ A typical MC mantra is "house and garage is setting the pace"; flyers commonly refer to "house and underground garage". Yet 2-step increasingly contains virtually no elements that relate to house music as commonly understood or currently practised. The rhythms, the B-lines, the vocals, the MC-ing, all have more to do with jungle, dancehall reggae, electro, and R&B; in some tracks, it's only the hi-hat patterns that connect to traditional New York garage. So why the rhetorical appeal to "house"? One reason may be what MC Neat articulates: "In the beginning was house. Without house, there'd be no jungle, no garage. 2step, it's just an evolvement of house." So the UK garage scene's pledging of allegiance to house represents a return to original principles (one of the first London garage pirates was called Chicago FM, rather than New Jersey FM or New York FM: the real homes of garage). It also signposts the scene's swerve from the "wrong" path that jungle took, the dead end that was techstep's dirgefunk.

2/ Quantization, a computer function that can alter the entire rhythmic vibe of a track, plays a big role in garage's bump'n'flex. You can use quantization either to correct the inconsistencies in a rhythm track (to make it more metronomic/hypnotic) or conversely to add tiny inconsistencies and accents that give "feel" to a programmed rhythm track (i.e. the illusion of hand's-on, real-time drumming). "Press one button, and it'll give the track a housey vibe, the hi-hats will sound square," says Fen of Ramsey & Fen. "Press another and you get more of a shuffle, a garage swing." Sounds easy, but, Fen stresses, the real skill of garage production is knowing the right kind of fills and percussion parts to program in the first place so that they will interact best with quantization when it's in "shuffle/swing" mode.

3/ 2step has actually inverted speed garage's rhythmic organisation. In the original 1997 speed garage, the snares are fussy and clattering over the stomping 4-to-the-floor kickdrum. But in 2-step, it's usually the kick-drum that gets busy with hyper-syncopated, feet-confounding patterns, while the snare dutifully marks out the measure.

4/ In terms of US garage, Kelly G's "Bump And Go" remix of Tina Moore's "Never Gonna Let You Go" is regarded as first 2-step track.

5/ Since writing this piece in January 1999, the jungle legacy has really reasserted itself with the trend for MC tracks with rhyming or half-toasting/ half-singing on top of the 2step beats: DJ Luck & MC Neat's rootical-vibed "A Little Bit of Luck," The Corrupted Crew's "G.A.R.A.G.E.," MJ Cole's 2step remix of dancehall raggamuffin Glamma Kid's "Sweetest Taboo", etc etc.

6/ Making the rhythms more breakbeat-like (and thus less conducive to E'd up trance-dancing) effectively makes speed garage "a London t'ing" again; the rhythms are tailored to please a multitracial audience with a long (20 years or more) tradition of moving to black beats. In fact, the composite of sounds in 2-step (garage, R&B, reggae, the jump-up side of jungle) could have almost been designed, consciously or unconsciously, to fend off "undesirables": non-Londoners, students (i.e precisely the sort of people who moved into jungle when it got technoid, and who now effectively "own" drum and bass).

7/ Here's Bat from UKdance further discussing with his usual meticulous attention to detail and insider's insight the DJ-ing differences between "US garaaaage and UK garidge": "Just been farting about on the decks trying to mix US garaaage with UK garidge (the housier 4:4 stuff rather than the 2step). As with most experiments, it was a miserable failure. Four main problems I reckon:
i/ USG has a key signature: all the components of the tune harmonise. So you have to worry about keymatching. UKG, in contrast, isn't nearly so sensitive on this score. Providing the vocals don't clash, you're sorted (the basslines are too low frequency to cause any problems). But mix harmonised USG with unharmonised UKG and you get a right fuckin dog's breakfast. I'm almost entirely tone deaf and even I was cringing.
ii/ USG sounds shit when pitched up. The vibe just disappears, bugger knows why. But with UKG you can pitch it up quite happily without losing the vibe of the track. Conversely, USG sounds quite good pitched down, kinda deep & spooky. UKG, however, sounds distinctly plodding when pitched down. Mix the two & you're stuffed either way: either the USG sounds all squeaky or the UKG sounds slow and clunky.
iii/ USG takes ages to build, the trax average at about 8 mins long and the mixing is all about slow subtle fade-ins over a long period of time. UKG is much faster paced - there's some kind of chop or change every 16 bars or so and it's designed to be mixed in a way that takes advantage of this. So you get a worst-of-both-worlds vibe-clash if you try to mix the two; the frenetic UKG distracts from the USG builds or vice versa.
iv/ the EQing/production is utterly different. USG is EQed around the midrange and designed for hi-fi style club systems. UKG is EQed like jungle - subbass & tops, sod the bleedin midrange. UKG sounds wicked blaring out of a bass-heavy dub sound system, but tinny and weak over a poncey hi-fi. USG, conversely, sounds great on expensive kit, but muted and grey on a ruffneck booyakka junglist dubshack ting. Mix the two and it's just messy, no matter what sort of system you're using.

8/ These gamelan-style percussive-melodic vamps and vibraphone/xylophone/marimba-like riffs constitute another micro-trend in 2-step, reaching its most bleep-and-bassy with the shivery, ice-plinky riff on Cisco's "Bonnie & Clyde," which sounds like Unique 3's "7-AM" (flipside of 1989's "The Theme"). In at least one case--Steve Gurley's remix of Lenny Fontana's "Spirit of the Sun"--the baleful chords are actually sampled from a Unique 3 track ("The Rhythm's Gonna Get You").

9/ Through the phenomenon of illegal bootleg remixes of American R&B goddesses, two of 1999's biggest underground records in London were by Whitney Houston (!!!!) and Brandy & Monica. In the spring and early summer, the remixes of "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" and "The Boy Is Mine" blared out of cars everywhere and were played on pirate radio twice an hour at weekends. Even a Whitney-phobe like myself had to admit the tune ruled (although the original is if anything even better than the many
illicit garage bootlegs). One of the most gorgeous of the post-"Boy Is Mine" R&B diva bootlegs is Large Joints's "Dub Plate"; one side featuring a remix of "Down With You" (original artist unknown, by me: Total? Monica?), the other featuring a bootleg take on "I'll Be There For You" (again, diva unknown). What's striking about both sides of "Dubplate" is that, like the Brandy & Monica bootleg, the diva vocals aren't chopped up Dem 2 style but are left pretty intact, at least in terms of obvious stutters, edits, and warps. But the vocal is transformed on the level of timbre/grain, rather than accent and syncopation; it's processed to sound wobbly, warbly, ultra-tremulous. The swoony effect is simultaneously a flashback to old skook 'ardkore's sped-up chipmunk vocals and like an attempt to intensify the hyper-melisma of contemporary R&B. Various theories have been offered for this vocal effect. Talking about the "disembodied, gutless" vocals ("ethereal without being asexual"), Bat speculates that this stems from producers being unable to sample from an accapella and therefore having to isolate the vocal from the track's instrumentation using filtering. Inevitably this filters out the mid and bass frequencies of the vocal, creating the ultra-trebly "ghost-diva" effect. The fact that the original vocals are often absurdly addled with melisma and vibrato exacerbates the fluttery, ectoplasmic quality. My brother Jez reckons the warbly effect comes from producers using timestretching on a vocal that's full of vibrato and melisma; the timestretching exacerbates the micro-oscillations in the vocal.
Another cool thing about Large Joints and similar tracks like "Shorty Swing My Way" (I know neither the bootlegger nor the original artist unfortunately) is the way the diva vocal is left adrift in this dub-chamber echoey space over a reggae bassline and a little rootsical organ vamp. It's the kind of amazing mutation and recontextualization that only takes place in London: unsuspecting R&B goddesses abducted into a Jamaican soundworld. Of course, UK garage reaches "dub" spatiality through NY house's own tradition of dub mixes and early Eighties dub-influenced dance-pop (Peech Boys, Grace Jones, Arthur Russell/Dinosaur L) as well as through the transplanted Jamaican sound-system culture in Britain.

10/ "If Your Girl Only Knew" and "Are You That Somebody?" have been bootlegged, and "One In A Million" has been extensively pillaged.

11/ "Girls really do relate to vocals, " says Bethan Cole. "But that's something that's always been belittled by people into 'serious' dance -- it goes back to the days of 'intelligent techno' versus handbag house, which was dismissed as lightweight, fluffy, vacant." As part of its realignment with techno, the homosocial fraternity that is drum & bass gradually eliminated the vocal, perhaps regarding it as a vestigial trace of the social (love, sex, relationships) or as a biological remnant to be purged in favor of abstract textures and posthuman emotions.

12/ Jazzy B of Soul II Soul is really into 2-step and sees clear links between today's garage scene and the early Eighties lover's rock scene. It was also known as "uptown reggae", which suggests a perennial uptown versus ghetto dialectic in black music; R&B versus hip hop, playas versus gangstas/soldiers/thugs, lovers versus dub, Althea & Donna's "Uptown Ranking" versus Willie Williams's "Armagideon Time". Jazzy says that 2-step people "bust the same moves" as the uptown reggae folk back in the early Eighties; there's the same designer label, champagne VIP vibe. And the model of masculinity is identical: what he calls the "sweet boy", i.e. the guy who's ultra-masculine but dresses up "nice" for the girls. "Back in the late '70s it was Burberry coats, now it's guys in fake fur!". "Sweet boy" (Bat has heard the term "dainty boy" used today) suggests the polar opposite of the "conscious" dread; a rude boy in flash clothes, secular, enjoying Babylon's bounty, but still not fully assimilated, rather he's "ghetto fabulous". Six from KMA says he transferred allieganice from the roots reggae scene (sound systems like Saxon) to the lover's rock/soul/rare groove scene, "'cos that was where the pretty girls were!...". Re. Soul II Soul, the 1989 Number One success of "Back To Life" is just about the only precedent for Shanks & Bigfoot's "Sweet Like Chocolate": both London underground anthems going all the way to the top. Bizarrely, "Chocolate" was recorded in one of Jazzy B's Camden studios.

13/ Dance music theorist Will Straw argues that high-end sounds (strings, pianos, female voices) are coded as "feminine", while low-end frequencies (drums & bass) are coded as masculine. Neurofunk and techstep are all low-end (growling, gurgling, duck-being-strangled, old-man-farting bass) and midfrequency distortion, with hardly any treble. Weirdly, some recent 2-step tunes have gone all neurofunky and technoid, e.g. E.S. Dubs's "Standard Hoodlum Issue" with its moody bass and Source Direct-like sample "reflex action, like a snake".

14/ One of the ironies of UK garage is how a genre originally identified with NY gay culture (The Paradise Garage) has become so fiercely heterosexual. When house originally reached the UK, the gay sexual passion of the music was shifted to a new referent; a specifically drug-induced bliss. Now with 2-step garage, the loved-up, hypergasmic vocals refer once more to sexual desire, although still carrying residual traces of drugged intensity (which possibly work as as memory-rush flashback FX that conjure up the scene's roots in hardcore rave). It's a strictly heterosexual desire, though; I've noticed certain DJs on the scene refer with a hint of anxiety to how garage has been perceieved as "a gay thing; " It's as though the "batty boy" side of house needs be continuously exorcised and compensated for by doses of dancehall rude-boy attitude.

15/ With their 130 b.p.m shuffle and boombastic bass, two step tunes often sound like the early breakbeat house tracks from 1990-1 by Shut Up and Dance, Ragga Twins, Rum & Black etc, albeit filtered through nearly a decade of added production expertise and subtly marked by the neurological echoes of years spent at the cutting edge of the drug-technology interface ("caning it", in plain English). "Lost In Vegas" is serious intertexutality bizness 'n ting: it's a tribute to/remake of Shut Up And Dance's 1990 track "Ten Pounds To Get In," which sampled Suzanne Vega vocal-riff from "Tom's Diner" but probably got from DNA's unoffical-then-subsequently-sanctioned dance version of the S. Vega track. The Suzanne Vega vocal melody-riff also cropped up, in mimicked form, on Ratpack's hardcore "Searching For My Rizla" . Like the bleep-and-bass echoes in current 2-step, "Lost In Vegas" pays homage to the hardcore continuum: ten years of mixing it up, hybridising hybrids and mutating mutations; a tradition of futurism. Roots N' Future = the endlessly fresh NOW!!!!.

16/ MCs send out shouts to "all the garage ravers" or dedicate "this one's for the bumpy ravers". This semantic slippage, "garage/rave", would have been unthinkable in the early 90s when garage clubs like The Ministry of Sound positioned themselves as the classy, "mature" antithesis to rave's rowdy juvenile thrills. Why has the word "rave" persisted despite the jettisoning of rave culture's behavioral and attititudinal apparatus, its paradigm drug Ectasy, etc?. In part, it's a reversion to the (largely black, and derived from Jamaica) use of the term in the pre-rave 1980s: letting off steam at the weekend. Partly, it's an honoring of rave culture, an acknowledgement of it as a lost dream that most of the people in the garage scene passed through; culturally, and neurologically, they are still scarred by their pursuit of that dream. So the trajectory of the verb "rave" goes from weekenderism in the Eighties, aquires a utopian/dissident charge in the early Nineties, then gradually fades back to its original meaning, albeit bearing faint trace-associations of hardcore madness. Just like the music itself...

17/ To get Deleuzian, "vibe" is the mechanical hum of a desiring machine cranked to the max.

18/ Evolution versus revolution. Influenced by Rock and the Pop Narcotic and its anti-art rock/anti-bohemian polemic, I'm starting to agree with Joe Carducci's argument that it's easier to destroy a tradition than it is to replace it or renew it; that expanding/mutating/contributing to an aesthetic form or scene is hard work. Think about it: it's far easier to break the rules of a genre than it is to bend them. Anybody can break the rules of jungle, by making it 40 bpm too fast or too slow, or using a bassline that doesn't work with the beats. (Despite Boymerang's "No Rules", jungle's never been about limitless possibilities or utter lack of formal constraints; at any given point in its history, the genre's had parameters that you work with). To actually take a genre's format and create extra room within it, find new twists and possibilities, while still making something that's recognisable as that genre and, more importantly, actually works in that scene's context -- that's real work. That's a genuine contribution. This model of how genres mutate and grow also helps to explains why, at a certain point, all the possibilities for extension or expression within a given format become exhausted, and the genre stagnates, survives only through purism or antiquarianism (what Carducci calls "genre-mining").
Discarding the "revolution" model of musical progress means abandoning the closely linked notions of genius and vanguard. (Political revolutions are always triggered by a small party of individuals who are more theoretically advanced than the rest of society). Replacing the auteur theory, Brian Eno's notion of "scenius" explains how hardcore dance cultures develop. "Scenius" maps perfectly onto Deleuze & Guattari's "rhizome"; where genius implies a tree-like hierarchy, innovators generating new ideas that are then copied by the second-rate mass, scenius operates rhizomatically, like grasses, bracken, lilies, orchids, bamboos: "creeping underground stems which spread sideways on dispersed, horizontal networks of ... filaments and [which] produce aerial shoots along their length and surface" (Sadie Plant). A hardcore scene like early jungle or 2-step is literally grass roots -- it's a distributed meshwork, a ceaseless exchange of ideas; culture in that yeasty, bacterial, composty sense that Eno the gardener loves; small incremental advances on a week by week basis. So you could totally remove Goldie or Bukem in jungle, or MJ Cole and Dem 2 from 2-step--or whatever privileged innovator you might focus on (and I certainly haven't expunged auteurism from this piece)--remove them wholesale, and the culture would still grow and prosper. No one individual is the guardian of the scene. Rhizomes are notoriously hard to uproot; like weeds or nettles, you kill one but the group-organism survives. Same with music; we're dealing with tribe-vibes. This also explains why scenes decline, like drum and bass currently, where it's like everybody has simultaneously been afflicted by creative block, all the old reliables like Andy C, Dillinja, Trace, Hype. If the health of a scene/sound was down to individual pioneers, at least one of them would have found somewhere new to go. Instead, it's like a collective malaise, a scenius exhaustion; an ecology in evolutionary wind-down, its biodiversity fatally depleted.

19/ Recently, I realised that what I've been doing these last seven years--tracking the various permutations from hardcore to jungle to garage, analysing/celebrating a London-centric subcultural continuum--is really a kind of ethnomusicology. We're talking about a "vibe tribe" (to again borrow a song title from hardcore heroes Phuture Assassins); a tribe scattered amongst the general population but which communicates via bush telegraph (the 20 plus pirate radio stations operating at any given point 1989-99), and that gathers at various privileged spots (specialist record stores, clubs, raves). Over the years, the population has fluctuated, expanded and contracted both in numbers and geographical reach; at one point, "hardcore" basically equalled the entire UK national rave scene, 18 months later (in mid-1993) it was strictly a London thing, with tiny colonial outposts in Bristol and the Midlands (ie. the most multiracial, London-like areas of Britain). Different tribes have splintered off from the subcultural continuum (e.g. drum and bass). Throughout it all the 'strange attractor' that has acted as the geographical pivot of the scene has remained, arguably, just a few square miles in East London. Stray too far from what this "strange attractor" "wants", and you spiral off into a different orbit (as happened with drum and bass, caught in techno's gravitational field).

What defines this "tribe", this postmodern ethnicity? Neither a type of person (sociologically) nor a set of folkways/type of music; rather it's a vital tension between the two as they evolve according to their own dynamics. Neither base nor superstructure is the determining factor. Both the demographical constituency and the aesthetic/drug-tech parameters of the culture are in constant-but-separate flux; yet somehow the culture, the tribe, has managed to maintain an undeniably consistency. Different people come into the tribe (some get old and drop out, some get old and stay involved, new recruits come in; different classes and races and genders are attracted or repelled at different stages of the culture's evolution); similarly, the music is constantly shifting and redefining its contours thanks to the flows of influence from other genres, subculture, technological change, drug use patterns etc. That it all manages to hang together as an entity seems remarkable, but this is only what an organism or an ecosystem does; perpetuate itself, as it responds to and absorbs environmental pressures and opportunities.

The evolution of the tribe-vibe has taken a peculiar trajectory. "Hardcore", born in 1989 with the split between the ravers and the Balearic, back-to-the-clubs types, quickly became a nationwide phenomenon that was simultaneously underground and chartpop. After its 1991-92 heyday, hardcore contracted to darkside and then jungle (underground, London-centered, multiracial but dominated by black sonics/behaviors), then re-expanded to drum & bass (ultimately a national/international, bourgeois-bohemian network, multiracial but dominated by white sonics/behaviors), then mutated into speed garage (back to a London/multiracial/ working class thing, but quickly escalating to a national fad...) prompting 2-step (London-centric, multiracial, with a strong Asian component; plus unexpected intersection with American R&B although this remains a "one-way alliance," unreciprocated, so far).

My own role as an ethnographer is a bit like one of those researchers who lives with the tribe, gets too involved, and compromises his objectivity.

Why ethnomusicology as a model, and not just "subcultural studies"? The trouble with the "resistance through rituals" tradition of cult-studs is its left-ist bias and insistance on locating in every form of popular culture it studies some kind of "contribution to the struggle," however opaque or obtuse or tangled with 'false consciousness'. 'Resistance' is too loaded a term; in some cases, what we're dealing with is more like "resilience through rituals", or resistance in the sense of intransigence. So the persistence of Jamaican folkways in jungle, the rootsical traces you can hear in UK garage, constitute a sort of anti-colonial, anti-hegemonic alterity that endures despite the upwardly mobile, outwardly assimilationist and conservative sheen of the music. "Anti-hegemonic" may be overstating the case, though, with a subculture that seems to have more to do with Baudrillardian, contradiction-fraught notions like "transgressive hyper-consumption" or "resistant micro-capitalism"; precarious strategies of survival that collude with as much as they resist the Thatcher/Major/Blair order.

The crucial distinction is between class identity and class antagonism. Phenomema like UK garage and US R&B have a class identity; they mark themselves out in terms of class and race. But there's nothing oppositional about them, or at least overtly oppositional. The insubordinate energy of hardcore and jungle isn't there; it's aspirational working class, playa rather than gangsta. Bat from UKdance believes that London's multiracial, working class "street" culture is intrinsically where it's "at"; you have to follow the London massive as they are always the leading edge, and the massive have gone into R&B and garidge. So his affiliation is to the class rather than the specific music form it generated (jungle). Not sure if I buy Bat's stance (what if the massive suddenly got into New Age or Britpop?!?) but I do agree with him that the massive's secession from jungle in 1997 fatally depleted that music of its vibe and energy. This argues for really complex interrelationships and feedback loops between the sonic and the social.

20/ In a sense, speed garage only needed to emerge because drum & bass steadily banished its vibe-creating elements (ragga influences, diva vocals) as it adopted a techno mindset (auteurism, the notion of music as quasi-autonomous aesthetic realm divorced from the social). Like minimal techno, drum & bass has oh-so-abstractly painted itself into its corner of anhedonic (meaning: the inability to feel pleasure) experimentalism. The cunning of UK garage is the way it's taken the skills aquired during the jungle era--the rhythmic and texturological science--and directly transferred them into a context of enjoyment rather than "education". In a broader sense, the frenzy of jungle and the delirium of hardcore have also been cunningly resituated inside a smoother, mellower, more "adult" and "musical" sound--reflecting the way that the hardcore tribe has grown up but refuses to relinquishes drug-and-dance culture. 2-step is ten times more exciting than the UK garage of 1990-95 precisely because of these encoded traces of hardcore and rave.

21/ Reasons to be hostile, part three: The elitist dress code (no trainers, no caps, often no jeans; sometimest the injunction "dress smart/glamorous") designed to keep the young and the poor out. The designer-label fetishism and flagrant materialism: I saw a guy walk around with the neck label of his Moschino shirt pulled out from under his sweater, just so you could be sure of seeing how much he'd spent; T-shirt logos like "Dolce & Gabbana Is Life" suggest a rather shallow worldview. Cocaine itself, that ultimate signifier for expenditure and waste: a drug whose high lasts about twenty minutes and that, because of its rapid comedown , encourages the user to repeat the dose until the supply runs out. Whereas Ecstasy creates a Zen-like plateau state of serene joy for a good six hours, and then leaves you with an afterglow that lasts another 24 hours. And despite the explosive euphoria and sunshine spirit of the music, UK garage can be a grim, unfriendly scene, oddly fusing the snobbery of the deep house purist with the moody, rude bwoy menace of junglists.

22/ That itchy , anxious quality in speed garage makes me think of a delusion that sometimes afflicts abusers of drugs like amphetamine and cocaine that stimulate the central nervous system: the belief that insects are crawling under your skin. Intravenous abusers of speed and cocaine sometimes scratch at their arms until blood is drawn in order to remove these " crank bugs", as speedfreaks call them. Like darkside hardcore and jungle (musics metabolically overdriven by E and whizz), 2-step is insectile music, full of clicks and chitters and mandible-scrapes (the insects's musical world is relentlessly percussive). The music's rhythmic tics are themselves like kinaesthetic infestations that penetrate your body, muscular parasites that burrow inwards and possess our nervous system. To give this CCRU-style idea an appropriately Deleuzian spin, could the body-without-organs be defined as the "desire" "felt" "by" a subdermal swarm of intensities, a "desire" to break the individual's skin and form a macro-swarm with the intensities of the massive? Is that what "vibe" is? Sub-individual intensities communicating with other sub-individual intensities....electricity....

23/ UK garage involved a reversion to traditional sexual roles. In contrast to the androynous baggy clothing of rave, women wear more revealing clothing. Men tend to look musclebound; there's a big connection between speed garage and the East London gym culture.

24/ Cocaine is basically a snob's expensive, short-lived surrogate for long-lasting,
value-for-money amphetamine; in clinical literature, these two central nervous system stimulants are not differentiated. The cocaine/garage interface creates a sort of grown-up, upmarket version of the hyperkinesis induced by hardcore/ E's 'n' whizz. In his phenomenology of intoxication book On Drugs , David Lenson discusses a phenonemon called "reverse tolerance". It's the opposite of the normal syndrome of building up tolerance to a drug and being forced to take more and more to get the same effects. Instead, those who've been through periods of intensive use of stimulants can find that a low dose of the drug will get them disproportionately high; it's as though the brain has learned a short-cut to this higher plateau of drug-sensation and only requires a small trigger dose. Could it be that "garage ravers" only need relatively small doses of cocaine to trigger sensation-memories and flashback-frenzies encoded in their brains back in the old skool days of hardcore stimulant abuse?

25/ A doctor friend tells me that one definition of neurosis is anorgasmic sexuality. One of the characteristics of cocaine intoxication, its mechanism of desire-for-desire, is that the release/relief of tension through orgasm is forestalled as long as possible. Sexual satisfaction is dreaded. Compare this with what CCRU's Mark Fisher favorably identifies as "anorgasmics": abandoning the "testicular-thermodynamics" of climax-oriented sexuality in favor of polymorphous plateaux of pleasurable tension. "Alienated and loving it".

26/ At a garage club, I've only ever seen one person in a state approximating "hypersexuality": a woman doing the most twitchy, alienated-looking dance I've ever seen; with her clenched fists level with her jaw and meeting under her chin, her arms were pulled tight up against her body and the elbows nearly met at a point just above her navel. She was frugging urgently and fussily, twirling around in a sort of grim rapture, her face racked by this rictus snarl of coked-out disdain, at once absurd and terrifying. She was like the incarnation of Colours feat Stephen Emmanuel's "Hold On (SE22 Mix)", its vocal spasm-riff ("wh--ERE?! wheresitgonewhereitsgone? wh--ERE? wheresyourlovewheresyourlove?") conjuring a nympholeptic frenzy of desire without locus or focus.

27/ Bizarre, and apparently coincidental echoes of darkside hardcore in KMA's darkside garage: Six's use of the pitch wheel to warp the bassline of "Cape Fear" paralleling Goldie's pitchshifting of the breaks on "Terminator" (making them seem to speed up vertiginously while staying in tempo--a similar destabilisation FX to 'Cape Fear', where the bass suddenly trembles and threatens to give way underfoot, like the floor's turned to jelly); the spelling of "Kaotic Madness" echoing Kaotic Chemistry (the darkside alter-ego of Moving Shadow's 2 Bad Mice, which was Rob Playford and cohorts). Fact tidbit: "Cape Fear" and "Kaotic Madness" both started life as jingles for Six's brother DJ Madness's pirate radio show.

28/ UK garage has resolved (or rather, suspended in a productively unresolved tension) most of the major conflicts and binary divisions that have structured rave culture this last decade: musical v machinic, soul v. posthuman, organic v. synthetic, song v. track, pop v. underground, breakbeat v. 4-to-the-floor. In 2-step particularly, songs become tracky and tracks become songful; melody is percussive and percussion is melodic; the vocals constantly make you wonder if this is a human being or a machine, soul or technics. Answer: it's both, and neither, simultaneously.

Perhaps the most crucial conflict that UK garage resolves is between tradition and futurism. Raymond Williams, the grandfather of cultural studies, analysed culture in terms of "residual" and "emergent" elements. Residual was what persisted from the past (e.g. country music in the USA, superstition etc); emergent is what's marginal now but will one day be mainstream and hegemonic (e.g. "camp" in the Sixties). But the reality is that almost any cultural artefact that has any popular currency (ie. not the totally antiquarian or the utterly avant-garde/academic) will in fact be a tissue of residual and emergent elements; that could work as a definition of "the present". Dance culture rhetoric tends to overstate the emergent properties of a musical phenomenon. For instance, discussions of "breakbeat science" in jungle (including my own) stress the science, the posthuman futurity of the programming. Yet the "science" would have nothing to manifest itself in or work through without the historical materiality of breakbeats--the human, hand's on, real-time rhythms laid down in the 1960s and 1970s. When breakbeat science is at its best there's a vital tension between the humanity and the technology, the residual and the emergent. Too much technique led to the over-programmed, micro-edited , vibe-less beats of latterday drum & bass; relax the technical virtuosity too much, though, and the results sounded too naturalistic, too residual.

2-step at its best has achieved a vital poise, a tense balance, between the residual and the emergent. So in conclusion, let me reinvoke Phuture Assassin's phrase Roots 'N Future. "Roots" plural, because they're multiple, hybrid, intertangled, but always specific--we know where we've come from. And "phuture" singular, because tomorrow by definition is abstract, open-ended, and unknowable.


For a full 2-step discography, go to Favorite Records of 1998, where all the tracks that informed this piece when it was originally written are mentioned and lavishly described. Below is a list of top tunes that have stepped into my earshot since February 1999.

Bump 'N Flex ---"2 Step Tonight" (white label)

New Horizons-- "Slamdown" from Scrap Iron Dubs Vol 1 (500 Rekords)

Architechs--"B&M Remix: The Boy Is Mine (white label)

DJ Luck and MC Neat--"Little Bit of Luck" (Red Rose Recordings)

Colors featuring Stephen Emmanuel--"What U Do (10 degrees Below Remix/Hold On (SE22 Mix)" (Inferno/Ice Cream)

Large Joints--" Dubplate" (white label) --"Dubplate Remix" (white label)

Same People--"Dangerous" (Locked On)

Angel Farringdon & 'Lil Smokey--"No Fighting/Clean Rhythm" (JBR)

Mad Shag --"Madness on the Streets Remix" (Stamp)

In 'Sinc--"Cool the Menta" (500 Rekords)

Deetah--"Relax (Bump 'N Flex Remix)" (ffrr)

The Corrupted Crew-- "Tales of the Corrupted" (Kronik) [featuring MC Neat's "G.A.R.A.G.E."]

10 degrees Below meets Fierce--"Dayz Like That"

Cisco--"Bonnie & Clyde"

DJ Dee Kline & Pixie--"I Don't Smoke" a/k/a "Don't Smoke Tha Reeefer" (RAT001) [with sampled dialogue from Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party --'ardkore '92 style bricolage lives!]

Urban Myths --- "Without You (Dark Mix)"

Master Stepz---"Melody" (Outlaw, OUT003)

E.S. Dubs -- Standard Hoodlum Issue (Social Circles)

Glamma Kid & Shola Ama-- Sweetest Taboo (MJ Cole Remix) (WEA)

DJ Luck & Shy Cookie--"Troublesome" (Kronik)

Box Fresh---"Talk To Me" (Prolific)

Norris 'Da Boss' Windross -- "Heartbeat" (Pseudo)

Reliably rumoured to be killa tunes

NM Productions---"Searching EP"

Groove Chronicles--"99/Black Puppet". (Dat Pressure Recordings/DPR)

Antonio "Bad Funk---" Dem 2 Remix (Locked On)

Mystic Matt---"Krushgroove"

B-15--- Project "Soundbwoy" (G Spot)

Artful Dodger---"Rewind" (Public Demand)

Future Underground Nation's---"The Way"

M Dubs---"Bump'n'Grind" (Babyshack)

M-Dubs--"Body Killing" (Babyshack)

Mystic Matt & The Anthill Mob---"A Shock 2 Da System" EP (Love Peace Unity).

Craig David & Robbie Craig---"Woman Trouble" (Public Demand)

Groove Chronicles---"Masterplan"

Fierce----"So Long (Bump N Flex mix)"

Point 7 feat Anita Austin--"Love Is A Fire"

not forgetting countless unidentified dubplates--that's the downside with scenius, the rhizome's spores are hard to track....