Monday, May 4, 2015

hardcore heroes ( # 5 of ___ ) - Nebula II

Nebula II are venerated by the headstrong hardcore for a salvo of 1991-92 tracks in a style that could be called breakbeat techno.  Tracks notable for their searing coldness and a fixated propulsiveness exceptional even by the amphetamine standards of the time - a quality of lethal linearity, single-minded intent on mission-completion, summoning up images of self-guided missiles, cyborg soldiers, and other products existing or yet-to-be-devised by the military avant-garde.

Most fearsome of a deadly batch: "X-Plore H-Core".

Like most people I should imagine,  I lost track of Nebula II after 1993's disappointingly mild "Eye Memory", which if nothing else can claim to literally be "dolphin jungle" on account of its cetacean sample and the title, based on the notion that once a dolphin looks you in the eye it'll never forget you. (I remember a DJ on a pirate actually explaining all that after playing the tune - an incongruous David Attenborough moment on Ruff FM or whatever station it was).  If I ever thought of Nebula II at all, I'd most likely have assumed that they'd either name-changed and were now operating as a drum & bass unit, or they'd simply fallen by the wayside, like so many H-core warriors.

So it was a complete surprise when in 1998 I picked up a flyer for Lenny Dee's 30th Birthday Bash, featuring  The Mover as a star attraction - and spied the name Nebula II on the bill. Or Nebula 2 as it was now being rendered.

Upon reflection, it made perfect sense - their classic tunes were at the techno-y end of the rave spectrum, so they must have branched off down a different fork - when things got jungalistic and ragga-tastic  - and moved into the hard techno field.

I went to that party  in Queens and my memory is hazy for various reasons but I am fairly certain Nebula II never got to  do their live performance. The party was busted - thankfully after Mover finished deejaying; during, I believe, Lenny Dee's own set. So I never got to hear Nebula II play, or accost them and thank them for "X-Plore H-Core", "Seance, "Peacemaker," and "Atheama."

Nebula II got into this pattern - or was it a Reinforced thing, at that time? - of following up each release with a remix - both sides of the 12 inch remixed, and always remixed by themselves, not another name on the scene, or even someone else in the Reinforced camp. And the remixes were more like completely new tracks. 

The mighty "Peace Maker" backed with the wonderfully typo-riddled (on the label) "X-Plore H-Call"


The nearest thing on the scene to the Nebula II sound was probably the Rufige Cru of "Darkrider" and "Terminator". I seem to remember Goldie saying something to the effect that at one point he considered them the competition. At different points, he had a kind of mental foe, a producer he was vying with, trying to outflank - even if they were unaware of the rivalry. At one point it was Foul Play, at another Cool Hand Flex, at another DJ SS. 

Actually now I remember it - it was being blown away by Nebula II's stuff when Grooverider and Fabio dropped it at Rage that actually led Goldie to their label of origin - Reinforced - and the start of his historic relationship with 4 Hero.

Most of Nebula II's famous tunes were on Reinforced but this killer came out on the Nottingham label J4M. 

Now what the hell is a C.O.D. Rider?

They returned to the Dollis Hill fold for this '93 EP, only one track of which is on YouTube. The others are "Clocked It" and "Benzine Fiend" - of which I have no memory, although I have the EP  - plus a different mix of "Eye Memory"


If you look closely at the Deeday flyer for Lenny's 30th, it says underneath 'Nebula 2" that they are on Industrial Strength Trance.

Post-Reinforced / breakbeat techno, they did not in fact go pure techno or gabba; they went hard trance. Which makes them pretty unusual as far as ardkore veterans who have second phases.

I am finding with a lot of these hardcore heroes that I'd taken to be shrouded-in-mystery, that there is in fact more information out and about on the web than I'd reckoned.

Here's what it says at Discogs about Nebula II, who indeed are a II-some or 2some  - Joachim Shotter & Richard McCormack.

"The duo first came to light in 1991 with Seance (featuring the devastating rave anthem Atheama on the b-side) which was released on Reinforced Records. The following year saw a steady flow of inspired breakbeat rave tracks, such as Flatliners, C.O.D. Rider, Peace Maker, X-Plore H-Core and two stunning remixes of their debut Seance / Atheama release.

"Nebula II's first P.A. was at Kool Kat in Nottingham, followed by a Christmas gig on the 23rd of December 1992. This was a very large event which also featured live performances from 4 Hero / Manix / Rufige Kru plus DJ sets from Kemistry & Storm, MRB, Goldie, Shot 1 & Coz (aka Nebula II), Cutz, Expression & Holocaust.

"From the success their releases Joe & Richard, along with MC Rimz & Dancer Peter 'E' started off the North's first hardcore club in Doncaster. The Warehouse (BYO) became one of the best venues in the country.

"Nebula II then moved into techno & psy trance. They set up Celestial Records with A Guy Called Gerald in Manchester. Their first release "The Positive EP" was a collaboration between Richard, Joe, his brother Mark and Tony Thomas who joined Nebula II along with Paul Smith.

"After a few releases the newly expanded Nebula II set up the Volt company which then set out on mission to release the finest & purest techno releases possible. Over 100 releases came out of this company in the next three years with artists including Arcana, Spy, Coca, Force Of Nature and of course Nebula II.

"Nebula II's next venture was to set up a party organization in Nottingham to outlet the local talent and perform their own music. The first major party was Inner Trance at The Ballroom. Dave Clarke, Thomas P. Heckmann, Shot 1 and Coz played to over 1300 people in Nottingham's biggest techno party to date! More followed with Paul Smith setting up Fusion which combined Techno & Drum & Bass.

"The next phase was of course a brief step into the world of drum & bass. Nebula II produced several records for Mickey Finn's Urban Takeover & alongside MC Magika won the Diesel Nu-Music 2000 award for best breakbeat artist (voted by legendary label Moving Shadow). They also held numerous events with Nottingham's own Jungle master MRB."

So they didn't fall by the wayside at all, they proliferated identities, switching direction into pure techno and trance (psy-trance, even!), before returning to the drum & bass fold. 

I have to say, though, I have not found anything to compare with "Atheama Remix" or "X-plore H-Core" or "Flatliner" in these latter stages of their career.  

Then again I've not tracked down their 1998 Industrial Strength Trance album Hardcorps , towards which I am already well-disposed on the basis of the title alone.  And the title track definitely has a certain appealing relentlessness, like 10 seconds of "House of God" looped for eternity. 

It's gabbertrance (but not hardstyle) - a union of the two genres at their most cheeseless and katatonia-inducing. 

Here's what YouTube has to offer from 1994 onwards- the many gaps in the post-breakbeat discography suggest that there isn't nearly as much affection out there for this phase of the trackography as for the 91-93 stuff. 
From the Audiobahn E.P.  on  Collide Records,   1994      



The Tube Mixes ‎(12") on   Out Of The Vault  1994                      


Then came three releases that leave no trace on YouTube - Avoid Fate EP ‎(Out Of The Vault, 1994);            The Positive EP  (Celestial Records 1994) and Scream/Pid on  Wide Area Network Recordings, 1995.

"Kundalini" on Sentinel Records (1995) produced the Youtube-collective-memory acknowledged "Subterrania" though.


Then a whole bunch of 1995-98 tracks  - "Casper", "Frank", Chroma", Chase" b/w "Gods", "Bandit", seemingly lost to time.                
Then in the 21st Century, a flurry of remixes of the 92-era classics

The latter is almost like time travel - a lost remix from the original back-in-the-day.

Whereas this pair of refixes are more in line with what D&B had become in the Noughties. 

I confess that I have not pursued all their post-Reinforced activity as intensively as I might have done --  aliases or side projects like Arcana, Bandit, CoCa, Glass Walker, Life Force, N.T.T., Neelia I,  Psyclan,  Self Esteem, Spy.  It's not for me. I fear.

Here is a relatively recent interview at Kmag with Joe Nebula aka Joachim Shotter, who's now  doing stuff on the liquid funk D&B tip.

On the turn away circa 94 from breakbeat:

"That was the time jungle techno had become jungle and I didn't find the right vibe in the music to make much of it. The beats I loved were there but I felt the music didn't progress fast enough and there was too much replication going on. So, Richard Nebula and I started to work with techno artists like A Guy Called Gerald and Thomas Heckman."

This is the vybe he is pursuing currently through his label Back2You and the Kemet FM station.

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