Thursday, August 25, 2022

Amen to That! (Or, What a Remarc-able Fellow)

This is the story of a beat and the story of a beatmaster. The beat is the immortal "Amen" break, originally from an early funk track called "Amen Brother" by The Winstons. Someone who should know better once described "Amen" as jungle's default option--but that's like saying the Bo Diddley beat, or the twelve-bar blues shuffle, is something people fall back on when their imagination fails. Actually "Amen" is jungle's highest common denominator: its hard core, the absolute foundation and essence of the genre. Those two bars of stuttering kicks, driving snares and splashy ride cymbal, laid down in the late Sixties in seemingly throwaway fashion, have been dissected, processed, and reassembled to create near-infinite polyrhythmic possibilities. If you listen to the original "Amen" today it sounds kinda tepid, after all the damage that has been done to it, and with it. But the junglists heard something in that break--it's not exactly funky, it's got this surging, explosive quality--and amplified it a hundredfold, turning the snares into machine-guns, the hi-hats and cymbals into strafing shrapnel, the bass drum kicks into landmines under your feet.

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

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

(liner note to a Remarc compilation for Planet Mu)

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

sub-bass-terania (Melody Maker rave paper)


Early 1991 - fuck me this is a lineup I would have liked to have caught, even in the poky rock venue confines of Subterania.  Sub-lo frequencies surely sufficient to shake the foundations of the Westway flyover.

And here is a review of the concert by Melody Maker's Ian McGregor, from March 30 1991

He was big into the bleep n bass sound - from the very same issue of MM, here's McGregor's review of Sweet Exorcist's C.C.E.P. - deservedly treated as a mini-LP rather than just an EP

And here from almost a year earlier is McGregor reporting on a iD magazine team-up with Warp, "one of the fastest growing hardcore dance labels around".

Bleep was young Ian's beat pretty much. 


This sort of content is one of the reasons the idea of MM as an Indie Paper annoys me. (Apart from anything we had as almost much major label rock covered as indie chart stuff, and kept an eye on metal!). But more to the point I'm trying to make: there was a lot of hip hop covered, and some R&B too, and a bit of reggae, and even some jazz  and experimental music. And there was a lot of dance coverage. During this same 89-90-early91 period, although not an active raver yet,  I'd be reviewing singles by such as DHS and Eon when I did the single's column, or raving about albums by 808 State and Bass-o-matic. Others on the paper would be doing Gerald or Shut Up and Dance or Unique 3s as well as your Flukes i.e. ostensibly more rock-paper friendly stuff. (The exact same could be said for NME and also Sounds albeit probably more so earlier in its history than the '90s).

Conversely, it's not like Mixmag or DJ (or Black Echoes and Blues & Soul for that matter) were covering the cutting edge of underground rock at this time! The imperative of comprehensiveness and inclusion fell only on the shoulders of the rock press. And was actually shouldered, fulfilled to a remarkable degree. In a relatively routine, this-is-what-we-do sort of way. Driven by the writers and editors's enthusiasms, as well as a vague sense that it was the right thing to do. (When in truth, the  majority of the readership would have been happy not to have all this stuff in there, would in fact have been okay with homogeneity.)

It's worth noting also that a few years later an entire monthly dance music magazine, Muzik, was essentially spawned out of the dance section in Melody Maker, by MM writers Push and Ben Turner. 

In fact, looking at the coverage amassed below (to which I keep adding), I'd venture that  - alongside all the other stuff covered in the magazine, MM actually had better coverage of dance music and electronic music than the specialist magazines of that time. Okay, not as comprehensive (although with four issues a month c.f. one issue for the dance monthlies, it wasn't that far off) but certainly more astute / acute  / acerbic and vividly written, coming as it did from a tradition of writing-as-writing and from the slag-off as artform. 

Derrick May and Kevin S's sniffy dismissals of ardkore as a bassturdizing betrayal of the Sacred Source set me up for this Bangsian counter-move a fortnight later - a trash aesthete transvaluation of ephemeral drug-noise (still too much of an apologia, but I would become more confident in my preferences as the year unrolled). 

RRRRRRUSH! : Hardcore Rave and London Pirate Radio

 Melody MakerJuly 4th 1992

Two weeks ago, Detroit techno pioneers Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson were whining in Melody Maker about how UK hardcore is a grisly bastardisation of their vision of techno. And it's true that the austere, elegantly minimalist music made by May and his fellow Europhiles, has virtually nothing to do with the riotous uproar of hardcore.  But far from being 'bastardised', the truth is that just as with acid house back in '88, the term 'techno' became detached from its American prototype, and mutated into a totally different animal. Hardcore is the latest in a long line of great British remotivations of Black American music.

Hardcore only really makes full (non)sense amidst the Dionysian tumult of an illegal rave (otherwise, it's like a soundtrack divorced from its movie). But you can get an idea of the vibe by tuning into London's pirate hardcore stations like Rush FM, Pulse, Destiny, and Touchdown. (They also provide an opportunity to tape the latest, obscurest tracks for free).  Self-styled "'ardcore station for the 'ardcore nation", Touchdown seems to be the most regular and have the strongest signal (94-1 FM). From Friday eve to Monday morn, it provides a relentless soundtrack to vibing up before going out, driving between clubs, and recuperating afterwards.

 Where the Detroit and early UK techno units like LFO/Orbital/808 State, were relatively musically skilled and programmed their own rhythms etc, hardcore is real DIY barbarianism, cobbled together from looped, insanely accelerated breakbeats, asininely simplistic keyboard riffs, dub basslines, and samples of ecstatic vocals sped up to 78 rpm (the ethereal girl-vox of This Mortal Coil, Kate Bush, Dead Can Dance, Pinky & Perky shrieks of soul euphoria, ragga incantations). In isolation, few tracks stand up to intense scrutiny; it's together, as a "total flow", that they take effect. The feeling is like being plugged into the National Grid.  The MCs' staccato patter - "'ere we go!", "let's get rough", "rrrrr-rush!" all becomes part of the flow.  As if the individual tracks weren't crudely collaged enough already, the DJ's mix in rough-and-ready bursts from other records, creating an inexhaustible, interminable meta-music pulse.

 No songs here: the keyboard motifs are trite, what hooks you is the timbre of a synth-tone, the colon-deep consistency of a bass-line, the epileptic spasm of a beat.  Like avant-garde music, hardcore spurns melodic development in favour of repetition, drones, atonal sonorities, found sounds etc.  But hardcore's a sort of degraded avant-gardism, an arrested futurism.  And that's what's so weird about it: the ideas and effects of DAF, Die Krupps, Cabaret Voltaire etc, have become pop in the most low-com-denom, plebeian sense.

 Most hardcore is trash, then, but it's effective trash. Techno's developed beyond music and into a science of inducing and amplifying the Ecstasy rush. The sound is all subsonic bass and ultra-trebly shrillness, bowel-tremor and spine-tingle.  Hardcore is a techno-pagan cult dedicated to the worship of speed: not just high b.p.m, but the amphetamine that most E tablets largely consist of these days. With group names like Risla Bass and song titles like "We Are E", hardcore must be the most blatantly druggy subculture since acid rock; DJ's call out to "all you nutters rushing out of your heads, speedfreaks out there, you know the score", send out a "big shout to everyone who's absolutely trippin' in Hendon", or talk about how they're "absolutely flying in the studio, 100 m.p.h.".  "Let's go" chants the DJ, but this is an intransitive acceleration, without destination. "Hold tight", he'll cry, like you're on a rollercoaster (and apparently, techno is all you'll hear at funfairs these days). Where Detroit techno was spiritual, hardcore is purely about sensation, about an artificially induced state of hyper-real intensity (or, as the title of one track has it, "Hypergasm").

 Crude, mindless, but it's the most vibrant subculture around, and as addictive as crack.


wot's all dis then? in the very same issue as my ardkore manifesto, there is a reader's letter in Backlash that is an early sighting of certain Punctum-pursuing blogger-to-be and who here is singing from the very same psalm book as me! Complete a retort from defender of Lyrics Jim Arundel, editing the letter's page that week 

Not actually MM (this is from NME) but here is Derrick May doing the rounds with his 'techno's gone to shit' moaning, and hats off to the NME editor who came up with this headline: I Piss On Your Rave.

Back to MM... 

David probably speaks here for the majority view at Melody Maker at that time - we can't cover this stuff much more than we do because it's hard to cover. But I think this view was mistaken: we'd already written about Mantronix and Nitro Deluxe et al in appropriately posthumanist and non-rockist terms, New Sonic Architecture, when it was required to do so; the paper had for some time been covering the rave scene thoroughly and writers would increasingly find ways of writing about technotronic sounds  truer to its nature as an abstract play of forces and tones, a battery of sensations and energies. Equally, within the emerging electronic field there would turn out be Personalities with Ideas and Things To Say - Weirdos and Characters just as much as any indie rock outfit and possibly more so. Indeed, there would soon be Pretensions (metaphyiscal and otherwise) abroad in the electronic field that would far outstrip most indie bands of the '90s.



Before all of this, of course, MM was the rave paper because it covered the original rave scene - trad jazz