24 January 2006



The enigmatic Various Production will be performing an exclusive mix on the Breezeblock tonight. I recently received another 7 inch single from them, but I still have no idea who they are - once again the sleeve design is as uninformative as it is beautiful, and there's never a press release. I shouldn't complain, and of course I'm very grateful that they continue to send me these delightful little packages. I suppose I could try e-mailing them, but to be honest I'm quite enjoying the sense of mystery that surrounds them for the moment. Besides, I very much doubt they'd want to reveal themselves to me anyway.

VAR.009 once again confounds expectations (apart from the expectation that it'll be confounding!). What's happened to the delicate female vocalist? Not present on this release, I'm afraid. Instead the vocals on "Sir" are handled by...some bloke. He's quite good, but maybe a bit too breathy and stylised for my taste. Not sure if he's English or an Anglophile-American. The music's bloody great though, all pensive angular beats, sensual sweeping synths and juddering oscillator tones that make for one of the most innovative, dubstep-aware 'pop songs' I've heard in many moons. I just wish they'd let the lady sing it, then it would've been totally orgasmic!

The b-side is the real eye-opener, though. I'd been getting used to the queer little acoustic folk songs on the flip, but on this one Var. Prod. go all dancehall-bashment aggressive. Over a hyper-distressed A.S.B.O riddim, some, er, other bloke spits fast 'n' furious about urban violence with a thuggish delivery that makes Bruza sound like a choirboy. Its like a completely different act to the one that gave us the gentle contemplation of "Home" on the previous single. But then, as their name suggests, this is probably a collective, rather than a firm group/label, subject to fluid changes in line-up and approach. Presumably there's at least one person who's central to it all, though? I'd love to know what makes him/her tick. All will be revealed in time, I'm sure. In the meantime, be sure to tune-in to tonight's show, which also features some exclusive tunes from Loefah, Boxcutter and others (or, like me, listen again tomorrow), then grab the singles at Boomkat while stocks last!

Oh, and if you happen to live anywhere near Manchester, you might wanna check out this little shindig next month, featuring a live set from Var. Prod. in Room 2, along with Vex'd and up-and-coming dubstep producer Omen. Looks like a wicked night! Big-up the old Rephlex stalwarts too, of course!


Edit: Just heard from Var. Prod. that they aren't actually doing a live set, just a straight laptop/turntable dj set.

20 January 2006



Earlier this week I made my monthly trip to Rooted Records on the Gloucester Road to stock-up on all the latest releases and, whilst I was in the area, popped round to Sam Atki2's house for a chat. Sam's a busy boy at the moment - he's got a release schedule that would leave more high-profile producers jealous, and seems to be getting regular remix work too, although he still hasn't actually made any money yet. The concept of royalty cheques seems to be a myth these days! As we sat drinking coffee in the kitchen of the tidy old Victorian house he shares with several mates, Sam played me a few up and coming tunes, including DJ Pinch's excellent remix of the title track from Sam's forthcoming "Guilty Pleasures EP". I was quite surprised when I heard that Mr. Pinch had agreed to collaborate on this one, although he'd insisted that his remix not be included on any release that featured the word 'Grim' in the title! But it's good to know that there's a bit of creative discourse going on between Bristol's premier exponents of Dubstep and Grim. Incidentaly, Pinch's star is very much on the ascent too. This week he's been djing in Berlin, like Sam he's getting airplay from Mary Anne Hobbs, and of course his first Planet Mu release is immanent. Exciting times...

I had a brief look around Sam's attic laboratory. Not much to see, frankly. I remember a time when a home studio was an untidy heap of secondhand synths, samplers and outboard gear, connected together by a tangled web of quarter-inch jack and midi leads. Yet Sam's studio is all virtual, tidily packed into his little laptop. Isn't modern technology great? I must admit though, I'm still a hardware boy at heart. Gimme a stack of dusty old analogue synths anyday!

Grim Dubs 5But it's the end product that counts, and Sam's been delivering the goods. The fifth (and, I think, final) installment of Werk's "Grim Dubs" series is Atki2's "Year Of The Cockeral/Untitled", two more Grim anthems for those who like a bit more detail in their sublow beats. Like most of Sam's solo tracks, the beats are built from a relatively small palette of sounds, yet his hyperactive programming skills ensure that nothing stays the same for more than eight bars. "...Cockeral" is held together by a tremulous bassline worthy of Black Ops, yet the convoluted interplay of 140bpm beats and fx, including stealthy deployment of Amen-pressure, outlines a rinsed-out manifesto for the post-breakcore era that you can actually dance to. It's quite interesting to mix a track like this with straight grime/sublow beats - earlier today I rolled-off the bass frequencies and mixed-in Jon E. Cash's "Cash Beat" bassline and it sounded pretty cool. I'm thinking of basing my next live dj set (at Ruffnek next month) around a collision of 'propa' grimey sublow instrumentals with mashed-up Grim noise. Should be fun!

Sweaty Palms EPAlso out this month is the "Sweaty Palms" EP, Sam's second release for Shadetek, sheathed in a full sleeve with a beautiful line drawing by Orin McNeil, featuring what appears to be an orchestra of cyborg monkeys. This release also has a personal significance as it's the first record I know of that namechecks Gutterbreakz on the sleeve! Also included in the list of shout-outs is Atki1. Well, if there's an Atki2 there must be an Atki1 as well, right? But who is he? Sam's twin brother, off course! He gets to be #1 cos he was born a few minutes earlier. Like Sam, he's a formally trained musician, but has continued down the conventional route, currently studying classical composition. I wonder if they'll ever collaborate? How about the "Brothers Grim" EP? Hahaha...

The EP is based around "Shocking Out Proud", Sam's first recorded collaboration with female freestyle rapper Rennee Silver, which has been getting regular airplay from Mary Anne. As well as Sam's own Sweaty Palms mix, there's a heavyduty remix from Drop The Lime (forging links with the 'Grimecore' scene developing on the East Coast of the US) and also the Sweaty Dub instrumental. A slightly different version, along with the EP's final cut "Tantrum", was featured in the mix included with the interview we did last year.

Bookmark Sam's blog for further news and updates on all Atki2/Monkey Steak activity...


Returning to the USA for a moment, I've gotta give props to the guys at Slit Jockey in Philadelphia, who sent me a promo of their "Mixtape Vol.1" CD this month.

Slit Jockey mixtape#1

I think this is the first commercially released grime mixtape to originate from the States, featuring 33 tracks over one hour. The majority are exclusive beats produced by the Slit Jockey Crew - Dev79, Starkey and El Carnico - but with some of the top UK grime MCs, like Kano, Riko and Ghetto, spitting over the top. Although predominantly vocal-based, Dev does drop a few dubs from Monkey Steak, Drop The Lime and Vex'd into the mix. It's a fascinating 60 minute ride with a distinct flava all of it's own. Apparently it should be in selected shops now, but you can order it direct from their site as well. And just to bring this post full-circle, Starkey is set to release an EP called "Local Headlines" on Werk this year.

PS. Hold-tight all vinyl-hating Grim fans - Werk are planning to release the "Grim FM" compilation CD soon, featuring tracks from the original Dubs series plus some new stuff too. More news as it happens...

18 January 2006


Ermm...well it's about this, and this...this too, of course. And now it's inspired this thread at Dissensus. It appears to be a loose genre that seems to have been spontaneously invented by the blogosphere group mind. But it was always there, of course...bubbling away under the surface.

When I was a small child, my parents often did what parents still do today: use the television as a babysitter whilst they got on with more important things like doing the laundry, preparing dinner, or chatting with their friends on the phone. I do it with my own kids too sometimes. Of course, these days you can make sure that your children are watching something appropriate, either from one of the specialist kiddies' channels on cable, or a video, dvd, etc. But back in the early '70s, a child could be left alone in a room with just three channels...and about 50% of the things those channels broadcast were fucking strange. The recent interest in testcards must come from some buried childhood experience of being alone with one of those things staring at you across the room, with their funny, creepy little muzak jingles playing inanely in the background, or worse, the terrifying test signal electronic drone. When the channels actually bothered to show any programs, the results could be even weirder. A lot of that must've been down to the incidental music used. Whether queer little folky guitar melodies or random blasts of electronic oscillator chatter, the 'heads' in charge of composing and selecting the music that was beamed into our little minds were obviously on a mission to creep us out and scar us emotionally for life. My kids aren't scared of anything on the telly. I was scared witless on a regular basis.

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop are of course the benchmark by which all such hauntalogical activity must be measured. I wrote a piece on their Dr. Who work back in 2004, which sort of hinted at what I'm trying to express here. But there were many other obscure characters creating strange themes and jingles for media use. Their work would be compiled onto vinyl records and distributed only to television and radio production houses, where they would be put to use on a variety of projects. We call these vinyl albums 'Library Records'. I used to collect them years ago, but the collector's market has since pushed prices up prohibitively. Here's one that, on side A at least, generates massive waves of hauntological sensation in me...


electronia label"Electronia" is library music composed by W. Merrick Farran & Edgar M. Vetter, released in 1972 through Joseph Weiberger Ltd, London W1P. The main sounds came from 'Multi-Layered Synthesizer', with additional sound sources from coiled springs, bells, magnetic film, tape loops and...the human heart. It's exactly the sort of warped electronic doodles that used to soundtrack documentaries and children's sci-fi programs back in the day. Whether I actually heard any of these specific pieces as a child is unknown...who knows to what evil intent they were used? But whenever I listen to this record, the sensations are just like those eerie moments of solitude as a child on a wet Tuesday afternoon, alone in the living room...with the television. Haunting...


"fierce heartbeat with sudden sting followed by double heartbeat to climax and slow-down"


More 'haunting' speculation from Blissblog and K-Punk (who's best writing always seems to spooked-out, anyway). Although mainly guided by track titles, it's interesting that Simon includes Kode 9's "Ghost Town" in his 'web of ghosts'. I hear traces of hauntology in all the best dubstep, from Loefah, Vex'd...even some of the latest tracks from Moving Ninja. They're all quite a bit younger than me and in different locations, so couldn't possibly be tinted by the exact same early stimuli, yet there must be some basic shared experience that makes the connection. But if there's one dubstep release that comes closest to bottling the hauntological zeitgeist, it's must be Burial's "South London Burroughs" EP on Hyperdub. From the moment I first heard it I could tell there was something special about this release, bathed in a spectral fog of blurred sound fragments that evoke sensations that can never truly be grasped or understood. Still very little is known about Burial, although tellingly his contribution to Blackdown's 'End of Year review' was one of the most pungently evocative of the series.

Returning to Simon's list, and also the tracklist for K-Punk's mixtape, another thought struck me. The thing is, whilst reading Simon's post-punk book, I was compiling tracks from that period for possible blog use in a special folder on my hardrive. I thought I was basing my selections on my own 'guttertech' ideology, but looking through the contents of the folder now, it seems that I may have been subliminally guided by the forces of hauntology. Take this one, for example:


I've been interested in the San Fransico industrial scene for a long time now, although didn't actually get to hear anything by Factrix until quite recently with the release of their "Artifact" anthology in 2003. Naturally it was Simon's Village Voice review that first alerted me to it's existence. It's a great introduction to their work overall, but I felt compelled to select "Phantom Pain" cos it was on some whole deeper level. They got the drum machine to sound like that by recording it onto tape and then slowing the tape down to create that murky, subterranean quality.


Interesting that Mark and I both zoned in on this one, recorded by an earlier incarnation of The Human League when Adi Newton was still a member. One thing this track proves is that the music doesn't necessarily need to sound superficially haunting to class as Hauntology. It's actually quite a jaunty little tune, but it's the ability to tunnel through to buried experience that is the key - in this case the radiophonic TV doodles that I described in the previous post. Derive whatever meaning you like from the lyrics - they were assembled cut-up style using the CARLOS computer program! Although unreleased at the time, "Blank Clocks" is now available on the excellent "Golden Hour Of The Future" anthology.

Thought I'd finish by adding something fresh to the pot. Although I've practically hung-up my production boots now, I spent the best part of 15 years dabbling along my own creative musical path. During that time I flirted with many different styles, but there was one particular approach that's been there since the earliest days, something that I would keep returning to at regular intervals. Depending on when they were recorded, I might've referred to these pieces as 'dark ambient' or maybe 'isolationist'. But perhaps it was an unconscious attempt to become submerged in hauntological experience. The music was almost always created using analogue equipment, usually performed 'live' onto multitrack tape without any form of sampling/sequencing. Here's one from about five years ago...


Does it fit the genre? Dunno. Must admit I haven't actually heard any of this Ghost Box/Ariel Pink stuff that they're all raving about. Must check it out!

17 January 2006


TVJust to chime in with all the excellent testcard mania that's been infecting certain parts of the blogosphere, here's the sleeve of Elektric Music's second single called, appropriately enough, "TV". Elektric Music was, and in fact still is, ex-Kraftwerker Karl Bartos. "TV", along with the album "Esperanto" were released in 1993 and revealed the first fruits of creative freedom unleashed after he extricated himself from the Kling- Klang straightjacket. Listening to "TV" now, it does seem alarmingly close to the Kraftwerk aesthetic. The "Electric Cafe" drum sounds, the "Radioactivity" choral pads, etc...but it's still a pretty good electronic pop song. In some ways, the excitement surrounding this release at the time was partly due to the fans being grateful for any new Kraftwerk-related tracks, as seven long years had passed since the last album of original material. "Esperanto" doesn't hold up all that well in places, especially the collaborations with OMD's Andy McCluskey, although some of the others like "Information" still sound vaguely impressive for their complex, chattering cut-up vocal arrangements, which did feel quite innovative at the time. Now you've seen the sleeve, I suppose you wanna hear the track, right?


But there's another reason for bringing up Bartos in this post. In my Art Of Noise thing last week, I made the bold statement that "when "Beatbox" was first released in late '83, Kraftwerk actually aborted their "Techno Pop" album after hearing it, cos they thought it made them sound dated." Now, my learned colleague 11v, being a bit of a Kraftwerk obsessive (and not much of an Art Of Noise fan) wants to know where I got that idea from. Not from Kraftwerk themselves, obviously. And if you go looking in a book like, say, Pascal Bussey's "Man Machine & Music", you won't find any mention there. In fact he states that it was US dance music and, in particular, Micheal Jackson's "Billie Jean" that triggered Hutter and Schneider's confidence crisis. Well there's another spin on events, as related by Karl Bartos when interviewed for Sound On Sound magazine back in March 1998. Naturally I have the original mag here in front of me, but you can read the full transcript here. The particular quote that concerns us is this one:

"...we got a little bit lost in technology, to be honest. Suddenly, in the mid-'80s, all this digital equipment appeared, including sampling; and there was this fantastic record called 'Beatbox' produced by Trevor Horn. His drum sound blew our minds! So we had to step back and think it all over, incorporate MIDI and sampling, and a lot of other stuff."

Okay, so it was probably a combination of things that lead to Kraftwerk scrapping the album, but I hope this proves that "Beatbox" was a significant factor. The defense rests its case...

Oh, and for anyone who wonders what that aborted "Technopop" album might've sounded like, here's a little demo mix of the title track, which they did on the old analogue gear. You'll notice it has a rather beautiful melody that was completely absent on the digital version that appeared on "Electric Cafe" three years later.

KRAFTWERK - TECHNOPOP (demo version)

16 January 2006


Cyrus @ Dubloaded

Another smashing time had by all at Dubloaded last night. The venue was at full capacity by 11.30 and the vibe was warm and welcoming as usual. When you first enter the Croft, you're in an earthy but spacious bar area, with a background ambiance of dub and dancehall grooves supplied by the Heatwave djs, just quiet enough so that you can take a time-out, relax by the bar and have a chat with someone without having to shout in their ears. It's only when you walk through into the back room that the serious action takes place. Last night's warm-up was supplied by Dub Boy, spinning another solid set of dancehall thumpers, but interspersed with a bit of vocal grime too. I've been relaxing today with his latest Dancehall mixtape, a little promotional CD given away at the door to early arrivers. Very nice mate, especially when it starts getting a bit 'digi' midway through. Got a tracklist?

Next up was ThinKing (see pic below), who I haven't seen in the decks since Subloaded III. He's definitely getting drawn into an ever darker, sparser world, not too far from the 'pure' dubstep sound, but just left of centre, if you know what I mean. Props for dropping Appleblim's mighty "Cheat I" - first time I've heard it on a system and it sounded monstrous! That's on Skulldisco 002 - in the shops now, kids! ThinKing saved the biggest surprise till last, though. He's recently got hold of some fresh beats from the Toasty Boy and he put them to full effect. Toasty's remix of the old Hotflush tune "Candyfloss" by Search & Destroy was a blinder, followed by "Cold Blooded", which some might recall blew my head off last summer when Toasty played it himself at the Fez Club. When the hell will that get released?! Come to think of it, it seems like ages since the last Toasty release! Where's he been? Apparently he's been a bit busy with other work...y'know, the sort of work that actually pays money. But have no fear he'll be back soon. He's lined up to play at Noir, along with Boxcutter, in the spring. Hurrah!

ThinKing @ Dubloaded

Then it was the turn of our 'Celebrity Londoner', Random Trio's Cyrus (see pic at top - sorry for the shit mobile phone shots by the way, but I still haven't commissioned an official photographer yet, although Jack has expressed an interest, but wasn't there last night). It's the first time I've seen him in action (he played early at Subloaded II but I was too busy chatting in the bar!). He completely exceeded my expectations - and my expectations were pretty high! His set comprised of his own material, including "Indian Stomp" and "Bounty" from the new Tectonic EP, along with some super dubs from the Digital Mystikz crew that had the crowd in raptures. There's a wonderfully evocative swirl of ambient 'found sounds' in Cyrus' music, a background of reverberated exotica that, as I've said before, seems to connect with some of the later post-punk acts like 23 Skidoo. I wouldn't want to conjure illusions to 'world music' though, it's too dark and weird for that. Strange to think that these delicately tinted splashes of mood and texture are created by someone who looks like a plumber. Actually, Cyrus is a plumber. That's what he does for a living. But as the sample in "Bounty" suggests, he'd really like to make music his living. By the way, I inadvertently discovered the origin of that sample whilst watching telly the other day. It's this American-Asian guy who's become some sort of minor celebrity in the States for his addiction to competing in X-factor-style talent contests, even though he's really crap at singing. Who says dubsteppers don't have a sense of humour?

Speaking of Digital Mystikz, I got to meet the shy and retiring Coki for the first time last night, as he showed up with Loefah . It's weird when you think that last Monday they were ripping it up live on Radio 1, yet here they were just hanging out in the front bar playing a few old dub tunes and chatting with the clientele. It seems that Loefah just really enjoys coming down to Dubloaded. Respect! As usual we had a little natter, but with Loefah there's always that slightly guarded element, cos he likes to keep a few things close to his chest and he knows that I'd just blab about it at the blog. I can't help it. It's part of what makes a blogger tick. We hate withholding information. We like people to know everything that we know; we believe in equal access to all information. Loefah did impart some interesting news 'off the record', but just this once I'm gonna respect his privacy and keep my mouth shut. Should be interesting if he manages to pull it off, though...

The final hour was given over to the local grime boys - my man Blazey, with young up-and-coming dj/producer Joker, fronted by MCs Shadow D, Scarface and Bugsy. Y'know, I love watching these guys at work. There's this slightly ramshackle element, as though it could all fall apart at any second. Blazey's practically tripping over himself with enthusiasm and excitement, the Joker - outwardly cool and collected - still learning his trade, trying out some of his latest beats on the crowd, the MCs, huddled together on the cramped stage, sharing one mic between them, but giving it 100%. And the beats are so raw too. Whenever I watch them it's like Grime's just been invented, really focusing on the most alien sounding extreme elements, without any of the crossover dilution that the big players keep dabbling with. It's a ruff ride, but that's how I like my Grime - pure gutta.

Dubloaded really has the potential to become the FWD>> club of the west country. DJ Pinch has got the format just right, although he may have to start thinking about a bigger venue before long. I feel incredibly lucky to be in Bristol right now. As far as I know it's still the only place outside London where you can experience Dubstep soundsystem pressure on a regular monthly basis. That's all thanks to Pinch, of course, and it's why I nominated him for 'Best Soulja' in the Dubstep awards. I'm doing my best to rep the sound on the internet, but his tireless, financially insecure crusade at street level is really inspiring. That's why I always buy him a pint of Guinness whenever I see him!

Next month's headliners: Digital Mystikz. BRRRAAAAPPPP!!!!

14 January 2006


Who's Afriad?

Just on the final chapter of Simon's book tonight, covering the whole Trevor Horn/ZTT thing, and once more I'm scurrying through the collection to listen again.

When I was at school, there was this one other kid who was into cool music. His name was (and as far as I know still is) Mark Sutton. We were best mates for several years, but then we had some big argument over something completely stupid, and we stopped speaking. I guess the last time I saw him was when I was about 18 years old. I've lived another 18 years since then. If you're out there somewhere Mark, I'd just like to say "hi", and no hard feelings, okay?

Anyway, being school kids on very limited budgets, me and Mark basically had our own 'music swaps' club. We'd take the bus into town and go record hunting together, then later exchange cassettes, so that we basically had all the same music collection. I hipped him to stuff like Cabaret Voltaire and he introduced me to things like Eno & Fripp. We'd sit around in each other's bedrooms listening to records, discussing them and even talking about getting our own project together, although we only had a Texas Instruments computer and an acoustic guitar between us! We were a group, but only in a conceptual sense, in so much as we discussed the sort of music we wanted to make, and designed the record sleeve for our first album etc, but never actually wrote or recorded a note, as far as I can remember. To be honest, I don't think we even had the faintest idea how to make any kind of music at that time. There were other, superficially cooler kids at school who were already in bands, but it was just some boys with guitars and drums thrashing about. We felt that we were superior to them at some basic intellectual/aesthetic level, even though we had nothing concrete to offer as an alternative.

One day Mark came around my house, with a big mysterious grin on his face and told me I had to listen to this new record he'd bought. I could tell from the way he was really buzzing with excitement that he'd discovered something special. Without telling me what or who it was, he loaded a cassette into my 'music centre', pressed play and waited with baited breath for my reaction. This is what came out of the speakers:


Reaction? Totally, completely blown away. Astonished. Speechless. Practically jumping out of my skin with excitement. This was the best fucking record ever in the history of human endeavour. The drum sound alone was a total mindfuck - a dirty Fairlight 'breakbeat', which I now know was lifted from an unused drum track by the prog group Yes, who Trevor Horn had been working with around that time. The snare, corrupted by the Fairlight's primitive lo-rez digital capturing process is more like a series of gated, percussive mini explosions. The bit around four minutes, where the beats get juggled, just took my breath away with it's crushing dynamic power...it was like a rhythmic Armageddon. Then in came the spluttering car ignition samples and it was just total sensory overload. Don't forget that, when "Beatbox" was first released in late '83, Kraftwerk actually aborted their "Techno Pop" album after hearing it, cos they thought it made them sound dated. For me, one of the single most intoxicating audio experiences of the '80s.

I still think it sounds great. Someone should get those drum sounds into Fruity Loops and give 'em a fresh lease of life, unless someone already has?

By the way, the above MP3 was ripped from the excellent Mantronix "That's My Beat" compilation on Soul Jazz, cos it's the best quality version I've got. My CD re-issue of the "Who's Afraid..." album sounds terrible, with really piss-poor mastering. I think I'll try and track down an original vinyl - remember, Mark bought it back then, not me!

One other thing - respect to JJ Jeczalik, Anne Dudley and Gary Langan, the creative engine room of Art Of Noise. But I'm afraid I never much cared for anything they did after the split from Trevor Horn. Sorry...

Last thing - I'm sure someone must've blogged this tune before, but fuck it.

11 January 2006


Well, Simon's "Rip It Up And Start Again" definitely deserves it's place as NME's book of the year. I've nearly finished it, but I've been taking my time. A book like this must not be rushed, it's should be savoured like a fine wine. I like the way, in his introduction, Simon readily admits that he missed the original punk explosion through a combination of his tender years and provincial location. I took a very similar approach in my 'Spirals Tribe' acid house post - I'm surprised he didn't accuse me of plagurism! I was even younger than Simon in '77 and didn't even have older siblings to hip me to punk. Funnily enough, it was my dad who got excited about it first - he connected the rebellious energy to his own rock 'n' roll epiphany in the late '50s. My mum's best mate had a son who was quite a bit older than me, and he got into punk very early on - he had the spikey hair and everything. On occasion he'd play me some very strange records, but of course I still didn't understand the significance of it all. To be honest, I've never been interested in straight ahead punk rock, and instinctively detested that whole rabble-rousing "Oi!" band agit-prop that came later. I guess it was the chart-bound synthetic aftershocks of punk that first attracted me - I can still remember the first time I saw Tubeway Army performing "Our Friends Electric?", Human League doing "Rock & Roll" and Ultravox debuting their first hit "Sleepwalk" on Top Of The Pops to this day. I also have a clear memory of hearing Depeche Mode's "New Life" on the radio for the first time, and being totally mesmerised by it. Clearly, there was something very new and strange afoot. But it wasn't until the mid-to-late '80s that I began to explore the dark underbelly of postpunk, following the clues I read in music mags, hunting down the records in secondhand shops, etc. It's hard to remember in this internet/e-bay/filesharing era, that researching and collecting older records was a major fucking task back then. Just crate digging at local stores and record fairs, I think it took me about three years to track down a copy of The Normal's seminal "T.V.O.D./Warm Leatherette" single, and it cost me about £6, which was serious money for a 7 inch back then (I could probably secure a purchase or grab the files off Soulseek in a matter of moments now), but it was always a thoroughly rewarding, if somewhat solitary, pastime.

So much amazing music came out of that whole postpunk period ('78-'84), and Simon's book has had me dusting-off old elpees and CDs that haven't been near the hi-fi for eons, as well as pricking my interest for some of the acts who's back catalogue I still haven't explored. But the main focus of Postpunk for me is it's indisputable status as the cradle of Guttertech. That unstable period directly in the wake of the original Punk explosion was a time when the more 'FWD' -thinking kids, having finally got access to some cheap technology, used that glorious window of opportunity to project a whole new set of possibilitiess, building their own future, at street level, where before electronics were almost exclusively the domain of bloated prog-rockers and state-funded academics. Of course, Kraftwerk, Moroder, Derbyshire and sundry other pioneers need to be given their dues for shaping the course of 'our' music , but the idea that electronics could liberate those without musical training, a record deal or access to expensive studios, working with total creative autonomy and spawning an actual movement, first came into existence during those heady days of the late 1970's.

Long-term readers might remember that I actually started a series on 'Post-Punk Icons' back in 2004, specifically to try to highlight some of the great Guttertech music that arose from that period. Subsequently I was swept up in a tide of exciting new music and the series never got past the first installment! I might try and pick up the thread this year, but anyone who enjoyed my post on the late, great Robert Rental should make sure to check the comments that have appeared since then, in particular the touching personal recollections from 'Fire', who actually knew Rental (or 'Rab' as he calls him) and spent time hanging-out at his home studio. There's also a comment from Dougal, hinting that a tape of Rental's 1979 home demos was in existence. For some reason I never got around to e-mailing him, but since then the tape has surfaced on Soulseek. It's a fascinating document of the time that completely lays waste to his collaborator Thomas Leer's claim that Rental preferred writing 'songs'. The demo tape is almost entirely ambient/experimental in nature, with only one track featuring a blurred vocal buried in the mix. The opening 11 minute piece sounds like early Cluster - an uncompromising dronescape that builds in intensity until it becomes a jagged wall of feedback-delay. Other pieces reveal a more melodic approach, some almost in the same space as Aphex Twin's early 'Selected Ambient Works', others putting me strangely in mind of Boards Of Canada. Perhaps it's the effect of all the tape compression and overdubbing. Don't forget that an intrinsic part of BoC's sound is the desire to replicate the particular sonic characteristics of their own early home demos. There's something about the effect of sound degradation via analogue tape that has a particular taste all of it's own. When you hear a digitally degraded low quality MP3, the effect isn't particularly pleasant, yet tape can produce a degrading effect that can actually be musically meaningful. The woozy 'lag' effect of extreme tape degradation can imbue a recording with a deep sense of historic weight, like a grainy half-remembered childhood memory. Incidentally, how much of that is down to the fact that I was a child in the '70s? Would a teenager today, who was born in, say, 1990 get the same kind of sensation? As K-Punk so eloquently illustrates in his recent post, you can't fucking replicate the seventies, maaaan. We grew up in an analogue world: the solid-state-generated signals our young minds absorbed were impure, slightly smudged and particle-flecked, and that'll always tint our perception of today's hi-gloss digital era. We know we can never return to that time and we know that nostalgia and revivalism is ultimately worthless. Visual stimuli is often curiously lacking in psychic 'punch', yet music (or perhaps I should say certain types of sound) have an almost supernatural ability to trigger 'Madeleine' flashbacks to buried feelings and sensations. No matter how fleeting and indecipherable those sensations are, any sound source that has the ability to conjure them must always be cherished.

But I digress...listening to Rental's demos is like gingerly flicking through the pages of some forgotten, yellowing, personal scrapbook. The tape hiss is admittedly pretty fierce (I wonder how many generations of copying it went through, dubbed-off and passed from one fan to another over the course of 25 years, before it was ripped?) yet the creativity and emotional impact shines through the ferric fuzz, giving us yet more proof that Rental was one of the greats of his generation.

(from "Mental Detentions" cassette, side b, track 1, 1979)

Although he only gets a brief mention in Simon's book, there is some additional unused material on Rental in the 'Postpunk Esoterica' file available at Simon's 'Rip It Up' site, though I take issue with Simon's statement that Rental's career 'dwindled'. It suggests that he floundered despite his best efforts, but as far as I can tell Rental deliberately abdicated - dropped out of the music scene to pursue some other personal destiny. One can only speculate on what might've been...

(Watch out for more postpunk guttertech classics in the coming weeks...hopefully!)

09 January 2006


A perceptive quote from the opening paragraph of chapter 21 of Simon's "Rip It Up...":

"The true sign that you're living through a golden age is the feeling that it's never going to end. There seems to be no earthly reason why it should stop. It's an illusion, of course, like the first swoony rush of falling in love. "

Taken on these terms, then 2005 was certainly part of dubstep's 'golden age', and I'm optimistic that it will continue well into '06, but if there's one thing Simon's words reveal, it's that one should never be complacent, never expect things to continue in the exciting manner that one has grown accustomed to. When you look at all the major innovative musical styles, most seem to have a peak period of roughly two years, whether it's Psychedelic Garage ('66-'67), 'New Pop' ('80-'82) , Chicago Acid ('87-'88), Bleep 'n' Bass ('89-'91) , Jungle ('93-'95), after which time it becomes stagnated by endless copyists, or worse still, attempts to legitimise itself by developing into a 'mature' sound that ends up being the 'coffee table' sound of choice for middle-class/middle management/middle-of-the-road hipsters the world over (I'm not naming names, but Bristol groups have a long history of doing exactly that, which is why, apart from certain key artists like The Pop Group and early Smith & Mighty, I've never been interested 'Bristol music' generally).

I'm not saying that a sound should remain 'gutter/ghetto' for the sake of it. Far from it! One of the greatest periods for me was when rave went overground in the early '90s - a time when groups like LFO and Orbital could have hit singles without compromising their sound one iota. Yet last year, Grime's assault on the mainstream left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't begrudge anyone wanting to be a major success, but if the music's shit then there's no excuse for such flagrant 'watering-down' of the sound. Admittedly, I don't think dubstep could operate like that even if it wanted to. Without the 'rap' element of Grime, and the 'stardom' aspirations of the grime MCs, it doesn't have the framework to even attempt to break into the urban mainstream. It would need a major change in the overall cultural climate for dubstep to gain any kind of mainstream acceptance now. Joe Public isn't interested in instrumental electronic music at the moment. But still there are small increments of acceptance, particularly when you consider the increasing support from Radio 1. Tonight sees the first Breezeblock "Dubstep Warz" show, featuring dj sets and interviews with the big players like DMZ, Kode 9, and Distance. The general support that Mary Anne Hobbs has been giving to artists like Vex'd and MonkeySteak could prove significant in the long term too. This could be the start of a huge rise in dubstep's profile throughout the coming year, which of course I applaud, but with each new level of success one must remain aesthetically vigilant. One potential area for concern could be the current mini-trend for increasing aspiration to sound like conventional dub reggae, which is interesting for the time being, but could have long-term implications for dubstep becoming legitimised within an historical framework. When the media start rationalising dubstep as 'real music', that's when the rot can start to set in. There's no reason why the innovation should stop, but please let's not have any talk of working with 'real drummers', or pin-up vocalists, or creating lavishly packaged double-concept albums. I don't wanna see dubstep turning into 'artstep' or 'popstep' just yet, okay?

02 January 2006



Bass Clef - Welcome To Echo Chamber (dub)
DJ Distance - Taipan (Boka)
Cogent - Sundayz (dub)
Mark One - Tomb Raider (Southside Dubstars)
Shackleton - Majestic Visions (Skull Disco)
L-Wiz - Girlfriend (Dub Police/Storming)
Loefah - Root (DMZ)
Search & Destroy - Mark Of The Beast (Combat Wax)
Warlock - Full Tilt (Rag & Bone)
DJ Charmzy - Banger (Black Ops/L.D. Cats)
DJ Mondie - Pull Up Dat VIP (Foot In The Door)
Mr Keys - Merkin (Southside)
Forsaken - Smerins (dub)

The second release from Skull Disco arrived on Christmas Eve - yaay!!! Another excellently presented package, with side A featuring Shackleton's "Majestic Visions", a fantastic arrangement of middle-eastern melodies and dramatic percussion revealing Sam's love of traditional Turkish and Ethiopian music, underpinned by an irresistibly lithe sub-bassline. The vinyl's beautifully mastered too - you can really feel all the extreme frequencies dancing around the audio spectrum and there's such a strong sense of space and weight- a real treat for all you soundheadz. Magnificent! Side AA is Appleblim's "Cheat I" and "Girder", both of which I've been listening to on MP3 for months, but great to hear the full sound at last. Release date for this is 15th January, but you can hear a bit of "Majestic Visions" on this month's GutterFM show, which I recorded earlier today (see below). The Skull Disco experience is coming to Bristol later this month, when Appleblim and Shackleton take over the second room at Noir (Blue Mountain club) on the 27th. I definitely intend to be there!

Other featured music includes a track from Swedish dubstepper L-Wiz, who's debut three-tracker on new Storming offshoot label Dub Police is pure quality - full of exotic, ethnodelic soundmatter and heavyweight beats 'n' bass. I tried e-mailing Storming to find out a bit more about L-Wiz and future plans for Dub Police, but no response yet. Another essential release is the new Boka 12 inch from DJ Distance, featuring "Fallen", his most overtly dubby production yet, coupled with "Taipan", which utilizes what is quickly becoming the classic Distance guttural, distorted bass-riff sound. Deadly! Then there's Mark One's latest three-tracker for Southside Dubstars. Mark's also playing Bristol this month at Ruffneck Discotek, but it looks like I'm gonna have to miss it again! Fuck!! I'm having real bad luck with the Ruffneck nights recently - they keep falling on really awkward nights for me. It's starting to really piss me off!

There's a few more exclusive, unsigned tunes featured too, kicking-off with the sublime sound of Bass Clef. This is the work of Bristol-based producer Ralph Thomas, who has previously worked under the name RLF. Ralph sent me a six-track cd-r of his latest work, including "Welcome To Echo Chamber", a wonderful slice of warped dub dynamics, plus a couple of others that are apparently coming out on New York label Sound ink in the near future. There's also the possibility of a self-released 12 inch too. Broadly working within the dubstep template, Ralph adds elements of mutant dancehall( "Nailbomb"), Amen breakage ("King Of Stokes Croft") , snatches of operatic vocals ("Opera Riddim") and sliced-up soundtracky string sections combined with minimalist bass-quiver beats on "The Pembury Riddim". Definitely one to watch out for!

Also making his GutterFM debut is Northants-based James Phelan aka Cogent, another producer who, after coming from a d'n'b background, has been slowing down the bpms and working with the rhythmic space of dubstep during the past year or so. His productions are impressively tight and structured, featuring mutated jazz horns ("Vindi"), fierce bass-distortion rollers like "Stash", plus "Sundayz" - a burnished symphony for clipped percussion, jagged bass and ambient drone that made a big impression on me when I heard ThinKing spin it at Subloaded II a while back. Obviously you won't get the same soundsystem-injected intensity from this little 64kbps mix (which you're probably streaming through crappy little PC speakers!) , but hopefully it'll give you some indication of the quality of Cogent's work. Apparently he's negotiating with a couple of labels for potential release, but nothing firm at the time of writing.

It's a welcome return for another Bristolian producer, Pete Bubonic aka Forsaken, who handed me a cd-r of his latest demos when we linked up at Dubloaded last month. Although Pete's main focus is on complex polyrhythmic percussion loops, I like it best when he gets more stripped-back and spacious, like on opener "Taiko Riddim", a seething cauldron of whiplash beats and pummeling one-note bass stabs with slivers of celestial flute, deep oriental gongs and rustic guitar figures weaving through the mix. The sound of Grime gone native. Even better is "Smerins" with it's plangent, swelling horn section (presumably sampled from, or inspired by, the Bristol-based jazz/dub/funk/ska band Smerins Anti-Social Club?! - check out their trippy, highly original dub remake of the Dr. Who theme) and moody staccato strings creating a formidably expressive soundtrack that, once it's in your head, is difficult to shake off! Surely 2006 will be Pete's breakthrough year?

I've got a whole bunch of other interesting unsigned material stockpiled at Gutter HQ, but you'll have to wait till next time to hear some of those!

some cool booksCouldn't wrap this post up without mentioning a couple more Xmas presents. I rarely buy new books, usually just second-hand things I find in charity shops, etc. But I always drop not-too-subtle hints about all the reading material I'm hoping to get in my stocking. This year I got two! Firstly, the Blissblogger in his guise as professional author and scholar Simon Reynolds brings us the essential "Rip It Up And Start Again", a detailed account of the postpunk music scene from 1978-84, which is a real page-turner. I'm gonna be writing a bit more about this when I've finished it - I'm currently halfway through chapter thirteen which looks at the San Francisco scene that revolved around groups like Factrix, Chrome and Tuxedomoon - an area of particular interest and inspiration to me. I've hardly been on the internet at all since I got this book, so don't be surprised if you don't hear anything else from me for a few more days....

I also got "The Ambient Century" by Mark Pendergast ('from Mahler to Moby - the evolution of sound in the electronic age') which was published a couple of years ago. I've barely looked at that one yet, and I expect it'll be more something to 'dip-in to' occasionally rather than reading from start to finish, but it's a useful reference book that'll look nice on the shelf next to things like David Toop's "Ocean Of Sound", Thom Holmes' "Electronic And Experimental Music" and "The A-Z Of Analogue Synthesisers" by Peter Forrest. A good music blogger needs his reference manuals!

Oh, and one more thing...thanks to all the Dubstep forum members who voted for Gutterbreakz in the end of year polls. I was amazed to come top in the Best Blog category, and get a respectable second place for Best Website too. Cheers! It's good to know that a few people out there seem to get a kick out of this blog. I was also pleased to see that Gutterbreakz just scraped into Eye Weekly's 'Top Five Music Blogs' list, after noticing that I was getting a lot of referrals from their website. That's pretty surprising when you consider how specialist this blog is. Anyway, that's my ego well and truly massaged for a while - what a great start to 2006!!