50 mins, 128kbps
Cabaret Voltaire - What Is Real (Virtual Reality Mix)
Man Machine - Man Machine (Electronik - Automatik)
F-X-U - The Scheme
Success - 808 (Tripwire)
Ubik - Non Stop Techno
Tomas - African Dream
Bass Culture - Facts Of Life (Bleeper Mix)
The Step - Yeah You (Robert's Dub 2)
Sweet Excorcist - Samba
Rhythmatic - Demons
Bassix - Close Encounters (Club Mix)
The Scientist - The Bee (Gargle Mix)
Nightmares On Wax - Sal Batardes
Unique 3 - Weight For The Bass (Original Soundyard Dubplate Mix)
Xon - Bopulate
LFO - LFO Remix
Recording a mix from this period has been on the back of my mind for ages. I just don't see much of this stuff represented anymore. Most oldskool mixes I've come across tend to focus on the hardcore milieu from '93 and beyond (in fact there's a new one up at Bloggariddims this week) but I think there's a fascinating period around 1990-91, when British techno first started to have it's own identity. Whilst London had it's proto-junglist rave scene, it was the Northern sound that I really felt drawn towards. It didn't really have a name then, but now it's generally referred to as Bleep & Bass. I've already written about this quite a bit in the past so won't dwell on definitions too much. But what I wanted was to try and capture the flavour of that time, as I remember it, through the records I bought. I also wanted to try to recreate the sort of dj mix I would've recorded at the time, as my earliest attempts at mixing were with these kind of tunes.
As with all my mixes, it was recorded entirely live, without too much forward planning, because I like to try and capture something spontaneous and emotionally-driven. No other method of mix creation holds the slightest interest for me. But obviously this approach is very hit-and-miss. I've already had several aborted attempts at recording this mix. This was the first one I even got close to achieving my aims. But the mixing is a bit wonky in places (I've heard others say that beat matching gets trickier the slower the tempo, and I think I have to agree. As an example, I've also been having fun recently mixing d'n'b from the mid-90s Metalheadz/Moving Shadow/No U-Turn period with far more accurate results). The recording levels are variable and there's some unwanted distortion here and there (trying to digitally capture these sub-heavy analogue platters is an art in itself) and I don't think it packs enough content - it should've been longer. But what there is, I'm quite happy with. Perhaps one or two tracks jar with each other, but the important thing is that it's an unusual selection, focusing mainly on b-sides, alternate mixes and '2nd Division' tracks that have been largely forgotten.
A few comments on individual tracks...
Cabaret Voltaire were a natural starting point for this mix. Afterall, they were the godfathers of the whole Northern independent electronic scene, with a legacy extending back to 1974. 'What Is Real', on Belgian indie label Le Disques Du Crepescule, was their first release after leaving EMI, and seemed like a total reaction against the more commercial material they produced for the major label. Stephen Mallinder still contributed vocals on the A-side, but it was obvious his time on the mic was nearly over. His limited vocal style was from another era. The instrumental 'Virtual Reality' mix on the flip stands-up far better. In fact, I think I was subliminally trying to achieve this sound with some of my own tracks last year. Of course, the Cabs' other member, Richard H. Kirk, was enjoying parallel success with Sweet Exorcist at this time. Their big track was 'Test One', but I thought it would be more fun to dust-off 'Samba' from the Clonk remix 12" which was the template for their 'C.C.E.P.'
Eagle-eyed trainspotters might've noticed that Man Machine's eponymous track was actually released in 1989. I guess I wanted it in there to give a bit of contrast. As I mentioned recently, it strikes me that there's a sort of gulf between the post-acid sound of the late eighties and what came next in the early nineties. Even though it points towards the future, 'Man Machine' still seems partly rooted in that hip house sound a la Coldcut, Bomb The Bass, Simon Harris, etc, full of novelty film dialogue samples and a big catchy vamp. On the flip are two alternate mixes in collaboration with The Forgemasters, which jettison most of the cheese, but I wanted to get a little taste of where we'd just been before showing where we actually were.
Ubik's 'Non-Stop Techno' was, until now, my best kept secret. From the EP of the same name, released on Zoom Records, it's head and shoulders above anything else they ever recorded during their brief career. And it's anything but techno as we knew it then. More like a minimal electro experiment, with a deadly, convulsing sub bass battling with obsessively juggled beats. That tuned 808 cowbell 'solo' slays me everytime. One of the most adventurous tracks I ever heard from that period.
Robert Gordon's 'Dub 2' was the final, most extreme and emptied-out of three versions he turned-in for The Step's 'Yeah You' remix 12", released on Warp. Experimenting with on-the-fly dub-echo fx and something like a proto-wobble bass skit, the EP as whole is one of my favourite one-riddim excursions of the period. As I've always maintained, Gordon exerted a colossal influence on this sound overall, both as a backroom engineer and through his work with Unique 3 and The Forgemasters. He's also represented here in collaboration with Richard H. Kirk, as Xon, with the track 'Bopulate', from the one-off EP they released on Network Records. A truly inspirational figure.
Although the mix focuses on the sparse drum machine programming associated with the Northern sound, I wanted to catch a glimpse of breakbeat too, and 'Close Encounters' by Bassix was an obvious choice, featuring a lovely bleep rendition of the film's classic five-note catch-phrase, over some filthy looped breaks, subby bass and sizzling 808 hi-hats. It's great, but I must say not quite in the same league as the 'Warpy' stuff in terms of mastering and bass density. Also featured is one of the lesser-known versions of 'The Bee' by The Scientist. I was very keen on the early breakbeat sound of Kickin' Records and no mix from that era would be complete, or honest, without a little touch of flava from that school.
Whether or not this is 'UK Pressure Mix version 1' or 'Part 1' remains to be seen. I don't think I'll be ready to have another go for a little while, but suspect I will get the urge to explore this era again at some point, possibly with a slightly different emphasis.