25 June 2007
Speaking of metal packaging, what about the Metalheadz 'Metal Boxset', a limited edition package issued in 1997. It's a film canister-style tin, very much similar in concept to (and maybe even inspired by...?) PIL's "Metal Box". Pry it open and you're instantly hit by a strong smell of vinyl, as the five 12" platters within are all sheathed in clear circular heavy-duty plastic covers, cushioned at the bottom by a layer of foam. There's also a little booklet, featuring lots of arty portraits of the artists and a short introductory note from label-head Goldie. His assertion that the Metalheadz roster were 'on top of the breakbeat game' was entirely accurate, though to be honest the whole thing does reek of self-congratulatory excess, a world away from the underground economy of white labels and dubplates that most of these artists emerged from just a few years earlier. Goldie always struck me as a rather ostentatious chap, so it's very much in character. But modestly he chose not to include any of his own work as Rufige Kru, and there's a real sense of pride and pleasure in the achievements of his compatriots which still shines through ten years on. Plus it's a collector's wet dream.
A nice thing to have, then, though I recall at the time being a little deflated by the musical content. The previous year's 'Platinum Breakz' collection blew my head off, and remains a quintessential document of the era, but much of the material here failed to elevate my mind to similar heights. It might just be that my interest in Drum 'n Bass as a whole was waning by that point, but then again I never really played it that much - it was always too much bother to extract the records from the tin - so perhaps didn't give it enough time to sink in. It was also stylistically confusing, featuring several cross-generic excursions (hip hop, funk and the dreaded specter of jazz) which might've dulled it's impact, though listening now, it's actually quite intriguing to hear Ed Rush experimenting with slower tempos and spongy double bass figures on "Westway". But I still don't get much joy from the nasty Techstep onslaught of "Sabotage" or Optical's "Shape Of the Future Remix". The contributions from stalwarts Photek, Dillinja and Lemon D are okay, but still not moving me to any great extent (where the previous year I thought Dillinja could do no wrong), but the opening assault from Digital, "Far Out", is classic Metalheadz with it's restless, convoluted breaks, paranoid atmospherics and ominous waves of sub bass pressure. But it's those non-D'n'B excursions that really surprise me now, like Hidden Agenda's "Big Lamp" - an improbable slice of phat disco-funk, that sounds more like something from the French 'Super Discount' scene (I admit I have only a passing knowledge of their work, so don't know if they explored this avenue further) .
But if I had to pick a favourite cut, it would have to be "Desist Da Black" by Dollis Hill (aka 4 Hero's Dego - this alias named after the London location of Reinforced Records) which is kinda like Detroity electrofunk with duelling 808 and 909 beats - perhaps a continuation of some of the ideas from his Jacob's Optical Stairway project. It has a hint of jazz flava, but rather than the usual cool-blue tinkling Fender Rhodes licks, the melodies are played with almost cheesy analogue synth sounds, harking back to the '70s Afro-futurism of Funkadelic's Bernie Worrell or Herbie Hancock at his synthetic best. It seems completely out of place on a Metalheadz record, but credit to Goldie for nurturing such diversity (though oddly, when Goldie himself made music outside the d'n'b style, the results were usually rubbish!).