28 June 2007

SPIRIT OF '97

After listening to the Metalheadz box again, it got me skimming through other d'n'b records of the period and not really getting much excitement from it all...perhaps it was little wonder that my brief love-affair with the genre was on the wane. The overriding sense I get is that d'n'b was determined to become sophisticated and highly polished, musical is the most conventional sense of the word, lifting endless jazz-inflected soundbytes (Rhodes piano, saxophone, smooth quasi-orchestral harmonies) and a general receding of ambition in terms of breakbeat manipulation and sampledelic science. True, there was some darker edged stuff coming through in Techstep and Neurofunk, but that wasn't a sound I found personally appealing. In fact, for me some of the most interesting d'n'b ideas from the period came from acts outside of the scene. And I'm not talking about the Squarepusher/AFX/Plug axis (though there were some cool records there too), but from the alternative Rock/Pop spectrum. Perhaps that was the last time that 'black' dance music sounds were embraced and incorporated into 'white' rock music, to any meaningful degree.

So you had formally acoustic Everything But The Girl playing with breakbeats on "Walking Wounded" in the Top 40, but also the more esoteric Stereolab adding a subtle d'n'b undercurrent on tracks like "Parsec", from their breakaway album Dots And Loops. Fascinating to hear that retro sixties-flavoured French sci-fi pop underscored by hyperactive filtered breaks. The album was partially recorded in Chicago with John McIntire, who was also experimenting with d'nb dynamics with his art-rock ensemble Tortoise. The track "Jetty" from their TNT album was seemingly a deliberate juxtaposition of programmed beat trickery and live performance - about three minutes in the track morphs from electronica into live instrumentation so artfully that you can barely see the join.

A much more overt clash of d'n'b with retro-pop came from the all-but-forgotten Mono, who's album Formica Blues made brief waves in '97. Mono were a duo, combining the breathy vocals of Siobhan De Mare with the studio-suss of Martin Virgo. On "Life In Mono", they combined a love of John Barry soundtracks with dub bass and elegantly sculpted breaks to create, what is for me, one of the landmark crossover tunes of the period, although "The Outsider" was hard on it's heels with a rhythm track clearly indebted to the ruffer end of the Junglist spectrum. At the time, I assumed that Mono would do for D'n'B what Portishead did for hip hop - and be fucking huge! - but as far as I know they disappeared soon after the album was released.

There was also a general sense that dance and rock were still on talking terms. Remember Noel Gallagher contributing some skewed guitar to Goldie's "Temper Temper". I can't imagine, say, Arctic Monkeys guesting on a Loefah record today. Of course, Noel also contributed vocals for Chemical Brothers' "Setting Sun", and besides most of those producers in the Big Beat scene (the other big breakbeat movement of the period) came from backgrounds in rock/pop groups anyway. As other, far more astute commentators than myself have already noted, Black and White music have never seemed as segregated as they are now, barring the odd renegade collectives like Various Production. Having spent the last few days wandering through 1997, I wonder if that's such a good thing.

14 comments:

  1. Ah, but didn't Dizzee appear w/ Arctic Monkeys...?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good point, well made. Ignore me, I'm just making shit up...

    ReplyDelete
  3. No, your point about gulf between white/black pop-culture still stands, Nick...white indie culture takes/steals less from 'black' music these days than in any point I can ever remember, tho both relentlessly pursuing urban 'authenticity' albeit in totally dif. ways...

    ReplyDelete
  4. simon3:02 PM

    good point about that stereolab track - i was coming definitely coming from an indie-rock background around that time and it was partly the fact that The 'Lab appeared to picking up d'n'b influences got me listening ... now here I am carting home Shackleton 12s from Eastern Bloc and downloading Burial!

    ReplyDelete
  5. simon3:13 PM

    actually, having just posted that I've remembered one from MUCH earlier - Lawrence namechecks Ravesignal 3 on a Denim album in 1992 ... a generation of indie kids discover CJ Bolland

    ReplyDelete
  6. yes, well there was a dialogue between indie and dance going back to early acid/rave, and before that between post punk and funk, and before that 60s R'n'B etc (generally with the flow of influence moving from black to white). it just struck me that d'n'b was the last time cutting edge 'nuum stuff was being readily assimilated by white indie/rock. as far as i'm aware, 2 Step/UKG/grime/dubstep has been very segregated, barring the odd open-minded individuals, like the above mentioned Dizzie.

    ReplyDelete
  7. For "open-minded" read "demographic-expanding"...he's been cany enough to reach out to a wider market than some of his contempories...white/black dislogue reaches back to Rag-Time and beyond, initially as sanitised versions of pre-Rock Black culture...I think in the States in the mid-1800s wasn't there a middle-class white-folks craze at one point for negro spiritual...?

    ReplyDelete
  8. simon9:22 PM

    i think a lot of people are drawing lines between dubstep and the whole 'hauntology' scene but that's far from mainstream ....
    ... take your point about Dizzie's "commercial sense" kek-w, but there are similarities between his thing and the Arctic Monkeys. Having said that he appeared to get a distinctly lukewarm reaction for his guest spot during their Glastonbury set. At least judging from the TV coverage.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "distinctly lukewarm reaction... "

    LOL!

    I missed it, to be honest, as the A. Monkeys tend to get a "distinctly lukewarm reaction" themselves in our household...plus was pretty much Glasto'd out by 10pm fri evening - Amy Winehouse, Killers, Arcade Fire, etc, etc...I felt a stange NME-induced torpor descend on me...

    ReplyDelete
  10. confused by yr article

    in your opinion, is dubstep 'white' or 'black'?

    ReplyDelete
  11. dubstep? well obviously its white, but desperately wanting to be black.

    lol

    ReplyDelete
  12. sure is.

    hold tight Ras Tarquin and Bamber-gascoigne-klaat

    ReplyDelete
  13. funnily enuf, just come accross this today, not really feelin it, cos I not exactly a big fan of that linkin park sound but...

    http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=192924185

    oh, and while i think of it, doesnt mr hudson count as a grime/rock crossover, or am i just sayin that cos he white an got a floppy fringe? cant say i ever listened to more than a few seconds of it so not really sure

    ReplyDelete
  14. dunno why half the link is missing, sorry, but anyway, if u wanting a bit of that US rock/grime crossover then they called Two Down and they come from croydon

    ReplyDelete