31 January 2005


I'm still umming and ahhing about how to proceed with future MP3 offerings. When it comes to back catalogue/rarities/deletions, it's all fair game as far as I'm concerned. But what about the music being made right now on the underground? How do I know for sure that I'm doing these people more good than harm? I feel pretty sure that what I'm doing is right, and will be of long-term benefit to the artists concerned. But then there's the simple matter of showing some respect. I feel like maybe I should start asking for permission, or at least gauging the artist's opinion on MP3 blogs. If they don't want me to share their track then I'm simply in the wrong, regardless of any ethical arguments. But at the same time I don't wish to get friendly with these people and start acting as an approved, unpaid promoter of their work - I pride myself on being totally independent and show no allegiance - I've given myself a roving brief to write about and share a little of what excites me, and that approach would be tainted if I started chumming-up to artists and labels. I would become biased towards them. Admittedly, the generosity of Mike Paradinas has resulted in a heavy quota of Planet Mu releases being featured recently, but Mike made it clear to me that he wasn't expecting me to become a Mu promotional outlet - he just wanted to send me some stuff that he thought I might enjoy, with no strings attached. The fact that Mike seems to trust me to share whatever I like in a responsible, conscientious manner is the perfect arrangement for me. But then, most Mu stuff I feature comes from albums, so I'm only sharing one of maybe ten tunes, and if people like it they're more likely to buy the track anyway, cos it's cheaper to buy the whole album than the other tracks individually. But what about sharing an MP3 from a vinyl EP with only two tracks on it? I'm effectively giving away half the release! AHHH, it's tying my head in knots!

Although she chose to delete it, a comment from Infinite (of Drumz Of The South fame) got me thinking, and I hope she won't mind me reinstating a bit of it here. First she says:

"I don't see anything wrong with posting short clips of tunes (such as dubplate.net), or even mixes as you suggested but not whole tracks."

Fair enough. But later she states:

"Grime and Dubstep is created using particular frequencies which really can't be felt through computer speakers, therefore, a person hearing a low-quality mp3 Grime/Dubstep track will not hear it sounding as it should, which will surely effect their decision to purchase."

Which is a perfect reason why my 192 kbps MP3s are valid. They are usable. People can transfer them to their MP3 players on burn a cd-r and play 'em out in the car or hi-fi system, or even in a club (as I have done - playing some Soulseek'd tracks from "Grime 1" through a PA a few months ago really showed me just how fucking powerful those frequencies are!). I can't say for sure whether this would, in all cases, inspire people to buy the music, I can only look to myself as an example: it was the result of several months of downloading illegal MP3s that I became totally addicted to the Grime and Dubstep sound, to the point that I'm now putting my money into it, even buying-up the stuff that I'd already gotten for free previously. So file-sharing can work, though of course it depends on the morality and circumstances of the downloaders.

Anyway, I shall continue to muse on this subject for a little while yet, but there's at least one underground artist who has given me his blessing, unbidden, and that's Kode 9 - dubstep producer, DJ, 'high grade carrier of the Hyperdub virus' and fellow blogger. Kode's take on the issue is, "I don't have a problem with you doing it to released tracks and think it helps sales to be honest. . .at the same time, if someone only wants u to do a 2 min clip then that is fair enough as well i think. .".

Then, perhaps as a sign of solidarity, Kode 9 sent me a surprise - a recent thirty-minute MP3 mix which I'm allowed to do with as I like! As you know, I hate keeping things to myself, so I'm passing it on to the good readers here at Gutterbreakz for your immanent listening pleasure. This is the first time I've hosted a file this size (29 mb at 128 kbps) so I hope everyone who wants it is able to get it. I know some people still experience timed-out downloads from my server, but as all the previous MP3 have hit their 7 day expiry date this is all I'm sharing right now (apart from a couple of my own 'Steps', which I doubt there's much demand for!) so it should be okay.

MP3: Kode 9 - Babel Mix 190105 (29 mb)


Intro 9
Virgo - Monster (white)
Digital Mystikz - Neverland (dub)
Mark One - Tomb Raider (dub)
Macabre Unit - Death by Stereo rmx (dub)
Skream - Indian Dub rmx (dub)
Plasticman & S-Man - Section 7 (dub)
Burial - South London Burroughs (dub)
D-1 - Enigma rmx (dub)
Digital Mystikz - ? (dub)
Digital Mystikz - Conference (dub)
Loefah - Monsoon rmx (dub)
Random Trio - Rampage (dub)
Digital Mystikz - Officer (dub)
Terror Danjah - Gunshot rmx (Aftershock)
Wiley - Nu Era dub (white)
Mark One - Lost Gold (dub)

As you can see, it's practically all unreleased dubs, kicking-off with some heavy-duty eastern-flavoured tunes, until Plasticman's collaboration with MC S-Man takes us into a hard, minimalist stretch, then the Digital Mystikz lead us into a righteous dubzone, ending with a blast of quality Eskibeat. Selectaaaaah!!

24 January 2005


I find the trend within Dubstep towards ethnic/eastern atmospheres somewhat curious. For such a quintessentially urban music, the desire to evoke the mood of faraway places seems almost like a cop-out; an escapist fantasy for those towerblock-dwelling inner city lifers. I like it better when it's staring reality hard in the face. But I s'pose that's easy for me to say when I'm living a fairly comfy lifestyle in a quiet little cul-de-sac where you don't have to worry too much if you forget to lock your car at night.

There's a couple of very obvious examples of this 'exotic' angle on Tempa Allstars Vol. 2. Geeneus gives us "Congo" which, with it's mellow birdsong, elephant-trumpeting atmospherics and smooth rollin', sleek production seems dangerously close to the new age blandness of Goa Trance (could Geeneus become the new Sven Vath - christ I hope not!). Far better is El-B's "Amazon", who's title might conjure similar suggestions of chilled-out fun in paradise, but actually winds the tension springs tight with pensive hair-trigger guitar licks and ominous trumpet samples that seem more in common with the ethno-industrial-funk of early '80s outfit 23 Skidoo.

MP3: El-B - Amazon

Even better is a white label I came across by Random Trio Productions (RTP001). Using similarly portentous samples of wind-instruments, I can't help but be reminded of some of Richard H. Kirk's spooked-out clarinet calls on the early Cabaret Voltaire releases. But what makes the A side "Lost City" so compelling is it's vast sense of emptiness; the way it suggests a sense of environment by very subtle use of samples over a hard, economical riddim. Sometimes less really does mean more! Of the two b-side offerings, "Shoalin" is classic 'oingy boingy' bongo-beats with a nice ethnic flute melody loop, whilst "Marachi" sails out even further into lithe, minimal drum meditation with brief wisps of impressionistic sound-matter flitting across the mix like mosquitoes. It might not be the soundtrack to my life, but this is a compelling release nontheless. Who are the mysterious Trio?

MP3: Random Trio Productions - Lost City.

You might remember that I featured another track called "Lost City" a while back, though that one was by Digital Mystikz. Whilst Random Trio's lost city might be some relic of the Incas swallowed by dense vegetation in the steamy jungle , the Mystic's is some dank, dark labyrinthian nether-world that lies beneath the city streets. It's that focus on urban environments and mythologies that appeals to me more in general. I tracked down a copy of the EP from which it came, DMZ002 (even though I already had some reasonably good MP3 copies), because it's such a crucial, definitive statement of 'where it's at' that I just felt the need to own and cherish a 'real' copy.

The other absolutely killer tune on this EP is "Horror Show", which I'm reliably informed is actually by Loefah. Paul Autonomic's latest post on Darkside Jungle exhumes an old article written by Mark K-Punk back in 1994. Excellent reading, naturally, but as Mark pointed out, Darkside 'displaces dread into celebration'; it's sheer propulsive energy transforming terror into a spine-tingling euphoria - Dread becomes an attractive state to be in. Yet Dubstep has it's own darkside that refuses to synthesis light from the darkness. At it's most severe, as on "Horror Show", the sense of trepidation remains unrelieved, the beats grind-out a slow, cancerous death-march whilst distant, pleading voices scream out in alarm or become warped intangible ghost-talk swimming in the ether. The opening sampled monologue is seriously nasty, in a calm, controlled way. "...I do not hope for a better world for anyone, in fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others" pretty much sums up this track's ouvre. There is no comfort to be found here, just unrelenting fear in the face of atrocity. How can it get any darker than this?!

MP3: Loefah - Horror Show

I also finally tracked-down a copy of the first DMZ release, also on white label (are there any copies of these releases that have proper printed labels?) featuring the Loefah's excellent "Twis Up" on the A side and two other cuts (previously unknown to me) on the flip, the second of which "Chainba Music" is a more dynamic example of dubstep's own Darkside trip. The bad-tempered snares parry and thrust as though in a marshall arts swordfight, as chilling string-sweeps do battle with spooked-out bleep riffs creating an unremitting tension.

MP3: Digital Mystikz - Chainba Music

Where is all this dark energy coming from? Jungle's descent into darkness was in part owing to the drug culture of the time, as Ecstacy/amphetamine use hit overkill levels and degenerated into paranoia. Yet as far as I'm aware the Grime and Dubstep scenes aren't driven by drugs quite so much. Is it just down to skunkweed over-indulgence, causing a Tricky-like descent into woozy dead-eyed madness? Or is it simply a true artistic expression of these artist's feelings and environments? I'd be curious to see this sort of stuff played in a club environment. How do the crowds react to these uninviting slices of anti-joy? What are the expressions on their faces like? Are they having a good time?

22 January 2005


14 Tracks/Pieces


Ed Lawes is a mate of Warp's soundsmith extroadinaire, Chris Clark. He came to the attention of Planet Mu after Clark put in a good word for him. Friends in high places, eh? Still, any accusation that "it's not what you know, it's who you know" would be unfair in this case, as Lawes appears to know an awful lot, and the things he doesn't know about probably aren't worth knowing anyway.

This album is the culmination of three years of personal research and experimentation. It's more like an audio journal than a collection of finished compositions. Most artists prefer to give you the final, fully-formed work with no explanations as to how it was constructed or arrived at. By contrast, Lawes gives us the all the bare, skeletal frameworks of sound and provides copious sleeve notes to (try to) explain how each 'piece' was arrived at. It's the sound of learning, of small but hard-won victories and minute increments of knowledge gained through trail, error, determination and inspiration. It's a quite remarkable album, really. Often bizarre. Occasionally beautiful. Never less than fascinating.

Here's a picture of Ed, stolen from the Planet Mu site:

Ed wears his art on his sleeve (notes)

He looks exactly the way I'd imagine: feverishly scribbling notes on his latest 'piece'; too wrapped-up in his own thoughts to even look up and say 'cheese' for the camera. Intense, consumed, oblivious to all around him. The thing is, Ed isn't just into electronic music and machines and all that, he's interested in the big picture - chords, harmonies, tunings, dynamics, harmonics...the very building-blocks of composition, and he'll use whatever is at hand to explore such things, whether it's a PC, a trumpet or his brother's violin with the rusty strings. Ed's trying to crack the DNA code of music. It's a process that no doubt all the truly great composers, from Bach to Brian Wilson, went through in the quest for understanding. Without his friendship with Clark, we probably wouldn't be hearing anything from Lawes for a while yet. But as it is, we're getting an advance preview of a talent in the embryonic stages of development. Maybe he'll eventually be regarded as one of the great composers of the 21st Century!

Perhaps one track/piece that encapsulates what this album is all about is "Fewer Ways/More Ways/24 v.a.ish" which starts out with some very basic trumpet noises (as though Ed had never played one before) then suddenly opening-out into a vast array of harmonic possibilities as various overdubbed notes blend and separate creating an ever-changing tonescape of 'tricky' chords. From minimal to maximal, or from 'dry' to 'wet' as Lawes prefers to refer to it. On "An Ordered Set", similarly complex harmonies are achieved with an alto clarinet. Ed goes into some detail to explain the methodology here, talking about 'minor thirds',' equal temperament' and other concepts that I have only the most tenuous grasp of...to me it just sounds like the sort of tension building incidental music you used to get in '70s American 'cops & robbers' TV shows (which is a huge compliment, by the way) . Elsewhere, we get offered everything from Clark-like digital musique concrete ("Actually Real") to jaunty trad-jazz noodling with live drums ("Four Changes On Non-Themes")

MP3: Ed Lawes - Aclear

This is a full track for you to take away and stroke your chin to for a while, chosen simply because it demonstrates Lawes' prowess with both digital and electro-acoustic forms, moving from one to the other in a.....ah, fuck it - I'll just let Ed explain it in his own words...

2003/a clear form (two distinguishable parts, one blends into the other)/ after (Chris) Clark's 'farewell track' form as I hear it/ tempo changes are used like phrases and ornamentation/ it's state is never stable/ some of the gestures are created through subliminal layers that are almost inaudible, but are 'felt' as part of the whole (listen to rumblings to offset the temporary rhythm)/ unreal and digital in the way of 'actually real' as one route to 'abstraction'/ the ending escapes into the no-man's land of micro tonality, free of the black and white separation but still wrongly (this time) framed by it, (it's traditional/cultural opposite is forever in the name 'microtonal' when it should stand for 'all', there is no 'them', only 'us' (this is not a conceptual oddity interfering with the 'purity' of music ('real, heartfelt or absolute music')

Got that? Apparently, Ed's supposed to be setting up a website where he'll be going into even more detail on his working methods, which will be nice for the downloaders, as it would be a shame to miss-out on his stream of consciousness musings.

I reckon that when Lawes begins applying all the things he's learned to fully-realised compositions/projects, the results will probably be amazing. For now, "14 Tracks/Pieces" gives us a tantalising glimpse of what is to come.

15 January 2005


Returning briefly to A Guy Called Gerald, there's an interesting section on him in "Energy Flash" where he talks about "Ghetto Technology", whereby the kids on the street can learn to override the normal functions of machines and use and abuse them for new purposes. A particularly prescient quote here:

"Kids today are frightening! I grew up with records and now I know how to manipulate them. When today's kids" - the Playstation generation, he means - "grow up, they'll know how to manipulate the visual side of it."

The Playstation Generation are here now, but they're using the games console's music-making potential to create Grime tunes! I've never tried making beats on Playstation, but I wonder if the more alien side of Grime riddims is partly due to the particular architecture of the consoles' user-interface? Like the arcane step-sequencer of the TB-303, how much does the user dictate, and how much is the result of the machine responding to input by it's own rules, bending data to fit it's own plan?

Whatever, this is music making at subsistence level. There are no luxuries; no expensive synths, no racks of outboard gear - these people use whatever they can beg, steal or borrow to make a beat. Imagine that fifteen year old kid somewhere who's just figured-out that the Playstation he got for Xmas last year can do some interesting things with audio. "Ghetto Technology" seems an apt description...but then I realised that this is exactly the way that I started making music myself and I ain't from the ghetto, although if you look at the jpeg below you'll see that I probably used to think I did!

This was taken in 1988. I'm just turned nineteen and hanging around the streets of Yate, a horrible little outpost of Bristol where I spent most of my teens (and where, somewhat improbably, Kek-W saw Ultravox play in the late '70s). Despite the leafy suburban landscape, I was probably deluding myself that I was walking through the fucking Bronx or something. Check that boombox on the shoulder! Also, notice the completely bland, casual attire. I doubt I was even wearing trainers - back then I lived in black suede brogues. Nothing about this image fits. I was clueless and deluded. But I had lots of ideas about music that I needed to get out. Having only a spanish guitar to strum on, I didn't have any resources to express my rather more futuristic ideas. Nor, at that point having not long left school, did I have any money to rectify the situation. I needed machines...badly. I needed some 'ghetto technology'. The 'ghetto' bit really doesn't relate to me at all, though. Plus, you can't shorten it to ghettotech, cos that's a style of foul-mouthed Detroit Techno. Better to call it "Guttertech" - because it's technology at the lowest entry point, and it sounds cool. Guttertech is like the Stereo MC's in their early days making drum loops by painstakingly recording the same breakbeat onto cassette using just careful pause-button editing (which I've tried - it's extremely difficult!).

My Guttertech epiphany began one Saturday afternoon, early 1988, whilst hanging-out at my friend Neil's house, where I politely inquired whether his Amstrad 8-bit computer could make 'noises'. Neil only used the computer for games, but said that yes, it could make some funny electronic beeps, and also had a drum machine program, though he'd never tried it. Naturally I immediately pressed him to switch the thing on and show me what it could do. The 'drum machine' was a primitive grid-based program featuring grainy digital approximations that were more like Pacman sound effects than drum hits. Although I'd never used any kind of drum sequencer before, within 10 minutes I'd worked-out the basic principles and set to work programming my first 'beats', which were then dubbed onto cassette. Here is, I believe, the very first one I did (I must've added the reverb at some later date):

MP3: Amstrad Riddim 1

Yes, I know it's rubbish, but at the time this was mindblowing stuff for me - my entry into electronic music! A few months later I'd scraped together enough money to buy a Casio SK-100. This was a little home keyboard offering 1.62 seconds of zero-bit sampling memory and some very basic editing/sequencing features. By today's standard's it's little more than an audio toy, but to me it was a gateway to exploring all my ideas further. I'd sit for hours in my bedroom (I still lived with my parents then) trying out all kinds of tricks, pushing the Casio's severe limitations to their limits. Here's one from that period:

MP3: Renegade Breakz

The sound quality is totally fucked partly due to the low-grade sampling rate but also because of the zero-fi recording conditions under which it was captured on tape, via the mic input of my crappy music centre. Still, I have much affection for the stuff I made during that period, which amounts to about one and a half C90's of material. I'm actually quite proud of my younger self for being so hardcore experimental, working through this process instead of just going down the pub or trying to get laid (although I was doing that too, of course) or dreaming about being a pop star, which never interested me. Believe it or not, I used to play this shit to my mates, expecting them to be amazed! I had several chums who were in bands - either Goth or left-wing Bragg-pop usually- and I actually believed that my muffled little efforts were superior to anything they were doing. Oh, to have such faith in one's self. The arrogance of youth!

Eventually, by 1992, I was ready to move up a step and purchased an Amiga 500, generally known as a popular games machine of the time but, in my hands, an all-in-one sampling/tracking solution. The Amiga was actually used by quite a few of the early Rave/Jungle producers. A Guttertech revolution! Although the Atari ST was the most popular pre-PC machine for musicians, the Amiga was actually better-suited to the task. It's Betamax-like decline was due to poor management by the manufacture (Commodore) who failed to capitalise on it's strengths. The fact that Cubase, the #1 sequencer of choice, was never made available for the Amiga platform was an one example of their lack of understanding of the user's needs. Here's one of my first attempts at a Jungle tune, from around early '94:

MP3: Make Some Fucking Noise (Junglist Mutation)

It's a long way from 'good', but I got better with practice. On a vaguely topical note, the vocal samples were lifted from a live tape of The Ruthless Rap Assassins (early '90s Mancunian equivalent of Virus Syndicate) who got a passing mention at Blissblog yesterday.

incidentally, you may have noticed that when I post my own tracks I only tend to post sketchy, speculative things (I guess it's the fear that, if I posted something that I thought was really good and people said it was shit, I'd have to face the fact that I'm a talentless twat). My early experiments with Analogue Synths was the last example, although that's not Guttertech. Those synths are actually quite expensive beasts and they are specifically designed to make music, which they do extremely well. Guttertech is about making tunes with machines that are not primarily intended for creative musical activities, or altering the architecture of cheap music equipment to perform tasks for which they were not intended, bending them to one's will (ie, 'circuit bending', early Aphex Twin keyboard modifications etc)

Over the following years my 'studio' gradually expanded, adding more Midi equipment, mixers, FX processors, compressors etc. Then, during leaner times, it contracted. Right now it's a small but usable set-up including a Minimoog, Emu sampler, Novation drumstation, Behringer mixer etc. Problem is, this past eighteen months has been my longest spell of musical 'writer's block' ever (perhaps the reason I turned to blogging - a new form of expression - or has my enthusiasm for blogging dulled my need to create music?). I've started maybe a couple of things, but finished none. Dry. Barren. Spent.

Sometimes I think I ought to go out and buy some more equipment - it's surprising how a new bit of 'kit' can kick-start a fresh creative streak. The thing is, I've been wavering with uncertainty about how I want to work in future. Up to now I've been a firm 'hardware' man. I used to scoff at PC based systems, soft-synths, VST plug-ins, etc. But for the past couple of years I've been having second thoughts on that. I've tried out a few demos, like Reason, but couldn't decide what to go for. Then I noticed that Plasticman uses just Fruityloops with a few extra plug-ins to make his beats. That totally minimal PC-based approach really appeals to me now. To go down that route would be like a Guttertech full-circle for me. From Amstrad bleeps to the modern day PC equivalent with all it's comparitively massive processing power.

Also, there's the fact that my taste has been seriously mutated by Grime, and any future tracks I concoct will inevitably be influenced by that. I actually tried doing a Grimey riddim on my hardware system recently. I was particularly interested to see what using an old analogue beast like the Moog to create those square wave riffs would sound like. I didn't like the results. The Moog sounded too warm and rounded. It seems that Grime has actually changed the way I hear to the extent that I now actually prefer those digital plug-in synth sounds!

So, as an experiment, I downloaded the demo of Fruityloops to have a play with it and see how I got on. I've only had a couple of hours with it, but I'm already starting to get my head 'round a few basic principles. My laptop doesn't have a MIDI connection, so I can't connect a keyboard to it, which is good for the time being, because I won't be able to fall-back on my usual 'playing style' when inputting notes. It's all mouse-work for now. Actually working with this program, learning how the step-sequencer functions and what the standard synth plug-ins are capable of, I'm starting to understand why Grime sounds like it does. Fruityloops makes things sound Grimey naturally (or am I steering it in that direction?...I can't tell who's in control yet - me or the machine). I reckon this is why Grime is totally Guttertech - it wouldn't sound right if you tried making it in a 'proper' studio - it needs to be created on these cheaper software applications to sound authentic.

The Fruityloops demo is fully-functional, but you can't save your work, so basically once you exit the program, everything you've been working on is lost. So for now my experiments are confined to single, never-to-be-repeated compositions. Luckily you can export to MP3, so I've decided to keep an online diary of the pieces of music that I create on Fruityloops. Here's the first one:

MP3: Step One

This is real 'baby steps' stuff. I've only figured out a few basics so far and the main thing I was exploring here was making riffs with the '3 Osc synthesiser' plug-in, which I still haven't learned to control properly yet. My expectation is that, by about "Step Twenty" I'll be making tracks that might pass as half-decent Grime and by about "Step Fifty" (if I get that far) I'll be in a position to do something interesting. Maybe at some point I'll be convinced that this is the right way for me to go and I'll buy the full version of FL, which will enable me to work on pieces over longer periods of time, which will hopefully improve the quality of the end result. And then I'll sell the old studio!

The Guttertech adventure resumes....

UPDATE #1 (21/01/05)

Been fucking about with Fruityloops in several short, sharp spurts in the last 48 hours, resulting in three more 'pieces'. The first one is just me exploring the FX section, working out how to apply treatments to individual sounds. So all it is is two kick drum patterns - one distorted, the other flanged, with a reverberated handclap. This is the first session where I really missed not being able to save it for further exploration, as I was starting to get some melodic ideas in my head, but then I had to go somewhere and so that was the end of it. I'm getting quite itchy to buy the full version now...

MP3: Step Three

Next one is in a similar vien, though here I was figuring out how to add in a sample from a WAV file. It's just a random drumloop from an old Future Music cover disc, but then I processed it beyond recognition and added some beats under it. I seem to be falling into old habits with the drum programming - very minimal Techie stuff. I'll get back on course soon, I hope.

MP3: Step Four

Lastly, here's the one I finished about half an hour ago. Basically just going over some of the ideas in the previous two, but adding some synth sounds as well. Started experimenting with the compressor and EQ modules - just applying them to the whole mix - though I think my ears were getting tired and I might've overdone it a bit. Still, it does make the track come 'alive' somewhat. The best thing so far, by miles.

MP3: Step Five

UPDATE #2 (27/01/05)

My Fruityloops voyage is now at that stage where it's all technical experimentation - fiddling around for ages trying out various functions and seeing what happens. I'm learning more with every session, but I was starting to question the validity of posting all the results here, because I didn't think they were worthy of anyone's time. I made "Step-Six" on the weekend, but when I played it back next day it just sounded rubbish. The first couple of Steps were quite amusing because it was just about making a little tune and having some fun, but now the focus has moved away from tunes and towards production techniques, so the music isn't very interesting because it's only there as a framework for me to apply effects to. Therefore trying to present it as a 'track' is a bit pointless, because there's nothing there that even I would consider appealing. Also, having to cobble together a final mix before ending the session will never produce good results. As any other recording artist (at any level) will know, mixing is something that needs plenty of care and attention to. I would always devote an entire session just to mixing, with fresh ears, then play the results back over the following days through various speakers/conditions, then go back and make further adjustments as necessary. Without the facility to save work and trying to do it all in one go, having already strained your ears creating the track, is doomed to failure. To compound the problem, with "Step Six" I was trying to push the bass frequencies a bit harder, and mixing subby bass tracks is the most tricky task of all. Without professional monitoring it's a real trial and error thing that can take ages to get right. Still, for what it's worth, here's the track:

MP3: Step Six

So anyway, I was all ready to announce that the Fruityloops diary was cancelled, but then I had a session last night, resulting in "Step Seven", which I really liked when I played it back this morning! Like Steps Three and Four, it's a very short piece that doesn't even pretend to be a track; more like a weird little jingle. The starting point here, like the last three Steps, was using a drum loop WAV file and applying various effects to it. I found out how to make it flicker across the stereo field, doppler-style, which I think is a really wicked effect. This was also the first piece where I had a go at making my own WAV sample, my source being a cassette of rehearsal room outtakes that my friend Aaron sent me recently. I just took a little excited 'yelp', then applied eq and filters to remove the background music. The results sound like a rip-off of the first track on AFX's "Analogue Bubblebath 4", but I like the way I've added a personal touch by bringing in an obscure soundbite from the analogue world and placing it into this digital one. I think I'll start making a few more of my own WAV's in future...

MP3: Step Seven

One other point is that I'm now seriously missing a proper keyboard for inputting notes. I have a perfectly good controller keyboard collecting dust in my old 'hardware' studio, but without a MIDI interface for my laptop it's no use whatsoever. Still, I'm hoping I can just ride out the pain on that one, because I definitely wanted to avoid falling back on my usual playing style and get away from all those favourite chord sequences, etc. And besides, why use an ancient, traditional piano keyboard interface for making futuristic electronica? Way back in the mid-'60s, when Don Buchla was constructing his first modular synth prototypes, he deliberately chose not to include conventional keyboards or even standard chromatic scales in most designs, because he felt that there were more interesting controller/tuning options that could be used. His only rival at that time, Bob Moog, opted for the conventional route and consequently reaped the rewards whilst Buchla remains an obscure figure. I could write a huge post on this subject...maybe one day.

Finally, I was really pleased to note that some of you out there have felt inspired to download Fruityloops too. This is exactly what I hoped would happen. Guttertech is so sophisticated and accessible now that anyone with half a mind, and half an idea, can install a music studio on their PC/Mac. I'd be interested to hear how others are getting on with FL. Feel free to send me a link to your tunes - I'm curious to see how, using the same software, the influence of different (human) users will change the emphasis/nature of the resulting music. I'd also be interested to hear tracks from anyone using different Gutterapps like Reason, Audiomulch etc. If you don't have the facility to upload MP3s onto the Web, e-mail them to me and I'll host them for you here....

UPDATE #4: THE FINAL STEP...(02/02/05)

Although I hadn't intended to commit to Fruity Loops yet, I spotted an unlicensed copy of the full 'Producer's Edition' on sale at Amazon from a private vendor, for a mere 25 quid (rrp is about £89) and couldn't resist the bargain. This is now installed on my laptop and enables me to save my projects at last! The final piece done with the demo version was last Saturday night. Having drunk a couple of cans of Stella, I was feeling like making some really messed-up shit, but only managed a brief, aggressive thing, using just three different synth parts, and piling on the fx and distortion, until the sound started to break-up, and then just easing off the throttle slightly until the sound was coherent again. It sounded pretty good to my lager-enhanced ears at the time, though something was definitely lost during the process of compressing to MP3. Although it hardly seems worth it, for the sake of completeness, here it is:

MP3: Step Eight

So now I can get down to some 'serious' stuff. Although I don't intend to post regular updates with half-finished demos and such, I will probably share a few things if I think they sound half-decent, and any track that I consider to be finished will definitely be posted - as an MP3 blogger who shares out other people's music, I feel morally obliged to give away all my own work too, regardless of whether anyone actually wants to hear it!

But will any of my tracks ever really be 'finished'? The thing about using hardware studios is that, no matter how much midi data can be stored, there are always things that need to be set-up by hand - signals need to be psychically routed through a patchbay, settings on non-memory analogue synths need to be adjusted manually and so on. This tends to make you want to finish a piece of music before moving on to the next, so that you don't have to remember how you had everything set-up from before. But with a soft-studio, everything can be re-called exactly as you left it - you don't have the hassle of reconfiguring your studio. Therefore you can easily be working on several tunes at the same time, and when you get stuck for ideas with one track you can just move onto another and come back days, or weeks, later to fiddle around with the earlier track. A hobbyist like myself, with no contractual obligations or need to earn money from it, could conceivably keep tinkering forever, making an MP3 when a track has reached a certain level, then playing it back on iPod for a while, or forgetting about it for ages and then returning to it with fresh ears, and a fresh perspective, at a later date. Music in a constant state of flux...

11 January 2005



He's been there since the start, since the first tentative attempts by UK artists to emulate and expand on the possibilities of electronic dance muzik emanating from the US. When Manchester-based jazz/soulboy Gerald Simpson (inspired by the Acid House sound from Chicago) hooked-up with Martin Price and ex-Biting Tongues member Graham Massey (a couple of white indie-funk lads) to form 808 State, they were plotting a course through uncharted waters that would have a far-reaching effect on the development of electronic music in the UK and beyond. When their first album "Newbuild" (Creed Records, 1988) hit the streets, it took the Acid template to new heights of otherness and proved that Brits could produce convincing underground dance music to rival their illustrious American cousins. Let's not forget that, for young Richard D. James and his chums down in deepest Cornwall (where American imports were no doubt a bit thin on the ground), "Newbuild" was The Mindphuk. So much so that Rephlex would many years later re-issue the album on CD and deluxe 3-disc vinyl in tribute (buy it here). The album remains a dazzlingly hypnotic collection of TB-303 Acid workouts, particularly "Flow Coma", which hit levels of lysergic intensity beyond anything that had yet been heard (and yes, that includes "Acid Trax"!). As Graham Massey later remarked:

'We knew we were copying American music, but often what we heard on Acid Trax compilations and dance imports didn't hit the mark. The charm of a decent Acid record didn't necessarily happen every time. There was maybe one in ten that really rocked, and it was almost accidental that a track was successful. The formula was there, and we knew that we weren't coming up with anything new when we started to make Acid records. It was more the urge to take it over the edge and do that transcending thing with it.'

Indeed, "Compulsion", with it's incessant call to "release your body" is the audio equivalent of brainwashing - a mind-wiping cyclic beat lock-down from which there is no possible escape. Elsewhere, the cold, synthetic sweeping drones of "Narcossa" reveals a darker, distinctly European take on the Acid blueprint that was a personal revelation at the time.

MP3: 808 State - Narcossa

"Newbuild" was the culmination of several months of experimentation by 808 State, and a collection of earlier recordings and live performances was released by Rephlex last year. Entitled "Prebuild", it reveals the creative process that Simpson, Massey and Price went through on their voyage of discovery. As Gerald explains at his website:

"I'd already been on a journey through classic dance, jazz dance, contemporary dance. I'd cut my teeth listening to artists like Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Al di Meola and later on moved into listening to what we called 'street soul' - like SOS Band and then hip hop/electro. I think Graham was coming from more an indie side of things so he understood more of what we called at the time 'student music'. We were learning from each other all the time - it was really educational for me working with people that were from different areas of music than I was used to because I was so engrossed in my own musical roots, there's so much of it from contemporary jazz to UK dub soundsystems that I never really took notice of indie or pop music."

"Prebuild" tracks like "Ride" seem like an almost too perfect example of Massey's white avant-funk sensibilities colliding with Simpson's black electro-soul background. The rudimentary slap bass seems typical of the type of experimental funk that had been brewing in the North from acts like A Certain Ratio, Hula and Cabaret Voltaire. Factor in Gerald's tuff latin-flavoured drum patterns for a curious hybrid of street 'authenticity' and artschool appropriation. Elsewhere, the lo-fi, tape-hiss encrusted recordings like "Johnny Cab", featuring Massey's thin, piercing synth-pop melodies could almost be an early Human League demo from ten years earlier, until Gerald's pumping House beat kicks-in to remind us that this is actually 1988. "Cosacosa" starts out as an early draft of "Flow Coma", seemingly captured at the moment of creation on a portable cassette deck; the layer of muddied tape compression strangely adding an extra element of authenticity and historical importance.

MP3: 808 State - Cosacosa

Perhaps best of all is the final 15-minute live freakout called "Thermo Kings", which was actually the first thing they ever recorded together. An Acidic odyssey, it's like a UK version of "Let's Go" the seminal meeting of minds that occurred when Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson first recorded together (as X-Ray) with an extended (and apparently drunken) jam that cemented their partnership as the Holy Trinity of Detroit Techno. God, I wish I'd been there to see it happen! As a document of their transition from Indie/Funk to House/Techno, "Prebuild" is unparalleled. In fact, the very existence of 808 State at that time was unparalleled. I can't think of any other act to emerge from the late '80s 'Madchester' scene that was truly innovating, so totally in the now, without recourse to traditional rock/pop sensibilities. Buy "Prebuild" here.

Another interesting artifact released by Rephlex recently is the "Acid House Mixes" of two New Order tracks, although perhaps the term 'remix' is inaccurate. These mixes of "Blue Monday" and "Confusion" sound more like acidic cover versions; their only relation to the originals being the squelchy recreation of the basslines under what are otherwise typically hypnotic 808 State jams of the period, which were never intended for release at the time, but provide an interesting link to their fellow Mancunion forebears; one of the few acts to successfully incorporate Kraftwerk and early electro influences into their sound. Buy it here.

MP3: New Order - Confusion (Acid Mix by 808 State)

The partnership was not to last. For a detailed account of the circumstances that led to Gerald leaving 808 State, check this recent interview with Graham Massey, brought to you by those nice people at The Milk Factory. Now working alone as A Guy Called Gerald, Simpson would quickly establish himself by releasing what must surely be one of the undisputed classics of UK dance culture, "Voodoo Ray". Recorded with extremely basic equipment (the track was supposed to be called "Voodoo Rage", but Gerald's pea-brained little sampler didn't have enough memory) it would go on to chart at #12 and seemingly set him up to become the first home-grown superstar of House. Almost at the same time, Massey and Price hit the charts with "Pacific State ", a track that Gerald had actually contributed to before parting company, but which he would not receive credit for for some time.

Having established themselves with hit singles, both Gerald and 808 State had to follow that up with albums. Perhaps dictated by their respective record deals, 808 seemed to have the most potential, no doubt helped by having a supportive backer on Trevor Horn's ZTT Records, and Massey and Co. flourished over the following years. Certainly the "Ninety" album very much impressed me at the time and led to a period of hero worship whereby I saw them live every chance I got and even got Price and 'guest star' MC Tunes to sign the back of my beige jacket, which I displayed with pride for some time (until I had to wash it!).

By contrast, Gerald's career seemed to falter from this point. His first long-player, "Hot Lemonade" (Rham, 1988) failed to consolidate on his hit single success and received mixed reactions from the critics. Perhaps the heavy quota of relentless jams was a little hard for those expecting a 'pop record' to take. Listening back now, I think it's generally a good record. The title track seems to try a little too hard, but when Gerald keeps things simple and direct it's makes for a satisfying ( if somewhat nostalgic) listen today. In fact, a track like "Rhythm Of Life" retains an elegance and economy of expression that still greatly appeals to me. That combination of hard electronic beats with smooth, melodic, soulful synth textures remains an eternally inspiring design classic that just doesn't date in my world. Right now, my favourite track is "Tranquility On Phobos", which starts with a bubbling latin-acid groove and is soon augmented by a beautiful wash of effervescent melody which is so delightful that Gerald seems compelled to scat a few 'doo doo da doos' over the top. Pure joy.

MP3: A Guy Called Gerald - Tranquility On Phobos

Although his subsequent deal with CBS/Sony must've seemed like a shrewd career move, in fact the follow-up album "Automanikk" was something of a disaster. From the cover alone, where Gerald looks like he's been groomed for pop-star appeal, you could sense that this wasn't going to be a great record. It's always horrible when talented, creative artists get chewed-up and spat-out by the industry, and this collection of half-cooked commercial dance tracks is a prime of example of A&R interference at it's worst, made all the more annoying by the fact that Gerald's best work from that time remains unreleased and squandered. FYI, I haven't heard this album for many years (it was purged from my collection a long time ago) so my opinion is based on vague memories. If anyone out there thinks I'm being too hard on it, please feel free to state your case!

Thankfully, the unhappy experiences with a major label didn't dim Gerald's spirit and by the early nineties, after being introduced to it by Goldie, he found fresh inspiration in the still-developing underground Jungle scene. Over the next few years Gerald released a steady stream of twelve inches on his own Juicebox label, culminating with one of the first albums to emerge from the ambient/artcore D'n'B axis, "Black Secret Technology" (Juice Box, 1995). It's a beautiful record, better than Goldie's "Timeless" overall, and once again Gerald's star seemed to be on the ascent. But for some reason things went off the boil again and I finally lost track of his career.

I sometimes wonder what might have been if Gerald had had the opportunity to develop the purer electronic sound of his earlier work. The potential locked in some of those "Hot Lemonade" tracks seemed unfulfilled, but Gerald's apparent commitment to breakbeat/D'n'B ensured that it would remain that way. So imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that his new 'comeback' EP on !K7 appears to return to the adventure that fizzled-out fifteen years ago. Called "First Try", the EP is a taster for Gerald's new album which comes out at the end of this month. Having listened to the clips and read the blurb, I was eager to hear the whole thing, but after patiently waiting in vain for !K7 to add the EP at Bleep, or even release it on CD, I ended up buying the twelve inch (once you start, you can't stop!) even though I assume that all four tracks will appear on the album in due course.

It's a curious release....it's what I imagine Gerald would've sounded like in about 1995, if he'd gone down the Neo-Detroit/Technophunk route. The gorgeous title track puts me in mind of some of the soulful techno that Dave Angel released on his Rotation imprint around that time, featuring warm synth pads and bubbling, watery arpeggios underpinned by a deep, subby bassline. It doesn't sound influenced by current trends at all. The lack of vocals is also unusual - one of Gerald's trademarks is to integrate vocal hooks (often female) into his tracks, but here he let's the machines do all the talking. Despite having been in the business so long, "First Try" seems an apt title, as though Gerald has finally allowed himself to try to express complex emotions through pure electronics alone. Second track "Meaning" shifts into contemplative mode, with somber melodies floating over a limpid electro landscape that recalls the elegant beauty of early Autechre (think side 2 of "Incunabula").

MP3: A Guy Called Gerald - Meaning

The appropriately titled "Pump" features the kind of straight-ahead 909 drum programming that I assumed had been abandoned by 'serious' artists years ago, including the ubiquitous open hi-hat locked on the off-beat and those tasty 909 snare/crash fills, augmented by sparse metallic percussion and jittery bloops 'n' bleeps. It ought to sound moronic by today's standards, yet in Gerald's capable hands it feels just perfect. Final track "Tajeen" is an irresistible blend of choppy sequencer riffs, jazz bass, portentous strings and busy 808 patterns that could almost be a Model 500 track circa "Deep Space".

If this is indeed the sound of Gerald investigating lost opportunities from the past, it's also a timely reminder to all that there was so much beauty in the '93-'95 Techno/Detroit/Intelligent scene that needs to be re-explored and even built upon. As hinted in my previous post, a return to melody, harmony, atmosphere and textural lushness could be another valid direction for IDM's future - a shift of emphasis away from the information-overload and dynamic complexity of glitchy drill'n'paste and towards a spacious zone where direct emotional expression can flourish again. A place where we can be 'dancing with tears in our eyes' once more. As a road map to such a future, "First Try" is the perfect starting-point.

07 January 2005


Well it had to happen eventually. My craving for more full-length grimey dubstep tunes has driven me to start buying vinyl again. Frustrated by the almost total lack of legal download sources and weary of the often fruitless searching on Soulseek, I ordered a bunch of twelve-inchers from Blackmarket just after Xmas. My interest in the music emerging from the Sarf London underground began early last year and coincided with getting an iPod and making the decision to 'go virtual' with my music listening/collecting habits. Therefore I didn't actually own any physical items from this scene. This didn't (and still doesn't) concern me - a new format for a new form of music seems quite satisfying. Yet when the postman arrived with a package full of 'real' vinyl it was quite a strange sensation to actually touch and examine these audio documents that I'd been so tantalized by. To finally hold a genuine Terrorhythm release in my hands! Wow! It brings an added sense of reality when these slices of streetwise urban culture invade my safe little suburban home. I've yet to place them anywhere near the rest of my vinyl collection for fear that they might start bullying and intimidating the poor old things.

To be honest, I'd been hoping that some enterprising MP3 blogger might have started cornering the market for dubstep downloads, but it hasn't happened. Sure, there's plenty of links to DJ mixes, but I want the full versions too! So I've taken it upon myself to start buying the music from the source, making my own amateur digital copies and spreading them around the 'Net. I feel good about this because (a) I'm now giving some much-needed financial support to the artists and labels involved and (b) I'm spreading the message to anyone who'll listen in the hope that more people will switch-on to the Fwd/Croydon/Dubstep sound (or whatever else they decide to call it) and enable it to continue to develop and flourish. There's plenty of other bloggers bringing you news and opinions on the East London 'proper' Grime scene (and hopefully Silverdollarcircle will make good on his promise to transform into an MP3 blog soon) so I've decided to concentrate on the Dubstep side of things from now on, and specifically the tracks and the people producing them rather than the events/gossip, which I feel is more in keeping with the pro-IDM/electronica slant that this blog takes. Speaking of which....

Interesting to note that Blissblogger, despite having become a full-time 'rap-fan' and his feeling that "IDM is so washed up and beyond-marginal at this point it hardly seems worth giving a kicking!", is actually still keen on the old 'intelligent' vanguard:

"personally i'm actually kind of longing for a revival of first-wave IDM-izm before it was even called "IDM", ie the early Aphex and Global Communication etc stuff. When in fact it was at its most bleached, in terms of sonic negritude. The big shift there, back in 92/93, was away from rhythm/texture/noise to melody/texture/harmony...."

Well, I'll certainly second that longing. My recent B12/FUSE post was just the beginning of what will hopefully be an ongoing series looking at some of the most interesting relics of that era.

In a separate e-mail to me, (which I hope he won't mind me partially reproducing) Simon expands further:"the general sense i've gotten (about IDM) is of a running out of ideas, the turning of the ideas they do have into a fairly conservative post-autechre/drill'n'bass/boards of canada tradition, and where it's not based in that, then it's leeching off more vibrant and often 'street' scenes (as with the Shockout/Shitmat type thing, which is great fun but as i say not exactly breaking new ground). i wonder how long before there's an IDM twist on grime, it's already so avant and fucked up sounding i'm not sure what they could add."

Personally, I think that some of the stuff coming out under the dubstep/fwd banner is doing that already. Listen to an act like Vex'd and you can tell there's an added depth of sophistication in the production - sure, tracks like "Lion" or "Pop Pop" feature tuff streetwise beats, but it's the added textural dimension that really sets them apart and makes me think that this is an early sign of IDM reinventing/revitalizing itself by absorbing some of Grime's more urgent energy. I could be completely wrong on this, as I have no idea what influences drive Vex'd or what their background is, it's just my own personal feeling.

MP3: Vex'd - Canyon

This is the flip of their first release and it's fantastic. That hard, accurate rhythm reminds me of nothing less than the early Aphex Twin EPs/remixes - note the almost total lack of tricky fills/glitches; this is a return to hypnotic/repetitive beats without falling back on any of the cliches of techno/electro/house. Then there's that powerful lo-end pressure that recalls the fetishistic sub-sonics of Bleep'n'Bass. With just a little more added melodic/harmonic interest this could easily win-over those yearning for a return to electronica that bypasses the pulverised post-drill'n'bass rhythmic abstraction that has dominated for maybe a little too long. Listen to clips of all four tracks released so far at the Subtext site. Buy the "Canyon/Pop Pop" EP from Blackmarket here, whilst the scarcer "Lion/Ghost" EP is back in stock at Dubplate. It looks like "Lion" will be included on the forthcoming album on Planet Mu, the artistic success of which will be crucial to how things develop. If they can come up with a satisfying long-player that appeals to both the underground and the 'intelligent/home listening' market then it could set-off a chain-reaction that'll spread like wildfire through the IDM scene. If you think of 2004 as being the equivalent of 1991, then this year will be a transitional period before we move towards the more album-orientated era that commenced in 1993. One problem though: back in '91, LFO's first single went Top 20. There's nobody in the dubstep scene who's even close to that level of success yet. Without a sizable audience to give it momentum, dubstep's future is still uncertain. It may never break-out of the underground nor have the financial support to expand into the album market, which would be a real shame when there's artists out there who I'm sure could make great albums if given the opportunity.

Take Plasticman, for instance. Some of my recent thoughts, and a few MP3s, can be found here at The Idiot's Guide. He's produced some the hardest tunes so far, though the "Value Beats EP" is a bit less intense than some of the others like "Cha" or "Venom". 'A' side "Be There Or Be Square" is a typically minimal, functional workout which, as I said previously, seems to be more like an 'Eskibeat' track with the distinctive percussion sounds, and of course those irresistible squarewave riffs. However, flipside "Aqua Riddim" is as close to actual dubstep as Plasticman gets. A haunted, downtempo groove with occasional spurts of echo - then notice that simple yet effective two-note melody that comes in at 2m10s, adding an additional element of interest that, if developed further, could easily fit into my future IDM fantasy. In both mood and title, this track could almost be Drexciya, if they'd come out of the UKG scene rather than Detroit Techno.

MP3: Plasticman - Aqua Riddim

On a purely cosmetic level, I like the cheeky appropriation of Tesco's 'Value Range' into the record label design. For the benifit of overseas readers, Tesco is a supermarket chain here in the UK, who's own-brand budget range uses this particular blue and white stripe design. I wonder if Terrorhythm asked for permission?! Shame they didn't extend the 'value' concept to the actual price of the 12 inch - £1.49 would've been nice! Buy the EP here.

The one artist to emerge who has actually had the luxury of releasing his own album is Mark One. "One Way" was one of the biggest long-player thrills for me last year, and although it was Rephlex which was the first of the big electronic labels to release Dubstep artists (with the "Grime" compilations), credit must go to Planet Mu for having the vision and courage to sign-up Mark and now Vex'd. Returning to the point I made in the Plasticman post concerning my feeling that the music coming from the South of England was currently more interesting than that from the North, it should be noted that Mark One is actually from Sheffield, a fact that I find particularly satisfying, as this confirms my belief that the Steel City is still a potential hotbed of talent. Although originally a drum and bass producer, I recognise a much more extended lineage in his work - the cold, unforgiving aura that "One Way" emanates like radioactive asphalt is nothing less than the true heir to the original raw eruption of sound that first spewed from Sheffield's industrial wastelands thirty-odd years ago. With the added verbal menace of 'Gunchester' MC crew Virus Syndicate, this is the real voice of Northern electronica today. If you don't believe me, check K-Punk's reaction to the album in his end of year round-up (it actually took a gentle nudge from me to get Mark K-P to listen to the album, but he reacted to it in just the way I thought he would) :

"It needed someone outside the capital to synthesize the East and South London Grime sounds. The Billingsgate verbal frenzy of the East and the depopulated post-nuclear Croydon ring road of the South have been met in Manchester, on a ‘Dance’ music LP that, gratifyingly, is compulsive over its full length, The album actually outstrips the potential displayed on the MarkOne tracks from Rephlex’s brilliant Grime comp. It leers and lurches with a controlled synthetic menace, as much a continuation of the curtailed anti-tradition of North English electronica as it is a phase in the devolution of Garage."

This view is also held and expanded on by Kek-W in this excellent post that puts into words all the vague notions about Grime's relationship to the original Sheffield pioneers and urban paranoia that had been fermenting in my own mind. Interestingly, this appears to have captured Blissblogger's imagination!

If that wasn't enough, Mark One has produced a new full-vocal album with Virus Syndicate, which will be released on Planet Mu by the summer. I'm extremely priveliged to have been sent an advance cd-r of the album (well, most of it anyway - there's still a couple more tracks to add) and it's fucking amazing. Obviously, it's nothing to do with IDM - this is a dark, twisted, possibly a little bit evil Northern twist on the 'Bashment' Grime sound. It's gonna freak people out! Mike Paradinas has understandably asked me not to share any of this material yet and, as the release date is still some months away, I'm gonna wait for a while before I say any more about it. It's quite an odd position for me to be in though...having access to something that'll be sending shockwaves through the scene some time ahead is almost like being able to see into the future. For now, let's look at one of Mark's instrumental releases, the excellent "Get Busy" EP.

The title track is obviously the crowd-puller, betraying Mark's d'n'b roots with a strong 'breaks' vibe in the riddim, but it's the b-side tunes that once again have the strongest appeal for me. "Space Hopper" features a merciless 808-handclap/cowbell onslaught and full-bodied resonant ravey riffs that proves to be a "Forward Riddim" for electronica headz. Compared to the "One Way" material, this sounds like Mark letting his hair down and having some fun which, when the results are as intoxicating as this, is just fine with me.

MP3: Mark One - Space Hopper

The other b-side tune, "Can't Touch Dis", opens with the sort of intro you used to get on old Sweet Exorcist 'clonk' tracks, before bounding into a straight techno four-four beat with bulbous bass warbles and bleepy noises (is this what they mean by a 'straight-snare' track?). Again, this feels like a 1991 tune and I reckon there's a lot of potential for Mark to develop a purely instrumental project that could work as IDM, or 'spirit of '93' intelligent, if you prefer. Buy this EP here.

Of course, all this talk of Dubstep transforming the face of IDM could all be nonsense, but as Blissblogger wrote recently:"IDM doesn't describe a genre, it describes a type of person, partially determined by class, really.... someone who prizes individuality rather than the crowd". I am, ultimately, exactly the type of person that Simon describes...so if I like Dubstep there's no reason why all the other IDM nerds out there won't get into it too! And if IDM isn't actually a specific type of sound, more a way of looking at things, then it can sound like anything it wants to.

04 January 2005


Here's a little bit of fun for all you Suicide fans out there, who might remember that back in September I mentioned a Tribute CD-R made by myself and other members of the Revega Yahoo Group . Well, thanks to fellow contributor Terminus B's efforts, the contents of that project are now available to download here.

To give you an overview of the contents, below is the 'review' I wrote and posted at the group back last March, with direct links to the relevant tracks added:

Well, after all the talking and planning it's finally arrived: the
Revega group's own tribute CD-R. I can hardly believe I'm actually
holding this baby in my hand after so many false-starts and delays.
On behalf of all those involved I'd like to say a big thanks to
Stefen for putting this thing together. But was it worth it? I'd
say definitely!

As an object, it looks great. Jef's cover design looks beautiful
printed on the glossy card insert. The rear cover packs all the
necessary info in a clear, uncluttered design.

Although I had some reservations about Stefen's proposed running-
order, I think he got it right. It flows well, with the first half
being all the uptempo 'accessible' vocal-based tracks, followed by
the more cerebral noise-based tracks and then into more chilled-out
instrumentals....with a big surprise at the end (more later)

Although the collection kicks-off with a version of that much-
covered Suicide standard 'Ghost Rider', it's nice to see that the
majority of tunes are from the less-covered areas of Suicide's
catalogue, with several Rev & Vega solo tracks too.

The opening triad of tracks from our Canadian contributors are
great. Chernobyl Cha-Cha's 'Ghostrider' sets the scene nicely,
adhering to the Suicide aesthetic, but adding live rhythm guitar.
Jef L.'s update of 'Space Blue Bambo' wipes away the murky grime of
the original, transforming it into a bleepy synthpop stomper. Putra
Deluxe's version of 'Chewy Chewy' might actually be an improvement
on the original! Minimal electro with an excellent vocal from
Marlene, who sounds very sexy.

The next three tracks are by me. It's not really my place to
comment on the quality of my own work, but I will say I think I just
about acquitted myself in such vibrant company. Bear in mind that
only one of these tracks, the noise-improv. version of
Rev's 'Nineteen 86', was recorded specifically for this project.
The others were earlier pieces which I made purely for my own
amusement. 'Yours Tonight' is a reversal of the creative process
employed by Jef L, as it takes a modern 'digital' track and attempts
to re-interpret it in the style of 'The First Rehearsal Tapes'.
Very lo-fi, with all the music in one channel and the whispered,
reverb-soaked vocals in the other, recorded on a cassette four-track
with just an ancient drum machine and battered Farfisa organ for
maximum authenticity. The other track, a cover of 'Girl', was one
that I actually forget I'd made, until I came across it whilst
sorting through a bunch of CD-Rs a few months ago. It's really just
me playing around with a Roland MC-303 groovebox with some one-take
vocal and Farfisa overdubs. I'm gratified that Stefen thought it
was worthy of inclusion.

Next up, Alberto from Spain with an excellent version of
Vega's 'Love Cry'. The arrangements are very similar to the
original, but when Alberto adds his trademark distorted vocals and
nagging microphonic feedback, it takes the track into new
nightmarish realms.

Then three tracks from Stefen that explore Rev's early-mid '80's
solo work, kicking off with a functional, droning version 'Parade'.
Stefen's cover of 'Mari' is perhaps the most impressive. He
forsakes the adrenalin rush of the original for a mid-tempo 'ballad'
style that accentuates the romantic mood that Rev was no doubt
trying to convey. It's like an end-of-the-evening smoocher for
lovestruck electropunks. Then his version of 'Whisper' messes with
structure and time-signiture to the point that it's barely
recogisable as the track that would become Suicide's 'Surrender'.
Curious yet sublime...

But then we finish with a version of 'Rain Of Ruin' by our Tazmanian
representative Martin Blackwell, under his fabulous 'Elvis Christ'
alias. This has to be heard to be believed. It's more like a
bootleg mix, using pause-button edits to steal chunks of Suicide's
original track, over which Martin sings like a fucking madman. Add
in some crazy sound effects and glitchy edits of Vega joining him on
vocals and you've got a really wild track. It's very lo-fi but for
me it's the most subversive, avant garde track of the lot. I get
the impression Martin made this track with almost no equipment, but
the the sense of urgency and commitment really speaks to me.

So there you have it. A success! Stefen has sent me some spare
copies of the artwork and I'll be sending copies to a few of my
regular contacts at the Revega group. Anyone else interested in
obtaining a copy, e-mail me. But this is a very limited release, so
no promises....

Now seems as good a time as ever to mention that Suicide's third and fourth albums will be re-issued by Blast First at the end of this month, both with additional discs of unreleased concert recordings. 1988's "A Way Of Life" is well worth your time if you haven't heard it before, although I never much cared for 1992's "Why Be Blue". Despite the press-releases attempt to big it up, I still find this a weak, uninspiring blotch on Suicide's otherwise exemplary recorded legacy. According to someone at the Revega group who's heard an advance copy, Martin Rev has remastered it with lot's of additional signal processing and extreme fx, though the results are a bit patchy, apparently. I'm sort of curious to hear what Martin's done with it, although the thought of re-buying an album I already own and dislike is a bit of a hurdle for me, I'm afraid. I'd be interested to hear any other opinions on the album...maybe the 20 Jazz Funk Greats lads might get into it and inspire me to reassess?

One final note: check Loki's Martin Rev post at the Idiot's Guide....