30 June 2007


Nice to see the Ruffnek Discotek open for business again last night, relocated at one of my favourite venues, The Croft (the original home of Dubloaded). Also my final chance for some serious nicotine action before the smoking ban comes in to force tomorrow. Yep, for the benefit of overseas readers, I must point out that yet another blow has been struck against the civil liberties of the English people: no more smoking fags (or any other combustible substance!) in enclosed public places after this weekend. I'm more or less given up anyway, and am used to smoking outside at home ever since we had kids, but still I like a smoke with my Guinness when I go down the pub. And why not? I'm a grown-up - I should have the right to choose, right? Down with the nanny state!!!

But I digress...it was nice to see Atki2 teaming-up with freestyle MC Renee Silver once more (see above). Young Renee's verbal skillz is still ill - her improvised 'oral sex' rap (my suggestion!) hit the spot nicely, thankyouverymuch. Atki2's brand new 2 Step refix of Peverelist's "Roll With The Punches" was a surprise musical highlight.

It was a pleasure to see Plastician in action again - it's been a while. His set was all big wobbly bassline bizness, not much Grime, which was surprising. Nice to hear a Jakes tune in there. But who was the MC? No one seemed to know. Without doubt he was the most relaxed MC I've seen for a while, spending much of the night just rocking back on his heels with a big grin on his face. Reckon he'd smoked a bit too much of the funny stuff beforehand. Apparently Plastician's debut album is finally due in about four weeks. Yeah right, I'll believe it when I see it...

Missed Joker's set due to chronic exhaustion. The baby's been a bit ill recently and I've not been getting enough sleep. So it goes. Anyway, some pics...

Atki2 and Renee Silver


It was a busy night - the crowd was hyped! Raaaahh!!

Ruffnek Maffia: Krys Forensics and Tim Dub Boy

My hero! Gutter with the mighty Peverelist

Watch out girls, the Dub Zombies are behind you!!

L-R: Gutter, Pete (Forsaken) and Henry (Heatwave, Dubstudio)

Nice to see Pete getting props in Blackdown's latest Pitchfork column, which in turn led to a Forsaken thread on Dissensus. I met Henry's mum, who proudly stated that she got him into reggae when he was still in the womb. Now that's hardcore. Additional shouts: Doppleganger, Thinking, Sally, Komanazmuk, Wedge, Chris, Adam Kidkut, Adam Smokering...

28 June 2007


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.

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!).

24 June 2007


Earlier this evening I was studying the fetishistic imagery over at Hard Format, and in particular Colin's mouthwatering collection of Chain Reaction compact discs, photographed in such detail and clarity you feel like reaching out and touching them. I'm a little jealous because I don't have them myself, though I do have a modest selection of the label's 12" output, but this is one of those instances where the CD catalogue is cosmetically superior to the vinyl, which is nearly always packaged in plain beige or black sleeves with their trademark battleship grey label art. Chain Reaction is/was a subsidiary of the Basic Channel empire, which, from 1995 - 2003, released a steady stream of product inspired by the original sonic blueprint created by Moritz Von Oswald & Mark Ernestus. Perhaps it is an indication of their generosity of spirit that Oswald and Ernestus chose to create the label specifically to release the music of their disciples, and it's output far outstrips that of the original host label. I'm not sure if the imprint is currently dead or dormant, but most of the 'first wave' imitators (Substance, Vainqueur, Monolake, Torsten Pröfrock, etc) have since carved out careers of almost equally legendary status in the field of minimal/dub techno.

But there was a second wave of producers who's names don't trip off the tongue quite so regularly, some of whom seem to have disappeared off the map (unless of course they release so anonymously that no one even realises they're still active). One of the most prolific of the latter-period Chain Reaction artists was Konstantinos Soublis aka Fluxion. Tracks like "Haitus"(from CR-24, 1999) saw him galloping headlong into the abyss - the monumental repetition and magnetically slow pace of development creating a thunderous calm. Devoid of nearly all dynamic gear changes the rhythm becomes a still-life to be contemplated for it's subtle details. It's quite strange that this track should sound quite current in 2007. Not enough time has elapsed for it to have attained a certain retro charm, but that seems to be part of the Basic Channel equation: the music is so hermetic and inner-focused that it transcends fashion.

Not all releases slavishly adhered to the original blueprint. A particular favourite of mine is "The Red Line" by Shinichi Atobe, which revels in an endless cascade of sweet melodic ennui; an uncomplicated expression of emotion that most artists on the label would rarely allow themselves to indulge in. As far as I can tell, the EP from which this track comes (CR-34, 2001) remains the sole release from this mysterious artist. Other acts, like Hallucinator, experimented with various tempos and patterns outside the standard 4/4 mindset. A track like "Waterline", from the labels' final 12" release (CR-35, 2003) is a gorgeous slice of meditative dubtronica, but it's doubtful it'd ever crop up in a techno mix due to it's languid, tripped-out groove.

Although most of these second wave producers don't seem to inspire the same level of reverence that Oswold and Ernestus enjoy, I still think there's plenty of wonderful music to be found nestling in the Chain Reaction catalogue. Perhaps now would be a good time for a full-scale re-issue program. Having many gaps to fill in my collection, I'd certainly welcome such a move.

23 June 2007

Eternal thanks and respect to the mighty Doppelganger for my new blog header/logo thingy (see above). Dave Nodz eat yer heart out. I hope he's not gonna charge me a fee for his services though...

22 June 2007


As reported in The Guardian*, 7" singles are enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity recently. Of course, for some people, especially reggae obsessives, the format never went away - symbolic of the rich heritage of the Jamaican soundsystems, the humble 7" strikes a cultural chord that connects people from all walks of life. But what is significant here is that it's Indie/Rock groups like The White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys who are shifting big units right now. The share of the overall market is still minuscule, but despite the onslaught of download formats, the fact that 7" sales are on the increase does seem to defy logic. With cassettes already virtually extinct and CDs taking a hammering, why should this archaic format from the previous century still cling to life? With 12", you have that unbeatable warmth, bass-response and tactile ease of manipulation (when mixing) which digital has yet to fully achieve, so it's understandable that it remains the format of choice for many dance music lovers and djs, but why would your typical rock fan turn to the 7" in this day and age? Surely not for the fidelity alone? Maybe it's just because they look cute. I think they look pretty cute, myself. If nothing else, the 7" single is a design classic. And although it's hardly an antidote to file-sharing, it does at least slow the process down a little and may encourage the consumer to invest in an original, collectible edition.

It's a 'hard format' that can still inspire. I very rarely get excited when someone sends me an e-mail link to some promo MP3s they want me to review. Often I don't even bother to check the tunes. But every now and then the postman will turn up with a surprise 7" package and my attention is instantly captured. Last week I received not one, but two 7" singles from those nice people at Automation Records, all the way from Seattle in the US of A (see pic, above). Up to now, this little indie label has primarily released on CD format, but these are their first 7" products, sheathed in good quality card covers with full-colour artwork, proper white inner-bags and the whole package protected in a clear plastic outer-sleeve. It probably ain't gonna do much for the environment, but gosh don't they look lovely!

In terms of the actual music contained within, the first one is a split EP, with side 1 featuring three tracks from electro-mosh-punksters Abiku. I reviewed their album last year, and in truth not much has changed stylistically, although I will say that they work better in this format as a short, sharp dose of adrenalin. Side 2 is a couple of tracks from Kid Camaro, which veer closer to my orbit with pastoral 8-bit melodies over fidgety breakbeats. The sub-junglist contortions of "Dusk" hark back to the almost twee homespun drill 'n bass experiments of Aphex Twin circa "Hangable Autobulb", but with more of a vintage eighties computer game vibe. I wouldn't say I was seduced, but definitely charmed by it's advances.

The second EP, from Red Squirrels, is less easy to categorise. I guess it could be loosely allied to the latest 'Noise' movement currently bubbling under in the States (Wire readers will know what I'm on about) featuring several short impressionistic pieces, assembled from a patchwork of scrambled voices, muffled atmospherics, crumpled percussive loops and glancing instrumental moments. However, the opening track, called "The Painting", is a disarmingly direct song built soley from an almost painfully overdriven bluesy guitar riff with a strong guest vocal from Nichole. Go figure. The Squirrels have a Myspace page, if you want to make friends with them.

I must say I've enjoyed taking this latest little peek into the underbelly of American 'outsider' music, though if I'd been sent these over the 'net as MP3s, it's quite possible I would never have bothered listening to them. And cd-r promos could never match the tangible delights of these well-packaged 7" vinyl gifts. Perhaps it's a shallow thing to admit, but I felt inclined to like these records before I'd even heard a note, and that's got to be due to the format and presentation. Always judge a book by it's cover, right..?

* Guardian link spotted via this Dissensus thread.

17 June 2007


Hurrah! Resourceful Mrs. Gutter managed to find me a copy of Simon's 'Bring The Noise' in time for Father's Day (the chocolates and 'Best Dad Ever' mug were also gratefully received from my lovely children...not that they really gave a shit, but what the hell). I shall begin devouring it (the book that is, I've already started on the chocolate) very shortly, but thought I'd just say a few words in praise of another music book I've just finished, called "White Bicycles - Making Music In The 1960's" by Joe Boyd. The title is of course lifted from "My White Bicycle", the debut single by psychedelic group Tomorrow, the lyrics of which were inspired by the antics of a Dutch anarchist group (more info on all that over at Wikipedia). Although Tomorrow and Dutch anarchist groups don't really figure much in the book, it's worth remembering that the band were regular performers at one of the UK's most legendary underground clubs, the UFO, which Boyd curated in partnership with John Hopkins in 1966-67. The whole British psychedelic counter-culture was essentially born from that club - both Pink Floyd and Soft Machine were regular attractions (and don't forget that Boyd also produced the Floyd's first single, "Arnold Lane"). Of course it all went mainstream and sour very quickly, but Boyd's first hand account of that exciting period is fascinating. There's also some poignant observations of the decline of Syd Barret and, later on, the brilliance and tragedy of Nick Drake's brief life (again, remember that Boyd managed and produced Drake - quite badly, it seems!), plus the antics of The Incredible String Band (favourites of Boards Of Canada) and Sandy Denny/Fairport Convention. Boyd's tone is conversational and informative throughout...he really has lived such a wonderful, if occasionally precarious life, traveling all over the world, meeting and working with so many people who helped to shape the musical climate during that period. If there's one accusation I'd level at him, it's that he's a terrible name-dropper!

On the surface it might seem that Joe Boyd lived and worked in a time that has little significance to the sort of things I write about here, but in truth I've been an admirer of the man and many of the artists he worked with for some time. It took me a while to get into some of the British folk-rock groups, but as Boyd points out, us Brits are the only nation who are embarrassed by their own folk music, so I had a mountain of prejudice to climb! He has some very forthright opinions about what's wrong with music and culture today, and frankly there's an awful lot I agree with. In particular, his disdain for the scourge of digital/sampling technology holds a lot of water. If I was making 'real' music today, I'd want to work with people who knew about microphone placement and the subtleties of particular acoustic spaces, using analogue 16 track tape and avoiding 'Direct Injection' recording. But the thing I like about true electronic music is the way that artists can imagine and create their own imaginary acoustics and tone colours...a place where things like equalisation, reverbs, echoes and other sound processors are part of the creative process rather than a quick means of spicing-up dull instrumental sounds. I guess that, on paper, me and Joe are as far apart in terms of age and aesthetics as it's possible to get, but I like to think that we're both hardcore muthafuckaz in our chosen paths.

Available at Amazon, in case anyone's interested.

13 June 2007


I'm posting this one in case there's the remotest chance that someone, somewhere will be even vaguely curious to know the significance of the record I'm holding in this picture on my Facebook* page. It's no biggie, really. But let's take a trip back to 1977: The first Star Wars movie was the box office sensation of the year and I was a nerdy little kid fixated on sci-fi and music. So when I saw the promotional video for Space's hit single "Magic Fly" on TOTP, I was naturally captivated. Here was a group who wore astronaut suits so you couldn't see their faces, playing strange-looking keyboards on a spooky instrumental disco cut. Thanks to the wonders of Youtube, we can all watch that promo again. I've had the 7" single (in the generic pink Pye Records paper sleeve) for ever, but never got the more attractive-looking album. As an 8 year-old, my pocket money wasn't sufficient to go buying elpee records, especially when most of it was already being spent on Marvel Comics. I can't say I've ever really yearned for the album in adult life - I've never consciously searched for it in the crates or e-bay. But I guess I always knew it would be mine eventually and last week, during my regular trawls through the local charity shops, I finally came across a copy for 49p.

As an aside, I should just expand on the whole charity shop thing. Shopping around these places is a thankless task these days. It's very rare to find anything of true monetary or artistic value, but I just like the randomness of shopping this way. I find things that I never even knew I wanted, often these are records that are connected to my past, that didn't seem important at the time, but now resonate as beacons from times and places that can never be returned to. Sometimes it's just the sleeve designs that attract me. Sometimes there's a weird synchronicity aspect , as with my recent Vangelis scoop. I don't know where it's all leading, but I'm enjoying the journey.

But back to Space. After 30 years, the album is finally mine. The sleeve is a bit battered, but I don't mind that. I like sleeves that look 'lived-in'. Interestingly it says 'Original Version'. Why? Was there ever an unoriginal version? The record itself, as predicted, is not an overlooked masterpiece. In truth 'Magic Fly' is the only great tune on there. The opener 'Fasten Seat Belt' has the same throbbing bass sequencer as the hit, but, as with nearly all the other tracks, it's ruined by the over-elaborated arrangements. Clearly, Space were a bunch of crack French session musicians who knew their chops and set out to prove it, with lots of fiddly Clavinet riffs, piano embellishments and big flashy solos. There's a couple of nice percussive breakdowns, especially on 'Tango In Space', where they add a bit of phasing on the drums, but anyone hoping that this might be a missing link to Daft Punk or Air would probably be disappointed. If the record predicts anything, it's the jazz-lite cocktail disco of Bill Sharpe's Shakatak in the following decade. It's not all disco-tempo: there's a couple of slow ballads, including one called - get this - 'Velvet Rape'. I quite like the final track 'Carry On, Turn Me On', but mainly for the energetic performance by the uncredited female vocalist, who makes a few of those Donna Summer-like 'orgasm' noises towards the end. You can clearly hear that there's an edit around 6m10s, as though the producer decided her gasps and moans were getting a little too raunchy and spliced-out the offending section of tape.

The great thing about the track 'Magic Fly' was that it was so fucking cold, constructed of the most basic essential elements without falling back on flashy but ultimately meaningless musicianship. Even the drummer managed to restrain himself from adding any fancy little para diddles and played the beat like a human metronome. Truly, that track had 'space'. I can't say it spooks me like it did back in the day, but a lot of musical water has passed under the bridge since then. Whatever the shortcomings of the rest of the album, I'm still pleased with my purchase. Now I'm going to file it on that part of the shelf where all the records I only play once every 5-10 years go.

* I really haven't got a fucking clue why I set up a Facebook page. Basically I got invited by a Famous Dubstep Artist without knowing anything about it, but now it seems to be catching on like rabies. I've heard it described as a cross between Myspace and Friends Reunited, but I can't imagine anyone of my age group being on there, so I very much doubt I'll be linking-up with any old school pals through this. It's time's like this I really feel the generation gap. I mean, what's the fucking point of it all? Mind you, I did manage to track down Jack, the guy who took all those excellent photos for me last year. Nice to know he's doing alright up in Nottingham now. I guess I'll hang around there for a while and see if anything interesting happens...

11 June 2007

Oh my days, Paul Autonomic bottles the zeitgeist with his latest Bloggariddims podcast. I haven't even heard it yet (it's on the download as I type this) but most of these tunes have been on my turntables too over the past few months, so I can vouch for the quality. And of course, Paul is a true artisan of the digital mixscape. Don't miss this one - essential!!!

10 June 2007


(image taken from unofficial B.A.D. fan site)

A little while back my learned colleague Loki posed the question (in an uncharacterically timid fashion) "is it okay to like Big Audio Dynamite again?". Funnily enough the same query had been circulating in my own mind for some time before that.

I never bought a B.A.D. record in my life. Back when I was in school, us impoverished kids of the analogue age 'file-shared' by borrowing each other's vinyl records and taping them. My mate Neil was the big B.A.D fan, so I just borrowed all the records off him and recorded onto good ol' C-90s. Mind you, I did buy a B.A.D baseball cap, so they got a little royalty there. Actually, that was my first ever baseball cap. Come to think of it, nobody in the UK was wearing those phat wide-brimmed baseball caps until B.A.D came along. Like much of their music, their image was partially borrowed from across the water - the burgeoning U.S. hip hop culture that was gradually seeping into the conscience of British youth in the mid-eighties. I used to get funny looks from people when wearing that baseball cap, seriously.

So B.A.D. borrowed their image and some beats and some sampling techniques from hip hop and married it with some proper song-craft. So what? Well, it was quite a big deal for a group from London to do that in 1985. So Malcolm McClaren got there first with 'Buffalo Gals', but that seemed like a bit of a one-off novelty experiment. B.A.D seemed to have a more serious, commited outlook to building a new kind of pop language. Previously, as a member of The Clash, Jones had helped to make reggae and dub elements acceptable within the framework of white punk-pop, and now, in collaboration with Don Letts, he was siphoning off some creative energy from this new type of black music, and it sounded pretty fucking fresh to my ears at the time.

The fist album was called "This Is Big Audio Dynamite". The opening song was called "Medicine Show". Jones' wordy but clever lyrics and occasional bursts of twangy guitar were augmented by big clunky drum machine beats and a dizzying array of sampled found-sounds and film dialogue that culminated in a spaghetti-western riot of strafing machine gun fire. It was jaw-droppingly original and laugh-out-load funny and a bit silly and technically ham-fisted and really, really exciting. If the rest of the album wasn't quite as good, it certainly wasn't too far off, especially "A Party" - with it's skanky digidub elements and introducing Don Letts' gonzo stream-of-conscience (tongue)twisted vocal style. As I recall, the critics loved the album, seemingly against their will. Joe Strummer's "Cut The Crap" (with the cut-price Clash line-up) had been mauled by the press, and I think they really wanted Jones' project to fail, too. But they couldn't help but love the record. It had a lot of guts, imagination and charm. It even had a hit single - the anthemic sing-along "E=MC2".

When the group reconvened for the second album, "No.10 Upping Street", Jones had made-up his differences with Strummer, who sat in the co-producer's chair. The results were maybe a bit more aggressive, a bit dirtier, a little bit more focused, and I reckon the best collection they ever put together. The rabble-rousing opener (and first single) "C'mon Every Beatbox" was another killer. Listening back now, the way they mixed that track was so clever, with the guitars pushed back in the mix and the drums and samples really blasting in the foreground; you get that airless hip-hop punch but with a subtle rock'n'roll undercurrent that simultaneously acknowledges their roots and their future, although what Eddie Cochran would've made of it all is another matter entirely. Then it's straight into "Beyond The Pale", a ragged pro-immigration protest song propelled by chunky 8-bit Fairlight beats. It's worth noting what a visionary drummer Greg Roberts was - hardly any tracks from this period sounded like natural live drums. I guess it was a mixture of programmed beats and Greg's live bangs, crashes and fills, triggering sampled percussion and fx, which definitely helped to create some unusually fluid riddims that would've been beyond the capabilities of most machines at that time. On 'Hollywood Boulevard' he concocts a tight latin-flavoured 808 House groove, which was remarkably prescient for 1986, when House had barely entered the British conscience. Best of all was final track "Sightsee M.C.!", with the gritty 8-bit kick-snare pattern emphasing the halfstep and flurries of double time percussive clatter rattling over the top. Dangerous riddim....

It took the group over a year to produce the difficult third album. In truth, their days as a potent force of change within mainstream music were already over. Acid House was on the agenda and a whole new era was about to begin, whilst B.A.D seemed to be erasing all the innovative sonic aspects of their sound and focusing on the more traditional songwriting aspect, combined with a more natural 'live band' sound. But still, I have a deep, enduring affection for "Tighten Up Vol.88". It's effortless, effervescent arrangements and joyous sing-along pop tunes never fail to bring a smile to my face. They sound like a band at full strength, overflowing with confidence and melodic and lyrical ideas. I'd be hard-pressed to think of another twelve-track album of that era that sounds so cohesive and consistent. All they did was drop most of the dance beats and sample-science. But without that futuroid aspect, it was inevitable that they would fall from critical grace. But I still maintain that "The Battle Of All Saints Road", with it's apocryphal storyline, subtle digi-dub undertow and 'dueling banjos' interlude is one of the best songs they ever produced. And of course the coda was Don Lett's finest hour as a vocalist.

Me and B.A.D finally parted company, on fairly amicable terms, after "Megatop Pheonix", which although bringing back a little of the technological imperative, seemed a bit too cluttered, forced and contrived for my tastes. Or maybe it was just that my head was in a different place by then. Whatever, it was the last B.A.D record I ever heard. But I did finally get to see them live around that time, at the now defunct Studio nightclub on Frogmore Street, Bristol. All I can really remember about that is how fucking knackered Mick Jones looked. His scrawny, pneumonia-ravaged frame seemingly sagging under the weight of his guitar. But still, it was a nice way to bring our relationship to a gentle close.

But back to the initial question: is it okay to like Big Audio Dynamite? I dunno. Go ask Reynolds or somebody. I think one of the problems with a group like that was their impurity. They were a crossbreed mish-mash of black and white, mainstream and alternative, tradition and futurism. They were never underground or hardcore, and they were often vaguely tongue-in-cheek. Maybe if they'd split early on, those first couple of albums would be regarded as seminal, but by allowing their career to peter out into inconsequentiality, they did irreparable damage to their legacy. That's the nature of the game, unfortunately. But for a couple of years in the bland mid-eighties they brought some exciting ideas to the pop landscape and paved the way for an awful lot cool stuff that came after. I'm glad they were there.

You should be able to find most of these records easily enough for pennies on the second hand market. Some of the 12" mixes are worth hearing, too. Alternatively, most of the back-catalogue can be located in rudimentary CD re-issue format. And there's a few bits on iTunes as well.

07 June 2007

Well it was an unbelievably stupid thing to say, but was Big Brother contestant Emily really being racist when she blurted out the 'N-word'? This young lady, from my hometown Bristol (in fact, she's actually from my 'hood, a little suburb called Downend, not that I know her or anything) has been kicked-off the show in the worst possible circumstances. I hope it doesn't fuck up her life too much. But why did she say it? Surely no-one would knowingly make racist remarks knowing it was live on the telly and in the wake of the whole Jade Goody/Shilpa Shetty fiasco. With the N-word, context is everything, and I think that this is just an example of a white person using it in a clumsy, inappropriate way, rather than a deliberately offensive one. I think younger people of her generation perhaps don't fully understand the stigma attached to the word -it's so prevalent in music and films these days - whereas I can still remember as a kid all the casual racist nicknames, comments and jokes made by whites. Political correctness in the eighties helped to stamp a lot of that out. But black culture, particularly hip-hop vernacular, very successfully upended the meaning of the n-word, to a degree that is possibly unhealthy. In an ideal world, everyone should just stop saying it, but as long as it remains a so-say streetwise term in the black community, young white kids will always try to emulate what they hear. I used the word myself once in front of a black person, describing a mutual (white) acquaintance as 'my n***a'. It was a thoughtless, casual phrase which I regretted the instant it passed my lips, but to his credit the guy didn't bat an eyelid - he obviously understood the context and took no offence, for which I'm grateful. But this just proves how easily such a phrase can slip into one's vocabulary after listening to enough Snoop Dog records or Tarantino films. Young Emily applied the word incorrectly, but I don't think the world should start hating her for that. She's off the show, that's punishment enough, right?

06 June 2007


Woebot responds to comments made by Simon 'Blissblog' Reynolds in interviews, concerning the blogging community.

(Funnily enough I was in Waterstones earlier this week looking for a copy of Simon's new book 'Bring The Noise', without success. Hopefully the wife will track down a copy for me in time for Father's day.)

But coming back to Matt, who typically takes it all personally, there's lots there I agree with. He takes a very honest line when admitting that most of his 'theory' is secondhand/borrowed, and I'm exactly the same, really. Simon's approach to music journalism has coloured my/our view all these years, yet I don't consider myself to have any grand theoretical designs. I just try to write about what I believe in on a very basic emotional level, because that's all I'm capable of.

Regarding the 'halcyon days',I came in at the tail-end of the blogging 'golden age', when it seemed like all the best music/theory blogs were involved in a fascinating organic web of inter-linked discourse. It's true that the Dissensus forum might've contributed to the demise of that 'scene', and I do think it's a bit of a shame. It's like most of the blogs are little islands now, and the big ones like Woebot, K-Punk and Blissblog, by removing the comments box, seem to deliberately shun other's opinions of what they write, though to be fair to Simon, he's never had a comments box anyway, and to be fair to both him and Mark K-P, they both still link and comment on other blogs, perhaps trying to re-energise the interplay. And of course I'm guilty of turning off the comments too. I dunno exactly what provoked them to do so, but in my case it was simply a way of building a mental wall after the mauling I got over some MP3s I posted last year. In some ways it was like Roger Water's concept for Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' concerts - wanting to literally build a wall across the stage because he couldn't stand the sight of the audience. Perhaps that's going too far in my situation...I just needed some protective padding while I got my confidence back. But, jesus, that's nearly a year ago now, and besides I don't have anywhere near the amount of readers I had back then ( and I never had anything like the million hits a month that Matt claims) so I reckon it's time to lighten-up and get things in perspective. My comments box is totally back, so now you can call me a cunt whenever you want. Unfortunately I somehow managed to delete all previous comments, which is a bloody shame cos there were some great contributions to some of my posts, but there's nothing I can do about that now. Stupid, stupid...

Maybe it's time for a few more changes here, too. I think I blogged myself into a corner by getting too focused on current trends within certain areas of dance music, getting too scene-centric. It's so restricting and I just don't have enough to say on the matter to make this blog interesting anymore. Plus it gets a bit boring trying to find different ways of saying the same thing all the time. I'd like to get back to where I was in the latter half of 2004, when it was just random stuff from past and present, without having any direct link to one scene, sound or time period. Time to just shuffle the decks and go with my own flow again.


03 June 2007


The music of Nottingham-based Geiom first came to my attention when 'Overnight Biscuits' featured on Kode 9's 'Dubstep Allstars Vol.3'*. Since then I've been following his releases with keen interest. It seems he has a bit of history in the world of leftfield electronica dating back to the beginning of the millennium, but I only know him for his dubstep-influenced material, released via his own Berkane Sol imprint, of which there have been four EPs so far. Each release has been big on quality and innovation, featuring imaginative and complex arrangements with a strong sense of composition, texture and powerfully emotive melodic phrases. Recently he has been incorporating guest vocalist, firstly with Terrible Shock on 'Feel So Bad', where Geiom's empathic harmonies create a seductive, mood-manipulating wash against the vocalist's tragi-comic, patois-inflected account of a relationship in meltdown. For the latest release, 'Unnecessary Stress', Geiom reduces chanteuse Marita to an eerie spectre; her breathy improvised scats flit like wraiths across a restless percussive landscape to spellbinding effect. I hear on the grapevine that there might be a CD compilation on the way, but for the uninitiated, here's a quick (and occasionally wonky) résumé of what's happened so far...

Berkane Sol KwikMix
(15 mins, 128kbps)

*Still my favourite in the Allstars Mix series, for it's dynamic range and scope of vision. As Kode states in this interview for Montreal's Mutek festival, "I prefer to hear tracks in the mix together for extended periods of time, and I like to hear the tension between two tracks..", which is a dj'ing philosophy I entirely agree with and aspire to, when mixing dubstep. Some interesting quotes from Shackleton and Moritz Von Oswald in the article too - thanks to Paul for the link!

01 June 2007

A 'Gutterbreakz fantasy come to life?' I haven't heard the album yet, but the Headphone Sex write-up is pretty mouthwatering. Thanks to James for the shout-out. It's true I gave him a little technical assistance when he started out, but he's built that site into one of the most consistent, diligent and popular MP3 blogs on the planet. Your chest, matey!

(btw, I do still write occasional MP3 posts over at Loki's blog.)