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Heavy Metal Balrog Music

Featuring : Death

“Heavy Metal Balrog Music” is what a work colleague once told me my iPod (remember them?) sounded like, as soon as he zapped it on shuffle mode.

The band he was listening to was Death. One of the real pioneers of first-wave Florida death metal and essentially a solo project for a kind of untutored extreme music genius named Chuck Schuldiner.

Perhaps unusually for such an extreme and weird take on the metal genre, Death acquired some success in the band’s lifetime, though Chuck Schuldiner sadly passed away in 2001 from a brain tumour, aged just 34.

All of the Death albums are classics, but from 1991’s Human onwards, Schuldiner began pursuing DM-atypical introspective and metaphysical lyrical styles, which – when combined with the reality-crunching twists and turns of this unpredictable, expressive and pretty experimental for its times music.

So, although this might register as “Heavy Metal Balrog Music” on first play, really when compared with gross-out shock metal contemporaries like Cannibal Corpse, Death was pretty imaginative – dare we say it – sensitive stuff??!

Death – The Philosopher

The Philosopher is from Death’s 1993 album, Individual Thought Patterns. Pick up the reissue from Nuclear Blast.


Art is a sculpture called Affetto nel dolore by Adolfo Wildt, created in 1929. This stands in front of the Korner family mausoleum in the Cimitero Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery) in Milan, Italy.

Shiny Metallic Arms

Featuring : Bézier

As is the usual 20JFG way, we begin 2017 with stuff we missed last year.  Thanks to an overactive spam filter we missed not one, but three opportunities to pick up on today’s track.  Thankfully the drunken late-night wikipedia binge that are the streaming services* led us in a circuitous path to Bezier’s excellent EP on Honey Soundsystem.

Conjuring up that glorious genre of epic cityscape Techno (that Carl Craig fucking destroyed with Future Love Theme**), Bezier saves his best till last on the Cosmologist EP.  d. Quelle is a monstrous melding of towering concrete and light.  A tribute to the power of sonic architecture that would make Ballard proud (if he’d been massively into producing William Gibson fan-fiction in the early 80s).

It’s a track that manages to occupy multiple points on the 20JFG <3’s the 80s clip show.  Over here you have a baseline so simple and insistent that Carpenter himself could have jacked it for a million gangs as zombies scenes.  Passing on your left you’ll hear a melody jacked wholesale from an exquisite slice of Italo.  And on the horizon you’ll see Cybertron fast approaching with the embryo of Techno in their shiny metallic arms.

No wonder this is 10 minutes long.

Bézier – d. Quelle

You can still get the EP direct from Honey Soundsystem right here.

*as an aside, MySpace still hasn’t been beaten in its ability to suck you down a rabbit hole of ‘I like this, and the people that made this like that…’

** sadly missing from Murlo’s otherwise peerless videogame/anime soundtrack mix for NTS

Mordor drive by

Featuring : Daniel Schmidt + Omar S

Happy New Year to You All!

Let us begin this bastard of a year with a couple of songs with magical properties which will hopefully boost your character stats for the hard days and struggles to come.

Let’s begin with Daniel Schmidt, a central figure in American Gamelan music. Last year, Recital Program released In My Arms, Many Flowers”, a compilation of some of his work, produced/performed between 1978-1982. The first track is called “And the Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn”, and it is exactly what you need before you begin the journey.

What really caught our attention when we first listened to it is how, contrary to a lot of gamelan music, where the sequence of the bells is pristine and serenely assured, giving the music an otherworldly beauty reflecting the eternal cycle of the spheres, Dawn is tentative and uncertain, full of false starts, momenta gained and lost, like learning, like recovering from a bereavement, like looking for a new place whence to build and grow, amidst the noise and the chaos. We think it captures, in all its purity, that sliver of the human spirit whose existence give us hope, that sliver of the human spirit that we need to fight for.

Daniel Schmidt and The Berkeley Gamelan – And the Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

Get it on vinyl from Recital Program.

And then for something completely different, because contrasts are the spice of life, and the soul of this blog:

Last year, Detroit robo-jackmaster Omar S released a new album called The Best, which we somehow missed out on. It doesn’t matter. Its energy boost is precisely what we need right this moment, as we start to Rocky our way through the steep stairs of 2017.

Heard’ Chew Single, the track which closes it, is particularly suitable for this purpose: a story of romantic switchblade fights punctuated by Valletta fanfare drums and a smooth piano melody which brings us back to the weird dream scene in GTA’s Ballad of Gay Tony*, and the ur-fever mong of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice inception.

We are so there, throwing our bodies in ridiculous shapes like animated dummies in a Keith Haring triptych, all in worship of  invisible gods.

Omar S – Heard’ Chew Single

Get The Best from Juno

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* This doesn’t exist. Sorry.

Dancing music in the C20: microhouse (1997-99)

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It’s the end of the century. Welcome to the Dancing music in the C20. We started out on this journey by looking at the first dance records in 1900, when records were made out of shellac and played on gramophones. In 1999, the record is still the default delivery mechanism for dance music, but only just. MP3s exist. Peer-to-peer file sharing is about to throw the  music industry into crisis. Cassette tapes haven’t come back into fashion yet. This is maybe the dance record’s last hurrah.

But that’s just a neat piece of symbolism. I wanted to look at the first 100 years of dance records to see how technology changes music and how dancing mediates culture. We’ve tried to work out together how innovation works in dance music, by examining it as a continuum of cultural exchange, that has existed forever – but only been aurally recorded for a century and a bit – rather than just think of it as something that has only existed in our lifetimes.

Dance music is also an interesting thing to think about in a historical context, because it is uniquely functional music. It exists purely for the purpose of making people dance. It isn’t trying to offer a depiction of love or heartbreak, it isn’t poetry. It can be revolutionary – but it doesn’t have to be political. But in this ever-evolving continuum of sound we can perceive a reflected history of society and how that evolved across the 20th century – dance music’s own absence of agenda or narrative somehow making that reflection all the more clear.

While most of the 1990s genres we have looked at have really revelled in their excess – the head-butting attack of gabber, the ragged intricacies of jungle, and the all-round bangeriness of the proto-garage scene, some producers were exploring smaller sounds.

The Germans in particular were engineering new dance music architectures that were sleek and – here’s the word – minimal in design. The sounds coming out of Berlin’s Basic Channel label and production team were ascetic  and subtle, not in your face or ravey.

The ideas behind this minimal techno sound found their spiritual home in Cologne, where the producers behind the Kompakt label and record shop – Wolfgang Voigt, Michael Mayer and Jorg Burger – applied some of the Basic Channel tenets to their own releases.

But where Basic Channel records stripped techno back to its barest components, Kompakt records were obsessively detailed and actually really not very minimal at all. The sounds they used were just smaller than those on ‘proper’ dance records – clicks instead of beats, a pulsing bass that sounds far away, glitches and dots and dashes of electronic noise positioned strategically around a kind of 3D headspace.

Spotify playlist: early microhouse (1997-99)

For a while, this music was called microhouse. It can work very effectively for dancing, as some of Ricardo Villalobos’ club hits demonstrate.

Ricardo Villalobos – 808 The Bass Queen

But equally, microhouse works as contemplative head music. It can be used in the same way as ambient, for relaxation or mood-enhancing purposes. Perhaps going against conventional aural logic, I find the way it is crammed with musical information to be soothing; a kind of sonic ritalin that smoothes away the ADHD mania of modern life.

For those old enough, if you try to remember what the perception of the millennium represented in the 90s – a kind of information overload that threatened to cause technological and societal collapse – then microhouse sounds very appropriately “millennial”. A sort of ‘information music’, whose overall sense of weariness complements its ever-driving, constantly-pulsing momentum – dance music that had burnt itself out and was being artificially sustained.

Herbert – Going Round

So that was the 20th century. A period where we created new rituals to replace the old, dead ones. Dancing was perhaps the most potent of these. It helped to ease the wounds in our history – slavery, wars, failed social experiments. It created new roles in our culture for technology and chemistry. And its soundtrack was ever-shifting, abstract patterns of sound -a universal language in rhythm.

Dancing music in the C20: garage (1993-97)

Featuring : Romanthony + Roy Davis Jr.

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Gabriel by Roy Davis Jnr. is one of Goldie’s all time favourite records.

Gabriel came from a more amorphous scene than jungle. Later in the decade, some people would call this sound plus 8 or speed garage, and finally UK garage.

Roy Davis Jr – Gabriel

The early tunes that inspired that sound, though, were by American producers like Roy Davis Jr, Todd Edwards and Romanthony. These were relatively unheard of names in their home country, but in the 90s in Europe, they were spoke of with an almost saint-like significance. The general absence of information about these men in the just pre-internet age fed the mystery. The reclusive singer and producer Romanthony, in particular, refused to do any promotion or collaborate with labels or other musicians.

Romanthony- The Wanderer

It wasn’t until Daft Punk eventually wore him down to contribute a guest vocal to their enormous One More Time hit single that Romanthony found fame and had some financial success.

He didn’t see himself as a dance producer, but thought of himself more like a Prince or a James Brown, a classically-trained auteur who could play a multitude of instruments and sing like an angel.

Nevertheless, Romanthony’s classic 90s 12”s – released on his own Black Male label – are unstoppable club anthems.

Spotify playlist: early UK garage (1993-97)

Dancing music in the C20: jungle (1992-93)

Featuring : Foul Play + Metalheads

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In yesterday’s Dancing music in the C20, we thought about gabber – the pulverising early 90s Dutch hardcore dance music. The UK, too, had been looking to harder sounds in this era. London club nights like Fabio and Grooverider’s Rage were mixing house tracks with US hip hop tracks, and the collision of house synths and vibes with the old-school funk breakbeats that were powering hip-hop at that time gave producers new ideas.

Instead of leaning on 909s for grids of quantised four-on-the-floor kick drums, rave producers began to sample breakbeats for their tunes – the flashy drum breakdowns in old James Brown and funk and soul records. These breaks could be purchased on the Ultimate Breaks & Beats LP compilations that were marketed as DJing tools.

In hardcore producers hands, these breaks became ever-spiralling, self-imploding beat fractals that would create a careering, hectic, anarchic sound when positioned under blasts of rave synth.

Perhaps because of hardcore’s innate irreverence to musical tradition, these breaks were not revered as historical artefacts, but things to be ripped apart, stitched back together and then smashed into atoms. The result was a delirious, addictive pill noise, and this breakbeat science would achieve its zenith in one particular hardcore offshoot.

Foul Play – Screwface

Where the term ‘jungle’ came from isn’t quite clear. However, vocals and samples from Jamaican MCs were popular on early jungle tunes, which had a particular ragga bent, and the term ‘junglist’ – which referred to a denizen of the Jungle area of West Kingston – began to crop up on some of the records.

Although the early jungle records were as intense s anything in the hardcore scene, the fluid, shifting rhythms of jungle also had jazz connotations, and throughout the decade jungle would become increasingly more sophisticated and tasteful, resulting in a schism between the original ragga-tinged jungle records and the smooth, jazzy-soulful, Mercury Prize-winning albums later in the decade, which became referred to as drum n bass.

Spotify playlist: early jungle (1992-93)

Again, the engine powering jungle was breaks – and one break in particular. Today, Grooverider estimates that at least 70% of all jungle and drum n bass tunes ever produced are built on the rickety, skittering foundations of the Amen break.

What is the Amen break? Think of the drum n bass sound – those drums. That’s the Amen break. Jungle was a scene constructed around a core of dance producers scientifically investigating the sonic possibilities of one particular 6-second long drum sample from a 1969 funk b-side.

Over the course of drum n bass history, this break would be sped-up, slowed-down, played backwards and re-edited into myriad configurations.

The break was from a track called Amen, Brother, recorded by an obscure funk and soul group called The Winstons – who, perhaps controversially, have never seen a penny from their break, which is now regarded as part of the public domain and therefore fair game for appropriation. The sole surviving member of the group, Richard L. Spencer, who holds the copyright for the recording even told the BBC that upon finding about the thousands upon thousands of records based upon the break “I felt as if I’d been touched somewhere where no one is supposed to touch. Your art is like your children, it’s like a part of you. I felt invaded. I felt like my privacy had been taken for granted. And as a historian, as a social scientist, I also felt like the history of African-American music from the 1800s to the present is basically carted ff by other people who became very wealthy and rich and we’ve usually been left out. [sighs] You almost have to do like we did when we gave up Africa and just go… well, that’s the way it is. I’m flattered that you chose it, but please make it a legal interaction here and pay me. The young made that played that drum beat died homeless and broke in Atlanta, Georgia around 1996.”

Spencer compares the use of the Amen break to Elvis getting rich off of Leiber and Stoller’s Hound Dog, while its first recording artist – Big Mama Thornton – “died broke”.

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Perhaps jungle would have petered out, like its sister genre – breakbeat techno – and register now mostly as a passing fad had it not been for the charisma and ingenuity of its biggest star. Goldie was a graffiti artist and breakdancer from Walsall who had wound up in London after a spell of success in New York, bullet proof with confidence. It was this confidence that made him pursue an attractive girl he’d noticed around Camden, the DJ and producer Kemistry, who introduced Goldie to Rage and her friends on the scene.

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His brain nuked by what he was hearing, Goldie quickly ingratiated himself in the scene, offering his services first as a graphic designer and artist. Although he had no previous musical experience, Goldie didn’t see why he couldn’t also make a record, and booked some time with a studio and engineer to do just this. He took a box of his favourite records and had the engineer fill up every bit of hard drive on two samplers, which he proceeded to re-order, intuitively directing the studio staff as to where each sample or loop should sit, until he walked out of the studio with a debut EP.

Metalheads – Terminator

Goldie would repeat this process throughout his 90s output – acting as a kind of artistic director crafting an elaborate, mind-bending collage – while a collaborator did the programming and mixing and facilitated the technical aspects of making a record under his dictation. In contrast to sound engineers or DJs who produced music, Goldie approached arrangements from a visual art perspective, and he pushed the music forward by demanding things that his more tech-savvy collaborators were resistant to because, being more aware of technological and musical limitations, they didn’t think Goldie’s ideas were practical or possible.

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This persistence and self-belief twinned with an ambitious creativity led Goldie to make that rarest of things in dance music – a classic dance album – Timeless, with 2 Bad Mice’s Rob Playford. By his second album, Saturn Returnz, he was crafting hour-long orchestral drum n bass symphonies and collaborating with David Bowie. And then, eventually, he was writing actual classical symphonies, in-between appearing on Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Big Brother.

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Dancing music in the C20: gabber 1991-92

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Last week in Dancing music in the C20 we looked at the aggressive, white, funk-anemic dance sounds of new beat that were coming out of countries like Belgium.

Spotify playlist: early gabber (1991-92)

Just over the border in the Netherlands, the Dutch would kick off the 1990s with the most extreme dance music ever produced. Whereas new beat was defined by its tight control of tempos, the Rotterdam evolution offered a pulverising, comically speeded-up barrage of thudding Roland 909 kick drum and repitched vocal samples.

Interactive who Is Elvis? (Radio Version)

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When one leading Amsterdam DJ was asked what he thought about the new Rotterdam sound, he replied “They’re just a bunch of gabbers having fun” – gabbers being a mangled take on a Yiddish word for mate or buddy. The Rotterdam pranksters, who loved to wind everyone up, seized on ‘gabber’ as a label for their scene.

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Listening to the relentless pounding of gabber at volume, you have the sensation of every organ in your body being punched at once. Over and over again.

Mescalinum United – We Have Arrived


Gabber photography by Anna Adamo