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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

Shattered

Featuring : Higher Learning

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What times we find ourselves in.
What fevers we live amongst.
The horrors where we once visited,
we now could dwell.

Trying to find the psychic shelter from the assault of the last month has been difficult (in the extreme). Where we toyed with fanciful, post-fact reportage (usually from untamed worlds and near future hell-scapes), it seems that it’s been weaponised as a tool of unimaginable change. Reality has been commercialised, whatever flavour you like, just give us your clicks.

Sorry.

To make up for ending the world…we bring you Higher Learning’s latest. A suitably shattering piece of Industrialdancemusic.

Higher Learning – Found

Fractious and haunting. Drums that crash through grey skies, slowly cracking the bunker where you cower awaiting the inevitable breach. Synth stabs lighting up the dismal sky as they impact upon the earth. A voice from innumerable screens calling out in unison with what could almost be an Italo banger but the innocence is lost amongst the chaos.

Happy Friday!

Dancing music in the C20: new beat (1986-88)

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In the late 1980s, Europe developed its own kind of acid house – one that descended from the stiff, hard, aggressive, hyper-masculine Industrial and Electronic Body Music traditions. This European techno variant, called New Beat, was an apocalyptic sort of post-nuclear pop that had militaristic drum machines, grand flourishes of synthesiser and dystopian overtones.

Spotify playlist: early new beat (1986-88)

If, as we discussed in our recent blog on the sounds of Miami bass, in America, being a Transformer was very cool, in Europe, the imminent threat of nuclear armageddon was very ‘in’, as songs like Euroshima  (get it?!) and CCCP’s Made in Russia demonstrate.

A Split Second – Flesh

Being mostly from Belgium, there was also an unapologetically weird Eurotrashy view of sex in new beat records that Antone de Caunes would be proud of.

Lords of Acid – I Sit on Acid

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Hot on the heels of Hypersound

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Why aren’t more people aware of Geinoh Yamashirogumi, given the legendary status of AKIRA and its soundtrack, for which they are responsible? We have featured them several times here, in an attempt to redress this situation, and speed up humanity’s currently stalled process of spiritual enlightenment.

We previously mentioned that they are a collective of over a hundred ‘non-musicians’ organised by Shoji Yamashiro, alter ego for ‘molecular biologist, neuroscientist, artificial life researcher and pioneer of redefining how the human body senses soundTsutomu Ōhashi. They started as a reaction against ‘specialist’ commercial music that spurns the deep, anthropological and even genetic intertwinement of humanity and music.

After several albums visiting different regions of the world and their folk musics, Yamashirogumi focused on gamelan, in Ecophony Rinne (1986). This record brought them to the attention of Katsuhiro Otomo, who initially wanted to use its music for AKIRA’s soundtrack. Instead, Yamashirogumi created something completely new, one of the core albums in 20JFG’s musical pantheon. After AKIRA, Yamashirogumi produced Ecophony Gaia (1994), their latest release to date.

We recommend that you listen to these three records – Rinne, AKIRA and Gaia – in sequence. If you want, you can even imagine a cinematic trilogy paralleling the original Star Wars, with telekinetic teens instead of Jedis, low-slung red hot bikes instead of X-wings and Yamashirogumi’s brain expanding turbo-gamelan trances instead of John William’s retro symphonics. There is nothing quite like it: fractal beauty, macroscopic harmony, infinite thrills with a surprise at every turn.

It is as if Yamashirogumi’s music had been produced by an artificial (collective) intelligence trained in the works of Sagan and Maturana, and evolved through an artificial game of life that rewarded the symbiosis of wildly different ideas, and fearless, unself-aware exploration, often to rediscover what’s already there, at the source, rather than to create something ‘new’. Their ability to bore musical tunnels accessing deep sources of unconscious energy puts them up there with Can, Boredoms or Magma, which is mighty praise indeed.

As is the case in the best works of those other artists, a discrete part (song) excised from the whole (album) fails to capture the overwhelming power, often based on repetition, sweeping movements and returning motifs. We are very aware of this when we leave you with two, relatively self-contained, songs out of Rinne and Gaia. We believe that they will blow your mind, and send you after the albums at their source like pumped-out Capsule bikers hot on the heels of a Clown infiltrator.

Broom Broom.

Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Dark Slumber

Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Chaos

Both albums are out of print but you can get second-hand copies at discogs.

Dancing music in the C20: miami bass (1984-86)

Featuring : Anquette + Palmerforce Two

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If techno represented the logical conclusion of Cybotron’s electro, then Miami bass was surely the next evolution of Planet Rock. Retaining the Kraftwerk and P-funk influences, but keeping the vibes distinctly party-based, funky and served up with whooping and hollering from bass-riding male and female MCs.

Anquette – Throw The P (Radio Version)

Miami bass was musically heavy but often veered towards the thematically ridiculous. Not one but two of the early miami bass classics were based around the children’s song Old McDonald Had A Farm, for instance.

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Vocoders were everywhere. A lot of modern academic writing on dance music posits the use of vocoders in electro as a sort of intentional technological neutralisation of racial identity. People forget. Being a robot was VERY COOL in the 1980s. Kids of the 80s loved dressing up in bacofoil-cardboad Transformers costumes and TALK-ING LI-KE A RO-BOT.

Palmerforce Two – Street Wars

Their older siblings making Miami bass bangers weren’t doing anything different, just with much more expensive toys.

Spotify playlist: early Miami bass (1984-86)