A quick history lesson:
In 1935 American Walter Winchell coined the term disc jockey. Nearly ten years after in 1943 the one-man jumpsuit Jimmy Saville spun at the world’s first DJ dance event playing jazz records. 4 years later he was also the first to utilise two turntables together for continuous play. In the same year ‘Whiskey a Go-Go opened in Paris and was known to be the world’s first disco. Leading up to 1950, sound systems were beginning to be utilised in Jamaica as a new form of public entertainment. Nearly twenty years later DJ Francis Grasso popularized beat matching in New York. And finally in 1975 DJ Grand Wizard Theodore invented the scratching technique.
A quick reality lesson:
Some or possibly all of these facts may or may not be true. In fact, I believe that all of them rely on claims by either the aforementioned people or some hipster at the time who ‘believed’ these respective actions to be the first of their kind. A bold claim I know but its difficult to really know who started what and when as music culture was throughout the whole of the twentieth century on the outskirts of what was considered culturally relevant. Most of the people who documented dance culture in particular can not be sure if their information is correct. This is probably due to the vast range of music utilising turntables in a unique way (or to a way that is relevant to their style of music). You could argue for days whether it was Grand Wizard or Grand Master who ‘invented’ scratching, but you would be missing the bigger picture. A better way to think of it is that one of them certainly did more for the culture and the other for the art. The reason why I started like this is that it is important to remember this whilst reading about my next post, a kind of extension and background check to my last post on brit-funk. Of course, I am going to get differing opinions by the end of it but I hope to really do what I always do, tell a story and hopefully get you to listen to some great music.
You should already know from my previous article about the predominately black bands that broke through to the UK mainstream in the early 80s. Although influenced by the American scene at the time these bands were really actually the tip of an iceberg. Dig deeper and a little earlier and you start to find that the real underground club scene of the time was not really all with the over-seas sound at all. The UK DJs that played in discos in the 70s were busy finding their own sound with their own twist of Britishness, very much similar to the funk bands of the time. Whether it was Northern Soul or the latest jazz and funk imports, the UK DJs seemed to play a brand of music often maltreated and forgotten in the US, whom were now beginning to become very ‘discofied’. Before of course no-one could knock the fact that disco had single-handily pushed black music back into the charts after the slow-death of Motown. The introduction of the twelve inch in 1976 was a landmark for club DJs and particularly in New York, mixing was beginning to become more and more utilised. Of course the personality DJ was still highly sought after. This had two sides to it though. Mixing DJs being few and far between allowed them to pick the finest records and gain massive status due to their rareness, but due to their lesser numbers the equipment available in clubs was at a low. Being technically gifted did not help when the clubs you would play in did not have the right equipment. Furthermore, the close-mindedness of a lot of the club owners at the time did not help the DJs. Many owners would not tolerate a DJ simply just playing records as they still deemed talking on the mic an integral part of a DJs job.
This sparked an argument between the two sides, which came to a head in the late 70s. One side argued against claiming that a personality is the main ingredient to be successful whilst the other for, claiming that it utilised the music and interpreted it in a different way. There were however, not a lot of people who found common ground between the two and both techniques could not be utilised successfully at the time.
However, whilst this battle was occurring on the surface, mixing was beginning to create a buzz due to limited albums released on mailing lists for Djs. CBS Disco Pool’s ‘Instant Replays’ was simply nine cuts that segued and mixed together to create a two sided album of non-stop music. The men in charge used tape editing which basically abled them to start and stop tracks dead on a specific beat or note. Although sounding haphazardly put together by today’s standard, the idea of putting together a mixed album was considered a revelation at the time and it opened up DJs across the UK to become inspired to put together their own mixes. However, whilst they had the theory down, the amount of tracks at the time that still utilized live drummers (no bad thing) was very high. In terms of mixing to the BPM, this made it very difficult as not all drummers are machines! This still remains true to this day when trying to mix records from this period. James Hamilton, a writer and reviewer of the time, took a step in the right direction in 1979 when he started to list all the BPMs of the tracks he reviewed (he counted the beats using his stopwatch!). Record companies followed suit later on and even radio DJs started creating running mixes on air after all the conflict between the two not long before! This was considered a major leap forward for DJs.
Out of the war-zone, into the studio:
The scene was now set. There were now records that had BPMs listed, there were more DJs then ever wanting to mix and the scene had cooled enough to allow more clubs to open that were catered to the scene at the time (although the equipment was not totally up to date still). There was still one big problem for DJs, that being the records that they were trying to mix. To avoid embarrassing mixes during nights, DJs often turned to specialist mixes on the flips of twelve inches at the time. A lot of original disco mixes were essentially edited versions of the track the producers were given to work with. Pioneers like Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons and Tom Moulton all worked in the studio on original masters and often extended the tracks, ran off different sections and put them all back together at the end. This was the birth of the edit. Whilst electro-funk was beginning to seep into UK DJs consciousness in the early 80s (see brit-funk) and labels like Streetwise and West End Records were putting out quality records that substituted live drummers for drum machines, DJs were still wanting more control over their live sets.
In steps Greg Wilson. Apart from his astounding credentials as not only a DJ but an overseer to the evolvement of the late 70s and early 80s UK dance scene, its important to really take note of Greg’s involvement of pushing edits to the forefront of DJs priorities. Not only do edits play a hugely important role to this day (more later) but they allowed Greg to make his name as a DJ and come back to share the records he played back in the day to a modern audience. Initially Greg was a top DJ at various northern venues in the early 80s. Because of this he was asked to create specialist black music mixes for Piccadilly Radio in 1982. The initial mixes were recorded live onto reel-to-reel and then put through the station editing booths. Soon after this Greg decided to have a go at editing himself. He bought a Revox B77 which he has become well known for along with a mixer and two turntables and started getting to work privately on his own edits. Aswell as becoming the first DJ to demonstrate mixing on TV in 1983 (see brit-funk) Greg became a successful co-writer and producer of a lot of UK records at the time. His edit of ‘Heaven Sent’ by Paul Haig was one of the very first re-edits by a British DJ and his 1984 project ‘Street Sounds – UK Electro’ was the first UK re-edit collection of tracks. Greg’s approach to editing was very individual in how he made a track sound personalised and hugely complicated! Here he talks about how he manages it;
‘Apart from editing tracks together, the Revox was also used as a sampler of sorts, from which I’d spin sounds I’d recorded onto tape into the tracks I was working on. I compiled numerous reels of ‘spins’ for this purpose, all with gaps between each snippet (much like a sample CD). Even when the Akai revolutionised the whole sampling thing I’d only use it in conjunction with live spins from the Revox. Sometimes a sampler couldn’t quite give you the vibe you got from spinning a sound in…. I remember that when people would watch me working at the Revox they were amazed to see all the pieces of white splicing tape running past the heads. Sometimes a series of edits were grouped so closely together that all that could be seen was a long stream of white tape whizzing past. I would literally take a ruler and measure a beat, before cutting it up into smaller and smaller fractions. I’d have bits of tape everywhere, bars and beats and bits of beats all marked on the back with a chinagraph pencil so I knew what they were. Having nobody else to refer to, I’d evolved my own madcap system, which made perfect sense to me, but must have seemed completely chaotic to anyone else!’
Presently, Greg has found a new audience aswell as his old one to play too as a revival of the sound is currently occurring. Still using the reel-to-reel in his sets, Greg uses it for echo and dub effects and also for playing samples over the records he is spinning. In his live sets his edits still provide him with the ease of playing something out that he really wants to, but would still fit in with the other records he is playing without initially doing so. Whether it is Greg’s influence or simply the music, the current state of artists and DJs utilising editing into their mixing and overall act is more than ever before. The current underground ‘Nu-Disco’ movement has gained a huge amount of steam in the past few years, coming from partly house drop-outs and also from funk and disco enthusiasts. The one thing tying them together is the art of the edit. It enables them to put a new spin on older tracks which allows a newer audience to enjoy the sounds from that time. Rather than simply becoming a revival of sounds, the cross-section of tunes picked for editing and chosen for a mix live are wide and vast and all this makes an exciting and progressive scene.
Artists such as the well-known Todd Terje and the lesser known but bubbling Psychemagik and the Glitterball crew are producing some of the most effective and affecting edits at the moment. Staying true to the sounds paved by Greg and a host of other 80s DJs, these edits, even though made on a different format, keep the vibe and effects (such as delay and echo) popularized by funk and disco heads of the time. Looking back to where the sounds originally came from has always been number one on my priorities list, but these guys prove that not only have you gotta go there to come back, you also have got to cater to a modern audience.
Greg himself is currently about to release an XX remix proving that he can definitely move with the times, but I’ll leave you with a quote from the man himself which sums up most of what I’ve been trying to say all this time;
‘In the future I see DJs being more experimental in the way they present music. There’s so many different approaches you can take now, which I see as a really positive thing. Some people will always regard vinyl as the true DJ format, but I think that the technology available now opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities. However, ultimately the main thing is the same now as it was when I started out, over 30 years ago, which is to strive to give the audience you’re working with as good a night as you can, by playing the best possible music for the environment you’re working in. That’s the essence of being a DJ…. I think that nowadays they provide a strong example of how older music can still be evolving, years after it was first released, as a new generation of listeners connect with these tracks from their own perspective. Great music is great music, no matter when it was made, and if a new edit can make a track more relevant to people now, I’d say that’s good thing.’
Further Listening: This post was inspired by my recent trip to Bestival. This was kind of the moment where I decided I needed to write to everyone about this subject. Quite when the moment was I’m not sure but it was probably when Fleetwood Mac came on. Here’ his set in full:
Virtual programming: Brit funk, gone but not forgotten?
In the late 1970s to early 80s, Britain was in a musical whirlpool. The aftermath of prog-rock, jazz and heavy influence in commercial media from stateside funk and soul acts created a fresh tablet for new artists to draw upon. Around this time racial boundaries had been broken down and both black and white artists began to work together, draw influence from each other and even perform together without any hassle. It was an exciting time; one could compare it even to now in terms of pure mystery to what you might hear tomorrow. However, something happened in the mid 80s that totally wiped out this sound, replacing it with a cleansed, more commercial sound. The blame is hard to pin upon any one particular person or group, but it is a very interesting subject and one that personally I find difficult to fully realise.
I’ll begin at the start, the start being the early 70s when this change started to occur. Prog-rock was seemingly in its most progressive and celebrated period. Jethro Tull, Yes, Supertramp and Pink Floyd were all at the top of their game, selling out live shows and the British public were seemingly quite content with what was happening. However, in a few groups, elements of funk and soul were beginning to overtake complex composition, in favour of a more simple rhythm section. Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, a popular progressive rock band of the time, was one of the first to start experimenting with funk arrangements on albums primarily targeting prog audiences. One example Straight Ahead from the album of the same name contained a pure funk guitar riff leading the song throughout its 5-minute tenure. The rhythm was seemingly straight jacked from American bands of the same time doing the same thing i.e. The Blackbyrds and The J.B.s. However, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express was still primarily a prog-rock band and shades of this can still be seen within the song. The jazzy keyboard solo in the middle and the chaotic breakdown at the end are pure prog. It seems as if they wanted to cater towards their primary audience whilst paying homage to bands they have heard producing exciting funk music stateside.
Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express – Straight Ahead
There was a light uproar when die-hard prog fans started hearing shades of funk within the scene. They started calling it the ‘sensitive seventies’ in response to the strange malaise that surrounded commercial radio. The unwillingness of the radio to cater to further experimental bands frustrated their audience, even though a lot of the bands at the time did not help themselves by crafting almost unlistenable songs. The initial soft funk influence seemed an answer to the radio’s problem with prog-rock. Even though bands like ELO and Genesis continued to evolve with their own sound, it was the influence from overseas funk and soul that started to seep majestically into Britain’s music culture. The Thin White Duke himself was one of the main early protagonists of this British movement. Bowie, always having one ear to the ground and one to the skies, had always loved doo-wop and soul and when The Jackson’s had America by the balls he saw a door open to him. His Diamond Dogs album flirted with the sound particularly in the funky nervousness of 1984, but it was his Young Americansalbum that really saw Bowie immersed in the sound. Fame is the famous example and one of the most exciting. A variation on his live staple Footstompin, it became what it is now thanks to a one-day session with John Lennon. Whether it is the conversations the two had together, or the willingness of Lennon to experiment in his new solo guise, the track certainly brought a fresh perspective to the British music scene. Whilst sounding highly American, mostly due to its direct influence, Fame stood out for Bowie’s vocal performance as usual and inspired a wealth of artists to try and put their own stamp on the overseas phenomenon.
David Bowie – Fame
One of the most important aspects of the funk scene beginning to emerge in Britain was the dominance of the bass and rhythm section, involving both drums and guitars. Guitars becoming the main protagonists of a rhythm section was a totally new thing to most British acts and the funky experimentation began to work wonders on new acts. With a hard funky rhythm, the Average White Band was one of the early experts of the British brand of funk. A cross between James Brown and an instrumental Earth, Wind & Fire, many were astounded by their American sound yet Scottish roots. Their move to Atlantic Records in 1973 spurned an album full of classic funk tracks including the Pick Up The Pieces. Topping the charts in America and reaching No.6 in the UK tells a story in itself. The irony of their name didn’t seem to affect anyone at all and a band with a white look playing (what people presumed to be) black music soon became second nature. A victory for racial rights soon washed over Britain and other bands tried their hand at their own brand of funk.
Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces
Two more bands with a more pop-based audience and sound were influenced early on by the noises emanating from across the Atlantic. Ian Drury and the Blockheads and Level 42 were both British bands experimenting with a funk-based sound. Ian Drury’s Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3 was one of the last songs to be released by the original line-up of the Blockheads but became one of their most celebrated and original songs. Drury’s vocal performance was delivered in his signature cockney aplomb, but the Blockheads arrangement is the real treat here. The pounding tribal drums that carry the track and additionally the tin whistle and shaker were totally new to the British public and really shine in the arrangement. Take away the vocals and you are left with a pure stripped back funk instrumental. Another mainstream act that managed to break through (both acts appeared on TOP OF THE POPS coincidently) was Level 42. Although later albums were more disco/pop orientated, Level 42’s early work focused on band leader Mark King’s bass work. The single Love Games contains a steady bass and drum arrangement overlaid with simple synth lines and vocals. Early seeds of their disco sound can be heard but the funk arrangement really stands out and including it is more of an example of how commercial bands were utilizing the new strain of funk.
Ian Dury and the Blockheads – Reasons To Be Cheerful Pt. 3
Level 42 – Love Games
By this time, it is important to point out that the sound in America had evolved way beyond what had happened in Britain by this point. Whilst the UK’s scene consisted of more commercially viable acts and pop vocalists, America had experienced a wealth of funk and soul based bands and groups topping the charts and experiencing success and popularity. However, British acts were still trying to break into the mainstream. By the dawn of the 80s the term Brit-funk began to surface. Bands such as Heatwave (Boogie Nights) and Hi Tension were amongst the first to be labelled as such. Furthering the instrumental funk sound forged by now defunct British groups, Hi Tension added their own black and British twist to their songs. They were also seemingly happy to address their Britishness on stage i.e. not adopting American accents. Hi Tension was one of a number of bands to also start writing material about real-life issues facing black people within Britain, particularly London. Striking a note with mainly the working class whilst also maintaining a mainstream and commercial focus was very difficult and could be one of the reasons a lot of these bands did not find fame unlike their white counterparts. The funk/calypso song ‘British Hustle’ perfectly captures what they were feeling at the time and became a minor hit against all the odds.
Hi Tension – British Hustle
During the early 80s the Brit-funk movement seemed to be in full flow. Many black bands began finding minor success on shows such as TOP OF THE POPS but often failing to maintain their success for long periods of time. I myself am fascinated at these bands that craft particularly wonderful and thoughtful albums but find themselves with only one minor hit. The hunt and search for these tracks from a period that seemingly struggled to maintain focus is highly difficult but can be very rewarding. One black band in particular who found success with two chart hits of the time was Beggar & Co. Whilst a lot of bands at this time were experiencing taunting and ridicule of being carbon copies of funk and soul bands in America, Beggar & Co. managed to avoid this by maintaining a British pop sound with a much more quirky funk sound. The horn sections in particular were a defining part of their act. Along with the black British pronunciations of words (the singer had an amusing slight lisp) the instrumentation is top quality. This struck a chord with a similar white band of the time, Spandau Ballet. Spandau sing on Beggar & Co’s hit Somebody Help Me Out, whilst in turn Beggar & Co. provide the horn section on Spandau’s hit Chant No.1. Working in sync with a white band seemingly opened doors for Beggar & Co. and strings may have been pulled for them to gain access to the charts one might assume. A response to Spandau’s Chant No.1, Mule Chant No.2 also charted for Beggar & Co. Their TV performances also highlighted the plight of the black people at the time, similar to the lyrics of Hi Tension a few years before. Taking to the BBC stage wearing beggar’s rags and dancing around singing Somebody Help Me Out was poignant yet tongue in cheek and furthers the quirkiness and appeal of the band.
Beggar & Co – Somebody Help Me Out
Beggar & Co – Mule (Chant No.2)
The very picky soul/funk and indie scene of the time were seemingly quite harsh in reception of these bands. Tossing them off as funk rejects and very uncreative was a very boring and dangerous response in to what was a highly creative scene of the time. The enthusiasm of the bands was top notch purely judging them on stage performances, and musically even though not the most accomplished of musicians, they bought to focus music that was not easily attainable in Britain at the time. Often artists would perform on each other’s records and play at the same venues, a dynamic which can be compared to today’s highly creative dubstep scene.
At the same time there were also groups taking their own slant on the Brit-funk sound. The group Paradise, originally an offshoot of a gospel camp which picked talented vocalists for the label Ebony records, was one of these. Crafting, as stated, a mixture of gospel vocalists with talented and varied musicians, Paradise recorded two albums in the early 80s. Containing a mixture of funk, reggae and soul tracks combined with quite evangelical messages, the albums were a hit amongst a mainly young black continuum, but also some white DJs at the time. Some tracks however caused a lot of controversy within the churches at the time, often because of the music’s association with Rastafarianism. Possibly helping it in terms of popularity the act continued with gospel based funk on its second album and the track Your Love highlights the group’s glorious vocal performance on a great chorus and shows their funk arrangement with a great bass line throughout the track.
Paradise – Your Love
The emergence of disco and dance floor music also opened up a new door for artists to try their hand at. Whilst funk seemed to be stagnating a little bit in terms of popularity, disco was taking the world by storm. The British response was to jump on board as soon as possible. Whist falling behind in terms of picking up on funk and soul way after the Americans, the Brits soon became on equal terms creating fine disco/funk acts. One of the earliest examples was a group called Linx. A reasonably successful group possibly due to their band consisting of white members with two black front men, Linx had an early hit withYou’re Lying. The arrangement in the track allows a more subtle approach to funk with a simple bass line and soft piano stabs. This approach seemed to gain radio airplay and the formula was soon followed by a slew of disco orientated acts. Even though You’re Lying is a great early example of simple disco/funk, the genre that went on to take over Europe throughout the 80s, Linx will probably be remembered for one of the front men dating that annoying ginger vocal coach from Fame Academy (Carrie Grant – shudder). One of Linx’s backing vocalists during their early days was Junior Giscombe. Turning towards a solo career in 1982 he quickly built a repertoire of great songs and quickly released Mama Used To Say which made No.7 in the UK chart. His nephew Richard Blackwood fondly covered this in 2000 (Just thought I’d mention that vital fact).
Linx – You’re Lying
Junior – Mama Used To Say
Two further acts, which continued on a vein of disco/funk songs, were the Nick Straker Band and David Joseph. The success of acts focused upon a more dance-able sound that really struck a chord with a lot of artists at the time. David Joseph who was previously in the band Hi Tension I discussed earlier, decided to leave to pursue a solo career feeling that the sound of Hi Tension was stagnating. In commercial terms he was correct. His single You Can’t Hide Your Love was extremely popular with the dance crowd of the time. The funk was still there within the rhythm of the song. The bass line, whether computer generated or not, complimented the synths throughout the song. These new digital sounds used by producers were being utilised in many new productions for vocalists. The change was quite noticeable within the clubs and many DJs were being celebrated by their rotations of some of these new ‘sounds’. One in particular was the legendary Greg Wilson who played Joseph’s track live on The Tube in 1983. The Nick Straker band on the other hand were predominately focused on live music and preferred to craft their own sounds from instruments. Their sound however is very similar. Unfortunately, they released quite a lot of terrible records catered towards their fan-base in Germany (Euro-pop). However a couple of songs stood out and came across as a disco/funk version of Spandau Ballet. Straight Ahead contains wonderful synths that you can continue to hear in many indie and pop acts to this day (a tribute to the timeless synthesiser).
David Joseph – You Can’t Hide Your Love (Extended Mix)
Nick Straker Band – Straight Ahead
The music press and many record companies at the time as stated were beginning to tire of the ‘one hit wonders’ that the scene seemed to produce. They felt they needed to change what was happening, probably in order to make more money, and more soul based bands were started in order to accommodate this. Haircut 100 and even Wham! were beginning to become the sound of Brit-funk by force as a way to commercialize the sound. By the mid 80s the sound had become diluted and it was very hard for a band to become popular without a pop based direction. Brit-funk unfortunately died out along with other forms of funk, soul and boogie. It is hard to pin the blame as most bands found it difficult for their sound to remain popular for long periods of time. However, the best music remains classic as hopefully demonstrated by this post. You could argue that Brit-funk never died, as there is a wealth of new bands totally indebted to its original influence. Tru Thoughts records in particular had focused from 2000 to bring funk, soul and foreign influenced music to the forefront of British dance music. Artists such as Quantic, Flevans and Diesler used funky instrumentation in their rhythmic instrumental tracks. The Quantic Soul Orchestra in particular is still going strong playing live shows and showing that Britain still can produce fantastic funk tracks. Their Stampede album was their first and arguably best, featuring a number of vocalists too, that harked back to a simpler time when funk could just be funk and there was no judging just enjoyment. Also The Bamboos (although Australian they enjoy their popularity here in Britain) create a similar brand of funk and work together with the QSO just like the hard-working bands of the late 70s did in order to craft their brand of soul/funk.
Quantic Soul Orchestra – Walking Through Tomorrow (Super 8 Part 3)
The Bamboos – Step It Up (feat. Alice Russell)
The argument here is that strictly these acts are not Brit-funk. Brit-funk was that period in time in the late 70s to mid 80s. And I am quite happy for it to stay there and for new artists not to try to re-create it in any way. Sure, it’s fine to be indebted to it and these new artists really know how to play, but the story behind Brit-funk speaks for itself. So, did Brit-funk really die? Well, yes. And sadly it died in a kind of old dog underneath the porch kind of way. But like most sad deaths, the stories are the best. And the music, well it remains timeless and most of all, funky as sh*t!
Further watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSj4MgZf9hA Watch Lenny Henry dress as a transsexual spaceman and interview Bootsy Collins about Funk.
Virtual programming: from ghetto-house to juke: Chicago & Detroit’s burgeoning music story
Over the last 20 years there has been a mutation within the Chicago and Detroit house scene. Our story begins with the birth of the Dance Mania label, started in 1985 by Jesse Saunders. The label quickly became known for its proto ghetto house sound, providing artists with a platform to release work that focused more on a raw, percussive and bass heavy sound. Early tracks such as The Browns ‘What’s That’ and House Master Boyz And The Rude Boy Of House – House Nation contained cut-up vocals and fast-paced drum work at the forefront of the tracks which became a huge influence upon the following wave of ghetto house. Early Dance Mania records were championed by many DJs such as Ron Hardy, whom himself was known to play a huge range of new and exciting records in the scene aswell as controversially playing records backwards!
Over the rest of America ears were beginning to prick as news of this new sound in house began to spread. However, whilst records such as M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up The Volume’, S’Express ‘Theme From S’Express’, Techtronic ‘Pump Up The Jam’ and in 1990 even Madonna ‘Vogue’, began to utilise this sound to commercial affect, producers such as Mark Imperial and Steve Poindexter didn’t stop furthering the minimalistic and ghetto flavours started by the Dance Mania crew, choosing instead to create their own strand of dirty house. In terms of the sound, the bass and percussion takes the forefront, with the addition of cut-up and sampled dirty vocals interspersed within them. This addition kept the tracks underground, purely due to the explicit materials, and helped maintain their native charm. Mark Imperial & Co’s ‘She Ain’t Nuthin‘ But A Hoe (Dissin’ All Hoes 46th Street Dub)’ from 1988 and Steve Poindexter’s classic yet underplayed ‘Work That Mutha Fucker’ from 1989 were two examples of the sound maintaining this vibe, and through the late 1980s and early 1990s such labels as House Nation continued releasing records such as these.
These early examples of vocal cut-ups and profanity symbolised black slang and early cross-pollinations of hip hop. While a lot of DJs cite early records like this as an inspiration to express naughty language, guys aren’t so excited about being able to say “bitch” on tracks anymore. One individual even mentioned subconsciously stopping this practice to some degree. I think that’s enough proof that it’s not just “mindless club music” as I’ve seen it referred to, and the strong experimental nature involved is a lot more risky in the booth than bedroom genres often labelled “conscious”.
Dance Mania’s influence
Dance Mania continued through the 90s to put out over 300 ghetto house 12”s. They began to track the start of the juke and ghetto tech sound from dirty house. DJs such as DJ Jackmaster, DJ Slugo and DJ Funk (who later went on to remix Justice) furthered the profanity-heavy and percussion focused sound explored by their contemporaries on the same label. 95 was a big year and artists such as DJ Jackmaster, Paul Johnson, DJ Milton and DJ Deeon were particularly prevalent during that time, each with their own signature sound which later contemporaries would draw upon. It was the beginning of a new era where artists really started to find their own way of producing something completely different whilst maintaining the proto ghetto house groove.
DJ Clent, a late addition to the Dance Mania crew, raised the tempo a little bit in 1998, paving the way for a new form of booty house quickly named as ‘juke’. ‘Jukin’ had been around for a long time finding its roots in the juke joints where people would dance to music around the early 1920s and onwards. It seemed a natural extension of this and juke quickly became the signature sound of underground Chicago. His 2004 anthem ‘Back Up Off Me’ became a cornerstone for adventurous producers willing to delve into the high-tempo genre. DJs such as DJ Assault began compiling mixes from the late 90s onwards exploring the new sound often blending them with early funk and disco tunes to make them more accessible and easier to listen to. However it soon became apparent that the sound was not easily transferable outside of Chicago or Detroit. The music often became closed and alien to the rest of the world and even America. Even within Chicago itself the north side didn’t even know much about juke or ‘footwork’. Footwork dance crews were a lot more on the periphery than the DJs and the music. A lot of the dancers could do mainstream things and they would put in other moves to showcase their dancing. However they would localise their dancing and sound which would then not become as mainstream but would often ‘go better with the music’. The energy of the dancing is unexplainable and one must really search on youtube to see the full extent of it. Wala Williams is a choreographer and he videos events which he puts on and it goes far to explain what footworking is about. The contests are usually decided by the crowds who often know best who did the best ‘moves’.
Containing juke’s rhythmic infection
In contrast to New York City’s break dance crews, footworking focuses on the quickness and fluidity of the dancers’ legs, and less of spinning on the ground, back flips and the worm. Their heads and shoulders are often still and it’s hard to believe how fast their bottom half actually move. Occasionally there are outstretched arm movements and more often spins paying homage to African dance, but in general intense feet movement are what ‘wins’ battles. Within a battle each dancer gets about 6 rounds of 20-30 seconds to showcase his moves, pushing them to show their moves within the limit. The footworking goes hand in hand with the music. It is tense, fast paced and generally a natural extension from the ears to the feet. The rivalry between opponents is not only focused on the dance floor. A friendly rivalry between Chicago and Detroit is currently underway called Jit VS Juke. Jit is basically 98% footwork with a lot more arm movement. The main difference is that it is set to fast paced techno music, with a direct descent (like juke) from ghetto house. There’s a lot more combinations, structure and styling to the dance routines according to some of the main stalwarts. If you want to be a dancer to this music though you must be a slave to the rhythm and co-ordinate your movement to the sound of the beat. For example, if you hear a high snare you move you arm to that. It’s also natural when you think Jit, to think of the Jitterbug, the legendary six step shuffle. The Jit takes the roots of the dance but branches it off with high kicks, feet tapping, drops and floor work. It’s true that both the music and the dance moves have come a long way to create this new form. But whilst other cities had break dancing and poppin’ and lockin’, Detroit and Chicago had more of a passion to create something new. It’s starting to show dividends too. The D-Party dance show on America’s equivalent of Channel 4 now has a ‘Jit’ Spot. ‘Footwork’ a new movie by Gabrielle Jones showcases both the jit and the juke. Also a Jit VS Juke battle was recently released on DVD, showing the profits that can be gained from the two.
It’s a long and lengthy discussion on the culture and dancing surrounding juke music, but it’s an essential and rewarding one. If you simply listen to one record then you aren’t getting the whole story and ultimately losing out on an exciting one too. In terms of trying to describe what you actually hear though its difficult but worth a shot. The beats themselves are always pushed over 140 BPM, given the rhythmic swing of hip-hop, and topped with minimal vocal loops. Imagine juke being the equivalent of ghetto-house, as what dubstep is (was) to drum and bass, a mutated descendent of a form of music already pushing boundaries. Upon first listen Footwork doesn’t feel like you could dance to it. The incredibly fast beats are often switched and changed and one couldn’t really put a routine together easily. The dark mood of the tracks also adds to the difficult listening nature, the complete opposite of a party track that is often danced to.
What’s with the music?
Artists like DJ Rashad and DJ Nate intersperse 4/4 house beats with standard hip hop booms whilst the timekeeping itself is left up to handclaps or out of place hi-hats. Whilst the rhythmic structure remains similar through most juke tracks, in order to please footworkers no doubt, the rest of the template remains open for artists to add anything and distinguish themselves from the rest. You might hear a faint synth line, a mutating bassline or any amount of too mainstream to be true samples (from Evanescence to Kanye West). With this last addition to the track footworking suddenly tells a story of any amount of urban youth situation you could imagine, complete with unnerving, non-stop movement. No wonder it’s a soundtrack to the fast paced lives of the youths that listen to it.
DJ Rashad – Drop Juke Out
The whole story may be a hugely interesting one but the sound will probably remain hugely inaccessible for a long time as it’s not to everybody’s tastes. The aforementioned DJ Nate twists R&B, hip-hop with his beloved juke, into 4/4 rhythms and quirky edits. It’s something that every music lover would consider hugely innovating, yet the overall sound may alienate purists. DJ Nate might be one of the first ‘commercial’ juke names you may hear in the UK, being that he has signed a deal with Planet Mu for an EP and album this year, but his sound remains niche. Every sound he uses in his first EP ‘Hatas Our Motivation’ jousts with one. You don’t quite know when one sound will persist and the other will start but it’s a nervous listen through each track.
DJ Nate – Hatas Our Motivation
The repeated vocals and the constant syncopation you hear initially appear lazy and haphazard yet throughout secondary listening there is an amazing hypnotic effect and by the end of it instead of rocking to each track you’re just nodding repeatedly. You can see by the end of it why this type of music is perfect for the hour long battles. There’s definitely a heavy relation to the movement of feet to the music, something that seems obvious in name, yet can only be truly felt when hearing the music and watching the best dancers. It’s at least a vibrant and interesting sound that owes a lot to its ancestry explored in the first half of this article. It’s important to realise the relationship, which is why I went about writing the article in that order.
I’ve been trying to relate juke to UK music for a while now. It’s been totally exhilarating when something goes together that is so alien. Artists like Addison Groove, Ramadanman and Girl Unit have explored the nervy drum patterns used in their records and Addison’s ‘Footcrab’ is a direct descendant and homage to the juke scene. It seems as if the UK’s bass continuum is willing to take any ingredient from anywhere and mould it into their own culture. Few people will know that a brief trawl through Dance Mania’s back catalogue will lead you to probably the one sole record homage by ‘Footcrab’. Waxmaster’s ‘Footwork’ contains a similar drum pattern and almost identical repeated vocal refrain of ‘footworkfootworkfootwork’. It’s nice to know though that Addison Groove has transplanted this over to our seas, this has lead us onto a huge back catalogue that often gets un-noticed here.
Addison Groove – Footcrab
Girl Unit and Ramadanman on the other hand are focused on crafting new pieces that focus more on their artistic intent. Sure the fast-paced drum patterns are there and the insistent rhythm and nervous undertones are prevalent throughout the tracks, yet the sound is totally new for the UK. Ramadanman’s ‘Work Them’ uses juke’s idea of a repeated vocal refrain to full extent, employing a pitched down vocal and quickly repeated effect that goes hand in hand with the head nodding drum patterns that decay now and again. The similarities with juke are pretty heavy yet the main difference is that tempo is right down to about 135bpm. This is in fact a stroke of genius as it opens the track up to be employed by a number of UK DJs in sets, mixes etc. One only wonders if some juke DJs slowed the pace down then perhaps there’d be more love for them overseas.
Ramadanman – Work Them
Further listening: Check out Mike Paradinas’ ‘Footwork/Juke Mix’ for more fast paced juke. Pretty essential entry into the sound : http://www.mixcloud.com/mikep/mike-paradinas-footworkjuke-mix/?utm_source=widget&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=base_links&utm_term=cloudcast_link
Virtual programming: worldwide infectious rhythm
India! The cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend! Okay I may have stolen that from some tourist website, but its mostly true. India has been, for some time, a hot bed of cultural diversity. One look at any Bollywood movie contains more song and dance and colour than a trip to the Moulin Rouge. But down to business, it’s the music that really pushes my buttons. If one scratches the surface then there is one obvious, and pretty big conclusion, that Indian music has literally exploded in Britain within the last few years. BBC 1Xtra being the main example, a constant transmission of varied new music and infectious rhythms. Even in mainstream dubstep and drum and bass one can hear the dramatic influence of Indian classics. Take Chase & Status’s sampling of the Devdas film and full discography’s of Indian influenced music The Nasha Experience, Kromestar and a fantastic Klute song. Dubstep stalwarts Loefah, Geiom, Kode9 and to a degree Digital Mystiks have also explored ‘foreign’ sounds often influenced by Indian culture and vibes, though not pinned down necessarily to the culture. And who could forget Punjabi MC! The Shankar family also helped push the sound further afield, highlighting the cultural importance of India to the world. Ravi Shankar’s Streets of Calcutta remains a personal favourite.
One of the most exciting experiments that fused the spirit of Bollywood with funk and hip-hop was the experimental compilation/mix Bombay The Hard Way. This collection of tracks came from Indian film director Anandji Shah along with his brother Kalyanji, who not only wrote and directed dozens of films, but scored them as well throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The source material itself remains incredible due to the fact that the two were able to take the old traditional folk melodies of India and combine them with the grooves and rhythm prevalent in American and European counterparts. Dan the Automator and DJ Shadow added some additional beats and a few extra sitars to the tracks together with spoken narrative from the films that accent the wildness of the pieces. More celebratory and fun than inspirational, yet it shows how wacky India can be.
The latter all obviously pay homage to their source material, however all really have watered it down with their own personal touch, be it drum breaks or extortionate amounts of bass. America is where I find the most intriguing sourcing of Indian material. DJ/Producer/Hip-Hop madman Madlib is known for sampling some off the wall material from time to time, but his Beat Konducta alias has found him crafting album’s worth of intriguing samples and beats. In particular, The Beat Konducta In India finds Madlib trawling through the collections of previously mentioned Bollywood archives. It’s an interesting concept, structure-wise meeting somewhere between the movie and street sampling of Burial and the adventurous plundering of The Avalanches. Sound-wise it’s nothing like either. The phrasing and jovial interjections found in Indian ragas and film dialogue partners nicely with Madlib’s looped rhythmic patterns. Madlib masterfully uses these sections of Indian music as upfront melody and as a balance between his own self-made underlying rhythms. Far from the misadventurous and often clumsy use of sample material found in most dubstep releases, Madlib allows the sitar drenched funk to come to the forefront of each track. Madlib still sounds like Madlib though; those tight singing basslines and clipped snares are still prevalent. But in place of his well known penchant for using soul, jazz and easy listening samples are swooping strings and Hindi vocals. In addition, and most obviously, In India’s basis in foreign sources is unusual yet inviting. The connection between Asian music and Hip Hop is a mode not often pursued or done well, yet here it sounds like Madlib’s been doing it for years.
Africa’s rhythmic virus
Madlib’s authenticity with sound does not stop there, his In Africa edition also impresses. But whilst Indian music continues to grow on home soil and Britain alone, the rhythm of Africa is currently taking over the world. Highlighted so poignantly by this year’s fabulously colourful (and LOUD) World Cup. It gave Africa its most worldwide platform yet to shine and sing and show everyone how noisy it can be. Point in case, the vuvuzela! Even though the players hated it, the vuvuzela was probably the one thing everybody remembers. The buzzing drones that constantly emanated from TV screens and speakers throughout the world was inescapable, casting an audible virus among listeners. More so than that it became a symbolic sound for all Africans, as one man explains;
“When we started the vuvuzela, there was so much sadness in our country in those years and it brought so much joy. All of a sudden people would go to the stadiums because of this instrument that was able to get fans on their feet and start cheering. For a few hours, they would forget about the reality in our society and enjoy the sound”.
But even before that, African rhythm had been a big influence on producers, especially in the UK, for some time. Even more so to this day the sound of Africa is producing home-grown talent that by far outshines its replicas overseas.
When you think of house music, sure the first cities you automatically think of are Chicago, Detroit and the rest of the American connection. But in terms of excitement and new vibes, there’s no other place to hear incredible house beats than in South Africa. Selling homemade mixes of house music became a big thing for South Africans in the mid 80s and by the time apartheid had ceased in 1994 a strain of African house called ‘kwaito’ was rife. Kwaito started out as merely slow house or broken beat music, overlaid with Zulu and broken township English vocals. It became ubiquitous with the sound of a ‘free Africa’ and spread like wildfire throughout the continent as a new black industry.
But although kwaito was often seen as the pertinent sound of Africa, house music was still around. A small group of DJs started to incorporate new sounds influenced from kwaito vibes, distinctly African basslines and legendary Hugh Masekela samples. Local house duos like Revolution or BOP were instant chart breakers.
With this new strand overshadowing traditional and kwaito music, house is now the heartbeat of urban South African music. Its celebratory new sound distinctly announces the fact that South Africa is the only country on the continent that has created its own unique local house culture.
When it comes to finding a niche market outside of the country, it wasn’t until 2008 until almost everyone heard the ubiquitous DJ Mujava track Township Funk. Still, to this day, one could argue that it is still the only SA house track to really explode on worldwide dance floors, but there is so much more to be heard. Along with the Mujava track DJs are beginning to play tracks that are so alien, yet organic and approachable to a willing audience. This new strand has been slowly infiltrating into the UK’s dance scene for a while now within the sets of Sinden, Ben UFO, Kode9, Bok Bok & L-Vis 1990 and many more by the day. And what better timing!? The World Cup although just over, continues to spread African fever across the UK, and long after the players’ tiffs have been dusted off the news shelves, reports of vuvuzela beratement continue on. It’s a chance that a lot of DJs are willing to take, and what a simple one too, the music is easy to mix and easy enough to incorporate into any set and of course is totally infectious.
Up to date there have been nearly non-stop excursions of rhythm almost certainly influenced by the new strain of rhythm infection circulating in Africa. Comparing a home-grown talent to an African master is always going to be one sided but I have a feeling that the pool of artists exploring this sound will continue to grow from our home soil. Breach aka ex soul boy Ben Westbeech has started to create simple house tracks on the surface, yet injects them with extra samples that turn the tracks on their head. ‘Fatherless’ for example starts off innocently enough taking nearly 2 minutes to fully realise. After this point, the soft focus of the flutes start to change and come to the forefront of the tune and co-exist with the rhythm, which in turn explodes into synchronicity after the drop. Afro-beat drums and bongos take over the simple beat the song started with and the whole track seems to come together.
Mujava, the said master of the style, also has a new song which further explores themes on which Township Funk explored. An extremely similar drum pattern is injected with more traditional instruments and sounds, improving the simple yet effective beat of his first hit. The main difference in Mugwanti is the solid vocal performance. Obviously I have no idea what the male protaginist is saying but it’s a cultural and beautiful red herring no one can avoid. After all we are the ones being introduced to this music. Midway through the track a M.I.A type female vocal intercepts the male vocal and brings a sense of familiar sound. This fits the track into the present and highlights the genius of Mujava allowing people to grasp what they know but also get excited by what they don’t.
All of this and I haven’t even discussed Shangaan Electro. This niche style from Soweto reaches peaks of up to 180 beats per minute and even though I could say it’s more traditional than African house, I’d be simplifying it too much. Marimba focused music coupled with old drum machines and keyboards moulded together by the craftsmanship of people totally focused on making high energy dance music. Along with video accompaniment the whole package baffles at first, and then thrills on the next. Soca and Footwerk music are easy comparisons, but Shangaan electro is distinctly Africa. But not only are these songs for dancing, they also contain boundless passion and soulful vocals. Zinja Hlungwani, the scene’s major man absolutely smashes it on N’wagezani My Love with something that I, or I doubt you, have ever heard before. There’s so much to talk about in the track, from the great vocal performance, to the high tempo drum pattern, to the snapped vocal sample taken straight from UK experimental music. You’ll have heard little like this before and it is still unlikely to work within a club environment anytime soon, but it is one of the most exciting and adventurous experiments I have heard in a long time. The main thing is that it will bring a smile to anyone’s face.
The main difference between India and Africa’s defining sounds? Well, for me, India’s signature permeates from its deep culture and traditional instruments. Even Punjabi MC would bring shame upon the family if he didn’t use a Sitar in his next track. Its establishment with Bollywood and soundtracks continue to this day and still thrills local audiences. In Africa, its signature sound is NOW. There’s no other time when the winds of change have been so strong for Africa’s people and its music. The culture sure is one of the main reasons for this turnaround, but the music is bought on by the drive of the people for change. Whilst India’s music stagnates merrily, Africa’s drives forward and packs a powerful punch.
The desert heat
Maurice Jarre’s fantastic soundtrack for Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 opened up a whole new world (Aladdin pun) of exploration for people who watched the film. The spirit of the unknown and the thrill of navigating the desert was a new concept back then and it blew people’s mind.
Nowadays, the desert doesn’t really seem like a fun place to go. Reports from friends say that the pyramids are ‘really just a big pile of bricks’. The glamour has gone and apart from ‘The Mummy’ films so has the thrill. However the music of the desert still has a lot to offer for a lot of new artists.
For me, the first thing I remember about desert music is probably Super Mario and my first foray into gaming. The N64 was for me the most exciting thing in my life in 1997 and coupled with the soundtracks for all the games (which at the time I took for granted) worked together superbly. Of course, it is a well-known fact that producers have also been influenced by the sound of video-gaming. In particular Flying Lotus and Samiyam often collaborate and singularly release tracks inspired by the bleeps of classic games.
In terms of the desert sound, one often would presume it is actually a very quiet place. But one producer sees that differently and is enthralled by its mystical, magical and imagined ancient past. Kingdom, a new producer from America has released a number of synth laden and often R’n’B focused tracks on up and coming labels for about a year but his forthcoming EP on the fantastic Night Slugs label is purely focused on the ancient Egyptian sound. Still focused on crafting R’n’B melodies he has twisted this to nasty effect on title track That Mystic. The low hum of the male vocal at the start recalls the sacred hum of awoken pharaohs whilst the high-pitched vocals and 8-bit starry synths are influenced by previously stated video game hi-jinks. His stuttering drum patterns are a staple throughout his discography and along with contemporaries Girl Unit, Bok Bok and Brackles, are purely constructed for the dance. The result is a thoroughly neck-snapping voyage through Egypt and one could imagine raving in the Nile to this one.
Whilst the sound of Egypt is probably still along way off fruition, unlike Africa’s burgeoning house scene, it is interesting to compare all 3 cultures in one article. To place them all together may seem strange but I feel as if all 3 have a connection in history. India’s musical heritage is deeply rooted and may have stagnated quite a bit in terms of modern influence. Yet it still remains hugely prolific in its output, including maybe a million Bollywood films and countless experimentations and cross-genre pollinations of the sound. In Africa there is no time like the present as stated. Whilst I see Egypt, but mostly Aztec sounds as something that may or may not be explored deeply in the future.
Past, present or future, music will always be influenced by culture. Full Stop.
Further Reading: For further explanation into what is going on musically and culturally in Africa right now then check out the two blogs linked below:
Furthermore, I wanted to include this fantastic track, but I couldn’t fit it in anywhere, listen below:
Virtual programming: space and the ocean
‘Intergalactic-Funk’, it’s come a long way since George Clinton and his mothership touched down on our planet. I guess now though looking back that was only really the tip of a huge musical iceberg. Interplanetary funk for me symbolised not only a new way to look at music but mainly a new way to look at instruments. I mean it lasted full on for more than a decade from the late 60s to mid 80s when ‘space’ was one of the biggest inspirations for musicians, artists and civilians alike. Space represented a whole number of things. To some, it was an excuse to play outrageous keyboards (along with some outrageous grooves!). For others, space was a new landscape and world where they directed their poetic endeavours and lyricism. This in particular drew much comparison to the comics that came before and during this period (Marvel and 2000 A.D. special editions in particular). Finally for some, space represents a much more frightening place, seen in low budget sci-fi films of the period (and Doctor Who!) where technology, robots and bad guys infiltrate Earth’s atmosphere. This ‘penetration’ can also be seen within music. When Mr. Clinton touched down it opened up a wormhole in our solar system, which is permanently skewing our perception of what period of time sounds and visions come from. In this stage of our lifetime, melodies, grooves and synthesisers seem to permeate a sound, which has long been associated with space, but still sounds fresh today (when done correctly! I’m looking at Calvin Harris). This wormhole I feel has not only kept this type of music fresh, but also new artists can look up to the stars now and almost become drawn to it thanks to the music it has produced, and the way it’s affected people.
One genre in particular is becoming the leader of this new generation of intergalactic music, although it is prevalent in almost all ‘genres’ today. House music has always been a blueprint for new sounds, new programming methods and new artists to build upon and create something new. Within this first section I will look at a new artist blending the sounds of space with the looks and lyricism prevalent in early funk pioneer’s live shows, but maintaining a house groove.
The Space Dimension Controller
“Controlling dimensions, loitering in space, seducing astro-bitches”, is what the Space Dimension Controller aka Jack Hammill loves doing. Of course any human caught saying this will probably be locked up for a while. This is of course the persona of an astro-traveller put on by the young Irish producer. Similar to the showmen of funk yesteryear, a SDC show consists of flashy costumes, rockin the mic (look on YouTube to see him doing some cosmic rapping “Space Party”), and playing some lavish synthesisers. One would read this and expect to hear some flashy 70s style funk. Well, the idea is there but SDC is predominately a house music connoisseur.
Sure you have your crisp analogue sounds, courtesy of a Drexciya/James Stinson inspiration, avoiding the over-compression of modern pop music. But SDC is more breakdance electro than Bootsy Collins. His track The Love Quadrant runs along a 4/4 beat employing new sounds which grow and meld together in just under 5 minutes. Sounds like a standard house track right? Well yes, up until the first glimpses of a soft female voice (in this case SDC’s girlfriend) and SDC himself responds to her, asking her ‘where she wants to go’? This one-two conversation harks back to the poetic lyricism explained earlier, showing an interest of intergalactic love. After this exchange the track explodes with a synth melody courtesy of g-funk inc. This continues until the final seconds when the track dissolves into space from whence it came. The inspirations are there and without cramming them all into one big mess, SDC manages to form the track into two sections and show his influence in just over 4 minutes. The synthline in particular is an audacious groove which perhaps could be the soundtrack to a love movie set in space.
And it does hark to many nerdy NASA fantasies that in the future, humans will make love in space. SDC’s next single Journey to the Core of the Unknown Sphere furthers the material explored on The Love Quadrant whilst perhaps straying closer to Detroit house than Jupiter’s rings. A longer track but just as satisfying, its build ups and breakdowns start off quicker than the aforementioned single, with spacey synths prevailing from the start. The cosmic inspirations are still heavily prevalent but when the track reaches halfway the mood changes and the inspirations start to turn towards sci-fi soundtracks of the late 70s. Dark synth sounds and harder kicks create a song of two halfs, sort of like a mini odyssey into the wormhole we discussed earlier. It is a rewarding listen but deserves a few more listens before it can be fully digested. It’s a futuristic yet retro sound that SDC can fully call his own.
Along with the stage persona he seems to have the whole outfit nailed and I personally can’t wait to see him live. All of this and I haven’t even delved into his rapping! It’s all really part of the journey of this young space traveller.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the depths of the ocean seem to permeate in the artist’s senses as much as space does. Early examples of this would be sea shanties sung by pirates, sailors and fisherman. These songs contain a rhythm that is almost identical to the motions of the waves upon which they sail. This direct amalgamation of sound and nature is one of the first examples of humans discovering how the two can be blended. The rhythm of the ocean is still a big inspiration for many today, although one can argue it is under the water where musicians and artists find the magic. After the books (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), films (Jaws) and comic books (Aquaman!) of the late 1800s through to mid to late 1900s, the exploration of the ocean contained a mysticism and wonder, which many were thrilled by. Granted most were scared by the darkness but many were excited by new life forms and the wonder of ‘another world’. This ties in with the unknown of space and for many the two are almost alike. In terms of music the similarities are there. The rhythm of the ocean and tidal currents often allow musicians to craft intricate beat forms and time patterns similar to the wash of the shoreline. The depths of the ocean however create a more mystifying musical impression, allowing musicians to form new sounds and ambience directly influenced by the pressure experienced when delving below the surface.
Once again within modern music it is electronica that has mostly consumed the sounds of the ocean. One can argue not as much as space, but still the amount of ‘chill-out’ music directly influenced from the moods of the shore is testimony to its influence. One artist in particular is currently forming a newer sound indebted to not only the depths of the ocean but from a direct descendent of early 90s techno music, crafted in his own unique way.
To me Scuba’s sound exemplifies the sound of underwater music. It’s not only in the name but the way in which he constructs his tracks. Each one is like a mini-odyssey starting with plunging into the ocean and then finding a coral reef on the seabed that contains some kind of underwater tunnel system. Each sound in his tracks contains some kind of reverb, delay, echo or filter that is just typically ‘underwater’ sounding. It’s not even funny how all of his shit can literally be ‘the’ soundtrack to the next ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ movie. The start of his RA podcast (check it out) starts with the sounds of waves, I mean come on. Hell, one can compare SDC’s space stage presence to Scuba’s oceanic sound. But the one main difference is, Scuba let’s his music do the talking.
His latest single is a step away from the deep dubstep-techno he is renowned for, but the elements and emotional content of the track remain the same. Eclipse is the latest in a line of newer half-step tracks being employed by drum & bass and dubstep heads recently, notably dBridge and Instra:mental (Loughborough heads will know from the last Dub-Boro). Scuba’s effort however maintains the stride of his contemporaries, without losing his trademark smooth and deep atmospheric sound. As ever, it’s hard to put your finger on it if you’ve never really heard anything like this before, but Scuba manages to release tracks in which subtlety is paramount. Eclipse always threatens to delve deeper and the listener expects a heavy drop throughout the track, however it maintains its pressurized groove consistently for 5 minutes.
Even better is his early rare single on Naked Lunch. Negative is a hugely emotional dubstep tempo track, yet the snares, hi hats and drum pattern is purely techno. Scuba’s signature sound is exemplified in this track and the result of moving to the grey city of Berlin can be heard from this point on in his career. Negative’s 2-step drums and additional echoed emotional female vocal are the mainstays of new dubstep production, and are qualities themselves. However, it’s when the beat stops midway through the track and the chiming bells echo and delay, allowing the track’s ambience, which has threatened to shine throughout the start, come to the forefront. Scuba’s minimal use of the bells allows the listener to focus completely on the track’s emotional content (within the female vocal and rising ambience) and is a masterstroke of subtlety. Descriptions are only so much; one has to simply delve deep into the track to truly hear the sounds and influences of the ocean.