Saturday, November 28, 2015

2step garage

2step Garage
Vibe, 2001

by Simon Reynolds

Step into a London club like Cream of Da Crop, and it's like entering a BET wonderland. Everywhere you look there's Beyonces from Bethnal Green and Myas from Mile End. Dressed to impress, the crowd bump and flex to music that sounds like R&B but with a mutant UK twist. Called 2-step, it's a mash-up of Timbaland-style jerky beats and house music's synth-pulsations, laced with raucous dancehall chat, sultry diva vocals, and speaker-rattling bass.

2step has been bubbling on the London underground for several years, but recently it's conquered the British pop mainstream, with artists like Artful Dodger and Truesteppers virtually annexing the Top 10 for most of the Y2K. As well as hot singles by the score, the scene has generated a bona fide superstar in Craig David, who's been the prize in a fierce bidding war between American record companies. For a while Virgin had it sewn up, until David gave them the slip at the last minute. Def Jam and  Bad Boy were also keen. "Puffy phoned me while he was in England for the L'il Kim tour, " says David via cellie from Berlin, the latest stop in his massive European tour. "I was really flattered." Finally Atlantic grabbed him.

 "There's only been a few UK urban artists--Soul II Soul, Loose Ends--who've impacted America in a huge way," says Craig Kallman, the Atlantic A&R executive who signed David, and whose past exploits including hooking Aaliyah up with Timbaland, and Brandy up with Rodney Jerkins. "But Craig is really poised to break here with that kind of hugeness. By the time his album come out in America, he'll have already sold three to four million worldwide." Still, Kallman concedes that nothing's a shoe-in in the record business. "In the UK, Craig benefited from the club vibe creating the groundswell of his buzz---there's this tremendous underground culture of white label releases. But in America, that doesn't exist and 2step is still an unknown genre."

 Craig David is at the forefront of a lost generation of black British vocalists who, facing insurmountable obstacles as homegrown R&B artists, broke through via 2step and the club scene. British R&B has long been perceived as a redundant concept. R&B fans in the UK regard the homegrown stuff as a poor relation when it comes to production values. "People think 'there's already fantastic music coming from America, why should we bother with the local stuff?'" says Ras Kwame of 2step outfit M-Dubs.

It took a little while, though, for the vocal talent--singers like Shola Ama, Elizabeth Troy, Nana, Lifford, Kallaghan, and more--to connect with the 2step producers. Instead, the early days of 2-step saw producers slaking their thirst for quality vocals by going straight to the source--American R&B's creme de la creme--and doing illegal remixes of hits by Dru Hill, Jodeci, Aaliyah, and so forth. Sampling the a capella versions on US import 12 inches, 2steppers dissected the divas and reworked the vocal shards into catchy percussive riffs. Or they kept the songs intact and built brand-new grooves around them.
The most famous of these bootleg remixes was Architechs's make-over of Brandy & Monica's "The Boy Is Mine." Using a digital technique called "timestretching" to speed up the vocals so that they fit 2step's brisker tempo, Architechs made the duetting divas sound like ghosts of themselves, wavery and mirage-like. They also added crowd noises "to make it feel like a contest between Brandy and Monica," says Architechs's City, a veteran of the UK's stillborn R&B scene. "We wanted it to sound like a real soundclash with the crowd dividing its support between the two girls." Having failed to interest Brandy's UK record company EastWest in the idea of releasing the remix officially, Architechs put it out as a white label bootleg. Played incessantly on London's illegal pirate radio stations, "B&M Remix" eventually sold 20 thousand copies--a staggering feat, given that regular record stores won't stock bootlegs and the record was only available via London's specialist 2step stores.

 Close behind "The Boy Is Mine" in popularity was an even more unlikely London street anthem: Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay." At one point, there were ten different bootleg remixes of this tune in circulation. One perpetrator was Wookie, in-house producer for Soul II Soul's label and a man thoroughly familiar with the frustrations of making R&B in the UK. Hooking up with a DJ pal under the alias X-Men, Wookie sneaked out a Whitney bootleg and swiftly followed it with a lovely but utterly illegal reworking of Brandy's "Angel". Although many bootleggers do the remixes to make some quick cash, Wookie conceived them as calling cards to the record industry. And it worked: "Angel" led to him being commissioned to do an official remix of Brit-diva Gabrielle's "Sunshine." Soon he was putting out his own tracks like the Top Ten hit "Battle". Similarly, Architechs got signed and scored a Number 3 pop hit with their own song "Bodygroove".


2step is the product of British youth's longstanding infatuation with all things Black and American, a passion that goes back to the mods in the 1960s. The biggest influence from American R&B on 2step isn't the singing stars, though. It's the futuristic sound and jagged beat-science of producers like Timbaland and She'kspere, and the ghetto fabulous video imagery popularized by Puff Daddy and Hype Williams. 2step is all about flossin', or in UK parlance, "larging it" . Clubbers sport gold bracelets and ice-encrusted chokers, and they fiend for designer labels. At clubs like Pure Silk and Cookies & Cream, you'll see guys wearing "Dolce & Gabbana Is Life" T-shirts, or sashaying around with the neck label of their undershirt pulled out so that the word Versace is visible." "The whole Puff Daddy jiggy thing was a major catalyst," says Ras Kwame. "For a while there, England was Puffed out to the max".

That said, 2step is far from being merely a British imitation of an American sound and style. True, the stop-start beats in Aaliyah and Destiny's Child tracks caught the ears of UK youth big-time. But most of them figured that Timbaland & Co got the idea from drum and bass, which is where 2step producers generally learned their repertoire of rhythm tricks. Another warp factor that makes 2step more than just the new Brit-soul is the influence from dancehall reggae. Black British youth may look to America, but most of them have Jamaican ancestry. Craig David, for instance, comes from a mix-race background, with reggae influences on his father's side. Starting out as DJ playing a mix of R&B, hip hop and ragga, his gimmick was "spinning records and MC-ing at the same time". These tangled influences from rap, dancehall and drum'n'bass shaped David's distinctive vocal style, which moves fluently between melody and stuttering chat in the fashion of Bone Thugs 'N Harmony, Sisquo, and dancehall "singjays" like Mr. Vegas.

MCs are a crucial part of 2step culture, with chatters like PSG, Sparks & Kie, and Creed as famous as the leading DJs. Many come from a UK dancehall or homegrown hip hop background--fields of endeavour just as blocked and fruitless as British R&B. "Rappers and ragga MC's had a hard time in this country," says Kwame. "But now thanks to 2step, 'nuff man get a chance to come through and express themselves 'pon the 'mic." 2step is full of Jamaican slang, like the MC chant "we're bubbling criss": "bubbling" means "grooving," "criss" means slick, sharp-looking, crisp. Then there's the "rewind", in which the crowd shout "Bo!" when they love a record and the MC instructs the DJ to spin it back to the start. Borrowed from dancehall, this audience participation ritual is so crucial in 2step that Craig David and Artful Dodger harnessed it for their smash hit "Rewind (When the Crowd Say 'Bo! Selector!')".

2-step's paradox is that everything it's made of comes from elsewhere--New York's house scene, Jamaican dancehall, American R&B--but the resulting composite could only have happened in London. "You have this clash of cultures here---European, Indian, African, Caribbean," says Ras Kwame. "Everyone brings something different to the table." Kwame's own story is a prime example. Raised in Ghana, he played in reggae bands at high school, and met singers like Dennis Brown and Bob Marley through his father's sound system. Later, as a DJ and aspiring producer in London, he criss-crossed the R&B, hip hop, and drum'n'bass scenes. With his partner in M-Dubs, Kwame opened the record store Sugarshack and operated a little studio in back. Using the store as a way of keeping in touch with street-level tastes, M-Dubs produced massive tunes like "Over Here," featuring the nasal raggamuffin drawl of MC Richie Dan, and "Bump N' Grind", which layered a raunchy vocal lick sampled from Jamaica's queen of slackness Lady Saw ("put me on your face, ninja boy") over a beat stolen from Aaliyah's "Hot Like Fire." With a fully-fledged collaboration lined up with dancehall don Mr. Vegas, Kwame is pushing 2step as the 21st Century "rudeboy shuffle." "It's bassline music, like all London music really," he says. "It goes back to when the sound-system culture got brought over from Jamaica, thirty years ago. "


For 2-step, the million dollar question is whether its mix'n'blend of far-flung influences, so perfect attuned to the U.K's audio-erogenous zones, can make any impression on this side of the Atlantic, where urban audiences are even more insular than the rock market. If Phase One of 2step was the bootleg fad and Phase Two was producers writing their own songs, Phase 3, says Wookie, "is recording albums and seeing if this stuff can appeal to people who aren't out in the clubs." If 2-step can make sense outside its subcultural context, then it stands a chance in America.

One rainy Sunday in December, MJ Cole--like Wookie, one of the first 2step producers to release an album--makes his New York debut as DJ support to Def Soul artiste Muziq Soulchild. Just like a garage club in London, the audience at the Bowery Ballroom is 80 percent black, but that's where the similarity ends. The crowd's smart but not flashy; in terms of music taste, you'd align them with Common/Erykah Badu/Montell Jordan, as opposed to Sisquo/Destiny's Child. When Cole takes over the decks from an R&B DJ playing slow jams, the 50 beats-per-minute tempo increase gets most of the guys scowling and looking round like someone's cut the cheese. You can almost see the thought-bubbles: "what IS this shit, house music or something?!". Gradually, the women are seduced by 2step's frisky beats and effervescent, joystruck vocals. And when Cole drops some fiercer bass-driven tunes, like his own remix of Glamma Kid & Shola Ama's "Sweetest Taboo," even the men start busting moves instead of looking bemused.

A few days later, hanging out at the West Village art gallery Alleged, Cole confesses to having been "quite scared actually. I was like, 'shit!, this is a real R&B crowd'. Danny Vicious, my MC, just totally lost his nerve, that's why he was so quiet on the mic'. See, he's a UK hip hop man, and suddenly being right there in the city where it all started.... " Cole frankly admits he has no idea how to break his music in the USA. 2step is already developing a small following as an offshoot of the American drum'n'bass scene, and the more "musical" style purveyed by Wookie and MJ Cole is likely to do well with the acid jazz crowd. But this is strictly cult success, small potatoes compared with the tyrannical thrall over the pop mainstream 2step enjoys in the UK. So the real question is whether BET and Hot 97 will take a chance on this music. And the problem is that, with R&B and street rap showing no signs of flagging commercially, these urban culture gatekeepers have no real incentive to take a risk on some weird shit from the UK.

Then again, the last year has seen American R&B and rap sounding ever closer to electronica and house music, possibly as a side effect of the rising popularity of Ecstasy in hip hop culture. From Timbaland using an acid bassline in Aaliyah's "Try Again", to the L'il Kim tracks based on old house classics, from OutKast's drum'n'bass dabblings to the eerie techno flavor of cuts from Jay-Z and Memphis Bleek, it could be that R&B/rap will meet 2-step halfway (given that 2-step is coming out of rave culture and heading towards American urban music). Digital technology and the near-instantaneous way that musical ideas migrate these days means that the borders between all the different street musics are increasingly meaningless. From Brixton in South London to the Bronx to Kingston, Jamaica, it's getting to be a single unified bass-beats-bleeps culture, a transAtlantic confederacy of booty-shaking sounds. Right now, the UK has a one-way alliance with American R&B, an unreciprocated love affair. But listen to 2-step, and it's hard to imagine this sound not booming out of cars from Atlanta to Los Angeles some time in the near future. I mean, how can you guys resist?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

trance versus jungle

The Wire, late 1993

by Simon Reynolds

Tastemakers are unanimous: when it comes to the scattered tribes
of the post-aciiied diaspora, trance is where it's at.  And 'ardkore
is held in universal disdain: junglist breakbeats and squeaky vocal
samples are regarded as risible signs of rave's degeneration into
'nuttercore', 150 b.p.m. kiddy-kartoon nonsense for E'd up hooligans.
For trance purists, programmed beats and all-electronic textures
indicate pure-blooded ancestry, rooted in the 'golden age' of
Detroit, as passed down through illustrious scions like Warp.  But in
music as in genealogy/genetics, purity is over-rated: it engenders
inbred enfeeblement. Miscegenation, mongrelisation and mutation are
the very stuff of evolution. So I'm here to hail rave's wayward,
RUFF-ian son, jungalistic hardcore, and direct some overdue
scepticism towards trance.

By any reckoning 'Trance Europe Express', Volume's double CD of
state-of-art techno, is a superb compilation: 24 tracks including
offerings by most of the prime movers in the field.  Nonetheless, the
comp has something of the air of epitaph about it: this is a genre
that's reached a dead end, etiolated by its own oppressive
tastefulness.  Trance's critical hegemony goes hand in hand with
textural homogeneity: the 'infinite possibilities' fanfared by
technophile critics too often boil down to a rather uniform and
impoverished array of 'cosmic' synth-timbres. While the best
exponents here (Orbital, Aphex, Bandulu) are opening up a new genre
of electronic composition, the lesser units (Psychick Warriors Ov
Gaia, The Source, Cosmic Baby) are little more than Tangerine Dream
or Vangelis with a modern beat: funkless, Aryan mood-muzak.

The alleged superiority of trance over jungle relies on the
questionable desirability of such an entity as 'armchair/intelligent
techno'. Is sedentary and contemplative somehow intrinsically a
higher, truer response than sweaty and mental?  This is simply
prog-rock snobbery.  Like the earnest conceptualists of the
Seventies, trance signifies its 'progressive' intentions by taking
its bleedin' time: at best (say, Orbital), this is an aesthetic of
sensuous ebb-and-flow (rather than ardkore's blipvert blitz).  Too
often, it means longeurs galore.

In fact, listening to trance can be a bit like going to church.
The genre does give itself pseudo-spiritual airs (hence the angelic
choral samples on Scubadevil's "Celestial Symphony", or the fact that
the top London club for trance is called 'The Knowledge').  Whereas
jungle is more pagan and voodoo. Its vulgar, indiscriminate approach
to sampling makes me think of cargo cults - hallucinating the sublime
and otherworldly in all manner of trash and pop-cultural jetsam.

Where trance's sampling is tasteful, discreet, a fusion-puree, jungle
is fissile: you can see the joins and that's so much more postmodern
and exciting. A typical jungle track is an epileptic/eclectic mish-
mash of incongrous textures (spooky ectoplasm rubs up against
gimmicky cartoon gibberish) and incompatible moods (mystic, manic,
macabre).  Jungle's cut'n'mix aesthetic owes as much to hip hop as to
techno; tracks have a machinic/organic, cyborg quality that recalls
the days before rap's slide into plausible, 'realistic' grooviness.

If you think 'ardkore means The Prodigy (who's great, anyway, The
Sweet of the 90's), you should really check out 'The Joint'. Label
compilations tend to be patchy, but this one excels because it's a
collaboration between two of ardkore's most innovative labels,
Suburban Base and Moving Shadow.  Most of the tracks have a schizoid
quality, flitting back and forth between jungle's two current modes:
happy'n'hyper and dark'n'demonic. Foul Play's "Open Your Mind"
oscillates between clammy synth-tones and billowing soul-chanteuse
harmonies.  Omni Trio's "Mystic Stepper" also has an unnerving
oxymoronic vibe, a sort of mournful euphoria: the "feel good" chorus
aches with a strange desolation. DJ Hype's "The Chopper" starts as a
pure rush (ricochetting hi-hat and Uzi-rattling snare, faecal-squirts
of bass-flatulence), then forlorn soul-diva ether wafts into the mix,
introducing an incongrous note of poignancy. DJ Krome & Mr Time's
"The Slammer", by comparison, is pure 'happy hardcore', a gorgeous,
fuzzily-reverbed piano figure entwined with a chorus that gushes
'dancing we dancing we losing control'.

The looped breakbeats + recognisable samples method initially
resulted in a deluge of white label mediocrity, provoking
proclamations of rave's death.  But Reinforced's recent sampler-EP
"Enforcers 4" shows that this aesthetic has matured; jungle has
thrived on media neglect.  Like the Moving Shadow & Suburban Base
crews, Reinforced's roster pile on the rollin' breaks to form a
sophisticated mesh of polyrhythms; beats are treated, reverbed,
'timestretched', even run backwards (on Manix' 'The X Factor'),
inducing a eerie feel of in-the-pocket funk and out-of-body delirium.
Over this roiling syncopation, ecstastic vocal plasma is molded and
modulated, an inner-body choir of sighs and whimpers that simulates
E's 'arrested orgasm' sensation.  Meanwhile, instead of basslines,
jungle's low-end has devolved into a radioactive ooze that impacts
you viscerally rather than aurally.

Ultimately, it is all down to a gut-level response, whether you
prefer trance's clockwork-regular Kraftwerk/Moroder pulse-grooves or
jungle's staccato, thrash-funk judder-quake.  It's whatever gets in
your pants, works your booty and your imagination.  But putting on my
critic's cap, I'd say that jungle's uproarious schizo-eclecticism is
paying greater dividends than trance's solemn purism. At its best,
jungle is like a gutternsnipe Can (same James Brownian rotorvation,
similar 'flow motion' ethos). Jungle is the bastard child of the John
Cage/Byrne & Eno/23 Skidoo avant-disco tradition, shunned and scorned
where the supposedly rightful inheritor of that tradition,
trance/ambient, is feted. But illegitimate heirs tend to lead more
interesting lives.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lady Sovereign

Lady Sovereign
Public Warning

director's cut, Observer Music Monthly, December 10th 2006.

by Simon Reynolds

Public Warning is a paradox: a great album, but a botched debut. It’s everything the fan could have hoped for, yet it’s palpably tarnished by its tardiness. This record, you can’t help feeling, really should have come out 18 months ago, when it would have spearheaded the onslaught of grime-goes-pop bids (Kano, Roll Deep, Lethal B) and when Lady Sovereign was surfing a high tide of media buzz. By now “the multitalented munchkin” ought to be a one-woman Spice Girls phenomenon, with Sov World already in production. Arriving in the early months of 2007 Public Warning unavoidably has a last year’s thing--hell, the year before last’s thing--aura. And why the heinous, mystifying decision to release it in the UK three months after its American release? Were Sov's minders thinking they should wait until grime's profile sank to zero and then re-launch her as a US-anointed star? The press release  for Warning trumpets its #48  Billboard Chart entry and 20 thousand first week sales, but what that really means is that hardcore British fans will have bought the import or, more likely, downloaded it illegally months before the record even comes out in Sov’s homeland. 

But enough about hype and strategy, what about the would-be pop artifact itself? From production to persona, rhymes to flow, Public Warning is almost flawless. Three years since she first stung ours ears with “Ch Ching,” it’s still pure delight to hear Louise Harman mangle language as she shifts back and forth her two modes of tautly-drawled nasal insolence and slack ‘n’ gravelly ragga menace. So deft is her flair for alliteration she can't help signposting it with an interpolation of “Peter Piper picked a pickled pepper"  in one song and “she sells sea-shells by the sea shore” in another. And she subjects vowel sounds to Abu Ghraib-degrees of contortion--just check the stretched “u”'s in the “9 to 5” verse that rhymes “huge”, “rude”, “food”, “Red Bull” and “Channel U”. 

So deliriously pleasurable is the sound of Sov that you often glaze out on the sense of her words, which--when they’re not bigging herself up on tunes like “A Little Bit of Shhh” or the Prodigy-goes-2-Tone title track--are as keenly observed as Mike Skinner’s. “Gatheration” sketches an impromptu house party at Sov’s “yard”, while the hilarious “My England” skewers American Anglophile illusions about this country: “we don’t all have bowler hats and hire servants/More like 24 hour surveillance and dogshit on the pavements”, declares Sov, before spurning croquet for Playstation and scones for “someone’s fresh homegrown.” There’s more local colour in the obligatory US hip hop-style reminiscence “Those Were The Days”, Sov recalling youthful larks--“racing down the hill in Safeway trolleys”--on the Chalk Hill estate in North London. 

Sov’s signature blend of vivacious and vicious sometimes brings to mind that old Monty Python sketch inspired by the Kray Twins, in which the most fearsome sibling isn’t the brother who wields ultraviolence but the ones who uses sarcasm. She may be tiny and intensely charming, but I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. “Tango Man” reminds you of teenage girls’ capacity for verbal cruelty, taunting an ex-friend who overdid the fake tan (she gets compares to baked beans in an English breakfast at one point) while the growly thunder of Sov’s vocal on “A Little Bit of Shhh” gives teeth to the aside “don’t joke with us small folk.” The bass-booming “Fiddle With the Volume” is an incitement to ASBO--“abuse your speakers, lose your manners/disturb the neighbours, this one’s a banger”--and makes you briefly envisage this rude girl as an icon for our contemporary culture of incivility and public disorder. But then there’s “Hoodie”--not, as you’d expect from the title, a defiant anthem for UK’s new folk devil, the hood-wearing, mall-stalking chav, but actually a celebration of Sov’s own brand of grrl power, in which the unisex hip hop clothes of trainers and hooded sweatshirt is simply more practical for active pursuits like dancing than the sexed-up club babe look. Riding a lithe beat so swinging and innocently exuberant it’s almost Sixties in feel, the gorgeous chorus  “fling on an Adidas hoodie and just boogie-woogie with me” reminds you that young people haven’t really changed. They still want to “get loose,” as Sov sings it, dance their way out of their constrictions.


Friday, November 6, 2015

dance 98

Dance acts at CMJ  1998 alternative music seminar  
Village Voice November 17th, 1998 

by Simon Reynolds

It's been a year of musical agnosticism, with no single zone of sonic activity compelling enough to warrant monomania. Indie-rock hipsters are now as likely to check out dance music, while club-music mags, responding to the ennui engendered by a decade of dance-and-drug culture, are broadening their coverage to include rock: usually instrumentalists such as Tortoise and Fridge, but sometimes proper bands, like The Verve or Spiritualized, who have some kind of narco-spiritual kinship with rave. Given this backdrop of confusion, perhaps it's not surprising that this year's CMJ featured almost as much top DJ talent as the Miami Winter Dance conference.

At Bowery Ballroom Wednesday, Lo-Fidelity Allstars made a brave but clumsy stab at incorporating the science of dance music into the attack of rock'n'roll. The band's debut, How To Operate With a Blown Mind, is an oxymoronic masterpiece of "darkside big beat," documenting the normalized malaise of British polydrug culture, where clubbers boast about getting "messy" on a cocktail of diverse chemicals. Onstage, unfortunately, the band's rave'n'roll hybrid offers neither the machinelike precision of a DJ nor the charismatic spectacle of a band. Still, the vandalized disco of "Blisters on My Brain" dazzled the ears like the Gallic glitterball house of Stardust and Daft Punk.

That same night, Speeed's four-floor, 24-DJ extravaganza promised big fun, but actually delivered (thanks to oddly sparse attendance) a disappointingly vibeless experience. In the cavernous, almost deserted basement, U.S. house gods Deep Dish wove an alternately honeydewed and harsh web of textured rhythm; later, "surprise guests" Sasha & Digweed, accustomed to audiences of several thousand, attempted to please a crowd that was simply absent. 

Elsewhere, old-skool nostalgia seemed to be the ruling flavor: Monkey Mafia's Jon Carter played a very peculiar remix of Prince's "When Doves Cry," Les Rhythmes Digitales's Jacques Lu Cont offered a pitched-up, helium-squeaky version of A Guy Called Gerald's "Voodoo Ray," and Glasgow's DJ Q dropped a crisp and spangly selection of disco cut-ups and filtered house. Just about the only breath of techno futurism came from Moby, who climaxed his set with a searingly celestial trance track, origin unknown.

Some of the week's best action was at parties not listed in the official program, but loosely affiliated to the schmooze fest and free to badge holders. On Thursday, New York hardcore techno label Industrial Strength brought gabba to the Sapphire Lounge. Lenny Dee resurrected the bombastic Belgian techno vibe of Brooklyn warehouse parties circa 1991; Parisian DJ Manu Le Malin stressed gabba's claims on the phuture with punishing yet atmospheric gloomcore. Later that night, Paul Oakenfold and sidekick Dave Ralph pleasured a packed Irving Plaza with sets of epic house and melodic trance that alternately tugged at the heartstrings (twinkly, plangent riffs) and insulted the intelligence (schlocky grand piano chords, Enya-esque Celt-diva vocals).

Like the Lo-fi's mishmash on Wednesday, the lineup at Irving Plaza on Saturday exposed the fallibility of live techno. Instead of transcendently tweaked-out turntablizm, Josh Wink opted for fitful, real-time performance of his own music. Then industrial dance veterans Meat Beat Manifesto churned out one torpid-tempo'd, quasi-funky track after another, making you wonder why main man Jack Dangers bothers hiring a live drummer if he just sounds like a state-of-the-art-circa-1990 breakbeat loop. With the post-MBM set from Wink never materializing, the night ultimately confirmed a stubborn truth about dance music: with scant few exceptions, it's a DJ thing. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Various Artists
Troubled Waters
Offshore Recordings
Village Voice, September 7th 2004

by Simon Reynolds

Drum ‘n’ bass always prided itself on being vanguard music, perpetually moving forward. Six years ago, though, the music reached a frenetic standstill, a treadmill churn of jacknifing beats and bass-riffs like endless anagrams of the same doom-blare notes. When lapsed believers (such as me) squabble with still-believers, it's like Led Zep fans arguing with Iron Maiden supporters: no, no, can't you see, it's not the same thing AT ALL! 

Built entirely from tracks on his label Offshore, New York deejay Clever's mix-CD is so refreshing because it makes like the last six years never happened. The Offshore sound takes off from the genre's moment of supreme musical ripeness, when beats were densely micro-edited but still swinging: the hyper-syncopated drum talk and lush 'n' eerie textures of Source Direct and 4 Hero. New output from veterans of that time (Deep Blue and Justice, associated with once peerless label Moving Shadow) appears on Troubled Waters alongside tracks by brilliant younger producers like Paradox and Sileni (whose "Twitchy Droid Leg" is title of the year). 

Seamlessly mixed (quite a feat given that almost everything Clever's young label has released is on this CD) Troubled Waters propels you on DJ culture’s proverbial “journey”--in this case, a thrilling ride across dark and light, frenzy and serenity. And Clever will be doing it live on Friday September 17 at Spill (196 Orchard Street), sharing the bill with Chris Walton of Inperspective Records--Offshore's London ally in the resurgence of breakbeats that actually break and basslines that move inside the groove.