Saturday, 29 March 2008

Urban Rhythm "Luv Will make It Right" (Strictly Rhythm Records, 1991)

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Let's place this record in some sort of context, shall we? It's 1991. My career as a musician is at its height. I'm a member of a highly successful indie rock band. And what am I listening to? Maybe some Carter USM? Kingmaker? Any of the other indie rockers filling the pages of the Melody maker or the NME? Nope. All I listened to was house music, and *points down* Breakbeat Hardcore. For several years, from roughly 1987 through to 1994, that was it for me. I was so immersed in the whole scene, so completely involved, that I ended up working in a Record shop in North London, specifically to feed my vinyl habit. The shop was called The Record & Disco Centre, or "the R&D" to its legions of regular customers, and was situated in the basement of a video rental shop in the suburban hinterland of Rayners Lane, at the northern end of the Piccadilly line. In between tours, gigs, and press appointments, I'd hop on the tube, get to the shop, get behind the counter, and feel completely, utterly at home. I've seldom been happier than when I was behind the pair of technics we had at the end of the counter, playing new tunes to an eager group of punters. The shop was right at the cutting edge as far as tunes went, we would have constant deliveries of new stock, and every new tune would be instantly assessed and devoured by a bunch of DJ's, desperate for the freshest tunes that their money could buy.

I vividly remember the feeling of breaking open a 25-count box of vinyl, fresh out of the Van that delivered it to the shop, seeing all those 12" sleeves, tightly swathed in shrink wrap, and snapping one open to play it for the punters. The world of record buyers are divided into two groups: those who use a fingernail to slice open the shrink wrap, and those who use the leg of their jeans. I'm in the latter group. It's quite simple, you find the "opening", give the 12" a shake so the vinyl inside nestles nearer to the edge, then rub the edge a few times, really fast, on your upper leg. Job done. Once the record inside has revealed itself, I always loved the smell of the vinyl as it emerged into the air of the shop for the first time. Pristine, dust-free, shiny, perfect. As quick as possible, I'd place it on the deck, slide the needle over....and wait. Years of listening to tunes focuses your diagnostic skill to a fine point: you tend to know in about 10 seconds whether it's a real tune or not. And so did all the DJ's crowding round the decks; at roughly the same point in the song, either a huge shout of "TUNE!" would go up, or a collective shrug of the shoulders would consign the tune to the bargain bin, from whence it would struggle to reappear. This particular record emerged from a huge pile of Strictly Rhythm releases (the label seemed to put out an almost constant stream of 12"s) and, at first glance, seemed like nothing special. Rhythm Section hadn't really recorded anything of real note before, there were no in-vogue remixes on offer (Wild Pitch, etc) and overall, it looked like any other generic slice of New Jersey Warehouse funk. How wrong I was. After a small, breathy vocal sample, the record started, and began to weave its spell on me. It's driven by a clattering almost garage-like set of beats, but it's all the melodies that make this one: a series of long, sustaining string samples, almost discordant, punctuated by niggling little vibraphone and keyboard riffs. Floating over the top is a sample of Ten City's Byron Stingily, repeating the title like a mantra: "Love Will Make It Right......" And he's right isn't he? Love WILL make it right, won't it? Every time I hear him sing, even if I don't believe it, you can bet I WANT to believe it. the relentless nature of the tune, coupled with the tension created by the shimmering sustain of the chords, means I always drift off into a sort of reverie while listening to it: it's house music at its very, very best. It's primal, urgent, compelling and just flat-out wonderful. Keen Jesus Jones fans will spot how much I loved this song, by noting that a sample from it appears in the JJ song "Want To Know" (the B-side of "The Devil You Know") that's a measure of how obsessed by this song I was- the entire JJ song was basically me trying to find a way of paying homage.

These days, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a second-copy of it, should you want one. SR 12"'s are a common sight in Dance shops, and many people tend to dismiss them as a result: "Well, if there's a huge pile of them, they can't be that good, can they?" Well, amongst that pile of SR 12"s in your local second-hand emporium there will probably be a copy of this, and it probably wont cost you more than a couple of quid. You'd be a fool to miss out. I've included both mixes of the A-side, the first is the full version, the second is sparser, more dreamy, and allows the melodies even more room to breathe. Both are, as you might gather, highly recommended.

Urban Rhythm "Luv Will Make It Right" (Hardhouse Mix) (mp3)

Urban Rhythm "Luv Will Make It Right" (As It Grooves Mix) (mp3)

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Jem 77 "Never Felt This Way" -from the "Forbidden Planet EP (21 Records, 1992)

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I think I've got time for another piece of Old-School Hardcore GENIUS, don't you? Here's another one of those tunes which is now virtually impossible to find, More's the pity. This was a staple of DJ Sy's sets back in the early 1990's, and it's easy to see why: for a scratch DJ, the breaks are hectic, but wide open, leaving lots of room for furious scratching over the top of the track. The tinkling pianos and rushing sample lines make this one another tune that presages the rise of happy hardcore, without fully surrendering itself to the cheesier stereotypes of that side of things. Jem 77 released a number of tunes on 21 Records, before, as was so often the case back then, moving off into more "Progressive" directions, recording as The Good Strawberries. This, for me, is my favourite of all of their output; though if you can find the EP from which it comes, there are some other great tracks on it (including one which samples "Eruption" by Van Halen!) what's less well know about Jem 77 is that it was (partly) the work of Joel Bogen, who i'm pretty sure was the Guitarist in Toyah's band.

Jem 77 - "Never Felt This Way" (Remix) (mp3)

Monday, 10 March 2008

DJ's Kid Andy & Nickle Bee "How We Fell Apart" (Back To my Heart Mix) (Boogie Beat Records, 1993)

My Guilty pleasure, is without a doubt, Old School Hardcore. From 1991-93, it was pretty much all I ever listened to. Some of the tunes from that era are now seriously sought after by Hardcore collectors, and go for silly money on the second-hand market. This tune is a case in point: you won't get much change from £50-£75 quid if you manage to find a mint copy.
"How We Fell Apart" is the sound of 1993, distilled into about 5 minutes. 1993 was a strange year for Hardcore, the scene was beginning to fragment, and the spectre of Drum'n'Bass was waiting in the wings. The two biggest musical movements of the time were "Darkside" tunes, dense doom-filled slabs of breakbeat paranoia which reflected the comedown from the glory days of great pills and smiley faces. Stronger, more evil drugs were filling the scene: Skunk, Crack, and "Snowballs" which gave the kids MDA (with all its intensity and darkness) as opposed to MDMA (with its happy faces and hugs).
On the other side of the musical divide were the "happy" tunes, filled with euphoric breakdowns, waves of pianos, and helium-pitch vocals. These songs were to be the precursors of Happy Hardcore, just as the Darkside tunes eventually morphed into Drum'n'Bass. DJ Seduction, Vibes, DJ Red Alert & Mike Slammer.....the list of tunes in 1993 seemed endless. For me, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest, though I'm not quite sure why. Let's face it, it's such a simple little tune: a rolling breakbeat, some little scratch samples, and that impossibly squeaky vocal. It's what we always used to call a "ladies tune" as it would give some sort of respite from the Testosterone rush of the darker tunes.
The helium vocals are what firmly places this in 1993- at that time, timestretching wasn't really possible on the samplers that were in common use (Akai's S900 and S950), but when the next generation of samplers was ushered in with the S1000, time-stretching became more commonplace, and the need to pitch vocals up to match the frenetic beats vanished. If the vocals squeak, you can bet it's either from late '92, or 1993. A year later, tunes like Dread Bass's "Dead Dread" laid out the template, as Ragga Jungle took over and samples began to turn themselves inside out. The sound of these helium vocals became locked in time. I guess that's another one of the reasons why I love it: it's another one of those Zeitgeist moments. It's completely of its time.

DJ's Kid Andy & Nickle Bee "How We Fell Apart" (Back To My Heart Mix) (mp3)

Junior Walker & The All Stars "Gotta Hold On To This Feeling"/"Clinging To The Thought That She's Coming Back" (Soul Records, 1970)

Junior Walker is one of the most distinctive Motown musicians of all time: as soon as you heard that wailing Saxophone, you just knew it was him. Best known for tunes like "Shotgun" and "Roadrunner", his output was huge, varied, and uniformly excellent.
But, for me, there's one song which sticks out a mile. It's not the A- side of this single "Gotta Hold On.." but it's the flip side, "Clinging To The Thought That She's Coming Back". And, luckily, it fits the rules of this blog as it's unavailable on CD at the moment (though the A-side crops up on all the regular greatest hits compilations)
"Clinging...." is all about someone holding a candle for the love they've lost, it's one of the most sweetly poignant lyrics I've heard; simple and direct in its pleas for forgiveness and resolute in its hope for a better future. All of it topped by Walker's coruscating Sax, and a typically lush production by Soul legend Johnny Bristol, who was the person who first discovered the band, back in the early 60's.
It's one of those records I play CONSTANTLY, and put into my DJ sets wherever and whenever I can. It's a life-affirming piece of soulful genius, and it gets me every single time.

Junior Walker & the All-Stars "Clinging To the Thought That She's Coming Back" (mp3)

Monday, 3 March 2008

You've Got Foetus On Your Breath "Wash It All Off" (Self Immolation, 1981)

First heard on the Peel show, back in early 1981, this slice of utterly ridiculous quasi-industrial funk became one of my favourite records of the entire year. I'd got the previous single "Spite Your Face", which was a dour slice of bedroom DIY noise, but this tune was a real revelation. It marked the start of Jim Thirlwell's obsession with Funk; which he would continue on the first album "Deaf" and on his meisterwerk, the 12" of "Custom Built For Capitalism". I loved all the stupid sped-up vocals, the endless grunts of "HEEEURRRGH!" which ran through the song...the cheeky reference to ABBA's all wonderful. But the thing which really makes it, is the sense of fun which permeates the entire song. If anyone doubts me on this: compare this original version with the later version of "Wash", which is far darker. For me, the early period Foetus stuff is just amazing: hearing so many ideas jostling for position, sometimes tumbling out on top of each other, in their eagerness to be heard. It's this sense of ludicrous exuberance that made me love this record so much almost thirty years ago (eeep!) and that sense of exuberance is still there, locked into its grooves. Enjoy.

You've Got Foetus On Your Breath "Wash It All Off" (mp3)