Wednesday 4 March 2009

The Criminal Minds "Urban Warfare" (from the "Guilty As Charged" mini-LP) (TCM Records, 1990)

OK, this is probably the rarest record I own. I'm going to base that on the fact that I've been offered up to £500 to sell it. I've refused. ( I must be mad)

This is the first, self-produced and self-released record from legendary UK Hip-Hop crew The Criminal Minds. From 1992 onwards, they found a considerable measure of success releasing breakbeat hardcore (tunes such as "The Criminal" and "Baptised By Dub" are as definitive of the Rave era as it's possible to get.) However, when they first started, they were very much a straight hip-hop outfit. It's not to difficult to see the leap they made from hip-hop to hardcore: the BPM's sped up, the breaks were pushed to the fore, the raps pushed back a little, the scratches and samples took precedence over the production. Yet, they never lost touch with their hip-hop roots either: later tracks such as "Toxic Culture" (from the "Joyrider" EP) show they were as much influenced by The Bomb Squad as they were by any of their other Hardcore contemporaries.

But the one record by The Criminal minds that everyone seems to covet is this EP. TCM were, at the time a nascent hip-hop crew based in Buckingham, just outside Milton Keynes. At their core were two DJ's, Spatts and Halo. This mini-LP was recorded on a 4-track in Spatt's bedroom, and was financed by Spatts selling his Technics decks and pulling in favours from friends. There must have been loads of people involved in supporting the band up to this point, most of them are thanked in a special track on the second side of the LP "shout outs", and there's dozens of them! Despite the fact it was recorded on comparatively primitive equipment, the tracks are incredibly powerful, and intricately constructed. The scratching is razor-sharp, the beats crisp, the rapping febrile and full of energy. "Guilty As Charged" (AFAIK) remains a "Holy Grail" for collectors of early UK hip-hop, as it functions as a perfect snapshot of the development of hip-hop in this country at the time. This is what it was like. 500 copies were pressed, with most being sold privately to friends. Few made it into shops. I love this tune to bits (that bit where the Star Wars sample comes in - just PERFECT!) and won't be parted from it. Please don't ask me to post up the rest of this EP, you're just getting this one tune. Hope that's OK. Enjoy.

The Criminal Minds - "Urban Warfare" (mp3)

Friday 11 July 2008

The Cradle "It's Too High" (Rough Trade Records, 1987)

The 80's were a great time for agit-pop. Some of my strongest memories of the decade were the impact of the Miners strike, and the effect it had on the musical landscape. From features in the press, to benefit gigs, to student demos, to Rough Trade releasing "Strike" by The Enemy Within: it was a time full of militancy and the possibility that political change could be instigated by the sounds we listened to, and the ideals we held. Just around the corner was the 90's and the decade that was all abut greed being good, but in the mid 80's, things seemed just that little bit more empowered; even if, ultimately, it all came to nothing. Hey, at least we tried.
As far as agit-pop goes, one record really sums up the time: "Whistling In the Dark" by Easterhouse. A chiming slice of classic 80's pop, it was full of rage and exhortation: a diatribe about a country riven apart by industrial strife. "Whistling..." is available on "Contenders", a Cherry Red compilation which I can heartily recommend. However, less is known about the band that followed Easterhouse: The Cradle. The Perry brothers, Ivor And Andy, who made up Easterhouse, had a major falling out, and Andy disappeared. Ivor went on to form The Cradle, who are perhaps most notable for the fact that they included future member of The Smiths Craig Gannon in their midst (this rounded off a nice Smiths connection, as Easterhouse's first gig in London was supporting The Smiths at ULU).
This song makes me seriously nostalgic for the 80's. Not because it's a definitive 80's classic, but because I can hear the musical landscape shifting as this piece of vinyl spins on the turntable. The days of the independent charts producing great crossover hits was fading: just over the horizon was the birth of Dance culture and a thousand new genres, feeding off each other. This record feels like the proud last stand of an old guard. But, despite all of that, it's wonderful. Like so many of the tunes I post here, the reason I love it so much is that it acts as a landmark, a beacon, a snapshot of a time which has passed. Enjoy.

The Cradle "It's Too High" (mp3)

Wednesday 2 July 2008

DJ Nut Nut "The Rumble" (Mad Ragga John Remix) (Production House Records 12", 1994)

Though my real passion was for Old School Hardcore (check the archives!) the rise of Drum'n'Bass still managed to produce some truly incredible records. Just like Hardcore, the key here was innovation: every month brought new sounds, new stlyes, new waves of samples and textures; as a genre, D'n'B began an exponential growth that wasn't to slow down for many years. The tunes I bought in 1994, for me, showed the most progression. Though there was raw power and energy in the "darkside" anthems of 1993, 1994 saw the rise of the portamento b-line, on tracks like Dead Dread's "Dread Bass" , the power and finesse of Ray Keith's "Terrorist" and the sonic invention of Deep Blue's "The Helicopter Tune". There are elements of "Helicopter..." in this tune, it's got that same burbling percussion, but the real story here is the massively chopped up Amen breaks. The snares skitter, stutter and roll, twisting into impossible shapes. The rhythms draw you in, forcing you to find the flow within their complex programming, carrying you along with them. This is a tune with propulsion deep within its DNA.
And what of DJ Nut Nut? Well, not much, I'm afraid. I know he was a  Drum'n'Bass DJ, who recorded a few sides for Production House, and a few tunes for Hard Leaders And Tru Playaz, but I've not been able to find him currently online. Mad Ragga Jon (or John, as he's credited here) is a similar story, a flurry of tunes in the days of Hardcore, with some due to come out on pre-eminent Hardcore label Suburban Base, before a personality clash led to him being released by the label. For someone who was obviously talented enough to push the envelope with the twisted beats of this remix, it's hard to understand that this would be one of his last productions. After 1994, he too drops off the radar.
If you need a copy of this, it'll set you back about 25 quid. But for now, turn it up, loud, and lose yourself in those breaks.
DJ Nut Nut "The Rumble" (Mad Ragga John Remix) (mp3)

Sunday 22 June 2008

Herman Brood "I Love You Like I Love Myself" (Ariola Records, 1979)

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"I've had enough; maybe I'll be seeing you around. Make it a great party"
(Herman Brood, July 11, 2001)

It's so easy to find music now, isn't it? Hold your mobile phone up in a club, dial Shazam, get a text with the name of the song that's playing. Check out google, or discogs, and find a band's history, or any of their releases. Surf around the itunes store, filling in the gaps in your collection. Spend a while on ebay or gemm, or on message boards, tracking down an elusive CD, or a double for that old 7" that's starting to sound a little scratchy. But it wasn't always this way- when I started collecting, it was much, much more tricky. Back then, it seemed as if I had a long list of tunes stored up in my head; and I'd have to spend a huge amount of time trying to tick them all off, every time I visited a new record shop. There really was no effective way of sourcing things that weren't naturally stocked in your local shop: you could try and make a special order, but the process was very hit and miss. Without computers to check availability, or stock levels, an order might sit in a shop for weeks (or months) on end. The catalogue for actually placing orders was a giant red book, that most record shops had, but seldom used - another problem being that looking through a book of such size for a record whose title you weren't perhaps 100% sure of, wasn't something that most shop assistants would really care to attempt.

So, as I said, it was the "internal list" that I relied upon. Secondhand stores, out of town shops, record fairs, and a lot of "digging in the crates". This song is one which was on the list for quite some time. First heard in 1979, I tracked a copy of the album down in 1985 (without a sleeve!) in an Our Price in Watford which was having a closing down sale. Then, about 15 years later, finally found another copy in the Record & Tape Exchange. I've never seen a CD, though I think one was released in Holland in the late 80's: I'm presuming it's now out of print. But why was I searching so hard for this one song? It's all about how I found it, I suppose....
I first heard it on The Old Grey Whistle Test, in 1979. For the previous Christmas, I'd been given a brand-new Radio-cassette player, which I'd been using to religiously tape John Peel, and I also used it to tape stuff off the telly. So, on that Sunday night, I sat in front of the TV, gingerly holding up the recorder in front of the tiny speaker of my parents Sony Trinitron, and recorded it. Here's the exact clip I saw ( well, the second half is - the song comes in after about 4 mins)

And I just played that cassette to death. So, the fragility of the way I found the song meant I was desperate to actually own a proper copy, lest anything happen to the tape. I always felt that If the tape snapped, or got mistakenly recorded over, that I'd lose the song forever. So began the search. I'm still looking for the CD, though the album will do for now. I've never actually played any of the other songs on the album; "I Love You...." is track one, side one - so once that's finished, that's the album finished for me too. Childish, I know, but that's the way it goes.

Some more info on the song? Well, it's taken from a film with a flimsy plot about a bank robber, tied into the Dutch punk scene. It features (amongst others) Nina Hagen , Lene Lovich , and of course, Herman Brood. Brood is a fascinating character, and rightly revered as a true Rock'n'Roll legend in Holland, though his reputation didn't really cross over into many other territories - he managed a one-off hit in the US ("Saturday Night") and that was about it. However, in Holland, his influence is still felt to this day, as a performer, as well as an artist and sculptor. A long-time drug-user (and one who made no secret of the fact), he tried for many years to rid himself of his demons, but in 2001 was eventually devastated to find out that he was suffering from a terminal illness, and that he had mere months to live. On the 11th of July 2001, Herman Brood leapt to his death from the seventh floor of the Amsterdam Hilton, before that illness could claim him. There's more on Herman Brood here and his available recordings can be bought here (confusingly, there actually is a "Cha Cha" CD in print, but it's not the OST to the film). The song itself? Well, it's all about Brood, and the way he throws himself into its performance. He sings as if his life depends on it. The song can be taken, simply, as a paean to the love he's lost, or more obliquely, as a plea for help to break the spell of the substances he's using as a crutch to escape the pain of that lost love. Whatever the meanings, it's just a wonderful song, and always brings that same frisson of excitement I felt as a 12 year-old kid, holding a cassette player in front of a telly, in a small house, in a tiny village in the west of England, one Sunday Night. RIP Herman.

Herman Brood "I Love You Like I Love Myself" (OST) (mp3)

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Pablo "Madeleina" (Long Version) (Island Records 12", 1981)

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I've always hated compartmentalisation in music. The idea that certain types of music should be removed from others. I grew up visiting record shops where everything was crammed into the same tiny space. If you wanted a punk album, it was in a rack right next to a whole bunch of metal stuff - if you wanted Reggae, that was a few paces to your left, next to the old R&B, which was next to the normal pop stuff, and so on. The shops I frequented then were staffed by people who would play just about anything they fancied, and that mix of sounds often opened my ears to things I wouldn't otherwise have considered buying. In 1981, this unconscious blending of sounds and styles was reflected in the other ways we were exposed to music: the music press were just as likely to put The Bhundu Boys on the front cover as Billy Bragg, Peel could play Scientist next to Orange Juice and we wouldn't bat an eyelid.

Some time in the late eighties, all this started to change. Record shops became all about the volume, not the variety. A visit to a new "Megastore" would reveal huge long racks of CD's, but close inspection showed it was just 10 copies of each album. The jumble of sleeves, cardboard cut-out artwork and stickers which adorned the walls of my old shop were replaced with cool neon signs, looking great but saying little. Everywhere was clean, chromed, carpeted, and deadly dull. Worst of all was the insidious rise of the compartmentalizing of music. Certain genres were taken away, removed from the main body of the shop. Jazz, Classical, World. If you went into a huge Virgin Megastore, you could be just looking at a wall of Rock CD's, when a few paces and a push through a smoked glass door would suddenly take you into the "Jazz" room. The music suddenly stopped, to be replaced by some David Sanborn (at reduced volume), the air conditioning seemed to be set slightly higher (so it was actually quite cold) and there was a rather bored looking assistant twiddling his thumbs by the cash desk. For me, the whole fun of Record shopping was being forced to listen to Ornette Coleman by the same hyper-enthusiastic muso who'd just made me listen to The Residents. Where had that spirit of inclusiveness gone? To this day, I tend to seek out shops like Rough Trade, where that eclectic outlook and musical melee still exists: places like Rough Trade are a joy to shop in, as a result. Of all the genres which suffered from this Stalinist policy of removal and ring-fencing, "World" music suffered most. It went from being another part of the music we listened to back then, to something which you had to find a specialist outlet in order to indulge your passion. As a result, the casual record buyer became alienated and cynical about World music, and the days of King Sunny Ade on the front of my weekly music magazine seem a long, long way off. It's been slowly changing over the past couple of years, and could that possibly be due to the gradual disappearance of the huge Chain store record emporiums from our high streets? So many people will shop via itunes now, which offers a main page that presents all of it's wares in one place: a jumble of genres, charts, adverts and images. Rather like an old record shop, though smelling slightly less of B.O. and Woodbines.

So here's a record from an era where "World" hadn't even been invented. Where a record by someone from Zaire (though he was a french resident at the time) would sit in the racks just along from Echo and The Bunnymen, would be on the radio airwaves just after something by Suicide, and would be on my cassette compilations after something by Magazine or The Flys (probably). And it's also a record which first came to my attention via a cassette, the NME's "Jive Wire" which came out in 1982. It was originally part of an album called "En Action" , recorded by the expansively-named Pablo "Lubadika" Porthos in Paris in 1981. the four tracks on that album were released by Island records as part of their newly-founded "African" imprint (the second 12", "Bo Mbamda" is equally excellent, and I'll be happy to post that up as well, If anyone is interested). "Madeleina" was also featured on the long-out-of-print CD "Sound D'Afrique Vol 2: Soukous" (if you want a copy, it's about 35 quid) However, both the NME tape and the CD compilation both feature the edited version of the song, and for this delicate slice of bittersweet, chiming sunshine to really work, it just has to be the full 12" version. I can't think of any other records in my entire collection which are guaranteed to raise as much of a smile as this song does when I play it; it's just perfect. Enjoy.

Pablo "Lubadika" Porthos "Madeleina" (Long Version) (mp3)

Baby Ford "Oochy Koochy" (F.U. Baby Yeh) (Original "Un-EQ'ed" Mix) (Rhythm King Records 12", 1988)

Lots of the tunes on this site have that feeling of Zeitgeist about them, a connection to a place, time, or perhaps both. More than any other, this particular tune is forever locked into it's time and place. The time:1988- the place:London. This was the so-called "second summer of love" and London was absolutely obsessed with acid house. I was working at Rough Trade, skating my heart out, and DJ'ing at a number of Acid parties in the suburbs in North London; it was only a matter of time before this particular song became pretty much the centre of my listening world.
"Oochy Koochy" is the first really big home-grown, proper, authentic UK acid house record.It bleeps, pulses, rises and falls exactly as you'd expect from an imported slice of acidic goodness from Trax records, yet it was recorded right here. It's that localism that gives this tune it's sense of open-eyed wonder: in a way, it's an homage to the acid sound of Chicago, yet it retains a flavour of London in it's DNA: there's a playful nature to melodies, a feeling of fun, of freedom. That's the influence of the liberating power of the music that was ruling London's clubs at the time; that new-found enthusiasm couldn't help but bleed through into the music, and it imbues every millisecond of this song.
There were a couple of versions of this song: this was the first and best. The way to tell? Well, that's wrapped up in an apocryphal tale of clubs, bass and broken speakers. When this version of "Oochy Koochy" was recorded, it was obviously made in a frantic rush of creativity, and was actually released without the Bass Line being properly EQ'ed. In the (one would imagine) tiny studio in which it was recorded, this wasn't much of a problem. However, in a huge club environment, it was a different story. Legend has it that label-mate Mark Moore (of S-Express fame) took one of the first copies of this version down to the Acid night at Heaven, put it on in the middle of the night, and the huge, lolloping B-line promptly caused the PA to have a serious wobbly; and blew the speakers. Rhythm King Records, fearing the wrath of club owners across the land, remixed the song, EQ'ed the bass a little (to ensure it wouldn't play havoc with those PA's) and added a little Icon of an ear with a "warning" stripe across it on the rear of the sleeve. So, if your 12" has an ear on the back (and a written warning about the dangers of playing it loud) it's the second pressing. If it doesn't, chances are it's one of these.
You could get "Oochy Koochy" on CD at the time (though it was the Re-EQ'ed version) and that CD is long since out of print. There are a couple on Amazon, but they'll set you back £25.

Sunday 25 May 2008

More tunes on the way....

But, I'm also going to have a little experiment. I've been immersing myself in lots of different forms of social media of late, chiefly Twitter and Friendfeed. So, I've decided to start up a "Down With Tractors" Room of Friendfeed, to act as an adjunct to this site. My hope is that the commenting (which has been great on this site already, don't get me wrong) can be more open, more focused, and more able to expand beyond the boundaries of this blog site. It may work, it may not, we'll have to wait and see. But, if you'd like to check it out (and you're on friendfeed, natch) then the DWT room is here. I'd be interested in any feedback you've got; let me know!