Thursday, August 22, 2013

drum and bass circa 1999

Planet V

LTJ BUKEM featuring  MC CONRAD and DRS
Progression Sessons
Good Looking

Spin, 1999?

by Simon Reynolds

        For  half-a-decade there, jungle was the fastest moving music on the planet--and I'm not just talking about the ever-accelerating breakbeats. Sucking in a dizzying succession of influences (hip hop, dancehall,  jazz,  industrial), the scene ran through a half-dozen distinct stylistic phases. But two years ago, jungle's mutational onrush  stalled.  Producers progressively banished the elements that had given the music "vibe" (hip hop, reggae) leaving behind a techno-influenced, dark-but-clinical sound motored by the trudging two-step beat.
     Planet V is probably the best compilation the scene could muster right about now; it's a superb survey of  a sonic stasis quo. Adam F's "Brand New Funk" and Ed Rush and Optical's "Funktion (Remix)" indicate two  facets of drum and bass's current, desperate
reinvocation of "funk". The On The Corner-ish "Funktion" trailblazed the more frantic polyrhythms that are now thankfully superceding two-step [2013 note: not meaning the UK garage 2step but the jacknife-at-the-waist plodfunk that took over D'n'B from 1997 onwards, aka neurofunk], while Adam F's tune should really be titled "Kitschy Retro Funk"--its blacksploitation  brass stabs  make me think of  Jackie Brown in silhouette brandishing a gun. Long associated with V Recordings, the Reprazent posse are well, er, reprazented, with solid efforts from DJ Die, Scorpio, DJ Suv and Krust,  plus album highlights from Roni Size like "Strictly Social"--a peculiar mesh of Cantonese gongs,  brittle Sonic Youth guitarchords and  Glitterbeat stomp. Such incongruous combinations are one of the few avenues of  aesthetic rejuvenation still open for drum abd bass.
        Stuck in his pleasant rut of  wispy  synth-washes and simulated sax'n' strings sounds,  LTJ Bukem ought to be a sad figure. Instead, he's achieved a strange dignity, simply by sticking to his aesthetic guns instead of going "dark" when it was fashionable. Bukem's latest mix-CD, featuring tracks by his Looking Good roster of acolytes/clones and languid MC-ing from Conrad, will keep his fans  happy until the arrival of the  maestro's long-awaited solo debut. One of the ironies of  ambient drum and bass--supposedly meant for home listening-- is that it  sounds much better over a huge club sound system, where the extra volume realizes the music's oceanic aspirations. These days  I'd rather hear this softcore jazzy jungle played out than the hard stuff:  Looking Good's clip-clopping breaks have more of   jungle's bygone frisky exuberance than two-step's dirgefunk, and its heart-murmur basslines impact your ribcage without harshing your ear.  Influenced more by house's smooth, seamless mixing than jungle's chop 'n' slash, Bukem's forte is weaving a sensurround wall of soothing goo. Which is why all Looking Good artists sound samey--they're designed as compatible components for the Bukem mix-scape. Not radical music by any means, then, but  Bukem-style aquafunk remains a valid segment of what junglists  call the "full circumference".

Further reading: my December 1997 piece on Neurofunk for the Wire

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