Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

DJ SS, in-house producer of Leicester's Formation label, is one of jungle's most undersung figures. 1995 was a banner year for both SS and Formation. They dominated the drum & bass dancefloor with a series of killa trax -- MA2's "Hearing Is Believing Remix", Sounds of The Future's "The Lighter", SS's "Rollidge" and In Between The Lines' "95 Rampage" -- all SS-produced, and all revisited/revamped on Highly Recommended.

"Lighter" starts daftly with the rinky-dinky melancholia of top classical piano tune "Fur Elise" (better known as "Theme From 'Love Story'"), then drops into a ragga-tastic swagger and pummel; the VIP remix injects a feverish stutter and stammer into the rude-boy "lighter!!" chant. The LP mix of "Hearing Is Believing" adds a squelchy bass-drone that mimics or maybe even samples "Public
Enemy Number One" from PE's debut album. The original's portentous
hunting-horn fanfares are timestretched so they wilt and waver like Salvador Dali's melting clocks, while the irresistibly surging bass-flow has been displaced by a metallic, sproinggg-ing B-line, like a bouncing, giant-sized ball-bearing.

The revamp of "Rollidge" is astonishing; the breakbeats ripple and undulate like they've been liquidified, and the original's reversed-diva is slowed and processed 'til it's like a baritone drowning in the bath. 

Even more startling are the voice treatments on "95 Rampage", where the diva-vocal is extruded into a long thin streak of laser-intense light, then a single syllable is isolated and
oscillated into a spasming percussive tattoo.  Less familiar tunes are also given a vicious going-over.  Black's awesome VIP Mix of "Black" features some ear-confounding dub-FX--a snatch of MC chatter is shattered into syllables, each of which is scattered through a sonic hall-of-mirrors.

While 'intelligent' drum & bass (Goldie, Photek et al) seduced the ears of non-junglists and music press readers, "Highly Recommended" is an essential(ist)document of where the real action was in jungle '95, i.e. the purist strain of drum & bass known as 'hardstep'.  This compilation's title says it all.

Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

1995 was a banner year for DJ SS. 25 year old Leroy Small dropped a bomb-load of  monster tunes-- "Hearing Is Believing", "The Lighter", "Smoker's Rhythm", "The Rollidge", "95 Rampage"-- that tore up the hardstep dancefloor.

Then again, there's never really been a slow year for SS. He's been at the frontline of  hardcore since 1991, both as co-founder of Leicester-based hardcore label Formation and as a prolific tunesmith operating under myriad aliases (Sounds of The Future, International Rude Boys, Rhythm For Reasons, MA1 and MA2, etc). As Formation's in-house producer, he's had a hand in all but 5 out of the 65 releases to date.

SS started DJ-ing at the age of 13, working his way up through school discos, soul, hip hop, early house, in a "natural progression" that took him to hardcore rave. "In the rave scene I saw so many hooligans I knew that were happy and dancing". This rave-revelation co-incided with SS's alienation from hip hop: the British rap crews weren't really happening, while "Public Enemy and NWA were preaching the wrong things, harking on about past crimes against black people, captivating the audience in the wrong way. Recently I've got back into the more groovy stuff in rap, like Wu Tang Clan, and I've always had hip hop flavour in my music, with the breakbeats. But I don't like the gangsta element, that's too like the ragga gunshot thing".

Ragga-jungle is something that Formation have consciously distanced themselves from. "In '94, the ragga thing was big but I wasn't  into it. I took the basslines and a stab of ragga vocal but I refused to do a full-on ragga chat over my tracks". SS doesn't like the vibe ragga creates. "Jungle just got too dark, too intimidating. There's been a lot of trouble in the Midlands, shootings. People don't want to worry about treading on someone's toes or giving someone a funny look. It's the promoters' fault, they should bar them kind of people from coming to their clubs, but they're just interested in money. DJ's and producers are to blame too, for putting gunshots in tracks."

Definitely no gunshots, then, but boombastic B-lines, eerily warped vocals, portentous hunting-horns and shlocky intros of classical music all figure as hallmarks of SS's style. "Hearing Is Believing Remix" and "Rollers' Convention", in particular,             
brilliantly reconciled avant-garde edge with crowdpleasing groove-power. As such, SS is a prime exponent of 'hardstep', Grooverider's term for the purist drum & bass style that cuts a middle path between rudeboy ragga and 'intelligent'. "Hardstep's got no ragga in it, but people step hard to it," says SS. "See, my only qualms about intelligent is that musically it's wicked but often it's sounds weak on the dancefloor. Formation tracks have got to be rolling." As his hardstep peers, SS gives the nod to Roni Size & Krust,  Dillinja, Hype, Andy C, Pascal, and Ray Keith ("his stuff is so simple, but it works!").

That said, SS is looking for Formation to get more "musical" next year, with real vocals and songs, as with the forthcoming cover version of "Free".  "People buying our stuff know what they're getting, we've got a little predictable and it's time for a change". Okay, but don't get too 'musical', SS, please! Because right now Formation have hit their stride with a perfect blend of complexity and minimalism, which can be heard on  "Highly Recommended", a compilation that revisits and drastically remixes highlights from the label's brilliant '95. 

[big up to Derek Walmsley for his lovely piece on DJ SS's myriad aliases in the recent theme issue of The Wire (June 2015) about alter-egos, pseudonyms etc as artistic strategy]

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