Friday, January 5, 2018

Voodoo Magic

Equinox, London
Melody Maker, May 1994

by Simon Reynolds

The host: Moving Shadow, the UK's leading "intelligent hardcore" label. The line-up: jungle's top DJs, including  the ubiquitous Randall, Grooverider, Ray Keith, Brockie and LTJ Bukem, plus PA's from Moving Shadow's three most popular artists, Foul Play, Omni Trio and Deep Blue. The venue: Equinox, a  slightly cheesy disco on Leicester Square usually full of tourists, whose 
balconies and upholstered alcoves provide welcome rest and respite for the combat-fatigued and shellshocked. 

For hardcore is warzone music; its jagged breakbeats are  treacherous, a simulation of the minefield that is modern life. Hardcore strafes the listener's body with percussion, so that dancing is like striding into a stream of machine-gun snares and ricocheting paradiddles, while bass-bombs send 
shockwaves through your intestines. But, with Moving Shadow's brand of hardcore, the danger-beats are incongruously swathed with soothing, silken tenderness: strings, harps, jazz-fusion 
chords, soul-diva sighs and gasps, plus the kind of woogly textures you'd usually hear from The Irresistible Force. 

This "ambient hardcore" sound was traiblazed on tracks like "Music" by LTJ Bukem (who plays a brilliant set, finding an extra five notches of volume to really detonate the night) and "Open Your Mind" by FOUL PLAY. Sadly, FP don't include this sublime song in their PA, but they do debut their fab new single ["Being With You"], all phuture-jazz synth-clusters and diva 
beseechings, while lazers scythe and slash the crowd. Foul Play also 'play' their remix of Hyper-On-Experience's "Lords Of the Null Lines", demonstrating how fluid the notion of  'authorship' is in this scene, where an anthem's life is prolonged by endless, drastically altered versions. 

After Bukem's set, Andy C keeps the music rollin'. Junglists and junglettes do a palsied version of 'steppers', originally a roots reggae dance that involves skipping on the spot like a manic jig'n'reel. But with jungle, it's like they're Morris-dancing on bullets. The crowd tonight mixes 
chic, style-conscious sophisticates (usually black or Asian) and dressed-down white kids who mostly look like they're well under the 18 age limit emblazoned on the flyer. There's all sorts here tonight, friendly luv'd up types who probably secretly mourn the days of "happy 'ardcore", and the moody, 
self-contained junglists into dark tunes, who despise the rave ethos with its Vicks, white gloves and gushing euphoria. 

OMNI TRIO hit the stage, or rather a proxy does, since the true creator behind this country's sublimest dance-pop is a 38 year old Can fan who prefers to remain an enigma. The 
stand-in pretends to knob-twiddle as Omni's classic "Renegade Snares" tears up the floor, with its soul-shocking cannonades of polyrhythm, hypergasmic chorus "c'mon, take me UP!" and 
sentimental verging on twee piano motif. Then the MC announces "the one 'n' only, the livin' legend", DEEP BLUE.  The latter is a unassuming bloke whose "The Helicopter Tune" is still massive after 6 months floor-life. Recently reissued with 4 remixes, it sold 22 thousand and became the first 
hardcore track to go Top 70 in years. Based around a geometric Latin beat cranked up like some crazed clockwork mechanism, "Helicopter" gets the crowd seething like a cauldron. 

A few hours later, we stumble bleary and squinting into a viciously crisp dawn, battered and bruised but still glowing with the beauty-terrorism of "Voodoo Magic."

bonus beats

Moving Shadow, ASHADOW 2LP/CD, 11 tks/72 mins/FP
            With next to no media profile, Foul Play's John Morrow and Steve Bradshaw have quietly built up one of the finest back catalogues in drum & bass. As is the norm with jungle albums, the back-cat is basically what you get on "Suspected": this is Foul Play's greatest hits, reworked by the band plus a r-r-r-rollcall of famous remixers, and bulked up with a handful of new tracks. While this makes "Suspected" a superb introduction for the uninitiated, for fans who've been following the duo's career for a while, it's a tad disappointing (ditto the ratio of new to old material on Omni Trio's "Deepest Cut" and Goldie's "Timeless").
            Still, fans will crave those remixes, which all add new dimensions to the beloved prototypes. "Re-Open Your Mind" remodels Foul Play's 1993 classic (possibly my fave drum & bass track of all time), retaining the goosepimply synth-ripple (still the ultimate aural analogue of a skin-tingling E-rush) but convoluting the beats and bass in accordance with 1995 specifications, and making the twilight-zone bridge passage even more ethereal. "Total Control" is rinsed and blow-dried by Desired State (one of several alter-egos used by top production team Andy C & Ant Miles), who toughen the beats and sub-bass and  curb the original's misguided sax solo (for which, many thanks).
             Then come all four new tracks in a row. "Ignorance" sustains "Total"'s military-jazz vibe, with stabbing bass and almost be-bop hi-hats and cymbals, which are programmed with such glistening intricacy they tie your ears in knots. Less impressive is "Artifical Intelligence": E-Z listening jungle, its Mantovani strings and twinkling tinkles of cocktail piano conjuring up a rather obvious aura of  'heaven'. As does "Night Moves", a stab at downtempo hip hop graced by a keyboard motif uncomfortably close to Omni Trio's "Together". "Strung Out" is far better, living up to its paranoiac title with fidgety, feverish snares, a stalking B-line and an edgy, persecuted guitar-figure that sounds like it might be sampled from Santana or somesuch jazzbo fret-wanker.
            The remainder of "Suspected"  reverts back to   { TO: SIMON PRICE
Foul Play's 'Club Classics, Vol 1'. "Cuttin' Loose" is a drastic revamp of the duo's contribution to Moving Shadow's experimental EP series "Two On One". Kickstarted with an unnerving Afro-futurist kazoo motif sampled from Herbie Hancock, the track unleashes a swarm of scuttling breaks, glassy percussion and furtive, sidling bass. "The Stepperemix" is even more militantly minimal, an endless tidal wave of rustling snares and metallic rim-shots, sheer digital gamelan. Hopa & Bones' evisceration of "Being With You" is the most brutal of the four  remixes this late '94 beauty has undergone, with a brand new drum & bass undercarriage and a spray-job to boot. Wiping the floor with the fusion-lite that dominated  'intelligent'  jungle in '95, "Being With You" is real phuture-jazz, its densely-clustered synth-chords verging on harmolodic dissonance. The CD version of "Suspected" adds Omni Trio's widescreen film-muzik reinterpretation of  "Music Is The Key" (beautiful, but the 'real' diva vocal is a tad Whitney) and the original version of "Total Control".
            Hardcore Foul Play devotees, like myself, might be impatient for more new hints as to where the duo is headed next.. But as a summation of the story so far, "Suspected" is fabulous and undeniable.

Melody Maker, 1995


      If anyone from the 'ambient jungle' scene deserves a wider audience, it's Omni Trio's Rob Haigh. Draping lush, movie-theme orchestration and explosively rapturous soul-diva vocals over strafing breakbeats, Haigh is a sampladelic sorcerer. Anybody who loved The Art Of Noise's "Moments In Love" or Saint Etienne's "London Belongs To Me" will swoon to the sheer pop genius of  "Renegade Snares" or "Thru The Vibe". Now here's Omni's debut LP "Vol 1: The Deepest Cut", sweeping up the best of Haigh's work to date and providing an unbeatable introduction for the uninitiated.

      An enigmatic figure, Haigh's musical route to jungle was strange and winding. He grew up on left-field rock (Can, Faust, Pere Ubu,  PiL), jazz (Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew") and dub ( Lee Perry, King Tubby). In the early Eighties, he formed an "avant-funk band", The Truth Club, and supported the likes of Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA. Like many avant-funk veterans, Haigh was seduced into rave culture by the music of Derrick May and early Warp. But unusually, Haigh gravitated towards the hardcore scene rather than 'electronic listening music'.

      "In '91, people started adding breakbeats to house, and it was a very exciting time," Haigh remembers. "When the backlash against hardcore occurred in late '92,  I couldn't abandon breaks and return to the 909 kick-and-hat rhythm, so I stuck with it."

      From early '93 onwards, Haigh released a series of brilliant EP's on Moving Shadow, which spawned monster tunes like "Mystic Stepper (Feel Better)" and "Renegade Snares". The latter is still going strong a full year after it's release, thanks first to Foul Play's turbo-boosted remix, and now to their electrifyingly intense 'VIP Re-Remix' on "The Deepest Cut".

      Film soundtrack music is a major reference point for Omni tracks like "Living For The Future" (originally from the recent "Vol 5" EP, now revamped by FBD Project for the album).  "John Barry is a big influence," says Haigh. "I love the powerful, melodic, soaring strings!" But for all his brilliant arrangements, with their sentimental piano motifs, mellotronic strings and hypergasmic acappella vocals, Haigh's real forte is as a virtuoso orchestrator of rhythm. Where most jungle producers sample and loop whole breakbeats,  Haigh builds his breaks from scratch using "single shot" samples (kicks,  hi-hats, shakers, toms etc).

     "The beat becomes mine," he says, "and is no more a sample than programming a drum machine." 

      Throughout his recent work,  Haigh's beats are so nuanced, so full of varied accents, that it's like listening to a real-time, hands-on drummer who's improvising around the groove.  Just check out the fierce-yet-gliding elegance of the snares on "Soul Freestyle" (from "Vol: 5")--it's like listening to a goddamn jazz drum solo! Haigh is the maestro of a rhythmic innovation in jungle he's dubbed "the soul step".

      "The first and third beats are emphasised, giving the illusion that the track is running at 80 b.p.m. and 160 b.p.m. at the same time," he explains. "This gives the music room to breathe, and makes it easier to dance to."

      Although  Omni Trio firmly belongs in jungle's 'ambient/intelligent' camp, Haigh is wary about jungle's new smooth direction, and in particular the trend towards  incorporating so-called 'real' instrumentation.

     "House and jungle is a sequenced music, created on computers and workstations. There is nothing worse than seeing house artists trying to get into that live muso vibe. The potential in fusing atmospheric ideas with drum & bass is unlimited. But although the music is getting more sophisticated, it must retain the ruffness of tearing drum & bass. This is the core of our music: to lose it would be like, say, rock music without guitar riffs!"


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