Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reinforced / 4 Hero

Alternative Press, 1996?

by Simon Reynolds

      Originally released in late '94 by influential UK drum & bass label Reinforced (for whom 4 Hero are house band), 'Parallel Universe' was the first of a spate of single-artist 'armchair jungle' albums (see also Omni Trio, A Guy Called Gerald). Appropriately, "Parallel" illustrates all the possibilities and perils of 'art-core'. With its astrophysical imagery (titles like "Solar Emissions" and "Sunspots"), its cosmic utopianism, its jazzy cadences, this music is basically a digitized update of the early '70s fusion  of Weather Report and Herbie Hancock. The downside is occasional lapses into jazz-funk mellowness, e.g. the cheesy sax solo and creamy garage-diva vocal that mars "Universal Love". The upside is the astonishingly intricate array of multi-tiered breakbeats (processed and pitchshifted so they're textural as much as percussive) and the hall-of-mirrors production, wherein sounds morph as eerily as Salvador Dali's melting clocks. 4 Hero's mutational, maze-like aesthetic is at its most mindwarping on "Terraforming" and "Wrinkles In Time". At its best, "Parallel Universe" is black science-fiction in full effect, Sun Ra's "Disco 3000" meets William Gibson.


REINFORCED label profile
Spin, 1998

by Simon Reynolds

Reinforced is one of those labels--think SST or Homestead vis-a-vis
proto-grunge--that literally makes  history, even if its releases never
make the Billboard Top 200. Since 1990, the London-based drum 'n' bass
imprint has been building the future, breakbeat by breakbeat. Reinforced
alumni include pioneering producers such as Goldie (operating under his
early alter-ego Rufige Cru) and Doc Scott (a/k/a Nasty Habits), while its
"house band" 4 Hero have crafted arguably the most consummate and
consistently ahead-of-the-game oeuvre in jungle.

Rob Playford--Goldie's erstwhile co-producer and boss of the
similarly seminal drum 'n' bass label Moving Shadow -- once described
Reinforced as the scene's "research lab". Although the label had a couple
of near chart-hits during Britain's early Nineties hardcore rave explosion,
Reinforced have generally operated about a year in advance of their own
genre. Inevitably, more canny and market-conscious labels have reaped the
benefits of Reinforced's innovations.

When euphoric rave tunes still ruled in '92, Reinforced were
already exploring "the darkside": its roster--4 Hero, Rufige Cru, Nasty
Habits, Nebula II, Tek 9, to name just a few--developed a repertoire of
bad-trippy effects, ectoplasmic sample-textures, swarming death-ray riffs,
and convulsive, highly-processed breakbeats that blurred the line between
rhythm and timbre. In 1993 the UK rave scene went dark en masse, using
Reinforced's patented palette of audio-grotesquerie to reflect the paranoid
delirium  caused by long-term Ecstasy abuse. But by this point, Reinforced
were taking the proto-jungle sound in a more "musical" direction infused
with soothing jazz, soul and ambient flavors---a process that peaked in
late '94 with the blissful disorientation of 4 Hero's Parallel Universe,
one of the  first single-artist drum 'n' bass albums. And when that
"intelligent jungle" sound itself became consensual and cosy, Reinforced
moved on yet again, pushing the music into more unsettling experimental

This  twisting-and-turning trajectory can be traced on Enforcers:
The Beginning of the End  (available in America via Crammed/SSR), a
compilation of highlights from the label's acclaimed Enforcers  series of
multi-artist experimental EPs. Mixed by DJ Stretch, the CD starts with the
present and works backwards to 1992--an unorthodox ruse that enables you to
hear the future emerging out of the past even more effectively than a
conventional chronology. The anthology's first half also serves as a
showcase for some of Reinforced's "new boys"--producers like  Sonar Circle,
Procedure 769, G-Force & Seiji, Vortexion, Arcon 2, Torus,  Nucleus &
Paradox. Resisting  drum 'n' bass's current stagnation--an excess of
"copycat music", as label manager Ian Bardouille puts it, DJs playing safe
and producers hidebound by the reigning formula of stiff two-step beats and
quasi-funky basslines--Reinforced's roster  are intensifying breakbeat
science to new headwreckin' heights of polyrhythmic complexity and
chromatic density.

Reinforced's stateside profile is also set to be raised,
indirectly, by the domestic release of 4 Hero's third album in October. Two
Pages  could be 1998's New Forms: it's a double CD, it's on Talkin' Loud
(the same major label affiliate that issued Roni Size's meisterwerk), and
it's staggeringly good. The first disc, Page One, does for orchestral
strings what Reprazent did for jazz horns. Tracks like "Loveless"
(featuring brilliant Philly-based poet-rapper Ursula Rucker), "Escape That"
and  "Star Chasers"  hark back to the Seventies astro-fusion and cosmic
soul of  The Rotary Connection, Donald Byrd, The Isley Brothers and Sun
Ra's Strange Celestial Roads. The basic concept is Afro-Futurist:  space is
the place where the race can escape terrestial oppression --an idea earlier
explored on the exquisite self-titled album by Jacob's Optical Stairway,
one of numerous  4 Hero alter-egos.

If Page One is occasionally a tad too mellifluous  for rock-reared
ears, Page Two's contorted beats and twisted sounds should satisfy
anybody's appetite for brain damage. "When people hear that album drop,
it's gonna blow their heads off," says Bardouille. "It'll be too much for
them to handle,  'cos they won't have experienced black music like that

The arc of decline: compare this (1993)

to this (1998)

from students of the phuture

to studium of a hallowed past

On Talkin' Loud, too... gahhhh

(s)addendum: Broken Beats

People... Make the World Go Round (People) 
Co-Operation Vol 1 (Goya) 
No Tricks (Virgin) 
The Remixes 1997-2000 (Compost) 
The Good Good (2000 Black) 
Compost Community (Compost Records) 

(faves/unfaves 2000 based partly on Uncut review)

by Simon Reynolds

With no massive convulsion likely to renew dance culture any time soon, some 
observers are touting "broken beats" a/ka "the West London Sound" (a/k/a 
"house-not-house", "nu-jazz", "phusion": why can't they just settle on the one 
name?!) as the Next Medium-Sized Thing. Weaving together the jazzier strands of 
drum'n'bass, deep house, and Detroit techno, this new(-ish) style could be 
critiqued from a number of angles: sceptics arguing that it's merely acid jazz 
upgraded with digital tricknology, populists attacking it as a composite of 
cognoscenti-oriented snob musics (fusion, rare groove, acid jazz again) that 
unavoidably conjures the image of some twat sashaying down Portobello Road in 
Jamiroquai-style woolly hat and wafting the stale reek of jazz Woodbines in his 
wake. But, hey, I thought: maybe I should check my bigotries at the door, wipe 
from my mindscreen the incontrovertible subcultural pre-eminence of East London 
(font of greatness from hardcore to jungle to 2step), and give the new contender 
a half-chance. 

Well that's what I did and I'm still on the fence. The People double-CD has some 
magic moments, especially when this dude I.G. Culture is involved--particularly 
his Likwid Biskit alter-ego, rather than New Sector Movements. The latter's 
Virgin debut EP has some good sounds'n'rhythms but they're ruined by a Big-Voice 
Female Singer doing this Afrodelic mystical positivity thing a la Rotary 
Connection or the vocalists on Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston records. 

Co-Operation Vol 1---named after this micro-scene's principal club, the Co-Op---shines when 
Reinforced's side label for broken beats, 2000 Black, is involved: Seiji & 
G-Force's "Chase De Ace" and Nu Era & Pavel Dego Kostiuk's "Nana Nomura" take 
off from the 70s-into-90s nu-fusion developed by on Parallel Universe /disc one 
of Two Pages /Jacob's Optical Stairway and soar to virgin outerzones of 
drum'n'space. The twinkling keyboards and crisply textured percussion exude the 
cosmic utopianism of Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith. There's a particular 
Moog-tastic synth-sound--sort of spangly and squelchy at once---that's all over 
the Reinforced posse's productions and I can't get enough of it. Surprisingly, 
though, 2000 Black's own comp The Good Good (out on Planet E in the USA--and 
Innerzone Orchestra is a good reference point actually) is a bit blah, on the 

4 Hero have the first track on Jazzanova's double CD collection of their 
celebrated remixes. Part of the Compost family (the German chapter of "broken 
beats" movement), Jazzanova are feted for their flair at digitally simulating 
the "feel" and "swing" of real live drumming, and for their facility for 
complicated time-signatures. Like their West London allies, Jazzanova fetishize 
analog and acoustic timbres, the sort of "warm", fuzzy sounds that get
DJ/producers digging through crates of old vinyl in search of undiscovered 
sample-sources from the 1970s. They also exemplify the broken beats scene's 
hallmark infatuation with Brazil, home of musical hybridity and polyrhythmic 
percussion. Remix clients here include Brazilian fusion outfit Azymuth, and 
there's a pervasive bossa nova influence. 

The Brazilian fetish also results in some truly puke-provoking Portuguese-sounding names--Modaji, Misa Negra, Domu, Da Lata (apparently a reference to some folkloric tale about marijuana first 
arriving on Brazilian shores in a tin---pass the sick bucket, please). 

Jazzanova's own name is enough to make me vom into my lap each time my eyes make 
contact with it. And as I've said before in these pages, you can tell a 
lot--maybe everything--from the names of bands and titles of records.

Still, if you ever dug the jazzual, easy-glistening side of drum'n'bass--Alex 
Reece's "Jazz Master", Roni Size's Roy Ayers/RAMP sampling "Daylight" , Adam F's 
"Circles": and those are all undeniable, certified bomb tunes in my book--you'll 
find thrills here and there within the West London output and on the Compost 
compilation especially. 

Unavoidably, though, there is that Gilles Peterson/Mo 
Wax/Bar Rhumba/Blue Note/Straight No Chaser sort of stench round 
the whole thing---and the lack of any interesting "social energy" behind the 
scene is a big minus for me. 

Not sure if West London/broken even counts as a 
genre as such, it's more like an aggregation of oneupmanship strategies---a 
tapestry of music styles that have all historically been rallied to as 
connoiseurial bulwarks of taste and musicality against the plebeian rave horde. 

No comments: