Trip To The Moon 2092
(Kniteforce)The Wire, February 2021
There are many examples of box sets that collate all of an artist’s singles, complete with the original picture sleeves. But I’ve never before encountered a box dedicated to a single single. If ever there was a tune that could withstand this degree of inflation, though, it’s “Trip II the Moon”. Not only is this breakbeat hardcore classic widely considered the greatest anthem of the rave era, there was already a certain grandiosity to the way Acen and his original label Production House rolled out the track across the summer of 1992.
The record came out in three successive versions, the second and third not so much remixed as re-produced: “Trip II the Moon, Part 1”, “Trip II The Moon, Part 2 (The Darkside),” “Trip II The Moon (Kaleidoscopiklimax).” Giving remixes, when done by the original artist, titles that involved words like “Part” or “Volume” would become a hallmark of the jungle scene. Most likely this trend took inspiration from Hollywood pulp franchises with their sequels, itself an echo of the sprawling sagas of Tolkienesque fantasy and Frank Herbert-style s.f. But in ‘92, a track that came out three times over several months was virtually unheard of. A sales-driving strategy designed to extend a tune’s currency and possibly rocket it into the pop charts, it also reflected artistic ambition: a growing confidence from some operators within a scene then sniffed at by techno-cognoscenti that they were not in the business of trashy, ephemeral floor-fodder but crafting popular art that would pass the test of time.
And here we are in 2021, almost three decades later, the original “Trip”tych A-sides plus excellent B-sides arrayed across six slabs of vinyl, where they jostle alongside new interpretations by Acen and nine guest remixers. The box title’s reference to “2092” gestures at a posterity even further down the temporal line. “2092” suggests both aesthetic durability and the implication that this music comes from the future. A sensation that felt absolutely real back in the early ‘90s and still somehow clings to these tempestuous tracks even now.
The sheer solidity of the attractive if pricy box is a demonstration of maximal respect. “Maximal”, as it happens, is the right word for Acen’s sound and peers like Hyper-On Experience. Before hardcore, and indeed after it during the later Nineties, techno and house generally cleaved to a minimalist aesthetic, sometimes taking a single riff or vamp and inflecting it subtly over five, six, seven minutes. UK rave producers, conversely, “get busy”, action-packing their tracks on both on the linear axis and the vertical. Tracks unfold through time as multi-segmented epics hurtling through bridges and breakdowns, intros and outros. But each passing moment is layered with simultaneous sound-events, resulting in a stereo-field infested with audio-critters bouncing around like in some crazily detailed animation.
Listening again to all three “Trips” is a reminder of just how unique and curious an animal was hardcore. There’s hardly a trace of Detroit or Chicago audible here. Most UK producers, including West Londoner Acen Razvi, were former B-boys, electro fans who spent their teen years breakdancing and spraying graffiti. Acid house (and attendant chemicals) flipped their heads, but soon they reverted to type. But while breaks and samples are the foundation, hardcore’s hyperactivity is a world away from ‘90s rap like Wu Tang Clan. No British rave producer would drag out a single break-loop across six sombre minutes of stoned monotony like RZA. There are hardcore tracks from this era that that contain a rap album’s worth of ideas crammed into them.
One thing hardcore did share with East Coast hip hop is soundtrackism. The centrepiece sample in “Part 1” is an impossibly stirring swathe of orchestration from “Capsules in Space” off John Barry’s You Only Live Twice score; “Part 2” likewise lifts a serene ripple of strings from the same Bond movie’s “Mountains and Sunrises”. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: the copyright holders blocked sample clearance, obliging Production House to hire a mini-orchestra to replay Barry’s themes, which Acen then sampled at a low-resolution setting to recreate the particular grainy quality he’d earlier got by sampling direct from vinyl. The fetish for movie-scores manifests also on the brilliant B-side “The Life and Crimes of A Ruffneck,” which heists the heart-spasming staccato melody of Morricone’s “Chi Mai.”
Other raw ingredients come mostly from rap, R&B, and ragga: Rakim’s sped-up squeak “I get hype when I hear a drum roll,” Chuck D’s threat/promise “here come the drums,” Topcat boasting he’s “phenomenon one”. The electrifying diva shriek “I can’t believe these feelings” that supplies the main vocal hook on “Trip” hails from obscure Britsoul outfit Tongue N Cheek, while Prince protégé Jill Jones supplies erotic gasps for another terrific B-side, “Obsessed”. As for that eerily familiar goblin voice murmuring “in my brain” – that’s a witty bit of self-citation, pulling from Acen’s previous single “Close Your Eyes”, which sampled Jim Morrison off The Doors’s “Go Insane.”
Nowadays, it’s easy to identify the constituent parts of beloved tunes thanks to websites like whosampled.com and the collective nerd knowledge of old skool message boards. But back in the day, the music barraged your brain as a kinetic collage jumbling the instantly recognizable, the faintly familiar, and the wholly unknown. (Whether you spotted stuff depended also on your listener competency – age, musical background, level of intoxication). Hardcore was technically postmodern, in its procedures. But as a sonic outcome, and in terms of motivating spirit, it hit with the juddering force of full-bore modernism. The conceit felt true: this was music from the future, built from mutilated and mutated shards of past. That’s one reason why the idea of the space race – Man’s greatest adventure, a surge into the unknown – resonated with rave and supplied Acen not just with the “Moon” title but the name of his next single, “Window in the Sky”. Drugs played a part too (understatement of the century). Rave was modernist but it was also psychedelic.
If the main meat here is Acen’s extended spurt of original genius, the remixes are mostly splendid. Kniteforce boss Chris Howlett a.k.a. Luna-C and old school legend NRG manage to stay true to yet also intensify the original “Trip” blend of cinematic and epileptic. Retro-jungle youngblood Pete Cannon offers a pell-mell scratchadelic take on “Ruffneck”. The only misfire comes from doyen of scientific drum & bass Dbridge. If only he could have reinhabited the mindset of his own teenage hardcore identity The Sewer Monsters! Instead, “Obsessed” gets flattened into a dank neurofunk furrow a la Jonny L’s “Piper”. It sounds obsessive, for sure, but the emphasis on sound-design and moody monotony has nothing to do with the larcenous free-for-all and cartoon delirium of the early ‘90s.
Q + A with Acen at The Wire website.