Past Bedtime

I found a cd I made many years ago, a compilation of early Warp bleep ‘n’ bass records, futuristic techno from Sheffield- Tricky Disco, Tuff Little Unit, LFO, Kid Unknown, all that sort of thing. It sounds fantastic on the car stereo (and it’s not even a very good car stereo), the bass making things vibrate and rattle, the bleeps loud and the vocal samples reverberating around my car on my way to and from work. I am especially struck with this one at the moment, the B-side to Tricky Disco’s Tricky Disco 12″ from 1990, where the bleep ‘n’ bass is pitted against Gregorian chanting.


Tricky Disco (Past Tricky’s Bedtime Mix)

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Xeper

The Trance Europe Express compilation I wrote about yesterday has given me a track I have kept going back to over the last few days and may be developing a mild obsession with. Warp recording artists The Black Dog wrote and released under a variety of names, putting things out under the umbrella name Black Dog Productions. The track on Trance Europe Express is by Xeper (a pseudonym for one of The Black Dog trio, Ken Downie). It starts sounding like it could be the beginning of an episode of Star Trek (original 1960s version) and then brings in a rattling drum sample. Washes of synth and some Sheffield bleeps fill it out before some piano chords work their way in, that almost but never quite turn into a full-on piano house riff. That description really doesn’t do it justice- there’s much more going on here than I can hope to explain adequately. It unfolds beautifully over the ensuing eight minutes. Just listen to it.

Carceres Ex Novum (Remix)

In case you’re wondering Xeper (or Kheper) is a word from Ancient Egypt meaning ‘to come into being, to change, to occur, to happen, to exist, to bring about, to create’, associated with the Ancient Egyptian God Khepri. And if you Google it there’s a whole load of increasingly deep and dark stuff connected to it which I shall steer well clear of.

Such Stars As This Are Not For Me

Silver Surfer was Norrin Radd, the young man from the planet Zenn-La who saved his home world from Galactus, the planet devourer, by agreeing to act as his herald. This resulted in Norrin flying through the cosmos announcing to various planets that they were about to be destroyed. He later turned on his master, defending the earth. Exiled to the blue planet he spent much of his time shaking his head, ruminating on existence and despairing at the inhumanity of mankind.

Silver Surfer first appeared in a Fantastic Four comic in 1966. When drawn by Jack Kirby a completely silver humanoid with no genitals on a surfboard sweeping through the cosmos, his speech coming from Stan Lee’s scripts with him speaking in a kind of Shakespearean English, makes perfect sense.

Here’s some beautiful minimal ambient-techno from Aphex Twin.

Actium

Low Frequency Oscilator

You could use all kind of superlatives to describe this record. Released in July 1990 it is a landmark British house record in the same way that Voodoo Ray is, a British version of a sound from elsewhere that could only have come from British bedroom and backroom producers fired up by the scenes of 1988-90. Warp Records was supposedly formed specifically to release this record, heavy on bass and bleeps, rattling drum machines and the voice intoning ‘L.F.O.’. Warp would go on to release further great records in the aftermath of this one- Testone, Tricky Disco, Tuff Little Unit, other records by LFO- but they are all somewhat in its shadow. It was also a genuine hit, reaching number 12 in the chart (at a time when that meant selling tens of thousands of records).

L.F.O. (Leeds Warehouse Mix)

Join The Future

Almost everything I’ve posted here recently, except for the Ride song at the weekend, has been bleeps and squiggles, 303s and 808s, and I had every intention of sitting down to write a post with guitars in it but then I read Michael’s comment on one of my Warp posts last week where he mentioned Join The Future by Tuff Little Unit. Released on Warp in January 1991 this is a superb techno record, a deep wandering bassline, clattering drumbeats and some lovely sinuous synthlines. People often say techno is cold and austere but this is warm and inviting and in the words of a commenter at Discogs way back in 2002 ‘you can feel the hidden euphoria of a new generation in it, a tune for the after hours’. Perfect.

Join The Future (12″ Mix)

Squeaky

I mentioned LFO yesterday so it seems appropriate to follow up with something from their back catalogue. LFO were a Leeds based duo (Jez Varley and Mark Bell) who put out bass heavy techno and bleep ‘n’ bass on Sheffield’s Warp Records. This track is a monster, the first track on their 1991 ep What Is House? Not as sparse as yesterday’s Testone, Squeaky has a long, winding, descending synth noise, tough drums and lashings of sub-bass. Pretty abstract and in many ways quite extreme.

Squeaky

Jez left in 1996 leaving Mark on his own as LFO. He went on to work extensively with Bjork, remixing her and becoming part of her band for her Homogenic and Volta tours. This remix of Possibly Maybe chops up and distorts Bjork so much it bears little relation to the original song. Sadly, Mark Bell died in 2014.

Play The Five Tones

One of the many very specific offshoots of the acid house revolution of 1988 was bleep ‘n’ bass, an almost exclusively northern sub-scene. The first bleep ‘n’ bass record came from Bradford (Unique 3’s The Theme) but after that Sheffield and Warp Records became the home of a style of dance music pretty much defined by its name- pocket calculate bleeps with deep, heavy, sub bass over a drum machine. A vocal sample to complete. Minimal, intense, British techno. Between 1989 and 1991 a load of great bleep ‘n’ bass records were made, best heard at full volume in pitch darkness with a strobe flashing away (but home listening will do too).

Sweet Exorcist were from Sheffield, a duo of Richard Kirk (of Cabaret Voltaire) and DJ Parrot (Richard Barratt). Their first record, in 1990, was Testone- made using some test tones and a vocal sample from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. It is absolutely essential. Only LFO came close to this.

Testone

The video was directed by a certain Jarvis Cocker, pre-fame, and is a classic of its kind too.