By Andrew McCombe
January 8, 2014
(This is the second part of the story of my musical preferences. Part one of My Musical Journey: From Glam Rock to Hip-Hop (and Beyond) is available here.)
In the beginning there was Jack…
So the 1980s had introduced me to Hip-Hop – a new, exciting and fresh sound straight from the USA and I loved it. But there was a new buzz growing in the UK at the time and I'll admit that I hated it – at first. House had been growing for a couple of years and I'd first heard it when Steve 'Silk' Hurley topped the UK charts with 'Jack your Body' ([Youtube link]). It was a very minimal sound: simple 4/4 beat, driving bassline, and stuttering, repetitive lyrics. Against the backdrop of Duran Duran, Whitney Houston, Madonna and The Pet Shop Boys, 'Jack your Body' was so different.
After that the doors were open and it wasn't long until House started taking over. MARRS' 'Pump up the volume' opened my ears to the Cut & Paste tracks of that time and the charts were full of these new, cool tracks – driven by technology and not singers with huge egos. MARRS, LA Mix, S-Express, Coldcut and Bomb The Bass are a few names hitting the airwaves during 1987 and 1988. Then came the Acid House phenomenon.
Initially, Acid was coined by the name of an EP produced in Chicago by Phuture. The music was simple and almost an accident. The Roland TB-303 was originally intended as a bassline synthesiser designed to accompany the TR-808and TR-909 drum machines and didn't really sell well. Phuture realised that if you turned the knobs up high and played around you could get a hypnotic high tweeting sound. Coupling this with a TR-909 they produced 'Acid Tracks' (Youtube link) which started something massive in the UK.
Thus began the 1989 Summer of Rave and I was hooked on the music. The media frenzy over Acid House was incredible. Perhaps there was a massive issue with drug taking at the parties in the home counties, I couldn't tell you. My experiences of Acid House parties were limited to a few local nightclubs and one very random trip to a muddy field somewhere near Stoke on Trent in late 1989. A mate of mine had a mate who had a transit van and he was going to a 'rave' and asked if we wanted to go. We said yes, hopped in to the back of the transit, and spent the next half hour being battered by tools as he drove like a nutter to somewhere dark and wet.
We heard the beat about 5 minutes before we pulled up and when we got out I was blown away. A huge sound system was booming from the back of a flatbed truck, with lasers and smoke machines lighting up the sky. I wasn't ever offered any drugs – Ecstasy or otherwise – but I didn't need it anyway (and never have done since). Everyone was just dancing. Then the DJ played a track that immediately grabbed me. It had a simple, three-note riff, oscillating up and down, it had a pulsing beat, it had oooohs. It was 'What Time Is Love (Pure Trance Original)' by 'KLF' and the DJ played it repeatedly for the next 20 minutes. That was it. I had to have that track and the next week I scoured all the record shops I could find in Birmingham, Stafford and Cannock – but no-one had it or had heard of it. It was nearly 4 months later when I finally got hold of a copy and it has been my favourite record ever since.
What Time is The KLF?
The KLF had become a bit of an obsession with me. They were very very different from anything else. They made more than one record for a start. They drove an American Police car around (and later an Ice Cream Van). They made dance records, and Chill Out records, and rap records, and novelty number ones and they burned a million quid. I loved the whole idea of two guys doing it all on their own, their own record label, their own music, their own style of promotion and their unique approach to it all. I eagerly awaited their appearance on the 1992 Brit awards and I can remember being disappointed but blown away by their 'version' of their No. 1 single, 3 AM Eternal. Then they left the music industry.
After Acid the house music scene started fragmenting into its own sub genres. Italian House, Balearic, Trance, Progressive all had their moments. 4 by 4 beats started becoming mixed with hip-hop 'breakbeats', grooving basslines started getting deeper and rougher, melodic strings became stabby and the rave sound was born. Altern-8, The Prodigy, 2 Unlimited and their ilk were commonly in the charts and on the airwaves (legal or not) and my £80 per week was spent mostly on acquiring these 12″ delights.
From then the music went two ways. Super Clubs started appearing along with the birth of the Superstar DJ. Trance was huge and many a compilation filled Christmas stockings (Ministry of Sound Annual anyone?). The other direction was darker. Jungle was the natural progression from rave, with a stripped down sound based on rolling, crashing beats at around 170 bpm, deep sub-bass and cutting analog synth stabs. Jungle became Drum and Bass.
Back to the roots
During the mid to late 90's I'd started getting into the roots of the music I liked. I started listening to funk artists to hear the original sources of the Hip-Hop records I'd been buying. Hearing 'Public Enemy's Fear of A Black Planet' album and then listening to 'The CD of JB' – James Brown was a revelation. No longer could I listen to a Hip-Hop record and think of it as one piece. They were just cleverly pieced together bits of other music – sometimes very well disguised – and it was really nice to hear the origins of these tracks. Take a track like Public Enemy's 'Bring the Noise'. Singularly it is an awesome production sounding rough and raw and with Chuck D's vocal it rolls like a steam train. But if you take the track apart you get to appreciate the skill of the production team, and you get to hear some great funk records too.
Dance and Hip-Hop had firmly established themselves by the end of the 20th century and as the new one rolls on my musical tastes haven't really changed. I like my music to have it's foundations in the lower end of the spectrum. Anything with a deep, grooving bassline will site nicely with me. I do like a few other types of music. I have a soft spot for Erasure for example. I think its the electronic-ness and the good songwriting I enjoy. I like classical music – but then who doesn't? Rock/Guitar-led music doesn't really get me going. I understand the place that bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The Pixies and The Smiths have in history but they simply don't appeal to me. Maybe if they had a sub-bass hook or a few cuts and scratches here and there I'd perhaps take an interest (as I do with some Nine Inch Nails tracks) but there you go. There are enough ears in the world to enjoy all genres of music.
And that's it. Nowadays you'll find me enjoying anything from Chase & Status or The Prodigy through to James Brown or Plan B.