Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Lennie De Ice - We Are i.e.

Lennie De Ice - We Are i.e. (i.e. Records, 1991)

"What we're going to do here is go back, way back, back into time"

For the first track breakdown here in a while I thought I'd go back to the beginning with a look at 'We Are i.e.' by Lennie De Ice, arguably the first proto-jungle tune. It was released in 1991 on i.e. Records, an imprint that was part of a stable of labels based out of De Underground Records, a store in London's Forest Gate area that was run by Mike De Underground alongside Uncle 22 and Randall. The shop had a studio upstairs where Mike's brother Cool Hand Flex and Uncle 22 were resident engineers, each having a track on the original 12" release of 'We Are i.e.' along with A-Sides. The EP was the first release put out by the collective.

It famously features the Amen break that would become one of the primary building blocks of jungle. When it was released there were already other hardcore tracks that had used the Amen but the way 'We Are i.e.' combined the break with the vocal samples, a ragga style bassline, vinyl spinbacks and gun shots (another jungle staple) made it really stand out as something different. What is incredible is that Lennie De Ice actually made 'We Are i.e'. back in 1988 in a home studio.

The Amen break originates in six seconds of solo drumming by Gregory C. Coleman during the middle of  The Winstons’ 'Amen, Brother', the b-side of their biggest hit 'Color Him Father' in 1969. The track is an instrumental cover of 'Amen', the gospel-tinged theme to the 1963 film Lillies of the Field composed by Jester Hairston and later popularised by The Impressions. The break became widely used in hip-hop and electronic music following the track’s appearance on Breakbeat Lenny’s Ultimate Breaks and Beats series in 1986 where the break was pitched down to 33 1/3 so it was at a hip-hop tempo. Early tracks to sample it include 2 Live Crew’s 'Feel Alright Y’All' (1987) and Mantronix’s 'King Of The Beats' (1988). Lennie De Ice commented:
"I was listening to a lot of Mantronix for the futuristic beats, the way he used to sandwich stuff. A lot of people were using breaks combined with the progressive feel of the house music and drum machines. We started merging things. From there it progressed."
In fact it was from 'King Of The Beats' that he sampled the Amen break, which explains it's lo-fi quality. According to Lennie "We Are IE" means we are an example to everyone, black, white, Indian, Chinese" so it's appropriate that the central vocal sample is from Chaba Fadela and Cheb Sahraoui's 'N’Sel Fik', an Algerian Ra├» song that was an international hit in 1986/87, although Lennie may have taken it from 'On The Cut' (1988) by Bomb The Bass where that exact portion of the vocal appears clean during the intro. The “Let me hear you scream” vocal comes from 'The Bugger Groove' by The Buggers, a much sampled electro track from 1984, while the gunshots and vinyl spinbacks are off Beats, Breaks & Scratches Volume 1, a collection of samples put together by Simon Harris in 1987.

Mike De Underground has said it was made on a Roland 106 Keyboard, Akai S900 Sampler and a four track: "The clarity wasn’t there but the essence still stung". After pressing an initial run of 500 copies, the crew had to drive around the country selling them directly to record shops, who weren't always willing to pay upfront as Mike recalls:
"We went all the way up to Manchester, Reading, Swindon, Bristol. Spent three weeks out there travelling England... I got rid of the five hundred and must have got cash in my pocket for a hundred. I had to leave them in the shops...We were out there and had to break the sound."
This DIY ethos was partly born out of passion for the music but also necessity. The tune had been taken to Outer Rhythm, a sublabel of Rhythm King that was run by future V Recordings boss Bryan Gee. The imprint had broken the careers of Moby and Leftfield but turned down the chance to sign 'We Are i.e.'. Fortunately the self funded effort eventually paid off and demand was so high that the 12" got repressed and went on to sell 15000 copies. All the top DJs were playing it but the first was Randall who told Spinzcycle in 2012:
"I always remember taking down promo’s to a Living Dream event that i was lucky to play at. Ten thousand people in a tent and giving Fabio, Grooverider and Colin Dale a copy of it, then hearing the response over the next few weeks how it went down in the clubs. Then the UK started to make more music with breakbeats in most of their tunes and before we knew it Drum and Bass Jungle was forming. It was a real moment!"
Since then the tune has been re-released and remixed numerous times and influenced countless producers. Pinpointing the first jungle track is impossible but you can really hear the elements of the style coming together in this tune, although the artist himself considers it to be a “hybrid acid track”. Whatever it is, back in 1991 this sounded like the future.

Discogs link

This post is based on a piece I wrote for the now defunct DnB Blog back in 2013. Thanks to Rich Malton for allowing me to reuse parts of that article here. Check out his A Bass Chronicle site.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Roni Size / Reprazent - Tribal Gathering '97

DnB 365 reminisce about the first live performance by Roni Size / Reprazent at Tribal Gathering '97 and exclusively reveal some previously unseen footage from the festival.

I can rarely say that I was "there". Those legendary nights in the history of drum & bass such as Rage, Speed and the Blue Note were like mirages to me, so close and enticing and yet impossible to reach. Despite living near London I didn't turn 18 until 1999 and looked young for my age so had no hope of getting into clubs. I had to make do with buying the records and tape packs and reading about the scene in magazines such as Knowledge and Atmosphere.

But there was one time when I can say that I witnessed a bit of drum & bass history. Tribal Gathering '97 was a huge dance music festival that took place on the Luton Hoo estate in Bedfordshire on Saturday May 24th, exactly twenty years ago today. Just a look at the flyer shows the variety and caliber of acts who played across 10 arenas (all named after different parts of the world): Kraftwerk, Daft Punk and Orbital were among the live acts and DJs included Richie Hawtin, Sasha, John Peel, Andrew Weatherall, Masters at Work...

Despite being just 15 at the time I managed to attend thanks to my Dad, a TV cameraman who was fortuitously covering the event for the local news. I accompanied him as his assistant, carrying some equipment in before being let loose. Despite the wealth of talent from across the dance music spectrum there was only one place I was heading to: the Equator, the arena which hosted some of the finest in the drum & bass world with DJs including Grooverider, Fabio, Doc Scott, Mickey Finn and Hype. I was in awe at just even being there and it took some time for me to relax and not be so self conscious but eventually I was dancing along with everyone else, head down, lost in the beats and the bass.

What made this night so special in drum & bass history though was the debut performance of Roni Size / Reprazent. Their album New Forms would be released the following month, adding real instruments and proper songs to their classic Bristolian sound. While this could have gone very wrong in other people's hands the album was a success, emphasising the jazz elements that ran through much of the collective's other work. It walked the fine line between underground credibility and appealing to the mainstream and went on to win the prestigious Mercury Music Prize later that year, propelling Roni Size into the position of scene figurehead. Tribal Gathering was where they launched themselves as an actual band, attempting to do something very few had done before: translating drum & bass from the record to the live arena. As Roni Size himself put it: “rising to the challenge of filling some of the gigantic stages that we were already playing on as DJs”.

This they achieved with aplomb. The Full Cycle crew of Roni Size, Krust, Die and Suv were relatively anonymous bobbing heads behind banks of equipment, letting vocalists Dynamite MC and Onallee take centre stage along with Si John on bass and Clive Deamer on drums. The whole thing was a technical and logistical feat, but most importantly they had the quality material to go with it. Dancefloor favourites like the double bass-driven Brown Paper Bag were accompanied by more song-orientated tracks such as Share The Fall which showcased Onallee's rich, distinctive voice. Dynamite MC's laid back rhymes rode smoothly over everything but what impressed me most was the stunning drumming of Clive Deamer; it was simply mindblowing seeing him play complex rhythms at DnB tempo.

Reprazent didn't open the mainstream's eyes to the scene, Goldie's Timeless LP had done that the previous year and the likes of Photek, Source Direct, Adam F and Dillinja were already signed to major label deals. But New Forms showed that drum & bass could have songs and be successful commercially and critically. It paved the way for the likes of Kosheen, Un-Cut and Roni Size & Die's own Breakbeat Era, making a lasting impact on the scene. While it doesn't match up to the legendary nights I mentioned earlier, witnessing their live debut is a memory I will always treasure.

Below you can see never before released footage from the Equator Arena at Tribal Gathering '97, including some of 'Morse Code', Reprazent's set opener. The video is professionally shot but has been transferred from the original tapes to vhs and then digitized so the quality is a bit ropey, but well worth watching. To see an extended version featuring highlights from across the festival, click here.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Rude Bwoy Monty - Warp 9 Mr Zulu

Rude Bwoy Monty - Warp 9 Mr Zulu (Frontline Records, 1995)

I'm a geek. Even worse, I'm a sample geek. For instance, I can't hear Drake's 'Hotline Bling' without telling anyone in earshot where the organ riff comes from ('Why Can't We Live Together' by Timmy Thomas if you're interested). As well as regularly boring other people I also waste inordinate amounts of my own time on often fruitless searches for those unidentified samples that I just have to know. But it's all worth it when I find the source of a sample that I thought would remain forever buried.

Which brings us to 'Warp 9 Mr Zulu'. The track was often referred to as 'The Hawaiian Tune' instead of its official Star Trek referencing title thanks to the rather cheesy steel guitar intro. It was part of a trend in DnB at the time that saw producers such as DJ SS and Marvellous Cain go to some rather dubious sources for their intros on tunes such as 'The Lighter' and 'High Chaparral'. In Issue 6 of Knowledge, Rude Bwoy Monty even credits SS for inspiring his sample hunting:

"I'm looking to create a tune called "The Beast," laughs Monty. ""Mash Up" by DJ SS inspired me to look for some samples for it, but I couldn't find the right one. However, I did stumble across the Hawaiian theme and from there "Warp 9" was away."

While the intro has pretty much nothing else to do with the rest of the tune, it does make 'Warp 9' particularly memorable. It was a favourite of mine at the time and I'd always wondered where the sample was from but it was only after reading a comment Monty himself made on a youtube video of the track a few years ago that I really started searching in earnest for it:

"I bet pugwash back in the dayz whe i made this... he would neva find the sample on the front of this... 2 this day he was neva able to tell R.B.M"

I took this as a challenge and went to some lengths to locate the sample, listening to more Hawaiian music than one man ever should. I even emailed random Hawaiian steel guitar enthusiasts who I imagine were rather perplexed by the whole thing, but all to no avail. I eventually admitted defeat and got back to doing more worthwhile things searching for other samples.

Fast forward to late last year and the radio is on at work. BBC Radio 2's Pop Master quiz has reached the grand final and a contestant is asked to identify the group behind a 1970s instrumental track from a short excerpt. I immediately recognise the melody from 'Warp 9' and drop what I'm doing to listen. The contestant incorrectly guesses at Fleetwood Mac before the presenter Ken Bruce reveals the answer... Springwater with 'I Will Return'.

A very appropriate title for the first post on this blog in eighteen months. Only that's not the sample source. After listening to the whole track later, I realised 'Warp 9' must have sampled a cover of 'I Will Return'. And so the hunt started again. Unfortunately it seems 'I Will Return' has been covered a multitude of times with versions from James Last, The Shadows and Apollo 100 amongst many others, as well as the melody being used on Sarah Brightman's 'Storia d'Amore' and a vocal version in German entitled 'Du Weinst Um Mich' by Michael Holm. I listened to all of these. And it wasn't any of them.

It was frustrating being so close without having the answer, but then I had a brainwave. I searched for covers of 'Du Weinst Um Mich' and found another version. I clicked on the youtube video, holding my breath. It started playing and right away I knew it was the one. A bit slower, but obviously what Monty sampled for 'Warp 9'. It's part of Orchestra Leslie Carlton's 'Hits Instrumental' selection from a German LP called Super Stereo Hit Party, which also features the scintillating sounds of Dave Daffodil & His Honey Sax. If it wasn't for someone uploading it to youtube I doubt I would ever have found it, but I'm very happy to finally know.

As for the rest of 'Warp 9'... well that intro would have been wasted if the track wasn't up to scratch but of course Monty, with Pascal on engineering duties, delivers a huge tune with a gargantuan, oversized bassline that stomps around like an elephant on ecstacy. In other words it's not in any way subtle and does some serious damage. Drums using the Think and Sesame Street breaks accompany it with some Amen coming in underneath before the tune moves up a notch when the Amen takes over during the second half. Jump-up at its finest.

The track was remixed as 'Warp 10' for the Frontline/Ganja Records compilation Still Smokin with a much more obvious sample replacing the Hawaiian guitar - Bill Conti's 'Gonna Fly Now', otherwise known as the theme from Rocky. There was a dubplate version of 'Warp 10' though that retained some of 'I Will Return' with a snippet of the guitar appearing occasionally over the bassline. Hear a clip of that mix below, a shame it didn't get used for the LP:

Discogs link