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.

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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.