One of the striking features of House music over the last couple of years has been the growth of what could almost be called ‘Nostalgia-Core’. There has been an explosion of records that hark back to the early nineties in terms of sound and feel, but hardly ever in attitude. This, I suppose, is a natural consequence of band-wagon jumping and the youth of many of today’s producers (sorry. I don’t think there is anyway to say that without sounding condescending – it’s not meant to). The separation of then and now by twenty odd years means that a lot of the details are going to be lost. That is understandable enough, I think.
The important thing about the early nineties, though, wasn’t anything particularly to do with specific sounds or even specific bits of gear (with the exception of the 303 I suppose) but in the fact it was all new. Within the space of a few, short years there was a seismic shift in music and youth culture with the aftershocks still being felt today. House, Techno, Hardcore, Trance, Jungle, Breakbeat, and countless other forms grew up together from common beginnings before coming of age and forging their own way in the world. Rules had still to be written. Many of the producers who now fulfil the role of Grand Old Men were still working out what the hell it was they were doing. It was, very simply, a Year Zero that lasted 50 odd months, perhaps longer. For many of us it was a break with the past. Rock music suddenly lacked the relevance it had for previous generations and music made with samplers and sequencers became something as distinct from what had come before as Jazz once did from old time blues and spirituals. It was new, and it was very different.
I was never a huge fan of Drum N Bass, but I did like it. It’s one of the best examples of that rise of something new, something utterly different from what came before. For the fairly large number of records I bought I always felt like a bit of a tourist. DnB was never the star in Glasgow (or in Scotland, for that matter,) that it was down south. Never the less, I bought what I could when I could and listened to it with excitement. It was so different to the sounds from those two US towns I was in thrall too – so stunningly aggressive and complex. Sometimes it seemed like entire tunes were built out of velocity alone.
I always had a soft spot for Photek. Interestingly, a lot of the Techno crowd I knew felt the same. UFO got played a lot at the time. It was at odds with a lot of DnB, I suspect. The fire and fury abated, but replaced with a tension – apprehension almost – that stengthens the music. A lot of DnB of the classical age still seems busy to me. Too much down-space filled with unnecessary frills. But UFO is the opposite: It’s stark and skeletal. Almost malevolently spectral. The snarl of the drums underpinned throughout the whole length of the track by that creepy, unnerving sample allegedly taken from the radio traffic of USAF personnel during the Rendlesham Forest incident in 1980, never letting you settle, never letting you go. It also felt so utterly of tomorrow it’s impossible to believe it’s nearly twenty years old.
There are reasons for that, of course. The best tunes, the ones we will remember in two decades, don’t give a damn for what came before, nor do they care about which point in time they were birthed because they understand, on a fundamental level, that the only point in time that matters is the present, no matter when that is. I think there are a whole bunch of people out there who could do with remembering that. Forget yesterday. Worry about now instead – whenever that might be.