The History of Rock Music: 1995-2001

Drum'n'bass, trip-hop, glitch music
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(Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi)


(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Rock and Dance Music")

The golden era of trip-hop 1995-99

TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Bristol's greatest invention, trip-hop, became one of the most abused languages of dance music.

After the success of Portishead came the deluge: Funki Porcini (James Braddell), with the pastoral Hed Phone Sex (? ? - may 1995); Rockers Hi-Fi, the Birmingham-based sound system of Richard "DJ Dick" Whittingham and Glyn Bush, with Rockers To Rockers (nov 1993 - may 1995); Andrew Barlow's Lamb (1), with the psychodramas of Lamb (? 1995/? 1996 - sep 1996); Morcheeba, fronted by sensual chanteuse Skye Edwards, with Who Can You Trust (? 1995/? 1996 - apr 1996); Red Snapper (1), who sculpted the complex, arcane and recombinant Prince Blimey (? 1996 - sep 1996); the Sneaker Pimps, the project of keyboardist Liam Howe and guitarist Chris Corner, fronted by singer Kelli Dayton, whose Becoming X (? ? - aug 1996) was trip-hop for the generation that never heard the new wave; all the way to gothic, decadent chanteuse Alison Goldfrapp and her elegant, sexy and slow Felt Mountain (? 1999/? 2000 - sep 2000).

London-based producer Howie Bernstein, better known as Howie B (2), who had engineered the atmospheres of Soul II Soul's records, followed a different route on his solo albums: the instrumental tone poems of Music For Babies (? 1995 - mar 1996), the stylistic studies Turn The Dark Off (? 1997 - jul 1997), ranging from vibraphone-based lounge shuffles to big-band dancehall exuberance, and the elegant ballet of noises and instrumental sounds of Snatch (? 1998 - mar 1999), works that elevated him to the jazz counterpart of Brian Eno and the hip-hop counterpart of Robert Fripp. Skylab (1), a collaboration between avantgarde composer Mat Ducasse and Howie B, crafted a wild collage of manipulated sounds, #1 (? 1994 - sep 1995), an essay in the absolute dissolution of identity that sounded like John Cage reborn as a disc-jockey.

In other countries musicians influenced by trip-hop produced an atmospheric form of sound collage that ventured beyond the original premises of trip-hop.

An atmospheric sound similar to trip-hop hovering in an ether halfway between dub, hip-hop and ambient music, was often produced via a technique of cut-up that was the equivalent of cinema's montage. For example: Grassy Knoll (1), the project of San Francisco-based disc-jockey, filmmaker, photographer and composer Bob Green, on Grassy Knoll (? ? - oct 1994); or Russian-born Andre Gurov, better known as DJ Vadim, who focused on collage of micro-samples with The Theory Of Verticality (? ? - jan 1996).

DJ Cam (French dj Laurent Daumail) sculpted the subliminal jams of Substances (? ? - ? 1996), that frequently employed samples of obscure jazz records, and the doleful, impressionistic sonatas of Loa Project Vol. 2 (? ? - ? 2000).

Towa Tei, a Korean-Japanese former member of Deee-Lite in New York, assembled jazz, world-music and all sorts of retro styles on Future Listening! (? ? - oct 1994).

A number of "atmospheric" groups were also more or less related to trip-hop. Iceland's GusGus (1) coined an anemic, sleepy, out-of-focus kind of pop-soul-jazz ballad on Polydistortion (? ? - apr 1997), that sounded like the equivalent of be-bop in the age of trip-hop: a dejected soundtrack for the neuroses of the urban crowd. Sweden's Whale incorporated sensual crooning and heavy-metal guitars into the trip-hop sound of We Care (? 1994 - ? 1995). Tosca, i.e. Austrian producers and disc-jockeys Richard Dorfmeister and Peter Kruder, achieved the majestic mannerism of Opera (? 1997 - jun 1997) and especially Suzuki (? 1999 - feb 2000), which was replicated by the Sofa Surfers, an Austrian quartet led by Wolfgang "I-Wolf" Schloegl, on Cargo (? ? - ? 1999).

Chris "P'taah" Brann (1), a white dj from Atlanta (Georgia), who had already contaminated house music with jazz and Latin elements, caused a sensation with the twisted fusion of futuristic jazz-rock, funk, downtempo and acid-jazz on Compressed Light (? 1999 - dec 1999). He even adopted the austere, quasi-classical composure of the ECM sound for Staring At The Sun (? ? - mar 2003).

Towards the end of the decade all these innovations circled back to influence British trip-hop.

Iranian-born London-based dj Leila Arab abstracted the stereotypes of trip-hop to create the surreal electronic folk of Like Weather (? ? - mar 1998) and especially the otherworldly digital ambience of Blood, Looms, And Blooms (? 2008 - jul 2008).

The Cinematic Orchestra (1), led by bandleader John Swinscoe, devoted Motion (? ? - sep 1999) to a tribute to film soundtracks of the 1950s. It was one of the works that marked a turning point in avantgarde, when "reconstructing" started prevailing over "deconstructing" (that had been the dominant buzzword throughout the era of postmodernism).

The Groove Armada, i.e. London-based disc-jockeys, Tom Findlay and Andy Cato, "reconstructed" the romantically retro Vertigo (? ? - may 1999).

Western dub

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Dub had a life of its own in the western world. Notable works included: Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi (? 1996 - ? 1996) by Thievery Corporation (1), the project of Washington-based disc jockeys, Eric Hilton and Rob Garza; the series that culminated with Dub Voyage (? ? - may 2000) by Twilight Circus Dub Sound System, i.e. Holland-based multi-instrumentalist Ryan Moore; Rome (? ? - ? 1996) by Rome, a Chicago instrumental trio of bass, drums and sampling keyboards sculpting dissonant electronic dub; Dancehall Malfunction (? ? - ? 1997) by Sub Dub (the quartet of bassist John Ward, programmer Raz Mesinai, vocalist Ursula Ward and saxophonist Grant Stewart), which spearheaded a fusion of hip-hop, ambient house, world-music and dub; CD 1 (? ? - jul 1998) by Pole, i.e. Berlin-based sound engineer Stefan Betke, who became the master of a starkly minimalist form of dub-based dance music. Influenced by Bill Laswell's and Jah Wobble's experiments of the 1980s, not to mention Adrian Sherwood, the Pop Group and Tackhead, they reinvented the genre as a stark and austere form of art.

British dance hybrids, 1996-2000

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Inevitably, in a world that lived on continuous change, the days of traditional techno and house were numbered. For example, Simon Posford under the moniker Hallucinogen began crafting electronic dance music influenced by Indian music, as documented on Twisted (mar 1995 - oct 1995) and The Lone Deranger (mar 1997 - sep 1997). Paul Oakenfold launched that "Goa Trance" at the "Full Moon Party", yet another dance craze ("Goa Trance" was literally Sven Vath's "trance" via the hippie tribes of Goa, in India), one that actually took hold in Germany and produced such production masterpieces as Paul Van Dyk's For An Angel (1998) and Andre Tanneberger's 9pm Till I Come (1999). It was, however, the last of the major dance crazes. It peaked with the Pleiadians' Identified Flying Object (1997) in Italy, while Radio (1998), by X-Dream, i.e. the duo of German producers Jan Mueller and Marcus Maichel, signaled its mutation into "psy-trance".

Spaceheads (1), i.e. the duo of trumpeter Andy Diagram and percussionist Richard Harrison, alumni of Pop Group-style avant-jazz-funk-rock outfits such as the Honkies during the "Madchester" era, wed the collage techniques of the avantgarde, jazz improvisation and the angular rhythms of the post-techno dancefloor (a mixture of hip-hop, drum'n'bass and acid-jazz) on Spaceheads (? ? - ? 1995), enhancing the textures of their "prepared" instruments with loops and overdubs.

Leftfield, i.e. the duo of Neil Barnes and Paul Daley, created techno for non-dancers (slower, softer, lighter) with Leftism (? 1993/nov 1994 - jan 1995).

British producer, disc-jockey and tablas virtuoso Talvin Singh was an erudite purveyor of "transglobal dance" transplanting ethnic styles (and their traditional instruments) to a field of electronic beats and techno production techniques on OK (? ? - sep 1998).

Death In Vegas (1), the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Richard Fearless, contributed the ambient-dub-techno-rock stew of Dead Elvis (? 1996 - mar 1997).

Inspired by "garage house", the style born in the late 1980s out of New York gay clubs that basically set sexy rhythm'n'blues crooning to a techno beat, Basement Jaxx, i.e. British disc-jockeys Felix Burton and Simon Ratcliffe, composed real songs out of exuberant, catchy, frantic post-techno music with reggae and Latin overtones on Remedy (? 1998 - may 1999).

Faithless (1), the project of producers and disc-jockeys Rollo Armstrong and Ayalah "Sister Bliss" Bentovim, penned the elaborate, acrobatic, chameleon-like arrangements of Reverence (? ? - ? 1996).

The Lo-Fidelity Allstars opted for a "street" approach to dance music, rooted in urban alienation and decadence, with albums such as How To Operate With A Blown Mind (? 1997 - may 1998), while the music sampled (literally and metaphorically) half a century of dance styles, from soul to funk, from dub to house, from hip hop to trip-hop.

Luke Slater (1) crafted Freek Funk (? 1997 - oct 1997), an eclectic potpourri of hip-hop, propulsive funk and ambient textures.

Christian Vogel was a significant composer of "dissonant" techno, particularly challenging on Specific Momentific (? 1996 - sep 1996) and the programmatic All Music Has Come To An End (? 1996 - apr 1997). Super Collider was a collaboration with producer and vocalist Jamie Lidell that fused soul crooning and ambient techno on Head On (? ? - may 1999). On his own Jamie Lidell concocted the deranged dissonant funk music of Muddlin Gear (? 2000 - sep 2000) and injected different brands of old-fashioned soul music into the body of techno music on Multiply (? ? - jun 2005).

South-African born and British-based dj Mira Calix (Chantal Passamonte) conceived a dance style that was an unlikely fusion of folk tunes, orchestral arrangements, oneiric ambience, twitching beats and field recordings, peaking with Eyes Set Against the Sun (? 2006 - dec 2006).

In Ireland, David Holmes composed works, such as his third album, Bow Down To The Exit Sign (? ? - mar 2000), that mixed audio verite` segments and an eclectic range of black musical styles (soul, acid-jazz, funk and hip-hop).

Cassius, a pair of veteran French producers of dance music, blended house music, dub, pop and hip-hop on Cassius (? 1998 - jan 1999).

Post-dance music, 1999-2001

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

By the end of the decade the cross-pollination of dance styles had reached a level that either produced abstract stylistic collages or stifled the very nature of dance-music.

As One (1), i.e. British techno dj/producer Kirk Degiorgio, pursued a techno infused with elements of jazz and soul in the tradition of Squarepusher, notably on Planetary Folklore (? ? - nov 1997) and on the luxuriant 21st Century Soul (? ? - nov 2001).

SND, the project of English soundsculptors Mark Fell and Mat Steel, were perhaps the most scientific explorers of digital rhythm, notably on Tenderlove (? ? - feb 2002), a phantasmagorical montage of minimal techno, hip hop, glitch and dub.

In Japan, Susumu Yokota (1) wove the intricate grooves of Cat, Mouse And Me (sep 1995/apr 1996 - feb 1997) in a continuum of sonic bliss before turning to ambient house with Magic Thread (? ? - ? 1998), a stylistic journey that would lead to an art akin to Brian Eno's impressionistic soundpainting on Sakura (? ? - ? 1999) and Grinning Cat (? ? - jun 22001).

Entropic Advance (1), the project of Seattle-based avantgarde musicians Wesley Davis and Casey Jones, concocted a collage of warped melodies, digital arrangements, multi-layered rhythms, ambient electronica, found sounds, free jazz, hip-hop, ethnic and industrial music, best summarized on the double-disc Red Yellow Noise (? ? - ? 2002).

The theatrical fusion of disco-music, punk-rock and dissonant electronica packaged by Detroit's Adult on their early EPs, starting with Dispassionate Furniture (? ? - nov 1998), peaked with Hand to Phone (2001), one of the earliest electro-clash classics. Anxiety Always (? ? - apr 2003), however, was a visceral and brutal work that betrayed their punk personas.

The German dancing avantgarde, 1997-2001

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Germany, in particular, was still a leader in the fusion of avantgarde and dance music.

Robert Hood, a Detroit producer, was widely credited for "inventing" minimal techno. However, similar ideas had been pursued in Berlin since 1993 by Basic Channel (producers Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus), who were more influenced by dub music than funk/soul music. Monolake and Porter Ricks were the first major protagonists of minimal techno.

Monolake, the Berlin-based duo of Robert Henke and Gerhard Behles, bridged minimal dub-techno music and abstract digital soundsculpting, as documented on the compilation of singles Hongkong (? 1995/? 1997 - ? 1997).

Porter Ricks, a duo with Andi Mellweg, was Thomas Koner's brainy and ghostly techno project, first documented on Biokinetics (? ? - ? 1996).

Most purveyors of this subliminal languid psychedelic brand of "deep" techno, that basically de-emphasized the rhythm, were assembled around Chain Reaction, a Berlin-based record label owned by the Basic Channel duo: Scion (German techno producers Rene Lowe and Peter Kuschnereit) who had pioneered the sound with Emerge (1995), Vainqueur (Rene Lowe) whose anthemic Lyot (1992) had already been a hit and whose first album was Elevation (? ? - may 1996), Substance (Peter Kuschnereit) whose first album was Session Elements (? ? - apr 1998), Fluxion (Konstantinos Soublis) whose first album was Vibrant Forms (? ? - may 1999), and Hallucinator (Anna Piva, Trevor Mathison and Edward George) whose first album was Landlocked (? ? - oct 1999).

Gas (2), one of the many projects of Wolfgang Voigt (the godfather of Cologne's dance scene, also active as Love Inc, Vinyl Countdown, MI5, Mike Ink and many other monikers), inaugurated "minimal ambient techno" with Zauberberg (? ? - dec 1997), on which the dancefloor beat coexisted with abstract drones obtained by manipulating samples of classical music and then scarred by tiny digital noises. If Zauberberg was claustrophobic and terrifying, Konigforst (? ? - dec 1998) was heartless and mechanic. Voigt adapted the aesthetic theory of Brian Eno's On Land and Throbbing Gristle's D.O.A. to electronic dance music. Las Vegas (? ? - sep 1996), the collaboration with Joerg Burger credited to Burger/Ink (1), was a delightful romp that defied the physics of dance music. Narkopop (? ? - apr 2017) revised the Gas sound with sinister magniloquence bordering on cosmic music.

Another pioneer of Cologne's ambient techno was Markus Guentner, whose In Moll (? ? - aug 2001) almost hid the beats behind the feathery, breathy drafts of electronics.

German house producer Rajko "Isolee" Mueller spearheaded "microhouse" (a fusion of glitch aesthetic, minimal techno and house music) with Rest (? ? - jun 2000).

Rechenzentrum, the project of digital composer Marc Weiser and visual artist Lillevaen, engineered Rechenzentrum (? ? - jun 2000), a subtle venture into the realms of minimal techno and hip-hop.

Komet, the project of German digital composer Frank Bretschneider, specialized in skeletal highly-processed glitch-techno music for microscopic events, notably on Rausch (? ? - sep2000) and Curve (? ? - mar 2001).

Austrian drummer and electronic composer Bernhard Fleischmann (1) packaged a disorienting combination of glitch music and synth-pop on Pop Loops For Breakfast (? ? - apr 1999). The two lengthy suites of TMP (nov 1999 - ? 2001) and especially the double-disc Welcome Tourist (? ? - nov 2003) pioneered the marriage of post-rock and dance music.

Chilean-born electronic musician Ricardo Villalobos (1) revolutionized the micro-house genre with singles such as 808 the Bassqueen (1999), albums such as Alcachofa (? ? - sep 2003) and extended pieces such as Fizheuer Zieheuer (2006). He refined the classic club-oriented art of beat mutations via manically-crafted elastic objects that hide a lot of complexity underneath their skeletal appearances.

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