Dark… Darker… Dirty: Taxi Tracks

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taxi
Source Direct/Doppelgänger/Christoph de Babalon/Panacea/The Advocate/Twisted Anger

“There’s a force that comes out of clashing frequencies which is to do with all the extra hum and tape hiss and reverb that shouldn’t be there” Nico Sykes: No U-Turn

Whether we call it tech-step or not, the bottom line always seems to be that the ‘music’ which activates us contains tension, rhythmic intensity, aggression and foreboding. Relays between dirge-funk and timbral density, between unknown noise and known information. Darkness can be synonymous to an appeal to the imagination, a sensitivity to the presence of psychic territories that surface melodics and oversweet harmonics only superficially activate. You either face up to it, take risks or plump for the protection of ‘idealism’. Darkness can be panoramic and searing enough to provide sufficient space for emotions other than those that are socially-sanctioned and saccharine. Satisfaction is not exhilarating… the attainable is uninteresting: at the end of Taxi Driver what are we to make of Travis Bickle’s glance into the rear-view mirror?

The link between electronic dance music and movies is hardly ‘new’ (Carpenter for Detroit, Argento for the Italian sound?) but amongst the tech-step tracks of early ‘97 there is a renewed drawing from these sources that is effective to the point that the sources remain secondary. In a recent interview in DJ Source Direct were explicit about their interest in Lalo Schiffrin (Dirty Harry etc.) and this shows through clearly on their release as Hokusai: Red Lights (Source Direct 5): suspension strings, stammering break, tubular tremolo, single notes veering on feedback, all extend the moment of anticipation in a more prolonged way than we are used to in a film. By the time of Two Masks [Science] this feel is put to a more hybrid effect including a use of two breaks which they describe as working “almost inside themselves”: a feel of funky speed-up within the same time-span. But here the intensity is built upon in the final third with a noise soar introducing three rattling bass-notes followed by sub-bass, rhythm pick-up, and all manner of noises. The other Hokusai release: Black Rose [Source Direct 6] is another incredible medley of different layered break-sounds, rim-shots, rides, anchoring but supple sub-bass notes, echo-drops and dirty fly-bys. A high moment here is a voice sample “Oh, Beautiful” that introduces a disintegrating flanged trumpet in a 23 Skidoo/industrial vein. SD tracks are intricately composed, hyperactive and on Two Masks, multi-speed rather than conditioned by breakdowns.

Returning to Taxi Driver we have Nico Sykes’ collaboration with Cologne’s Lars Vegas & Mojo Tom as Doppelgänger [Mind the Gap]. On Theme Bernard Hermann’s ‘dark jazz score’ is slowed down to an even stealthier pace than that of the film, its solitary trumpet note wavering before the Travis Bickle sample of “Damn” means, on the track, the introduction of a rolling and sharp cutting break and in the film, the kicking over of a TV. Hermann’s stealth rejoins the track and a warped analogue bass-glurg is added which acts like a moebius-band as the hi-hat fires off similar to the way it’s used in techno. Days Gone has a much lighter introduction, almost musical but not quite. A change in direction is announced, slightly cornily, by Travis Bickle: “there is a change…” and the track picks up into percussion activity, ride melody, heightened bass notes and further voice samples: “over and over, over and over… days go on” to reinforce the repetition as temporal jump-cuts. This single isn’t as fierce as a No U-Turn project but works off their subtle,. minimalistic low-key aspects with the darkness being added by the listener’s own summoning up of Taxi Driver moods.

Such a movie reference also crops up on Land-Speed-Record, the forthcoming Cross Fade Enter Tainment CD in the form of Christoph de Babalon’s track: You Talking to Me? Recorded back in 93 the break on this track is multi-accented with super-quick snare-flurries that move in the composition from punctuation to the centre. This track also uses distortion as a means of overloading certain moments so that the track cuts out temporarily. This violence against expectation, this timbral density has echoes in the variety of cinema techniques Scorsese uses in Taxi Driver so that noise works subliminally on the listener who is attracted to tracks/scenes as unknown pleasures.
Variegated sound sparks off all manner of psychic movements and the third Panacea release: The Day After/Reality [Chrome 8] as well as the ‘retrospective’ double pack: Low Profile Darkness [Chrome 9] are working in this field. From the distorting, crackling ‘horror movie’ chord that open Reality through wind-screams to feedback snares and blow-out bass to its purposefully shoddy, rambling refusal to end we have a track that is working through an aggression that the ‘reality is different’ … from what it could be created to be. Day After is similarly ‘dirty’ and builds on a tech-step backbeat a gamut of ever-changing minimally formed noise that fills the tracks to cut-out intensity. Whereas Source Direct use dirty timbre sparingly and as a detail of sound, Panacea embrace it wholesale but neither approach is superior to the other. In fact it is getting into the differences between them all, the nuances of aggression, the details, that must surely mean that criticism of the “it’s the same beat” variety is pretty non-sensical: look at house, look at techno, look at trip-hop…

One of the most popular of these dark tracks has been Manchester’s The Advocate (whose first release was also titled You Talking To Me?). Their track Deviant is a clean cut that uses a PCP-style synth sweep over forceful spring-bass percussion interaction before this sweep is imperceptibly altered by the addition, in the second third, of a raging break, three note ‘punky’ bass note/chords that are sinisterised by 3 melodic notes reminiscent of Halloween. If that wasn’t enough there are two moments where the track seems to hang on a stuttering break fill-in. What marks this track from the others, and may account for its popularity, is that it carries the traces of a song-structure.
Coming from Ipswich and moving into a territory somewhere between Panacea and Source Direct are Twisted Anger. Their Volume 3 contains a track that has a roughed up mix, string dirge held in anticipation, echo clanks and snaking analogue moogish bass chords curling through the rhythm and mutating noise. Like Panacea its sharpness is offset by a rambling ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ improvisatory feel that fills every micro-second with humming and ‘accidental’ sound.

If anything, attempting to listen to every nuance at work on these tracks, their epic, exhausting quality means that listeners are likely to explode in a manner like that of Cronenburg’s Scanners! DJs must fear dropping these tracks too early! That this piece hasn’t focused on No U-Turn, Renegade Hardware, Doc Scott etc. was an accident that became deliberate as it seems to illustrate that there is so much going on in the field of drum and bass and that dark and dirty music is the surefire path to creative adrenaline and intensive states. So much so that their longevity could be assured by the way such tracks encourage a witholding from them in a kind of delayed re-playing in the memory. Maybe the only way to combat this is by dropping some of them to 33 at +8 and using them as devices to help spread darkness to trip-hop! Playing sections of them at 33 has the effect of prolonging the bass surges and adding even more depth to the sounds. This could be an interesting direction? Hard-Hop, Trip-Core, Depth-Break?

Run Off: “Every moment we are what it expresses…”

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