V/A – Nice Up The Dance: UK Bubblers 1984-87
This is a crucial compilation covering the UK MC explosion of the 1980s and more besides. When Saxon soundsystem unleashed a wave of unstoppable Mic Chatters it inspired a whole new generation to compete for room at the control tower. Lyrics became hyper competitive and related to life on the mean streets of the UK rather than harking back to Kingston. Vinyl releases inevitably followed, though Greensleeves were slightly beaten to the jump by South London rivals Fashion Records. This reissue showcases the 12” releases on Greensleeves’ mighty UK Bubblers sub-label and is very much a game of two halves.
Disc One is a nigh on perfect selection of deejay madness, backed by The Regulars band performing hard do-overs of Studio One riddims, often with soundsystem-style bass crossfading. It kicks off with Saxon’s Tippa Irie and Daddy Colonel at the top of their game on “Just A Speak”. The duo swap lines over the Answer riddim, fast chatting about everything from London bus routes to arguments with shopkeepers. There’s a bit of mickey taking out of each other, but all in the name of rocking the dance. Daddy Rusty follows on the same riddim with “No No Way” – a rhyming stream of consciousness featuring football, girls, grief with bus conductors and, well – you name it. The third tune on a ramped up Answer is Daddy Sandy’s massive “Riddle Bubble”: “I don’t teef, me not a criminal, I don’t take injections I don’t pop pill, I don’t smoke things that I can’t handle, electricity run through a cable, that’s how we get the power for the turntable, in other words you see this sound is operational, you throw rubbish in a bin you make a bundle, if a boy come jog me, he feel me knuckle, me take of me belt lick him with the buckle, if him don’t feel that me kick him in the temple. You fi bubble, seh you fi bubble bubble…” Sandy’s fast chat selection is so incredible, it’s like watching a tight rope walker. You involuntarily hold your breath because you ain’t sure he’s going to make it until the end of the verse. But of course he does. And that’s just the first three tracks, folks. There are eighteen beauties on Disc One. Even an obsessive like me can’t write about them all, so here’s some of the headlines: Tippa Irie’s “All The Time The Lyric A Rhyme” over Real Rock, in which Tippa squeezes more lyrics into one bar than some people manage in a whole song. Lesley Lyrics’ “Pull Back Your Truncheon”, is a more realistic account of police aggravation than Smiley Culture’s “Police Officer” with inspiringly defiant lyrics. Tippa duets again with Birmingham’s Pato Banton on the cheeky “Walk Pon The Spot”, and Pato comes again with his own “Don’t Sniff The Coke”, impersonating his Mum, telling his story as an artist and advocating herbal remedies rather than white powder. This theme is also taken on board by Leicester’s singjay Tannoi in “Cocaine Mash Up Your Brain” over a crunchy digital take on Bobby Babylon. Disc one concludes with Tippa’s “Have You Got A Neighbour” which I’m not sure has ever been released before, bizarrely.
Disc Two is more of a mixed bag, commencing with Tippa Irie’s ultra-commercial hit “Hello Darling”, followed by the next cut on the same riddim by the late Deborahe Glasgow. Greensleeves’ homegrown productions went increasingly digital as the eighties rolled on, which is fine, but they also seemed to be chasing mainstream
success after Tippa’s triumphant appearance on Top of the Pops. So in retrospect some of the digital production here sounds unnecessarily massive and squeaky clean, instead of minimal and raw. From 1986 UK Bubblers began to mix things up a little, including Lovers Rock releases as well as the classic UK dancehall material. Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of time for Lovers tunes, certainly more than your average roots reggae collector nerd. I just can’t get with many of the selections here, largely because the cheesy vocals aren’t contrasted with rootsy b-lines like they would have been in pre-digital days. One Destiny’s “No Regrets” and male vocal group Azana’s “Runaway Woman” are fine tunes, however. The inclusion of the Lovers tracks is all the more confusing when you realise Tippa Irie’s all time killer “Lyric Maker” isn’t present. However the second disc also offers up some real treasures. I was especially thrilled to finally get my mitts on tunes like Tippa’s “Dance Up A Leeds” and Sugar Merchant’s “Tears of a Clown” for less than twenty quid a pop. Lesley Lyrics’ comes again with his comical “Blind Date”, in which a hook up with a new girl goes so disastrously wrong that he vows never to cheat on his woman again. The obscure Sparky Dean combines cockney market trader banter with fast chat, and Tannoi returns with a pair of digital reality dancehall tunes.
Most of the material here has been rinsed out in this house and featured in virtually all of my DJ sets for years. The informative booklet is well produced and colourful with a load of press cuttings and photos from the time. Don’t let the inclusion of a couple of duff tracks put you off, “Nice Up The Dance” is an essential document of a chapter of UK soundsystem culture which is crammed full of bonafide classics. You need this.
El Rakkas – Extremely Cheap and
Effective EP (Dubsquare 12”)
Title track is minimal Austrian clicky business with sonar bleeps. Reminds me of The Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia, which is a very good thing. Then it goes fucking MENTAL when Raster Noton artist Pomassi busts in, turns everything up and starts attacking all the carefully crafted sounds with a cheese grater. “Done Already” has beats so abstract they sound like a mistake to begin with, but then your rave DNA tunes in and everything comes into focus. “Interference” is all night-driving lushness that would sound incredible at 5am through a proper system. Vinyl only. Respect.
Naphta – Jungle Republic Ramadan
Man and Ricky Force Remixes
(Ruff Revival 12”)
I loved Naphta’s “Long Time Burning” album, and the remixes have all been top quality so far. Ramadanman comes with some 8-bit video game stylings. Beeps ahoy, captain! This is clever AND funky, my friends. Ricky Force retains the junglist onslaught and Yabby You horn sample from the original. But he also adds some
absolutely slamming amens and insane helicopter rewind sounds.
The drop is absolutely cataclysmic. Bruk out insanity is balanced by some lithe breakdowns which WILL have you putting your lightas in the air. Storming.
Ekoplekz – Stalag Zero / Distended
Dub (Punch Drunk 12”)
Fair play to Punch Drunk for going out on a limb with their 20th release. Ekoplekz isn’t dubstep – it isn’t really anything except Ekoplekz. Perhaps if I went back in time to make an episode of Dr Who in the sixties, and I described dubstep to the crew, this is probably what the soundtrack would come out like? “Stalag Zero” is a series of repeating eerie signatures which are all the more dreamlike for escaping the tyranny of quantised lockstep.
“Distended Dub” is even better: Bass rumble, soundsystem sound effect bleeps, but with a sinister slo-mo robotic rave keyboard stomping ominously towards you, down endless tinfoil corridors.
Maybe this won’t get played in at club night near you – but if it does, please let me know. Lovely screenprinted cover by my man 2ndFade. A breath of fresh air.
V/A – 14 Tracks Tracing Psyche Dub
(Boomkat mp3 bundle)
Great cross-genre compilation of people using Dub’s experimental strategies as part of their armoury. Some of this is droney, some noisy, some abstract. But all tied together in a bassy, echoey package, linking the outer fringes of all sorts of mindwarping musics.
Mostly artists I’ve never heard of – or had heard of, but not got the chance to investigate properly. Highlights include Demdike Stare (Basic Channel at its most ambient), Aufgehoben (chopped up improv jazz), Nate Young (basically just echoey clanging!) and the two artists reviewed below. Dadawah and King Midas Sound also
make appearances. And actually, this reminds me of the seminal “Macro Dub Infection” and “Isolationism” compilations that KMS’ Kevin Martin put together for Virgin in the nineties. One to check if your palette is becoming a little jaded.
Forest Swords – Rattling Cage (No
Pain In Pop 7”)
Weird chimes, headnod beats and an off-beat gothic stab. The odd snatch of choral vocal combining with woozy twanging guitar. Simple elements, well done. “Hjurt” on the b-side is a tad more swirly.
LA Vampires & Zola Jesus – LA
Vampires & Zola Jesus EP
(Not Not Fun)
LA Vampires are something to do with Pocahaunted, who are in turn part of this hypnagogic pop thing I know nothing about. Zola Jesus is nu-goth or chillwave or whatever we’re calling it this week. Anyway, this collab is worth a shot. Droning bass, soaring vocals, an experiment that works. Mainly. “Searching” is low-fi post-punk
skank at its best. “Vous” recalls “Heathen Earth”-era Throbbing Gristle. “Looking In” is pleasingly buzzy and bleepy. A lot of my reggae mates will hate this cos it ain’t nearly funky enough and the vocals are too shrieky. I will direct their attention to the 16rpm cover of Dawn Penn’s “No No No” – it’s actually one of the weaker tracks, but annoying purists with scrappy lo-fi electronica is my new hobby.
Ekoplekz / Wanda Group — Dead
Escalator Suite / Slow Down Your
Blood (Further C40 cassette)
Ekoplekz at his most dubwise, a sure win in my book. The usual influences (Cabaret Voltaire, early Dubstep) are more subtle this time, allowing more space and echo than usual in this one twenty minute long track. There are even tinges of Jean Michel Jarre in there — if Jarre worked out of a garage in Bristol, that is. Towards the end the bass and ethereal echo give way to a more aggressive section that sounds like early Throbbing Gristle doing a spaghetti western soundtrack.Wanda Group’s side of the tape kicks off with murky ambience interrupted by high pitched tones and odd rhythms. It feels inhuman and cold next to Ekoplekz and has failed to hold my interest after a few plays. It concludes with some very simple and affecting analogue synth riffs, though.
Nick Edwards – Plekzationz
Nick Edwards is how Ekoplekz is known to his postman and family. Echoing lo-fi analogue electronics remain, spanning 4 tracks of about 15 minutes each. The final track is the most rhythmic and the best for my money. This seems a bit more “serious” than previous efforts to me, perhaps because of the stature of the label? The
usual playful earthiness has been replaced by more airy and cerebral sonics. I’ve found this a bit harder to get into, but I can see it going down well with people who like demanding electronica.
Spatial — EP (Niche & Bump NNB01)
Spatial’s early 10″ releases on his Infrasonics label were like minimal Dubstep via the cold precision of Raster Noton. His subsequent evolution has been a joy to behold. Not for him the bandwagon jumping of so many upstarts, what we have is the glacial progression of someone certain enough of his own vision that incremental change is all that’s needed. Proper DJs will tell you about how ‘The Slammer’ goes down on discerning dancefloors, but you’ll find me playing the other side in the main. “Book Down Way Round” features vinyl tweaking as clinical beats – coupled with a lovely soulful female vocal and some mean synth stabs. It pulls you in several directions at once and you love it. “Plastic Relic” is dub techno in the classic 4AM “I’d go and find out what this tune is if I wasn’t so fucked” style. I.e. it’s not some politely structured DJ tool. Haunting MC vocals in the far corner of the some warehouse, and beats that delight in teasing you with space and menace in equal measure.
Keith Fullerton Whitman –
Occlusions (Editions Mego)
Loada modular synths talking to each other during two live sets. You can hear crowd chatter in the background during the quiet passages. Pretty wild noises piling on top of each other. Moments of clarity and moments of mess. Sounds like R2D2 ranting.
Second piece is more intense – faster, harsher noises. /”not recommended to those seeking meter, melody, cleanliness, or a clearly outlined organizational sense.”/Make the machines, programme the machines, press the “on” button. Stand back and let them do the work.
The New Blockaders — Schadenklang
This year is the 30th anniversary of TNB making horrible noise whilst wearing balaclavas. An Anti-career of just fucking about or a fine body of work which laid the foundations for “noise music” now? Schadenklang is two dense side-long tracks of chucking heavy objects about, grinding noises, scraping metal and general mayhem. The exact opposite of “relaxing”: it works best when you want to blow the cobwebs away. Avoid when hungover.
Nocturnal Emissions — Compost
(Attenuation Circuit CD)
Crisp live recording — one 40 minute long track on a CDR in a DVD box with full colour cover. Looks good. This is the Noccies in “soundscape” mode — ambient themes from electronic to field recording. Slowly evolving movements that suit late night listening (or perhaps an engaging background soundtrack to one of your partner’s friends who has come round to have another lengthy moan about something you don’t care about). Veers close to chill out territory but retains its edge nicely. For my money the also recently released “Spinal Correction Shred” live cassette has the
edge on this though, with a bit more variety and aggression.
Libbe Matz Gang — The First LMG
EP (Libertatia Overseas Trading 7″)
Quite a bit of speculation has gone into who is behind this — and the mystery makes for good copy but maybe the actual sounds get sidelined. What we have is a seven inch that plays at 33, some sinister anarcho-psychogeographical imagery and nine short tracks of instrumental harsh and aggressive lo-fi electronics. Some have rhythms, some have tunes: it’s a grab bag of texture and oddness. Rare to find a debut release which is so well conceived, this is clearly the product of years of ideas and pent up frustration: “DEDICATED TO ANYONE DRIVEN MENTAL BY CONSENSUS REALITY”. Certainly does the trick for me.
Reviews above by John Eden
- Paul Sullivan, Remixology: Tracing The Dub Diaspora, Reaktion Books, 2014 Apart from the ubiquitous Bob Marley, reggae and its variants were under-represented on bookshelves a decade ago. These days there seems to be a book being published every couple of months. Dub in general and King Tubby specifically have been…