Serious, squelching dub reggae bass-lines bond with DMT didgeridoos, synthesized solar winds, singing sine waves, celestial sighs and a slow heartbeat-like pump. Congas chop clipped, hallucinogenic hip-hop beats. Psychedelic chants are squeezed in and out. Fractal frequencies are set spinning, free to collide and synergise.
Music From Memory’s 50th release complies tracks from a moment in time, specifically 1993-1997. Collecting b-sides and alternate mixes of tunes, which could commonly be found on the flips of UK and European techno records – most of them trance records really. Personally, this is the stuff that I remember Andrew Weatherall playing at his Sabresonic shindigs – club nights held at Happy Jax, on Crucifix Lane, in the dungeon-like arches under London Bridge. It`s the sound – well, a large part of it anyway – of his radio shows, “giving it up” between 1 and 3AM, mid-week on Kiss FM. Two of the tracks included on this compilation feature in Andrew`s Sabresonic Slow Electric Volume 1 aka Massive Mellow Mix – which was recorded in 1993, but rediscovered in 2020 by an army of mourning fans upon the iconic DJ`s untimely passing*. This music, this techno, perhaps more inspired by Aphex Twin and LFO, WARP`s ground-breaking output, than those seminal genre-defining sides from Detroit, KMS and Transmat.
I`d go to Sabresonic religiously. Surrender to the ceremony, get fucking “baked” and dance. Then, listening to the radio I`d discover the names of the “songs”. Armed with scribbled lists, my Saturdays would be spent – often still worse-for-wear – bouncing between record shops in London’s Soho and Covent Garden. Picking up whatever vinyl I could find from stores like Sister Ray, Ambient Soho, and, of course, Fatcat.
The first time I went to Fatcat Records I was looking for Ron Trent`s Altered States. Something that had been in my “Wants” for years, and had just been remixed – by Carl Craig – and reissued on DJAX. I`d been to Flying in Kensington Market, and they’d said, “Great tune, but no mate. Try Fatcat” and given me directions. Slightly spangled, and with a few lunch-time ales inside me to take the edge off, I wasn’t sure if I had the right address, `cos the store at that point was in the basement of a clothes shop. You had to walk through the “street wear” to reach it. I don’t think they even had a sign. As I descended the stairs, that was when I went from “balearic” to “techno” pretty much overnight**. Fatcat straight away became my first port of call when looking for both new and old music. I`d pull a load of classic Detroit and Chicago 12s from the racks, and then wait for a space at the counter, to take my turn competing for copies of the latest General Productions and Planet E missives.
The 17 tracks here, celebrated across 6 sides, are a beautiful blend of “back then”. Where Korg M1 pan-pipes blissfully bend around Voodoo Ray bytes***, while assured shorts of simple interlocking keys patiently echo Japan’s kankyo ongaku. Cinematic strings – allusions to the films of Sergio Leone and the soundtracks of the maestro, Ennio Morricone – surround assembled ticks, squeaks, pops, and bleeps. Trippy organ patterns and spoken word samples – stolen from “self-help”, mediation, tapes – roll down gently flowing tribal hand-drum rivers. 303s belch, and sound comes in huge, lysergic rushes – phased, spiraling waves. Subs sucking blackhole vacuums and snares sometimes tap-tapping on drum and bass` door****.
Crystalline details in vapour-like drifts of delay, providing lifelines to lock onto for those tripping lost in the musical mist, as acid house evangelists, unschooled in new age, unconsciously, accurately recreate and relocate Big Sur’s Esalen Institute to a floatation tank in a semi-detached off The Fulham Palace Road – or an afters at a Hackney squat – or a party thrown in Brixton`s “Barrier Block”*****. Rituals fueled by microdots, purple ohms, windowpanes, Es, whizz, and skunk. Hash blims in everyone`s t-shirt. Crowds contemplating inner-space-is-the-place while sharing bottled water. Dreaming of utopias, communally riffing and shooting shit. Chasing the high. Trying to ward off Monday and work. Trying to enjoy a little longer a lawless, borderless, land. Indulging in cheeky halves and liveners to keep things going. Don’t worry, you can settle up later. Someone’s (always) keeping tab.
There are pixelated pastorals and bucolic breakbeat landscapes, full of fizzing electricity – twisting infinitely – rainfall, thunder, and whispers. Birdsong and flute. The prettiness balanced by a collective passion for bottom-end, big beats that chug and skank.
Temple gongs and gamelan bowls are borrowed. Windchimes and seabirds co-opted. These found sounds set adrift in symphonic scores supplemented by snatches of skittering, splintered, shape-shifting syncopation. Forging fragile, intricate, atmospheres that shine and fascinate like a spider`s web, sparkling, hung with morning dew.
There are darker, shamanic sequences – dread mantra-like movements – but in the main this is effectively 2 hours of “loved-up” ambient anthems. For some the selection will be an ear-opener, a primer to a history previously unknown. To others – like me – it`ll be a huge whack of a nostalgic flashback, overflowing with visions of past scrapes, capers, a lot of laughter and some pain. For all the compilation is essential since the pieces it pulls together are often making their vinyl debut. Much of the music having been commissioned exclusively for long out-of-print CD collections. Short-lived, but super popular, and now hyper sought-after, series with titles like Ambient Dub, Artifical Intelligence, Freezone, and Trance Europe Express. Rob Deacon`s ambitious Volume magazine project. Gear licensed from labels such as Evolution, Fax, Instinct, Klang, Organico, and Rising High. Including early work by currently renowned artists – Move D, Taylor Deupree, Roman Flügel, the Global Communications guys, and Seahawks` Jon Tye. The solo sonic experiments of Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H. Kirk.
Those crazy, hazy days for me seem so far removed from where I am now – and the stories of our – my spars and I`s – mid-90s misadventures have been retold, exaggerated – sometimes down-played – and mythologized to the extent that fact and fiction blur. Half of those partners-in-crime today in AA, the other half tamed and dressed by Marks & Sparks – when we were all once “wild cards”. Some 25 years later (relatively) respectable and (relatively) sober, I’ve been listening, shaking those techno memories, waking from those Virtual Dreams, wondering if any of it was true.
Virtual Dreams: Ambient Explorations In The House & Techno Age 1993-1197 is released on December 7th, by Music From Memory.
*Every time I write / type this, it feels so fucking weird, because like so many others I’ve spent this strangest of years indoors and locked down going back over the music Andrew made, and the music he turned me onto. Immersed myself in it, so that it`s seemed as if he’s still here. Of course in a very real way he still is, and always will be.
**To be honest, for a long time my prejudice had techno down as music for “cheesy quavers”. The record that made me change my tune – before that fateful trip to Fatcat – was Derrick May`s remix of Sueno Latino – which completely blew my balearic mind.
***When I first heard Primitive Painter`s Levitation I thought, “Shit, they’ve tracked down Gerald`s sample source. If there`s an OG out there, I want it.” I later learned that this was impossible since Gerald created those otherworldly vocals from scratch.
****It was the music of Black Dog, and the artists on Kirk Degiorgio`s Applied Rhythm Technology imprint, that in part inspired subsequent pioneers such as Photek and LTJ Bukem.
*****Infamous squat parties held in Southwyck House, Coldharbour Lane, where The KLF and The Orb were born.