Tag Archive: DJ Shadow

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Brian Eno and David Byrne – “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” (Sire Records, 1981)

This month’s Classics Critiqued choice has direct links back to last month’s choice “Remain In Light” (1980) by Talking Heads. In fact, “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” was recorded and intended for release before “Remain In Light” something left Brian Eno feeling bitter as he felt “Remain In Light” overshadowed his and Byrne’s collaborative effort. In this article I explore the concept behind the album, the recording process, the issues it bought to the music industry and the world’s attention and its legacy and influence on the musicians who were captivated by the album.

“My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” began life as part of three recordings sessions held in RPM and Blue Rock Studios in New York in August and September 1979. These recording sessions featured Bill Laswell (bass), David Byrne (guitar), Laraaji (zither/dulcimer) and a host of downtown buskers recruited by Eno, these musicians jammed together while Eno managed the mixing desk, recording the messy results. Between the sessions Eno would edit and mix the jams struggling to find something coherent. As the sessions progressed a direction slowly emerged blending together what Eno described as “disco-funk (fashionable in New York at the time), Arabic/North African music and black African music”. After making these recordings Eno busied himself collaborating with Jon Hassell on “Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics” (1980) before returning to the recordings with intention of recording a collaborative album with Hassell and Byrne that acted as “fake field recording of a non-existent tribe.” The trio would meet up in December 1979 after Byrne had returned from four months of touring Talking Heads “Fear of Music” (1979) they would listen to records released by the French label Ocara who released authentic music from around the world. Their concept for the album evolved as Byrne recalled into “… a field recording… of the future”.

Eno left New York on New Yea Eve 1979 to fly to the West Coast for a lecture tour in his luggage was the tape from the summer sessions which intended to continue developing while on the West Coast. He began work in earnest shaping what would become ‘Mea Culpa’ and adding to it one of ‘found vocals’ that would become one of main talking points around “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”. In January 1980 Eno meet a satirical rock troupe called The Tubes who he played the demo of ‘Mea Culpa’, impressed by what he heard drummer Charles Lenprere ‘Prairie’ Prince offer his services to Eno. He was put to work in L.A.’s Eldorado studio not only to play conventional percussion instruments but also what Eno named the ‘banging board’ a drum kit from which drums were removed and replaced with cardboard boxes and pots and pans adding further texture to the already multifaceted sound. At this juncture Eno contacted Byrne and Hassell to join in L.A. to continue developing the now burgeoning project, Byrne who was still tired from touring and was suffering writers block jumped at the chance but Hassell a jobbing composer had to turn down the invitation and Byrne became the sole collaborator on the project.

By now Eno had established a rough method for creating tracks for the album. He slowly built up layers of sound before then stripping the track down and then beginning the process again. He’d become obsessed with the idea of ‘interlocking parts’ as he explained ‘Instead of having a few instruments playing complex pieces’ he explained, ‘you get lots of instruments all playing very simple parts that mesh together to create a complex track’. It was this approach that informed the “complex, ever-shifting webs of texture rhythm” that made up “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”.

Early on in the process of conceptualizing and creating the album Eno and Byrne decided that neither of them wanted to sing on album. This was because they believed that people perceived that the person who was singing the song had written the song and they wanted to create music that would be perceived differently. However, both agreed that there should some sort of vocals present on the album. So they decided to use recording both from the Ocara records that they’d heard and radio broadcasts of phone-in callers, right-wing radio hosts and evangelical preachers. It was these vocals that were the most controversial sounds on “My Life in Bush of Ghosts” provoking negative critical reviews. Rolling Stone magazines Jon Pareles said the album asked “stubborn questions about context, manipulation and cultural imperialism’, he went on to accuse the duo of having “trivialized the event” when sampling an exorcism on ‘The Jezebel Spirit’. Pareles asked “Does this global village have two way traffic?” and L.A. Times critic Mikal Gilmore said the album had moment of “gimmickry”. These criticisms and the music press’ general perception of the album as an afterthought after its delayed release, due to Talking Heads having to deliver a new album to Sire and a number of sample clearing issues left Eno feeling bitter and that album deserved more praise.

In retrospect, “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” critical opinion has generally been revised and the album is now seen as the innovative release it always was one that preceded sampling by several years and challenged ideas about authorship and audience perception of who wrote and/or performed a piece of music. It still sounds revelatory in a world where music fans accepted the person whose name on the cover as the writer of the music, while being able to recognise when sampled material has been used by the composer.

Over the last thirty one years “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” has steadily gained a cult following among both music fans and music creators alike. The album preempted and was an influence on acts such as Big Audio Dynamite, the Chemical Brothers and El-P and his original hip-hop group Company Flow, whose abstract hip-hop was compared to the album. It also had an impact on the making of Public Enemy’s 1988 masterpiece “Fear of the Black Planet”, DJ Shadow’s sampling watershed moment “Entroducing” (1996) and early drum ‘n’ bass innovator A Guy Called Gerald’s classic album “Black Secret Technology” (1995). All-in-all its difficult to imagine the musical landscape of the last 30 years without “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” even if the album is sometimes overlooked in this respect, the argument for its place in the lineage of electronic music still stands firm.

Let us know what you think of “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” in the comments below or via our Twitter.

Listen to “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” here.

September was a busy and mostly satisfying month. In addition to the Sonic Fiction’s recommendations from last month there were impressive albums released by Laura Marling, Death In Vegas and A Winged Victory for the Sullen, plus a solid effort from The Duke Spirit, which is well worth checking out if you’re missing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Now to those recommendations:

This month’s biggest disappointment comes courtesy of DJ Shadow and his new album “The Less You Know, The Better”. Though I have to agree with those who criticised his last effort “The Outsider”, I actually found “The Private Press” to be a grower and so stayed open-minded about the new Shadow album. However, this unfocused and underwhelming effort needs more than an open mind to get you to like it. Eclectic is the appropriate word for this album and I have no problem with albums that flit between styles and moods, but this album rarely convinces or produces great moments/tracks. ‘Stay the Course’, ‘Warning Call’, ‘Enemy Lines’ and ‘(Not So) Sad and Lonely’ all try for some kind of rock as done by DJ Shadow but they come out bloated and hollow, it’s also not something I’d ever imagine Shadow making as it really doesn’t suit him. ‘Back to Front (Circular Logic)’ and ‘Circular Logic (Front to Back)’ are successful attempts at the atmospheric music that was once this artists signature, they bare a passing resemblance to some tracks from ‘The Private Press’, however they aren’t Shadow’s finest hour  either. Meanwhile ‘Border Crossing’, ‘I’ve Been Trying’, ‘Sad and Lonely’ and ‘Scale It Back’ all revisit the break beat based material Shadow released on Solesides in the mid to late 90’s and though these are better than a majority of material on the album, its feels like he’s on autopilot or way too early for any sort of revival of this style of hip-hop. Overall “The Less You Know, The Better” does prove one thing and that’s if we all knew less about DJ Shadow it’d probably be a slightly more impressive album.

I’ll be honest I’ve found it difficult to get my head around the new Roots Manuva album “4everevolution” and say anything meaningful about it that hasn’t already been stated. It’s definitely his most commercial release to date littered with catchy and clubby tracks, however few of these ever fully convince, his sung vocals are no match for his superior MC skills. It’s great when he gets stuck into some sociopolitical rhyming on ‘Skid Valley’ and ‘Who Goes There?’ the first time he approached such material in years. Although there’s nothing wrong with the music on “4everevolution” it just doesn’t grab me in the way earlier Roots Manuva albums have and doesn’t really suggest itself as a grower either. Still I believe Roots Manuva has it in him for at least one more great album, maybe next time.

The new self titled album from Megafaun certainly covers a lot of ground even introducing some new sounds, styles and instruments on this album. ‘Get Right’ combines the trademark Megafaun sound to Neu! style synth and motorik momentum. ‘Hope You Know’is an emotive and minimal piano ballad, another first for the band. ‘Resurrection’ is an Upbeat electrified folk rock filled out by Rhodes piano and pedal/lap steel guitar. Strings pop up across the album on the warm ‘Second Friend’, the abstract interlude ‘Serene Return’ and album closer ‘Everything’. The band push things out from their usual song based style on the aforementioned ‘Serene Return’, ‘State Meant’ and ‘Post Script’ which work a treat where they could have gone seriously wrong. This is an album that could be a grower, however so was their previous album ‘Gather, Form and Fly’ and repeated listens really paid off with that. It’s too early to tell if this album will equal the previous’ ones highlights but I think it’s worth giving the time to show whether it can or not.

“In The Grace of Your Love”, the long-awaited new album from The Rapture proved to be a mini triumph. Although time will tell us just how good this album is my first couple of spins left me impressed with the bands work. The only real missteps are ‘Rollar Coaster’ (pop era Talking Heads) and ‘Come Back to Me’ (an out-and-out dance tune that sounds like a dance production featuring Luke Jenner than a tune by The Rapture and suffers for it). The rest of album holds up a pretty high standard, the best examples being the rolling disco with post-punk guitars of ‘Children’, the funky title track and its near twin ‘Never Die Again’. Elsewhere the opener ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Miss You’ both combine dance music beats and backing and punchy rock dynamics that feels huge but not over bearing, ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ provides an epic house number and centre piece and closer ‘It Takes Time to be a Man’ is a surprising change with the band taking a soulful piece of with an almost hip-hop beat and feel. The glue that holds all of the album’s strands together is Luke Jenner’s stronger and more soulful vocal delivery, the band plays with a lot of black music influences and reference points but this is the first time Jenner has tried to sound ‘black’ and succeeds in this area most of the time. ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ develops further the sound the band adopted on their last album ‘Pieces of the People We Love’. Add to this the more explicit dance and disco influences that they now better incorporated into their sound and it seem this album will only get better with repeat listens.

“Coracle”, the new album from Kompakt’s Walls, opens with ‘Into Our Midst’, which sees the bass, drums and percussion pushed forward into a techno groove as a looped vocal sound plays against the swirling, arpeggio synths. ‘Sunporch’ continues on from ‘Into Our Midst’. A commanding bass line pulses through hi-hats and percussion and small snatches of melodies ebb and flow in the thick cloud of synths and guitar. Most of the tracks continue in this manner. “Coracle” is a seamless continuation of Walls’ debut and isn’t a great development of their sound. It is, however, a bolder, more confident release that emphasises percussive groove and harsher guitar buzz underneath the syrupy gauze of synths. ‘Raw Umber / Twilight’ begins with the background chatter that arose in earlier track ‘Vacant’ then unfurls into twinkling melodies and glassy synth arpeggios bedded into warm, hazy techno. This is the most beautiful track on the album and the one that condenses the album’s strongest elements into a potent song that perfectly encapsulates Walls’ sound.

“Get Lost” the new album from Mark McGuire came in for a bit of stick in The Wire magazine’s recent review. The reviewer claimed McGuire wasn’t contributed anything new to the ‘kosmische musik’ revival he and his band Emeralds are part of. I don’t believe that Mark McGuire and his band mates have never claimed to contributing anything new to this style of music, I think they’d readily admit being guilty of recreating the music of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel and Cluster in their own way. As such this album is very similar to a large amount of McGuire’s back catalogue and with the first extensive use of guitar-synthesizers; instead of his trusty guitar-synth it moves his material closer to that of the ‘kosmische musik’ of Emeralds. A section of the album also sees a first for McGuire as he uses vocals on ‘When You’re Somewhere’. ‘Alama’ and ‘Alma (Reprise)/Chances Are’, the most explicit use of these is ‘Alma’ and it’s a success the warmth of McGuire vocals compliment that of his music. All the typical traits of McGuire’s guitar playing are present especially his fuzz lead lines and repetitive yet hypnotic delay heavy rhythm patterns, the album also features a lot of acoustic guitar which also featured prominently on last year’s “Living With Yourself”. It’s the synth drones and arpeggios though that dominates, and is the biggest departure for McGuire. “Get Lost” slots easily into McGuire hefty back catalogue and will delight long time fans, it may not add anything to ‘kosmische musik’ but that doesn’t mean it’s not an album that’s well worth having.

After 5 years Spank Rock returned this month with his second solo album “Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar”. Overall the album is a stormer combining tracks that consolidates what he’d achieved on previous album “YoYoYoYoYo” and moving into new areas like four to floor dance music, grungy distortion and Can sampling single ‘Energy’. Spank Rock also tries out singing on ‘The Dance’, ‘Baby’ (on which he pulls off an excellent Prince impersonation) and ‘Energy’ and does so with aplomb. The triple dance floor whammy of ‘The Dance’, ‘#1 Hit’ and ‘Turn It Off’ are the biggest departures but also greatest success on the album. During the second half of the album the majority of tracks recall “YoYoYoYoYo”s’ electro sound but here it’s been expanded and built upon to incorporate tribal vibes, industrial touches, grungy distortion and on ‘Baby’ a phat funk groove. Like on his début Spank Rock pushes the envelope of electro hip-hop successfully bringing together disparate elements and combining them as if they should be together. An excellent album full of energy, humour and electro!

Another release on Kompakt is Gui Boratto’s “III”. His previous releases “Chromophobia” and “Take My Breath Away” are built on staccato rhythms that trip over themselves and push and pull against arpeggiated synths and gently overdriven, poppy melodies. “III” is all about slower grooves and dark, searing techno. Twin tracks ‘Geluchat’ and ‘Stems From Hell’ sound like Gui Boratto deep in Berghain. The bass drum pounds, bass lines growl and groove and grainy synths coil and graze. His use of peaks and drops are masterful; they tease and reward the listener; pure peak time clubbing. This opening set also explains the black cover. Where the covers of Boratto’s previous albums are vibrant reds and blues, ‘III’ is hard and confrontational. It demands to be played loud. Next track ‘Striker’ features, for the first time, vocals from Gui Boratto and recalls Madga’s awe-inspiring basslines and her inclusion of sinister post-punk tracks in her mixes. Disappointingly the final track ‘This Is Not The End’, which features his wife Luciana Villanova, feels like a misstep and is too lightweight against the abrasive, pummelling techno. Finishing with ‘The Third’, a floating track of held chords and delayed melodies would have been a great finale; the sun rising after a night of dancing.

Kid Koala’s “Space Cadet” was definitely the best album experience this month. The “Space Cadet” CD accompanies the graphic novel of the same name perfectly. Kid Koala balances the need for musicality with an atmospheric and emotive sound that never fills contrived. Reading along with the soundtrack heightens everything on the page and the album stands up brilliantly on its own. A fine demonstration of this artist’s constantly developing skill as a composer and creator of turntable music that is capable of expressing emotion beyond humour.

This month’s best album is definitely Apparat’s “The Devil’s Walk”. I’ll admit that his last solo album ‘Walls’ did take quite a while to grow on me and reveal it charms. Not so this time Apparat now displays his ability to write both immediate and engaging material that is rich both in hooks and melody as it is in deep harmony and atmosphere. Fans of ‘Walls’ will not automatically recognise this as the Apparat they know and love. In fact that album has a lot more in common with his collaborative project Moderat (the best of this is ‘Song of Los’) and the ‘Orchestra of Bubbles’ album with Ellen Allien  particularly the string sounds employed throughout this album. ‘The Devil’s Walk’ occupies similar territory to the Moderat album with a dark, Gothic atmosphere and medieval sounds a constant throughout. The cover echoes these influences and this album coming out on electronic music pioneers Mute Records and at time indirectly recalls Depeche Mode at the finest. Apparat’s vocal’s even sound like Marc Almond (of Soft Cell fame) minus the camp edge. Apparat’s greatest achievement here is combining modern production techniques with strong song writing. His song are now more memorable and emotional evocative.

Spotify Playlist:

September playlist

Coming up in October on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “The Modern Dance” by Pere Ubu

Recommendations – October

3rd October

Zola Jesus – “Conatus”

‘Vessel’, the first single recalls a gloopier ‘Enjoy’ by Bjork or perhaps a b-side from Homogenic while second single ‘Seekir’ promises a leap in production and instrumentation for her second album. Developing from ‘Stridulum II’, Zola Jesus allows the fervant electronic drums and wet synths to drown her voice before rising into one of her soon-to-be-trademark choruses.

10th October

Bjork – “Biophilia” (Nonesuch/One Little Indian)

Bjork doesn’t do anything in half measures. She is guaranteed to put her heart in every one of her albums and “Biophilia” continues this stream of strong artistic statements. First single ‘Crystalline’  is filled with delicate, glassy timbres, fizzing electronic drums and a female choir that celebrate Bjork’s proud return before jungle drums explode out of the ether. Critics may complain this is just a repetition of previous albums but “Biophilia” feels like a great comeback after four years away and really she could do almost anything and it would still top most albums around.

The Field – “Looping State Of Mind” (Kompakt)

Sweden’s Axel Willner (The Field) returns with his third album on Kompakt. “Looping State Of Mind” neatly builds on the landscapes of his previous releases “From Here We Go Sublime”,  a collection of icy yet deeply affecting techno tracks, and “Yesterday and Today”, which covers a warmer krautrock-indebted area, to merge the best of both into a beautiful seven track blend of warm synth arpeggios, droning, pulsing pads and that  Kompakt schaffel. The eponymous loops feel like they could last forever; building and dropping and shuffling.

Wolfgang Voigt – “Kafkatrax” (Profan/Kompakt)

The Kompakt co-founder collects the Kafkatrax vinyl releases on a 10 track CD. Hearing the tense, disembodied voices, taken from audiobooks of Franz Kafka’s works, stretched and clipped and set against a never-ending bass drum is a fascinating listen in one unbroken stretch. The release is perfectly fitting for the idiosyncratic Voigt and Kafka’s paranoid, dystopian words.

August promised plenty with a good haul of releases to listen to, however a lot of acts delivered disappointing or average albums with the exception of Balam Acab hard to define debut and the latest offering from Steve Malkmus and The Jicks.

I’ve been genuinely struggling to come up with anything to say about “West” by Wooden Shjips, August’s biggest disappointment. Almost all the track bar the closer ‘Rising’ are practically identical only changing in tempo and intensity. The same elements are used throughout – fuzzed guitars, organ melodies, motorik drums and the only difference is from previously releases is that Ripley Johnson’s vocals are higher in the mix. The repetition on this album is boring and not hypnotic which is what the band was aiming for. My other big problem with the album is that there’s little to distinguish it from its influences Neu!, Spacemen 3 and the Velvet Underground, in fact you’d be better off buying an album each of those artists. There seems little point in repeating this music unless you can find some way of putting a personal stamp on it. Wooden Shjip’s have had a lot of of critical praise heaped on them and are supposedly the best of this type of music and the previous albums I’ve heard suggest they are good at what they do. However, even when on form I’m not convinced enough to buy one of their albums.

The new CSS album “La Liberacion” is a rather eclectic mix from the electro reggae of single ‘Hit Me Like A Rock’ featuring Bobby Gillespie to punk stylings of the title track and ‘Ruby Eyes’ via the breezy pop of ‘Partners in Crime’. Overall this is a very polished effort from the band that had thrilled us with the lo-fi feel of their debut album, in fact song like ‘Rhythm to the Rebels’ and the title track remind me of that album. Though the music itself successfully achieves a move into pop music territory the vocals of Lovefoxx leave a little to be desired. It’s not that I think she’s a terrible vocalist or that she needs to be a pitch perfect singer far from it, some of my favourite vocalists are often accused of not being able to hold a note. But against a more sophisticated backing she struggles to hold her own sometimes to the point of it being irritating. This album of exuberant pop that will delight many, however it’s often just a little too light weight for my tastes.

“Watch The Throne” is a hit and miss selection from Jay-Z and Kanye West that and doesn’t quite deliver to their usual high standards. Maybe if they’d stuck with the original mini-album format they’d have had a higher hit rate and tighter concept. Having said that it’s not all bad by any means and it’s interesting to hear Jay-Z able to adapt to the often up tempo and electronic beats and sounds that dominate the album. Highlights include the rolling bass line and cinematic strings ‘No Church in the Wild’ feat Frank Ocean, ‘Niggas In Paris’ which features a great section were Kanye slurs his first verse along to the lurching electro beat, the soul filled single ‘Otis’, the emotive piano stampede of ‘Murder to Excellence’ and the surprisingly successful ‘Made in America’ feat. Frank Ocean which manages to stay the right of mawkish. However, there’s a lot of throw away material that fails to make an impact and sounds like it was thrown together in five minutes. ‘Lift Off’ featuring Beyonce doesn’t quite make it as the big moment as it could have been but is an interesting combination of R&B/electro and hard(er) edge hip-hop beats, ‘That’s My Bitch’, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Why I Love You’ feat. Mr. Hudson are the worst the first two feel lightweight and the lead sounds are annoying and the later features liberal use of Auto Tune that would work fine if it wasn’t for the awful 80’s guitar work playing in the background. The remaining tracks are all pretty middling fare and unfortunately with the possible expectations of ‘No Church in the Wild’, ‘Niggas in Paris’ and ‘Murder to Excellence’ I can’t see these tracks being remembered long after this year.

Tinariwen’s “Tassili” was an album that felt like a disappointment from an act that has proved to be very consisent across previous releases. However, there return to their acoustic roots sounds flat and their collaborations on this album are hit-and-miss the contributions of TV on the Radio Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe are the main disappointment, being left adrift on the chorus of ‘Tenere Taqqim Tossam’ where I was hoping they’d combine their unique harmonies with those of Tinariwen, but this never happens. Nels Cline’s slide guitar is an improvement but sometimes dominates the music too much, the only real success is The Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s deep and probing harmonics on ‘Ya Messinagh’. Elsewhere the band consolidate on previous triumphs or deliver inspid acoustic takes on them.

The new Sun Araw album ‘Ancient Romans’ is a bit of a mixed bag on first listen. The first three tracks (‘Lucretius’, ‘Crown Shell’ and ‘Crete’) and closer ‘Impluvium’ are big disappointments for different reasons, the first three mainly because they are too busy and seem to miss the whole point of Sun Araw’s repetitive and meditative music. ‘Impluvium’ lets itself down as it starts off seemingly to use modern production techniques such as chopped up vocals which is a first for Sun Araw however it ends up sound like antiquated rave music slowed down. The album isn’t a complete disaster and when it’s good, it’s very good. ‘At Delphi’ and ‘Fit for Caesar’ are cinematic and drone based triumphs that take what great about Sun Araw and times it by 100. ‘Lute and Lyre’ has its moments too starting off feeling a little weak it slowly draws the listener in and transfixes them, however this is spoilt by Stallones not being able to resist over complicating parts and flooding the mix.

Balam Acab’s ‘Wander/Wonder’ is one of the best albums I’ve heard this month, though it is disappointingly short at only 36 minutes and he does have a habit of repeating the same stylistic elements again and again. However, Acab’s grasp of music theory combined with his unique aesthetic are enough to ensure the quality of this release. At its best the album perfectly balances the digital and the organic, the tense and the relaxing, the watery and the bone dry, the artificially processed and real world sounds. Along with his label mates such as ooOoo and Clams Casino, Balam Acab is carving out his own sound world and it one that’s a great place to be.

I’ll admit that I haven’t paying much attention to what Steve Malkmus has been up to since he released his self titled debut solo album in 2001. At the time I was a huge Pavement fan and desperate for something to come out from Malkmus, the leader of a band I’d become obsessed with in my teens. However the following albums just seemed to bring more and more songs that sounded like pale imitations of Pavement songs and I drifted away from the alternative rock. After reading that there was a new Malkmus album due and it was being produced by Beck my interest was piqued. It turns out Malkmus is firing on all cylinders (I’ll have to revisit the previous four albums now as I feel I may missed out) and has delivered an eclectic album full to the brim with tunes. From the opening ‘Tigers’ (which reminds me of ‘Range Life’ by Pavement) to the closing ‘Gorgeous Georgie’ (the album most relaxed song) Malkmus delivers. The highlights include the folk inspired ‘No One Is (As Are I Be)’, the rambunctious single ‘Senator’, the funky and spare take on Alt. Rock of ‘Brain Gallop’ and ‘Stick Figures in Love’ which has a middle 8 that reminds me of ‘Third Uncle’ by Brian Eno and the bouncy ‘Forever 28’. The album’s second half features a selection of quieter, slower and more contemplative songs (‘Long Hard Book’, ‘Jumblegloss’, ‘All Over Gently’, ‘Fall Away’ and ‘Gorgeous Georgie’) which show that Malkmus is not a one trick pony . Another way forward is the increased usage and presence of The Jicks great rhythm section who on tracks like ‘All Over Gently’, ‘Forever 28’ and ‘Brain Gallop’ they suggest new rhythmic avenues for the band to explore in future. Even when “Mirror Traffic” sounds like Pavement I realise this no bad thing as Malkmus on top form equalling the legacy of his former band and not a creating pale imitations of his former glories. All power to the former Pavement man’s elbow!

Spotify playlist:

August 2011 playlist

Coming up in September on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches” by the Happy Mondays – sorry that there was no Classics Critiqued in August I was unable to find any information when researching the piece on “Mr. Brubaker’s Strawberry Alarm Clock” BY Neotropic. This release come highly recommend to any fans of Ninja Tune artists!

Recommendations – September

Key * = albums that I’ve already heard, so I’m sharing my intial thoughts on them

^ = albums recommended by our electronic music columnist Vier

~ = this album release has been moved to the 3rd October

The Rapture – ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ (DFA, 5th September) *

The long awaited new album from The Rapture proves to be a mini triumph. Although time will tell us just how good this album is my first couple of spins left me impressed with the bands work. The only real missteps are ‘Rollar Coaster’ (pop era Talking Heads) and ‘Come Back to Me’ (an out-and-out dance tune that sounds like a dance production featuring Luke Jenner than a tune by The Rapture and suffers for it). The rest of album holds up a pretty high standard, the best examples being the rolling disco with post-punk guitars of ‘Children’, the funky title track and its near twin ‘Never Die Again’. Elsewhere the opener ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Miss You’ both combine dance music beats and backing and punchy rock dynamics that feels huge but not overbearing, ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ provides an epic house number and centre piece and closer ‘It Takes Time to be a Man’ is a surprising change with the band taking a soulful piece of with an almost hip-hop beat and feel. The glue that holds all of the album’s strands together is Luke Jenner’s stronger and more soulful vocal delivery, the band plays with a lot of black music influences and reference points but this is the first time Jenner has tried to sound ‘black’ and succeeds in this area most of the time. ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ develops further the sound the band adopted on their last album ‘Pieces of the People We Love’. Add to this the more explicit dance and disco influences that they now better incorporate into their sound and it seems this album will only get better with repeat listens.

Gui Boratto – “III” (Kompakt, 12th September) ^

The Brazillian techno artist returns with his third album for Kompakt. ‘The Drill’, an EP taken from the album, shows the emotive, harmonic approach  of his two previous albums imbued with a bold darkness.

Kid Koala – ‘Space Cadet’ (Ninja Tune, 19th September)

The Canadian turntablist and cartoonist returns with a “still picture score” for his new graphic novel. In addition to unique and amazing turntable skills their is room for new instruments including strings, horns and marimba. Can preview ‘Space Cadet’ at Ninja Tune’s website.

Megafaun – “Megafaun” (Crammed Discs, 19th September) *

The new self titled album from Megafaun certainly covers a lot of ground even introducing some new sounds, styles and instruments on this album. ‘Get Right’ combines the trademark Megafaun sound to Neu! style synth and motorik momentum. ‘Hope You Know’is an emotive and minimal piano ballad, another first for the band. ‘Resurrection’ is an upbeat electrified folk rock filled out by Rhodes piano and pedal/lap steel guitar. Strings pop up across the album on the warm ‘Second Friend’, the abstract interlude ‘Serene Return’ and album closer ‘Everything’. The band push things out from their usual song based style on the aforementioned ‘Serene Return’, ‘State Meant’ and ‘Post Script’ which work a treat where they could have gone seriously wrong. This is an album that could be a grower, however so was their previous album ‘Gather, Form and Fly’ and repeated listens really paid off with that. It’s too early to tell if this album will equal the previous’ ones highlights but I think it’s worth giving the time to show whether it can or not.

Apparat – ‘The Devil’s Walk’ (Mute, 26th September)

The German electronic music producer returns with the follow-up to his critically acclaimed album “Walls”. The two pre-release tracks ‘Ash/Black Veil’ and ‘Black Water’ show a new Gothic atmosphere pervading throughout. This seems like the perfect record to release on Mute Records who Apparat decided to release this new album through.

Roots Manuva – ’4everevolution’ (Big Dada, 26th September)

Roots Manuva returns with his fifth (official) studio album, which is reportedly an eclectic 17 track affair that covers everything Mr. Manuva has done thus far and much more. You can download first single “Watch Me Dance’ here.

Mark McGuire – ‘Get Lost’ (Editions Mego, 26th September)

McGuire’s third release on Edition Mego in under 2 years sees him recording all new material completely digitally (a lot of Emeralds and McGuire previous releases were recorded to tape) with a combination of electric and acoustic guitar, vocals (is this a first?) and guitar-synth. As a huge McGuire fan I (Liam editor/founder of Sonic Fiction) can’t wait!

DJ Shadow – ‘The Less You Know The Better’ (Island, 26th September 2011 ~)

DJ Shadow is back and the early signs are good after he released two tracks destined for this latest release. However, after being stung by ‘The Outsider’ some fans might be reticent about this new release. However, I’d say give it a shot as ‘The Private Press’ was a grower for me and it paid eventually.

Spank Rock – ‘Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar’ (Bad Blood, 26th September) – Its been along time coming but the follow-up to ‘YoYoYoYoYo’ is finally here!! Featuring all the usual members of Spank Rock plus Boys Noize has produced some tracks including the Can sampling ‘Energy’, which you can download here.

Walls – “Coracle” (Kompakt, 26th September) ^

The duo’s second album sees them once again capture a shimmering sound with swirling layers of guitars and synths and as first single ‘Sunporch’ displays they have now grounded their synth washes in authorative bass lines. ‘Coracle’ is an album to watch for Kompakt’s continuing evolution.

Argument for

“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso

Sampling has always provoked controversy and furious debate since its humble beginnings when Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa looped the breakbeats from rock, funk, jazz and soul records so that breakdancers could show off their best moves. This debate will focus on sampling and sampled based music’s validity, leaving aside the often discussed and sticky issues of copyright. I will be arguing for sampling as a legitimate form of expression and an experimental tool that re-contextualises musical elements into new and sometimes unexpected juxtapositions. I will also look at how sampling and sampling technology developed and its impact on the possibilities for those musicians and producers who exploited its power. By sampling I refer to any manipulation of pre-recorded audio and thus I’ve included scratching and turntablism.

Even in its earliest construction at street parties and clubs in New York in the late 1970s sampling was about the re-contextualisation and manipulation of the source material. The extending of breakbeats by Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa dramatically altered the structure of the original pieces of music and the breakbeats took on a new life as a tool in a DJ’s weaponry. With  Grand Wizard Theodore’s invention of scratching and Grandmaster Flash’s development of key techniques the manipulation took to another level. It created new rhythms within a DJ’s set and they could apply their own skill and personalities, which created a new energy and competitiveness that drove the DJs and the music forward. Scratching created rhythms out of abstract sounds which acted as ‘exciters’ for their audiences. Grandmaster Flash showcased his virtuoso knowledge and a series of jar dropping juxtapositions on 1981’s ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel’. The record used segments of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ (which name checked Flash), Micheal Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band’s ‘Apache’ (the breakbeat from which became a classic sampling staple), ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and ‘Good Times’ by Queen and Chic. ‘…Wheels of Steel’ was the first commercially released record to feature scratching and a style that soon became a main part of the then unnamed turntablism.In the mid 1990s Babu of the Dilated Peoples invented this term to give scratch DJs a solid identity separate from others. Babu believes the first turntablist was Grand Mixer DST who featured on ‘Rockit’ by pioneering jazz musician Herbie Hancock in 1982. As Babu put it, ‘he was not only an integral part of the song or band, he was the highlight’. The now legendary television performance of ‘Rockit’ at the 1983 Grammy Awards inspired the next generation of scratch happy turntablists who I’ll be covering later in this piece.

“The turntable is a musical instrument as long as you can see it being a musical instrument. You’re dealing with notes, you’re dealing with measures, you’re dealing with timing, you’re dealing with rhythm but the outcome is the same music” – Rob Swift, The X-ecutioners.

As hip-hop was exploiting the turntable as a new musical instrument and creating unpredictable musical juxtapositions so was experimental artist Christian Marclay who in 1979, when unable to find a drummer for a performance alongside guitarist Kurt Henry, used a skipping record as a percussive instrument. By the late ’80s Marclay was making waves with his albums ‘Records without Grooves’ (1987) and ‘More Encores: Christian Marclay plays the records of…’ (1989). His techniques varied from playing back damaged records, scratching, assembling together bits of different records to played as one and creating wild juxtapositions between music often at polar opposites of the musical spectrum. One of best examples being ‘His Master Voice’ which combines the sound of “a preacher railing against rock ‘n’ roll with “push, push in the bush” disco, Wagnerian chorales, metal guitar solos and Don Ho” all flitting in and out of focus. There is little difference between what the hip-hop pioneers and Marclay did yet the results are different, proof that the turntable was beginning to develop as an alternative to traditional instruments and traditional ideas about musical composition and performance. They are also the first example of sampling as a re-contextualisation tool, taking from multiple and widely varying sources to create new musical creations and languages in both hip-hop and avant-garde contexts.

The original sampler keyboard, a Fairlight CMI used by ’80s pop acts such as Art of Noise, Heaven 17 and producer Trevor Horn, who aided the acceptence of sampling by the mainstream music press and audience, was superseded by more advanced samplers while the avant-garde began to make inroads into sampling and turntablism using accidents and the effects of worn vinyl.

There was however a link between all these disparate strands and that was Public Enemy who produced a master class in pushing the basic sampling technology to its outer limits on ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back’ (1988). Public Enemy didn’t just sample a break and lay another sample on top; they tested the samples to destruction. They achieved this by pitching the samples up or down, time stretching and using other non musical sounds to create a musical maelström that summed up their emotional and political feelings. The  sound scape built reflected the atmosphere of their New York environment. This was one of the first great examples of how to truly re-contextualise sample. Rather than superimposing the sample into a new musical environment, Public Enemy were changing the tempo, tone, pitch, timing and even the idea of what elements were. ‘…A Nation Of Millions’ blurred the lines: a trumpet could be a siren and siren could be a trumpet, a breakbeat could be broken and reconstructed, nothing was static anymore. Meanwhile in the UK sample based dance music records had took hold in 1987 with the release of M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up the Volume’, which became the first UK No.1 to feature samples of other songs. The track paved the way for the rave generation to fully embrace sampling and take it to new places and inadvertently inventing the mash-up over 15 years before the term came into use.

As the 80s rolled into the 90s the sampler became an increasingly important part of dance music and almost completely replaced the synthesiser as the main ‘instrument’ or piece of technology. Roger Linn designed the Akai MPC series of sampler/sequencers and the MPC 60 was based on the Linn 9000 sampler that previously he had  built. This series allowed the user to sample, pitch shift, time stretch and to program using the velocity sensitive pads and sequencer provided. The MPC-60 was used by jungle pioneer A Guy Called Gerald, trance producer BT and Apollo 440 as well as leading hip-hop producers DJ Premier and DJ Shadow.

Akai continued to push the technology forward by introducing CD quality audio and increasing sampler memory and note capacity. One of the most vital records of the sampling era was produced using just a MPC 60, a pair of turntables and a borrowed Pro Tools set-up: ‘Endtroducing…’ by DJ Shadow. Shadow was a turntablist that took sampling beyond purely musical function, he created sampledelic tracks infused with atmosphere and emotion that changed the very idea of what a hip-hop record could be and what even basic sampling technology could do. He wasn’t alone in challenging these ideas as DJ Spooky who also debuted in 1996 with ‘Songs of a Dead Dreamer’ was a turntablist ‘whose philosophy merges avant-garde theories of musique concrète with the increased devotion paid to mixing techniques’. Spooky believed that the turntable was an instrument in its own right capable of expressive musical composition and manipulation. Equally influenced by John Cage and Kool Herc he provides a link between the avant-garde work of Christian Marclay and Japan’s Ground Zero and that of hip-hop’s most far out turntablists DJ Q-Bert and Mixmaster Mike. A more direct contemporary with Spooky is DJ/Rupture who shares some musical influences (hip-hop and dub) and both create extreme music: Spooky’s is ambient (or illbient) and Rupture’s is more experimental and aggressive and utilises ethnic influences.

As the noughties dawned dance music seemed to catch-up with hip-hop, turntablism and the avant-garde. Sample heavy releases like The Avalanches’ ‘Since I Left You’ from 2001 demonstrated that dance music could produce something on a similar scale and weight as ‘Endtroducing…’ and shed some of dance music’s gimmicky use of samples. Though sonically different from DJ Shadow’s work, ‘Since I Left You’ had an advanced complexity that had been left relevantly untouched since the days of A Guy Called Gerald’s pioneering early 90s albums. Mash-up culture and sample based releases exploded after this; one of most critically acclaimed artists being Girl Talk (Greg Gillis). Gillis has often been in the middle of controversy about his employment of sampling and has featured in two documentaries about copyright: Brett Gaylor’s ‘Rip: A Remix Manifesto’ and ‘Good Copy, Bad Copy’. The peak of Girl Talk was ‘Feed the Animals’ from 2008. Originally conceived as a single piece of music which Gillis then sliced up into individual tracks made completely from samples of other recordings, the album was released under a Creative Common’s Attribution Non-Commercial Licence, which meant he had to fully credit all material sampled in the sleeve notes to legally profit from its sale.

Recently sampling has seen the emergence of a young generation of music makers influenced by the sample employing hip-hop and dance artists that dominated the ’90s. Artists are using samples as a starting and/or finishing point for compositions like Washed Out’s most popular song so far ‘Feel It All Around’, which revolves around Gary Low’s ‘I Want You’. Pantha du Prince explains that he takes a slightly different approach, ‘I sampled a lot of bands. Then I took the samples out in the end. I took the samples in, made the track, and took, for example, the melody or the chorus and then I took the track out again. With The Chills you can only hear it at the beginning and the end.’


With so many approaches to re-contextualisation how can sampling not be a valid form of musical expression? It is no longer as easy for those that oppose sampling to dismiss it as lacking in originality or depth. Technology’s development and the artists above has shown that it’s possible to create new pieces of music that emotionally connect with their audience or elicit a new physical movement or mental association that didn’t previously exist. Whether it is through  using turntables as instruments of re-contextualisation in hip-hop and avant-garde, a dance for creating euphoria in dance or nostalgia in newer genres such as chillwave, a sample is the inspiration for a song or the icing on the cake to finish it off. How ever artists choose to use and manipulate samples it is a strong relevant form of expression with a lengthy history on which to draw.

Argument against

To argue against sampling in this debate I will look at sampling’s claim to re-contextualise pieces of music by tailoring them into new compositions and the idea of sampling as a form of colonialism.

The claim that sampling re-contextualises a piece or pieces of music is naïvely reductive and  a complex and detailed idea simplified. We accept an artist or recording does not exist in a vacuum untouched and unaffected by outside forces and when we discuss a recording we are also discussing its context, its discourse. Transplanting a 16 bar loop from one recording to another does not and cannot alter its original context as it is intrinsically steeped in its discourse. The musical context has been altered but an entirely new, modern context has not been created. Discourse is not something ignorable, it is part of the fabric of a recording and an essential element in what makes that recording identifiable and understandable therefore sampling is capable only of stitching together pre-existing contexts not creating new ones. That transplanted 16 bar loop is still particular to a recording created at a specific time by a specific artist and is identifiable as such. Its context has not changed.

It is possible to link sampling to colonialism: taking work from one artist, sometimes without payment or accreditation, for the commercial gain of another taps into the dishonest domination of one force over others, similar to the discussion in the Cultural Tourism article. In an interview with Hybrid Life, Nicolas Jaar talks of his feelings towards sampling, “Of course the problem with this is the colonial problem, like imperialistic…I have absolutely nothing against Cadenza, but the song ‘La Mezcla’. They can pay whatever to…the person that did it. I could never have someone steal the core of (one of my records) like that. Simply because of this weird colonial thing, for me it can’t not have that context. Maybe for most people dancing it doesn’t have that context, but for me there’s the driven techno and then on top there’s some crazy Spanish lady singing. It’s not honest! I understand how it’s appealing, and I understand how it sells, and I understand that’s the world we live in…but I wouldn’t want to do that.” As Jaar points out taking from one recording and adding it to another could be construed as theft and in turn dishonest and thus dishonest musicianship. An important attraction of equipment like Recycle, Ableton and turntables is that it easily endows users with the advanced ability to unrecognisable transform a record sample and scatter it into a new composition, which feeds into the musically fraudulent colonial tendencies of artists who sample and leads back to the discourse in recordings discussion.

  <span><a href=”http://soundcloud.com/nicolas-jaar/love-you-gotta-lose-again-mn”>Love you gotta lose again /// Nicolas Jaar (Double Standard Records)</a> by <a href=”http://soundcloud.com/nicolas-jaar”>Clown and Sunset</a></span>

The borrowing from past records for the bulk of new material in genres such as hip-hop and the (over)use of certain familiar passages leads to a repetitive language of sounds and aesthetics and there will be, or already is as suggested by The Guardian’s recent article on hip-hop sampling, an inevitable exhaustion of vintage albums, which leads to a possible debate highlighting hip-hop’s contradictory braying pride of having the newest, most innovative sound but using aged, and at times conventional, recordings. An ideology of employing the past to build the future does not create previously unheard music, a new item or a new context, as explained early, it is solely an adapted preceding and inherent discourse.


Spotify playlist:

Sampling debate

Top 5 Non Musicians

What is a non musician? The most obvious application is to describe people who are not musicians, but it has also been used to describe musicians who approach their work from a non musical perspective. The non musicians I will be talking about have all separated themselves from conventional and traditional ideas of how to create music, how music can be perceived and even what it can communicate and represent.

1. Brian Eno

An obvious but valid choice. From the very beginning of his career through to the present day Eno has constantly pushed or been pushing the ideas of what music is and how it can be created. He began his musical career in Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra, which allowed anyone to join and created experimental music using graphic scores instead of the traditional stave and improvisation to achieve the resulting sound. His next venture was Roxy Music. Though they had a rock music sound they weren’t any normal rock band, Andy Mackay’s saxophone was something rarely found in the genre at the time. In addition to this, Eno used the EMS VCS3 synthesiser, which featured no keys and produced effects and synthetic sounds instead of discernible notes. He also treated Phil Manzenera’s guitar on ‘Ladytron’, which was Eno’s first use of what he later called ‘treatments’ in an attempt to describe what he did with instruments and to distance himself from other pop/rock musicians. After Eno left Roxy Music in 1973 he began his solo career in an equally bizarre fashion. He credited himself on the sleeve of solo debut album ‘Here Comes the Warms Jets’ with playing ‘simplistic keyboards, snake guitar, electric larynx and synthesiser’. At this time he also began his pioneering work with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, employing tape delay techniques to create the sound they dubbed ‘Frippertronics’. As the 1970s progressed Eno’s music seems, in retrospect, to lead naturally to his next innovation – ambient music (despite his claim to the inspiration of being unable to clearly hear his guitar while lying a hospital bed). In 1978 he released the first album of this new genre ‘Music for Films’ which was inadvertently the achievement that he became most famous for, at times overshadowing his other work. The intention for ambient music was to change the listener’s perception of the space they were in and this was reflected in albums titles such as ‘Music for Airports’ and ‘Ambient#4: On Land’. This was a radical step and a precursor to Eno’s later work as both a multi-media artist, such as his recent ‘77 Billion Paintings’ exhibition and authoring the Generative Music software, which required no musical skill to use.

Why has Eno felt the need to switch between so many different roles and collaborations (and this is of cause not forgetting to mention his career as a record producer for U2, Talking Heads, James etc)? Why does he continue to insist he is not a musician? In an interview with legendary music journalist Lester Bangs in 1979 Eno explained that he felt that many bands or artists pursued a linear career path treading water, producing album after album but he preferred the accidental career path he found himself on, putting it down to his desire to avoid clichés and getting stuck in an artistic rut. He claimed to have been offered tempting profile boosting opportunities but turned them down because he wanted to ‘maintain his mobility’ and lead his career his way, meaning that Eno can constantly move between collaborative, solo or ambient albums and multimedia projects.

As for his claims of being a ‘non musician,’ this statement seems to contradict the incredible body of work he has created. It is a selection so strong and so full of musicality, how could it come from anyone other than a musician? Eno answers this in the same interview, saying that again he is standing in opposition to generally accepted ideas of what a musician is. He discusses his processes as having more to do with ‘manipulation and ingenuity’ than musical skill. This involves picking out parts on various instruments then feeding them through electronics and effects before getting other collaborators to overdub onto the basic tracks. Being more interested in sound than technical ability, he starts with a sound then works on the harmony or melody often feeling his way to find complimentary notes. This method of working can also be dictated by a set of cards, named Oblique Strategies, that are designed to provide unorthodox forms of inspiration and include instructional statements such as ‘Honour thy error as a hidden intention’ , a technique that has been utilised by Radiohead.  Eno also believes that not having formal music training can ‘generate surprising results sometimes; you move to places which you wouldn’t do if you knew better, and sometimes that’s just what you need.’

2. Matthew Herbert

My second choice for this chart is the ‘found sound’ auteur Matthew Herbert, a non musician in the most literal sense. Herbert doesn’t play a conventional musical instrument on any of his records, despite the fact that he learnt piano from the age of five. He has created music in various guises since his first release as Wishmountain in 1995 and has always composed with ‘found sound’ and not traditional instrumentation. His interest in ‘found sound’ began at Exeter University where he learnt about aleatoric processes (anything left to chance or that is indeterminate) while studying drama. Herbert soon discovered that his true calling was music and that he could apply these theories to its creation. His first performance came in 1995 and featured only a bag of crisps, a microphone and a sampler. His early career (1995 – 2000) was split between his Wishmountain guise (in which he helped invent the mircohouse genre) and Radioboy (where he explored his more experimental and political side). It was in 2000 that Herbert’s career and theoretical work really took off though. He created the P.C.C.O.M. (Personal Contract For The Composition Of Music) a set of rules for his own musical composition, such as:

• ‘Only sounds that are generated at the start of the compositional process or taken from the artist’s own previously unused archive are available for sampling.’

• ‘The inclusion, development, propagation, existence, replication, acknowledgement, rights, patterns and beauty of what are commonly known as accidents, is encouraged. Furthermore, they have equal rights within the composition as deliberate, conscious, or premeditated compositional actions or decisions.’

Like Eno, Herbert has created an aid to creativity. However whereas ‘Oblique Strategies’ was a tool to help inspiration, P.C.C.O.M. is used to restrict what Herbert can use or do while he is creating music. Both approaches encourage and cause innovation in music and have also shown that high quality music can be made via unorthodox methods and not necessarily from people with a classically trained background like Eno. Matthew Herbert could have chosen to compose music using traditional instrumentation, but instead he pursued a more experimental path, one that has resulted in more interesting and possibly better music.

Why did Herbert chose to do this? Initially it would seem that this was due to his interest in the concept of the accident and indeed this persists to this day as Herbert named his own record label Accidental Records. Since founding the Radioboy alias in 1997 and creating the P.C.C.O.M. in 2000 Herbert’s music has grown more potent, more musical and, most importantly, more symbolic and political. Herbert claims to have taken it beyond ‘found sound’ and coined his own term ‘that sound’. Not interested in merely sampling what’s around him, he is interested in what it is and why he is sampling it. His music is rich in symbiotic and discursive content, whether it be the subtle and sumptuous orchestrated sounds of his ‘Scale’ album or his most experimental work to date ‘Plat Du Jour’, he is always addressing political and social issues, using sampled items that are representative and intrinsic to that issue and that have been moulded into musical sound by Herbert.

Matthew Herbert has been included at No.2 in this chart due both to his innovative non musical approach and like Eno he produces incredible musical results, the political messages cleverly woven into the very fabric of his music and the use of a limiting manifesto to create interesting, unique and often sublime music, which continues to evolve.

3. Coldcut

Coldcut take the idea of being a non musician into a whole different area by creating multimedia audio visual pieces that recycle elements from all over music and film/television history. Coldcut believe that ‘the whole world is there to be cut and pasted’ and they have (almost) literally done that since they released their debut single ‘Say Kids, What Time Is It?’ in 1987. The cut ‘n’ paste genre was in its infancy at this point but since then Coldcut have become a by-word for the genre and the modern audio visual art form of VJing (Visual Jockeying), but more on that later. Coldcut were formed by ex art teacher Jonathan More and graphic designer Matt Black after they met in a record shop where they played each other bootlegs they had been working on. They were both DJs on the rare groove scene, which later mutated into the door opening rave/acid house scene. They continued to establish themselves as remixers and producers scoring hits including their legendary remix of Eric B and Rakim’s ‘Paid in Full’ and ‘Docterin’ the House’ by Yazoo (Yazz in the U.S.), this culminated in being awarded the BPI’s ‘Producers of the Year Award’ in 1990 and a major record deal. At no point in this period did Coldcut refer to themselves as musicians (and they haven’t since). When they attempted to register with the Musician’s Union they couldn’t as DJs, so signed up as drummer and keyboard player, despite no proof of these skills.

After tiring of the marketing juggernaut of major label life, the germ of their own record label formed in a hotel room in Japan and a philosophy began to form. In 1993 Coldcut set up Ninja Tune records initially to release their own records and multimedia projects including DJ Food and Hex (their first audio visual project) but steadily evolving into a home for many like minded artists including Amon Tobin, The Herbaliser, DJ Vadim etc. Ninja Tune allowed More and Black to invest time and money in developing the software VJamm, which launched in 1997. It was packaged with fourth album ‘Let Us Play, which included videos for most of the songs and it revolutionised the underground VJ scene and enabled Coldcut to take it to a wider audience. VJamm changed previous ideas about VJing being an accompaniment to music into to being integrated, VJamm used audio/video clips, there was no separation and users could create and mix their own material for performance. Over the next few years VJing took off all over the world, as the ‘Let Us Play’ tour spread over five years and they released VJamm 2 to further acclaim in 2003.

Though Coldcut remained musically quiet (aside from the Re:volution single in 2001) they remained busy with various projects including piratetv.net, a website that broadcasted from their Spacelab studio and featured guests such as Radiohead and vjs.net that focused on educational activities. Coldcut finally returned with ‘Sound Mirrors’ in 2006, an album produced completely in Ableton Live a new piece of initiative music software designed for live performance and recording. It was also Coldcut’s first ‘song based’ studio album featuring guests ranging from guitarist Jon Spencer to rapper/poet Saul Williams, and also featured a bonus demo of VJamm 3. Coldcut had managed to produce their most complete album and piece of software in one go. However, there was no audio-visual material with the album but it was soon revealed that they had commissioned a selection of directors to produce videos for a ‘Sound Mirrors’ DVD/CD release later that year, the CD featured a diverse range of commissioned remixes of tracks from ‘Sound Mirrors’.

Coldcut are my No.3 selection because they have never proclaimed to be musicians and yet have probably produced some of the most thrilling musical (and visual) art of the last 20 odd years. They have managed to stay at the cutting edge (despite their advancing years) and have constantly engaged and challenged their audience while doing so. Their own work has created and raised the profiles of the cut ‘n’ paste and VJ scenes in the U.K. and abroad. Matt Black’s Youtube channel is worth checking out for audio visual thrills!! From the start Coldcut were ahead of their time and continue to create 21st century music, while not having a single theory grade between them.

4. DJ Shadow

The next artist in the chart is instrumental hip-hop artist DJ Shadow, whose album ‘Endtroducing’ revitalised hip-hop in 1997 and whose production work for the likes of Solesides/Quannum Projects and UNKLE raised the bar in terms of what hip-hop could be. In addition, he has produced many mixes and bootlegs of high quality, the highlight being his collaboration with ex Jurassic 5 DJ/producer Cut Chemist ‘Product Placement’. All this and Shadow has never played a note on any record he’s been involved with. Like the other artists in this chart Shadow has chosen to create music in what was, at the time, an unconventional method. He replaced his lack of traditional musical skill with access to a phenomenal record archive and knowledge of and innovative use of the sampler whilst getting the most out of his basic equipment and musical resources.

His debut LP ‘Endtroducing’ was produced using only an AKAI MPC-60 – a 12-bit sampling drum machine, a pair of turntables and a borrowed Pro Tools setup. This is even more amazing when you consider this album was voted the Best Dance Album Ever in Muzik magazine in 2002 and was the first album ever to be made completely from samples, as stated by the Guinness Book of Records in 2001. In 2006 it was named one of TIME magazines greatest albums ever. Unlike previous albums that had used samples (maybe with the exception of Public Enemy) Shadow gave the music more depth and emotional resonance, marking him out from his contemporaries and inspiring a spate of imitators, who have rarely matched the original innovations of Shadow. Like Herbert and Coldcut, Shadow pushed the accepted ideas about what originality in music is and whether the sampler can be considered an instrument. He took sampling to a higher level layering eclectic musical elements together to create a new, and more importantly, completely different piece of music. He didn’t find a beat or a break and write music to it nor did he just take a riff, melody or voice from a record and write a hip-hop beat to it. He created a tapestry of samples, that were never meant to be heard together and made it all make musical sense. ‘Endtroducing’ takes the listener on a musical and emotional journey, Shadow replaced Gangsta rappers simplistic talk of guns, money and ho’s into a much deeper, broader and more introspective landscape that was not previously thought possible in hip-hop.

Though he has not talked about this, Shadow’s use of the sampler has pushed forward the argument that a sampler is an instrument, as much as fellow sampler users Coldcut and Herbert who verbally intellectualised the idea. Shadow has let his music do the talking. His second and third albums have seen his stock continue to lower and a move towards more conventional instrumentation but it is churlish to expect Shadow to produce ‘Endtroducing Part II’ or something as ground breaking again. In retrospect ‘The Private Press’ stands up much better than the music press gave it credit for, though I agree with critics who universally panned ‘The Outsider’. Despite this DJ Shadow deserves his place on this list for beginning a new era in the sampling of music. Without DJ Shadow artists such as The Avalanches, Girl Talk, Amon Tobin and many more may not have existed.

5. Joe Meek

The last non musician in this chart is by far the most commercially successful, notching up an incredible 40 British Top 40 chart hits (all produced in his bedroom studio), and created a legacy that continues to influence musicians, producers and non musicians to this day. Joe Meek is a forgotten man in the landscape of British popular music despite his huge success and the dubious honour of his biggest hit ‘Telstar’ being Margaret Thatcher’s favourite song.

Why is Meek forgotten? Meek produced and co-wrote these hit singles despite being tone deaf and unable to read or write a note of music. Unlike other high profile producers and hit writers at the time, such as Phil Spector, Quincy Jones and Burt Bacharach he never had a public face and thus disappeared to be rediscovered by later generations. Meek was only credited as producer on the records that he created and so it was not realised for decades that he was the creative force behind these unique sounds. Meek, like Spector, created his own sound world but, unlike Spector, did not have access to expensive studios, session musicians and orchestras.

Meek built his own processing and effects equipment and custom designed his studio. This gave him his trademark sound that presented otherwise traditional pop and rock ‘n’ roll songs with a space age feel and predated some computer technology used in the creation of many electronic music styles today. It wasn’t just Meek’s production tools that set him apart, he had a unique way of getting his ideas across to the young musicians at his disposal (which included future Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, Chas Hodges aka Chas from Chas and Dave, and Mitch Mitchell later of The Jimi Hendrix Experience). He would play a record similar to the idea in his head and then sing (out of tune) his own song over the top and then Hodges would interpret it so that the musicians were able to play the sounds Meek heard. Another strange recording technique employed was that Meek made a singer sing to a piano piece and recorded the music around the vocal performance so the singer wouldn’t know what it sounded like until it was released; this was not due to inspiration but the intense secrecy that Meek demanded.

Meek’s greatest contribution to popular music is that he developed the following two ideas:

1)      Recording and treating instruments separately that later combined to make the finished record.

2)      Tape editing and use of multi track recordings to produce a ‘perfect’ version of the instruments recorded from a number of takes and/or to create many layers of the same sound.

These two innovations changed the face of popular music recording, which up until that point was mostly being recorded straight to disc minus any sort of processing. In addition, Meek’s creation and use of his own electronic effects processor and other gadgetry preceded later developments in both popular music and more experimental electronic music by almost two decades. Joe Meek earns his place in this chart not because he produced so many hit records but because of how he produced them and the legacy that he left for the likes of Orbital, Stereolab, Radiohead and many more artists particularly in the techno and electronica genres.

This post’s Spotify playlist:

Non Muscian’s Playlist

Non Muscian’s Playlist

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