Nostalgia #2 : 90′s version
(disclaimer: I started writing this over a year ago and it’s sat on another machine for a while, I’ve slightly updated it but imagine it would have been published 18 months ago. Photos from my scrapbooks of flyers, cuttings and memorabilia)
In recent months I’ve felt the first genuine pangs of nostalgia for the early 90′s, a time I generally think of as ‘the last decade’. Of course, it’s no longer the last decade, the beginning of the 90′s being 23 years ago. It’s a time I hold very dear as it shaped my life and career as it is today and the person I started out as in 1990 was very different to the one that saw in the new millennium fireworks over London in 1999.
For me, the 90′s was a decade of music, upon music, upon music. My teenage years in the 80′s were a diet of pop (80-85) and Hip Hop (85-90) – almost exclusively, aside from forays into more guitar-orientated material and the House /Acid /Dance explosion at the end of it all. The 90′s seemed to herald a new music style every year: 90: Rave, 91: Ambient, 92: Intelligent Techno, 93: Jungle, 94/95: Brit Pop, Trip Hop & Drum n Bass, 96: Turntablism & Indie Hip Hop, 97: Big Beat and the resurgence of Lounge and Easy Listening, 98: Post Rock and Krautrock’s reappraisal…
In between all this I was steadily helping build the house of Ninja and getting to travel the world for the first time, acquiring huge amounts of new music in the process. I practically bought my Jazz and Funk collections in the US and Canada in the 90′s, along with plenty of Soundtracks, Moog, Easy Listening and Spoken Word records. Europe yielded Music Concreté as well as yet more Jazz and Japan gave up it’s vintage Hip Hop treasures, at double the price they would have no doubt paid for them elsewhere. All the while back home labels like Mo Wax, Warp and of course, Ninja Tune were pumping out classic after classic alongside a revitalised US Hip Hop scene that had managed to extricate part of itself from gangster-ism with labels like Fondle ‘Em, Stones Throw, Def Jux and Sole Sides. The UK Rap scene was also getting itself together with Sound of Money, Bite It, Jazz Fudge and Big Dada.
Late last year (2011) I did an interview with Joe Muggs for Word magazine about the differences between the world and the music industry in 2000 (when ‘Kaleidoscope’ was released) and how it stands today, now that there’s finally a new album out. The contrasts were, of course, quite stark, being that the music business has gone through one of the most radical upheavals in memory in the last 10 years.
At one point in the conversation though, we went off on a tangent and discovered a mutual love for an early 90′s breed of music he’d christianed ‘Drug Dub’. Never a real scene at the time, more a hybrid existing in those transitional moments of fallout after one musical movement and the coalescing of another. In the music world nothing is ever cut and dried and many strands are working simultaneously in different areas, when these veer into each others paths, you usually find a new style emerging at the crossroads they’ve created.
If you had to bookend the schools that spawned this music you’d probably peg the resurgence of ambient after the acid house come down of the late 80′s at one end and Trip Hop in the early to mid 90′s at the other. Inject a heavy does of Dub into the mix via post-‘Screamadelica’-era Weatherall remixes and acts like The Orb and the On-U Sound stable but bypass the resurgence of Jazz and and Soul and any uptempo Rave tendencies you might have. This is electronic stoner music pure and simple, the big come down after the hedonism of the ecstacy-fulled 80′s all-nighters and the, then current, rave boom. This is B-side music, those odd, experimental tracks tucked away on the reverse side of the club bangers on a Rising High 12″ or on compilations by fledgling labels scraping together an ad hoc roster.
It was mostly faceless, save for the odd name artist like Depth Charge, Coil or Meat Beat Manifesto straying into the territory. Odd tracks here and there by John + Julie, Halftone, Aquamarine, Friends, Lovers & Family, Digidub or The Moody Boys. Whilst the KLF, The Orb and The Shamen were giving the charts a major kicking where dance music was concerned and the Rave tours of the Prodigy and 808 State were in full swing, an underbelly of post-club ‘chilling’ (always hated that word) was happening in the early hours. Coldcut were already mining some of this when I first joined them on their Solid Steel show and one of the first tracks I played was ‘Sexy Selector’ by Original Rockers – one of the tracks Joe had selected for a compilation he’d put together, called, you guessed it… ‘Drug Dub’.
A few weeks later (now 2012) we did a Stealth special on Solid Steel where we talked a bit about what went on back in the day at the Blue Note club in Hoxton, the place where it really kicked into gear for Ninja Tune in the mid 90′s. PC played a set entirely made of tracks we used to play at the time and the rush of nostalgia was almost too much, I found myself grinning from ear to ear for the whole hour as it came flooding back. I’d had to delve into this era two years previously for the Ninja Tune 20th anniversary book but that didn’t involve music, only imagery. The reason we did a Stealth special in the first place was to give listeners who were new to the show a bit of history, because, as one person at the station put it, “now that we are into a full-blown 90′s revival…”
It feels like we’re still at the early stages of the 90′s with The Stone Roses reforming, The Orb celebrating 25 years and Primal Scream having done ‘Screamadelica’ in full last year. Classic House and Rave sounds have been coming back into production and the resurgence of the Amen Break in the last year or so seems to indicate that we’re at roughly ’92-93 currently. Can the Trip Hop revival be far behind? Talking of which, I have an even older, longer post about that coming soon…