Various Artists – Junior Boy’s Own Collection (JBO compilation, 1994)

compilation // Junior Boy’s Own Collection

Including this compilation on this blog is highly tenuous, and as I shipped it off to the guy who bought it off me this weekend, I really couldn’t find a reason to write about it at all. I then opened up the CD sleeve and found a brief message of thanks to ‘Darren Price and Centuras’, and bearing in mind that Price became a celebrated NovaMute artist a few years later, that gave me the highly tenuous reason to document this here.

Centuras were a trio of Price, Eric Chiverton and Gary Lindop, and the unit dropped a few 12” singles on various labels before finally settling at Junior Boy’s Own, the dance label established in 1991 as a subsidiary of the UK’s Boy’s Own Productions. Price’s early group don’t feature on this compilation, predominantly because Junior Boy’s Own Collection was designed to showcase the label’s bigger acts – Terry Farley and Pete Heller’s house project Fire Island, Underworld, Ashley Beedle’s X-Press 2 and a unit then known as The Dust Brothers, who would of course go on to become The Chemical Brothers.

Underworld were poster boys for UK dance music around 1994, having transitioned from a singles band operating squarely in the club genre to the front cover of the NME and Melody Maker upon the release of Dubnobasswithmyheadman, probably because Karl Hyde played guitar and that made it acceptable to the indie masses. Two Underworld tracks (‘Dirty Guitar’ and ‘Rez) are included here, along with the upbeat ‘Bigmouth’ under their Lemon Interrupt alias. That JBO had both Underworld and the other highly lauded crossover act The Dust Brothers (their rare early cut ‘Song To The Siren’ appears here) was quite remarkable for a small indie label, and probably the catalyst for Virgin’s V2 subsidiary taking them over.

As a survey of the disparate forms that dance music was already coalescing into in the pivotal year of 1994, Junior Boy’s Own Collection is near-definitive, given that it covers two flavours of house, nascent trip-hop and cross-over electronica. The only thing missing is pure techno, something that JBO had never really specialised in, the mantle for which was already being picked up by other, more specialist small labels.

I recall buying this from an HMV in Birmingham in 1994, for no apparent reason whatsoever. I already had the Underworld and Dust Brothers tracks and had no real interest in Farley / Heller, X-Press 2 or any of the other acts included here. It’s the kind of needless spending that I did as a kid, and one of the reasons I now feel the need to trim back my record collection.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – Artificial Intelligence (Warp compilation, 1992)

compilation // Artificial Intelligence

Warp’s groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence compilation did what so many other seminal compilations did and effectively made a scene concrete. Like Eno’s No New York did for post-punk in the US, it could be argued confidently that Warp did the same for the particular brand of electronica over which the Sheffield label presided, spawning a series of intriguing albums by the label that gave voice to many of the artists that were showcased on the compilation.

Artificial Intelligence arrived in 1992, the same year that hardcore had rudely woken the listening public from their slumber, and on many of the tracks included here there’s still a whiff of detuned breakbeats as opposed to the haphazard glitch beats that the likes of Autechre would come to represent over the next two decades. In fact, Autechre’s ‘Crystel’, one of two tracks by Sean Booth and Rob Brown included here, sounds positively like a conventional instrumental synthpop track compared to the jagged rhythms and icy melodies they would become poster children for. Tracks like Musicology’s ‘Preminition’ are not exactly the bedroom listening we came to expect from the AI series, and instead sound like straightforward rave tracks, complete with menacing basslines and euphoric soul samples.

Of interest to Mute / NovaMute fans are three tracks from Speedy J and Richie Hawtin, here operating under his short-lived UP! alias. Hawtin’s ‘Spiritual High’ was originally released on a 12” song on Hawtin’s Probe label, and later released as one side of NovaMute’s Probe Mission 2 12” as part of a tentative partnership between the UK and Canadian labels (the other track on that 12” was by Public Energy, an alias of Speedy J). For a track taken from a relatively early part of Hawtin’s career, the format of his later work is immediately recognisable in the thudding snare-heavy beats, acid squelches and the way his track repeats endlessly but still builds toward several peaks over the course of its six minute duration.

‘Fill 3’ by Speedy J forms part of a series of tracks with that title, but as far as I can tell, was an exclusive to Artificial Intelligence. By the time Jochem Paap had arrived at NovaMute his music had undergone many changes, and ‘Fill 3’ sounds positively naïve in comparison with his later work, though with its synth pads and shimmering textures it is undoubtedly one of the most pleasantly ambient tracks on the whole collection. Given the momentum implied by its bubbling patterns and fragile melodies, it feels like it’s crying out for a beat sequence of some form, but to J’s credit he resisted the temptation of adding one. The other Speedy J track on Artificial Intelligence, ‘De-Orbit’, was featured on his Warp album Ginger and is a slowed-down, chilled-out affair with hip-hops breaks, wherein the languid pace allows for intricate details to emerge through the greater sense of space.

Alongside Autechre, Artificial Intelligence showcased Warp stalwart Aphex Twin, here in his Dice Man guise but with a track from his Polygon Window album for the label, as well as B12 (Musicology) and The Black Dog under the name I.A.O. The album also included Orb’s Alex Paterson with a live version of the classic ‘Loving You’, though it’s not immediately apparent what makes this a Paterson solo effort rather than an Orb performance.

1994’s follow-up compilation mined the same vein, with many of the same players, but branched out further, and also illustrated how much the electronic music could evolve in just two short years. For this reviewer, I bought Artificial Intelligence 2 before the first instalment, and listening in reverse made this first compilation sound decidedly tentative, but I nevertheless fully understood the importance of what Warp had assembled here.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Ferris Bueller & the Cabaret Voltaire cameo

‘Cameo’ is probably an exaggeration, but a poster for Cabaret Voltaire‘s Micro-Phonies can be seen just behind Ferris Bueller’s bedroom door, alongside posters for Simple Minds, Blancmange and Killing Joke. Ferris might belt out ‘Twist And Shout’ from the back of a float in the film, but it looks as if he’d prefer to be singing ‘Sensoria’.

I referenced this in my review of the last Cabs compilation for Electronic Sound but never got around to putting the visual evidence up here. A couple of trips to Chicago in the last few weeks led me to want to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for about the hundredth time.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Kraftwerk – Ralf & Florian (Philips album, 1973)

album // Ralf & Florian

Sometimes I look around at band names and think it’s a tragedy that some of the best names have ended up attached to some of the worst groups, bands that maybe produce one dodgy single and are then forgotten about; yet the name – often the most inspired thing about said failing group – is then taken, unavailable for use by anyone else unless you’re prepared to expend major legal effort to prise the name from the corpse of that band.

Anyone in the early Seventies may have been forgiven for thinking that Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider had nabbed a really powerful name – Kraftwerk – that really didn’t match their music. The name has connotations of a powerful source of energy, and yet their lightweight music, with flutes and guitar sat alongside primitive synths, sounded like it was stranded in among a weird hints and between formal classical music, jazz improvisation and weed-shrouded Haight-Ashbury hippyishness. It was certainly not immediately obvious that the duo would go on to become the influential unit they would ultimately be.

1973’s abysmally unimaginatively named Ralf & Florian continued the theme of their previous two albums but at least moved the duo into a proper studio, which may have had the effect of making their sound a little more structured. With the guidance of engineer Konrad ‘Conny’ Plank, Ralf & Florian was a more polished affair, utilising nascent rhythm generators alongside EMS and Moog synths, yet still retaining the jazzy oddness of previous records. The rear sleeve of the album showed the pair working in an early version of their as-yet-unnamed Kling-Klang studio, smiling and obviously having a laugh amidst an unholy mess of a workspace; part of me thinks that this period shows the pair to have an undisciplined approach, something that feels like it was eliminated when Kraftwerk really became Kraftwerk.

Ralf & Florian, for all its oddness, does at least garner a hint of what would emerge with 1975’s Autobahn. The attempt at greater synchronicity between the instruments – something of a challenge in the early Seventies – is a direct precursor to the more solid rhythms that would coalesce on that album thanks to the recruitment of Wolfgang Flür (he joined Hütter and Schneider for a German TV performance to promote Ralf & Florian). The languid and beautiful ‘Ananas Symphonie’ has sounds and textures that would appear again on that album’s ‘Kometenmelodie’, though here those sounds are augmented by guitarwork that is somewhere between a slowed-down Neu! and a Hawaiian beach performer.

On the whole, Ralf & Florian still sounds a little twee compared to where Kraftwerk would ultimately settle. However, if you try to listen to the album without any sort of reference to their future greatness, this remains an interesting hybrid album full of organic, carefully-composed moments and early synth sounds that remind you of how unearthly and exciting it must have been to hear such noises at the time. Opening track ‘Elektrisches Roulette’ might sound playful, but with its proggy lead synth line, rapidly played piano line and ricocheting drums, it bears a striking similarity to the first few bars of Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’, rising out of messy beginnings into a solid piece of infectious music. ‘Kristallo’ fizzes with dark energy, with jagged arpeggios cutting through the haphazard harpsichord riffing (though the high-speed conclusion is a bit daft), while ‘Heimatklänge’ bears a striking resemblance to the Eno track that was used as the title music to Arena (just without the droney guitar). ‘Tanzmusik’ is infectiously bouncy primitive synth pop mixed with classical motifs but still sounds like a world apart from, say, ‘Europe Endlos’; it’s the kind of piece you could imagine Mike Oldfield coming up with along the way to Tubular Bells. On the whole it’s an interesting collection of songs, and one that requires a degree of deep listening and immersion to appreciate.

Despite achieving some critical and commercial acclaim in Germany – presumably not because of the college yearbook-esque sleeve used in that country – the album has been out of print for many years. Kraftwerk indicated it might emerge in remastered form following the re-release of their classic albums in the late 2000s, but so far nothing has seen the light of day. I bought a bootleg CD copy in the pre-Internet mid-Nineties, from a record stall that used to set up shop in the central courtyard at my university campus, and at that time I didn’t even know if it was an album proper or just a collection of random old Kraftwerk songs compiled together. I roundly hated it the first time I heard it, but in my defence, at that time in my musical education I needed music that was squarely attached to a grid, whether that was synth pop, techno or punk, and had no appreciation whatsoever of looseness or space in music.

Various different bootleg versions have emerged over the years; mine was not on a label at all and bears a buried ‘WERK3’ catalogue reference. The original LP came with a comic from collaborator Emil Schult, but that was not reproduced with my CD. The CD came with a bonus track of a live version of ‘Autobahn’ from Cologne in 1975; though terribly recorded, the addition of the track does go to some lengths to bridge the gap between Ralf & Florian and Autobahn since it shows that their sound may have become more robust by that time, but the playing was still just loose enough to sound human.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence 

New Order- Beyond The Hits (Clash feature, 2015)

I wrote this feature for Clash which seeks to look beyond New Order‘s most celebrated tracks and showcase some of the more interesting moments in the band’s back catalogue.

You can read the piece here.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Clash