Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Headz Up

Though my heart will always belong to Reinforced, I am often tempted to say the greatest drum & bass label is Metalheadz. You cannot fuck with the first 27 or so Metalheadz releases. If you try to argue this with me, I will just give you The Eye and ask you to get off my premises. If you are not as married to the idea of drum & bass as simply a poorly EQ'd "Amen" and a "Sleng Teng" bassline, if you don't wholly disdain maturation into "drum & bass" (I go back and forth), then Hidden Agenda's "Get Carter" and "Dispatches EP", Doc Scott's "Unofficial Ghost" and "Drumz 95" and "Far Away", Adam F's "Metropolis", Optical's "To Shape The Future", Dillinja's "The Angels Fell" and "Jah Know Ya Big" and "Armored D", even "Pulp Fiction" - these are your anthems. (There is something to be said for growing up. I don't miss those zits at all.)

You all make fun of Goldie. I have seen your snickering faces and heard your hurtful words. Ingrates. Okay, fine. He does act a bit of the buffoon at times with his shitty movie roles, journalistic punch-ups, and prog ambitions. (He has never, to my knowledge, worn a cape.) But despite all those moments where his reach exceeds his grasp, he has never abandoned the scene. Metalheadz has been a strong - if intermittent - club presence in London since they formed. I like how Goldie is still responsible for what gets signed, not leaving it to his underlings. And despite both his and the label's name cache, they are still a resolutely underground operation. Hell, even Dischord advertises. Instead Metalheadz releases retain that hushed, word-of-mouth aura they had even at the beginning, allowing word to filter through the usual channels of specialist mag reviews and shop tipsheets, etc.

True, like most d&b labels these days it's a bit hit & miss. (I can probably name four perfectly curated labels at the moment, all of which have less than twenty releases under their belt. After 25 seems to be when it all goes a bit willy-nilly.) The best you can say about recent singles by Commix and Beta 2 is that they're decent DJ tools, which sounds like more of a diss than it really is. But the last 18 months have seen good-to-great singles by Amit, Bad Company, Outrage, Klute, and even Goldie himself. (Amazingly using the same "Terminator"-era sounds and timbres after more than a decade. The man likes his mentasms.) THe mid-tempo rumblist, throat-hugging frequencies of Amit's "Motherland" and the neon-streaked Shinjuku night train deepness of BC's "Bellini" (named after the Kids In The Hall character??) almost convince me. And then they go and release a record like Hive's "Krush," something as good as anything they've ever released, only in 2005 not 1995.

From those opening oooh, skycraping synths with orgasmic (in the "touched by a variety of religious experience" sense not the sexual one) male "ohhhh"s to the squealing trumpet spiraling upwards to the Organized Konfusion sample to the grinding mentasm breakdown and deftly (but not overly) chopped roll-out, this is worthy of anything in the Source Direct/Hidden Agenda era, but beefed up on the post-Bad Company workout plan. The drums really slam, but they also shake, rattle, and stop on a dime. And admit it, when those same nape-licking synths come in at the bridge, you love it, none--more-expected-none-more-effective. It's, for whatever it's worth, my fave d&b single of the year so far. I seriously don't think anyone can fuck with the Violence crew right now.

Speaking of which: other signs of life in the weird hinterlands between leftfield and mainstream. The definition of mainstream in d&b keeps getting pushed back on both sides, one towards really rote "liquid" (aka "disco-house @ 180bpm") and towards "dancefloor smashers" like the most recent Wickaman single, approaching such crazy, nuclear holocaust levles of droppage that they're gabba in all but name. It's probably a mark of both that and my own dropped defenses towards stuff that doesn't explicitly define itself as leftfield that I've been able to explore the catalogs of people like DJ Fresh and Pendulum. Both of whom have a ton to recommend of themselves. (If I ever get my Irish up, I'll finish my stalled love letter to Fresh.) Like weird breakdowns and tight percussion editing and strange bass frequencies, but delivered with a big, fat, cheesy rave hook aimed at the faithful boyracers on the floor. (Fresh is something like the Marc Acardipane of nu-d&b.) (This stuff is also so sparklingly produced it feels unnatural.)

The problem is that DJ's still mix this stuff as if the pitch control on their turntables were busted, soomthing out all the breakdowns, turning it into an xtreme sports soundtrack or maybe an Iowa meth lab. So, weirdly, individual tracks and albums (of all things) are the way to go. The recent label comp from Dylan and Technical Itch's Tech Freaks is storming neo-techstep, taking off from early Dom & Roland, No U Turn, and stuff like "The Unoffical Ghost". Though they chop up breaks, instead of Inperspective's endless edits, they punctuate a three or four bar loop with a flash of grainy snares or nasty kicks. (The difference is immediately apparent when the Paradox begins breaking beats across the bar line.) Even better is the new comp from the Violence crew, Keaton, Hive, and Gridlok (plus guests), Welcome To Violence. I'm gonna talk about this one more in this month's Pitchfork column, but it's farking great. Even the neurofunky tracks.

19 Comments:

Blogger hector23 said...

I remember buying those early metalheadz singles when they were coming out anticipating and the thrill of the next turn.

Lovely

7:45 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Jess! Are any of the recent Metalheadz comps (eg. the 04 or 05 ones) worth getting?

8:23 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

In fact Jess, what recent DnB mixes etc are worth while? In general? And should I see Goldie DJ in a few weeks? I've never seen him before.

3:24 AM  
Blogger droid said...

Metalheadz was a great label alright, but in the bigger scheme of things I dont think their output matches up to the big four of jungle and D+B: Reinforced/Formation/Subbase and Shadow..

Those guys ran the first 20 laps of the race, Metalheadz just grabbed the baton at the finish line and got all the cheers...

4:37 AM  
Blogger jahquarius said...

metalheadz release key imho:

1-29
34-45
48
50
55-60

for a label with 60 releases, that's pretty incredible. most of the duff ones came out during dnb's really low points: 1998 (2 step takeover BOSH-BOSH-BOSH) and early 2003 (explosion of smaller labels, everyone copying bad company and fresh)...

8:36 AM  
Blogger jahquarius said...

...actually 51 is "star" by danny c, which is pretty good too

8:37 AM  
Blogger philip said...

Hey, don't fuck with neurofunk! But seriously, I want to hear this shit.

12:48 PM  
Blogger ilya said...

I went to Juno to check out some new d'n'b sounds. As has been the case for a while now a little of this stuff goes a long way. Can someone explain why every release is split between two artists.

6:30 AM  
Blogger Code said...

Okay, I just set up a new label called 'Subtle Audio'... I grew up listening to the sounds of early Metalheadz / Reinforced / Moving Shadow etc ... I've always loved D&B. But in recent years I found there was less and less music that appealed to me... with the exception of labels like Inperspective / Bassbin / Offshore / Paradox Music and a few others... this is why I took the plunge and hopefully the music I'm putting out with come close to the labels I look up to in terms of quality... check out the releases section @ www.subtleaudiorecordings.com for audio clips of the first 3 releases. Lots of different styles are encompassed in the 6 tracks. So, listen to em all!

Subtle Audio 001 and Subtle Audio 002 are in your shops now! @ Juno etc...

Distribution by www.nu-urbanmusic.co.uk

7:10 AM  
Blogger j. said...

our first spam!

p.s. i loved that mix you knocked together for yr site, code dude.

7:24 AM  
Blogger j. said...

i am of two minds on the "little goes a long way" thing:

1.) i am getting sick of old skool fans griping about how it all sounds the same when it most patently doesn't. there is so much good drum & bass out there right now, and it may not be the easiest to find on record or commercially available cd but those dj mixes i posted above...come on! mainstreamd and leftfield...it hasn't been this healthy since the putative "golden age". if you're just gonna let your biases get in the way of actually hearing the music, don't bother! (and i said this as someone who DID let my biases get in the way, for far too long.)

2.) i realize i am becoming unreliable when it comes to d&b. when i talk about it, i am reminded of something ethan said to me one time about how he likes stuff 90% of people would classify as generic gangsta.

tim, i would say "no" to the mdz comps, unless you find them cheap. one thing i CAN recommend, however, is the "metalheadz americas" comp klute knocked out for knowledge earlier this year, which contains the hive record talked about in this post.

as for the split releases...uh, why not?

7:33 AM  
Blogger Code said...

Cheers Jess!

Yeah... I've become a regular spammer since I set the label up... I don't feel guilty though - it's tough selling records these days... especially when your tunes aren't "heavily supported by Grooverider, Fabio, Bailey, Friction, Hype, blah, blah, blah!"

Heheheh...

Nice piece you wrote by the way!

7:34 AM  
Blogger j. said...

heh, yeah i'd rather you did your own thing and did it well than go pandering to the "john b played two of his tunes in a set in amsterdamn last month!" crowd.

big ups.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Code said...

no worries! That's the plan!

; )

By the way... some really cool things happening right now... Paradox hooking up with Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell for instance ! That's big news!!

Still plenty of life in the old D&B dog yet!

7:43 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

I thought this was going to be a Mo' Wax post (specifically by Vahid, possibly about the Urban Tribe album).

9:05 AM  
Blogger vahid said...

soon, andy, soon.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Headz is still the biggest ting gwan rude bwoy. Pushin Boundaries, I don't believe in the low points, always learnin' curves. So glad Goldie uped his speed tho!! Big up

3:47 PM  
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