Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Roni Size / Reprazent - Tribal Gathering '97

DnB 365 reminisce about the first live performance by Roni Size / Reprazent at Tribal Gathering '97 and exclusively reveal some previously unseen footage from the festival.

I can rarely say that I was "there". Those legendary nights in the history of drum & bass such as Rage, Speed and the Blue Note were like mirages to me, so close and enticing and yet impossible to reach. Despite living near London I didn't turn 18 until 1999 and looked young for my age so had no hope of getting into clubs. I had to make do with buying the records and tape packs and reading about the scene in magazines such as Knowledge and Atmosphere.

But there was one time when I can say that I witnessed a bit of drum & bass history. Tribal Gathering '97 was a huge dance music festival that took place on the Luton Hoo estate in Bedfordshire on Saturday May 24th, exactly twenty years ago today. Just a look at the flyer shows the variety and caliber of acts who played across 10 arenas (all named after different parts of the world): Kraftwerk, Daft Punk and Orbital were among the live acts and DJs included Richie Hawtin, Sasha, John Peel, Andrew Weatherall, Masters at Work...

Despite being just 15 at the time I managed to attend thanks to my Dad, a TV cameraman who was fortuitously covering the event for the local news. I accompanied him as his assistant, carrying some equipment in before being let loose. Despite the wealth of talent from across the dance music spectrum there was only one place I was heading to: the Equator, the arena which hosted some of the finest in the drum & bass world with DJs including Grooverider, Fabio, Doc Scott, Mickey Finn and Hype. I was in awe at just even being there and it took some time for me to relax and not be so self conscious but eventually I was dancing along with everyone else, head down, lost in the beats and the bass.

What made this night so special in drum & bass history though was the debut performance of Roni Size / Reprazent. Their album New Forms would be released the following month, adding real instruments and proper songs to their classic Bristolian sound. While this could have gone very wrong in other people's hands the album was a success, emphasising the jazz elements that ran through much of the collective's other work. It walked the fine line between underground credibility and appealing to the mainstream and went on to win the prestigious Mercury Music Prize later that year, propelling Roni Size into the position of scene figurehead. Tribal Gathering was where they launched themselves as an actual band, attempting to do something very few had done before: translating drum & bass from the record to the live arena. As Roni Size himself put it: “rising to the challenge of filling some of the gigantic stages that we were already playing on as DJs”.

This they achieved with aplomb. The Full Cycle crew of Roni Size, Krust, Die and Suv were relatively anonymous bobbing heads behind banks of equipment, letting vocalists Dynamite MC and Onallee take centre stage along with Si John on bass and Clive Deamer on drums. The whole thing was a technical and logistical feat, but most importantly they had the quality material to go with it. Dancefloor favourites like the double bass-driven Brown Paper Bag were accompanied by more song-orientated tracks such as Share The Fall which showcased Onallee's rich, distinctive voice. Dynamite MC's laid back rhymes rode smoothly over everything but what impressed me most was the stunning drumming of Clive Deamer; it was simply mindblowing seeing him play complex rhythms at DnB tempo.

Reprazent didn't open the mainstream's eyes to the scene, Goldie's Timeless LP had done that the previous year and the likes of Photek, Source Direct, Adam F and Dillinja were already signed to major label deals. But New Forms showed that drum & bass could have songs and be successful commercially and critically. It paved the way for the likes of Kosheen, Un-Cut and Roni Size & Die's own Breakbeat Era, making a lasting impact on the scene. While it doesn't match up to the legendary nights I mentioned earlier, witnessing their live debut is a memory I will always treasure.

Below you can see never before released footage from the Equator Arena at Tribal Gathering '97, including some of 'Morse Code', Reprazent's set opener. The video is professionally shot but has been transferred from the original tapes to vhs and then digitized so the quality is a bit ropey, but well worth watching. To see an extended version featuring highlights from across the festival, click here.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Rude Bwoy Monty - Warp 9 Mr Zulu

Rude Bwoy Monty - Warp 9 Mr Zulu (Frontline Records, 1995)

I'm a geek. Even worse, I'm a sample geek. For instance, I can't hear Drake's 'Hotline Bling' without telling anyone in earshot where the organ riff comes from ('Why Can't We Live Together' by Timmy Thomas if you're interested). As well as regularly boring other people I also waste inordinate amounts of my own time on often fruitless searches for those unidentified samples that I just have to know. But it's all worth it when I find the source of a sample that I thought would remain forever buried.

Which brings us to 'Warp 9 Mr Zulu'. The track was often referred to as 'The Hawaiian Tune' instead of its official Star Trek referencing title thanks to the rather cheesy steel guitar intro. It was part of a trend in DnB at the time that saw producers such as DJ SS and Marvellous Cain go to some rather dubious sources for their intros on tunes such as 'The Lighter' and 'High Chaparral'. In Issue 6 of Knowledge, Rude Bwoy Monty even credits SS for inspiring his sample hunting:

"I'm looking to create a tune called "The Beast," laughs Monty. ""Mash Up" by DJ SS inspired me to look for some samples for it, but I couldn't find the right one. However, I did stumble across the Hawaiian theme and from there "Warp 9" was away."

While the intro has pretty much nothing else to do with the rest of the tune, it does make 'Warp 9' particularly memorable. It was a favourite of mine at the time and I'd always wondered where the sample was from but it was only after reading a comment Monty himself made on a youtube video of the track a few years ago that I really started searching in earnest for it:

"I bet pugwash back in the dayz whe i made this... he would neva find the sample on the front of this... 2 this day he was neva able to tell R.B.M"

I took this as a challenge and went to some lengths to locate the sample, listening to more Hawaiian music than one man ever should. I even emailed random Hawaiian steel guitar enthusiasts who I imagine were rather perplexed by the whole thing, but all to no avail. I eventually admitted defeat and got back to doing more worthwhile things searching for other samples.

Fast forward to late last year and the radio is on at work. BBC Radio 2's Pop Master quiz has reached the grand final and a contestant is asked to identify the group behind a 1970s instrumental track from a short excerpt. I immediately recognise the melody from 'Warp 9' and drop what I'm doing to listen. The contestant incorrectly guesses at Fleetwood Mac before the presenter Ken Bruce reveals the answer... Springwater with 'I Will Return'.

A very appropriate title for the first post on this blog in eighteen months. Only that's not the sample source. After listening to the whole track later, I realised 'Warp 9' must have sampled a cover of 'I Will Return'. And so the hunt started again. Unfortunately it seems 'I Will Return' has been covered a multitude of times with versions from James Last, The Shadows and Apollo 100 amongst many others, as well as the melody being used on Sarah Brightman's 'Storia d'Amore' and a vocal version in German entitled 'Du Weinst Um Mich' by Michael Holm. I listened to all of these. And it wasn't any of them.

It was frustrating being so close without having the answer, but then I had a brainwave. I searched for covers of 'Du Weinst Um Mich' and found another version. I clicked on the youtube video, holding my breath. It started playing and right away I knew it was the one. A bit slower, but obviously what Monty sampled for 'Warp 9'. It's part of Orchestra Leslie Carlton's 'Hits Instrumental' selection from a German LP called Super Stereo Hit Party, which also features the scintillating sounds of Dave Daffodil & His Honey Sax. If it wasn't for someone uploading it to youtube I doubt I would ever have found it, but I'm very happy to finally know.

As for the rest of 'Warp 9'... well that intro would have been wasted if the track wasn't up to scratch but of course Monty, with Pascal on engineering duties, delivers a huge tune with a gargantuan, oversized bassline that stomps around like an elephant on ecstacy. In other words it's not in any way subtle and does some serious damage. Drums using the Think and Sesame Street breaks accompany it with some Amen coming in underneath before the tune moves up a notch when the Amen takes over during the second half. Jump-up at its finest.

The track was remixed as 'Warp 10' for the Frontline/Ganja Records compilation Still Smokin with a much more obvious sample replacing the Hawaiian guitar - Bill Conti's 'Gonna Fly Now', otherwise known as the theme from Rocky. There was a dubplate version of 'Warp 10' though that retained some of 'I Will Return' with a snippet of the guitar appearing occasionally over the bassline. Hear a clip of that mix below, a shame it didn't get used for the LP:

Discogs link

Saturday, 21 June 2014

3 The Hardway - Smooth Operator

3 The Hardway - Smooth Operator (Dope Dragon, 1995)

Last week I looked at the 'Microphone Fiend' sampling 'Step Off' by Danny Breaks so today I thought I'd continue the Eric B & Rakim theme with an examination of this hip-hop infused tune from the Dope Dragon camp. 3 The Hardway was a collaborative name used by the Full Cycle nucleus of Roni Size, Krust and Die, no doubt inspired by the 70s Blaxploitation film which featured the three biggest black action stars of the era, Fred Williamson, Jim Brown and Jim Kelly. For subsequent releases the alias was shortened to 3 Way and after initially being reserved for Dope Dragon tunes it was later used for the Appreciation / Price Of Fame 12" on Full Cycle.

The tune opens with the familiar blaring horns from 'Cramp Your Style' by All The People, although they're probably sampled from 'I'm Still #1', the Boogie Down Production cut from which they are better known (head to DnB Blog for my breakdown of Goldie's 'Digital' which also samples this track). The horns alternate with the guitar loop from Eric B & Rakim's 'Microphone Fiend', originally from Average White Band's 'School Boy Crush', making for a cool, funky intro appropriate for Size, Krust and Die's chosen alias. A crashing Amen break is then deployed before Rakim's "A smooth operator operating correctly' line from 'Microphone Fiend' introduces a bassline that jabs and pounces like a heavyweight boxer. As well as the ubiquitous Amen the trio also make use of the Do The Do and Sesame Street breaks, while the bassline goes through a few mutations. Along with a foreboding keys loop straight from some 70s jazz funk, this variation helps keep the tune's intensity levels high throughout. Although the track is as rough and rugged as they come, the 'Smooth Operator' title is apt because this would be the perfect soundtrack to the exploits of a cool Shaft-like character in a modern update of the Blaxploitation genre. Top quality jump-up from Bristol's best.

Check out 'Smooth Operator' in this Bryan Gee set at Quest 'We Are The Law' from 1995:

Discogs link