The Prodigy

Liam Howlett, Maxim Reality, Leeroy Thornhill and Keith Flint: The Original Techno Punks

Amid a rash of recent untimely deaths to hit the music world, the passing of the great Keith Flint was perhaps the most unexpected. For one, he was a generation younger than figures like Scott Walker, Ranking Roger and Mark Hollis, coming up in the era of hip hop and rave. After all, the landing of The Prodigy's The Fat Of The Land on American still shores seems like it was only yesterday (even if it was by now over twenty years ago!).

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the crew's big splash in the States came with Flint taking his place as the public face and de facto frontman of the group (after five years spent as one of two dancers in the crew alongside Leeroy Thornhill). Storming American shores alongside the likes of The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, it was like the British Invasion all over again... only this time with breakbeats and loops of fury.

The Prodigy circa 1997

In the end, The Prodigy wound up getting so big that it became easy to take them for granted. With the classically-trained Liam Howlett's intricate productions talking the tightrope between precision and raw power, the crew emerged from the rave underground as a live force to match anything happening in contemporary rock, with Maxim and Keith Flint stalking the stage and trading barks for sneers as Leroy Thornhill exploded into high octane dancing and Liam Howlett furiously worked the machines into a glorious sonic frenzy.

Just a taste of that ill '97 sound...

During what was a high water mark for dance music, they truly captured the energy and excitement of an era when everything was more or less still running on the same page. There wasn't that much space between The Chemical Brothers' Block Rockin' Beats, Massive Attack's Angel, Daft Punk's Da Funk, E-Dancer's Velocity Funk, Reprazent's Brown Paper Bag and FSOL's We Have Explosive, while labels like Astralwerks managed to provide a decent snapshot of the wider scene in motion. And then there was The Prodigy, the original techno punks, living large in the midst of it all and storming the mainstream with a vengeance...

Profile insert from The Prodigy Experience

It all started with Liam Howlett, a DJ refugee from the U.K. hip hop scene who'd recently been turned on to rave. Working up a demo tape inspired by the nascent sounds of ardkore, he managed to impress a pair of dancers (Flint and Thornhill) to the degree that they insisted on forming a live unit with him, wherein Howlett worked the machines while the other two cut wild shapes across the stage. Enter Maxim on the mic, demented master of ceremonies, and the rest was history.

The Prodigy What Evil Lurks XL

Debuting on wax with the four track EP What Evil Lurks, The Prodigy burst onto the scene with a skeletal selection of tunes like Android and Everybody In The Place, straddling the thin line between ardkore and bleep 'n bass just as everything was about to change. However, they made their first true splash with the epochal Charly. A clash of incongruent samples, accelerated breakbeats and twisted hoover synth noise, it ran parallel to the likes of Shut Up And Dance, 4 Hero and Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era, all of which defined the distinctly British sound of breakbeat ardkore.

The Prodigy The Prodigy Experience XL

The Prodigy's debut album consolidated the success of singles like Charly and Everybody In The Place with a stunning soundclash of fast-forward hip hop and pure rave energy. Candy-coated rave confections like Wind It Up, Your Love and Fire crossed Italo-style piano vamps and gushing divas with rushing breakbeats (this at the height of ardkore's pop ascendancy), while Jericho and Death Of The Prodigy Dancers caned the manic sense of dread that was beginning to emerge in the mutant strains of darkcore.

4 Hero In Rough Territory Reinforced

The striking variation and depth to what is essentially a killer selection of proto-jungle madness marks The Prodigy Experience out alongside 4 Hero's In Rough Territory and A Guy Called Gerald's 28 Gun Bad Boy as one of the great album-length statements to emerge from ardkore. You even get proggy, multi-part suites like Hyperspeed G-Force Part 2 and Weather Experience, which hint at a certain cinematic, widescreen quality that would continue to inform the group's increasingly hard-edged sound.

Jean-Michel Jarre Oxygene Polydor

The latter comes on like a digital symphony vaguely reminiscent of Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygene, starting out as a bucolic ambient tone poem — all deep blue skies and emerald green fields — before introducing a slow-motion breakbeat rolling beneath it all at a trip hop pace. Then, it all cuts out to the solitary sound of a heartbeat — as howling wind and thunderclaps enter the fray — before exploding into a great rush of junglist darkness as the storm clouds and lightning descend upon the valley below.

The Prodigy Out Of Space XL

However, my absolute favorite track is Out Of Space, which manages to perfect the group's early sound in a stunning five minutes, riding a memorable snatch of Max Romeo's I Chase The Devil and a brace of triumphant sequences in a stirring rush of rave optimism. Featuring a sped-up sample of the Ultramagnetic MC's Critical Beatdown, it also signals an ongoing penchant for the singular rap cadences of the great Kool Keith.

Out Of Space music video1

The music video for Out Of Space is easily one of my all time favorites of the form, transcending its obvious low budget with loads of flavor and charisma. With everything from Keith car-surfing to Leeroy's killer dance moves, a flock of ostriches and an Altern 8-style mad-scientist figure (actually Keith Flint in disguise), it offers a glimpse of beautiful glimpse of the era's seemingly unbounded excitement and optimism.

Gatefold image from Music For The Jilted Generation

Naturally, the government decided to crack down on the whole damn scene. In the wake of 1992's Castlemorton Common Festival, which was one of the largest outdoor raves to happen up to that point in time, the government passed the Criminal Justice Bill. A heavy-handed attempt to prevent anything like Castlemorton from happening again (even explicitly mentioning repetitive beats in its text), it was clearly aimed squarely at the burgeoning rave culture.

Autechre Anti EP Warp

The dystopian connotations of police state overreach had an immediate effect on the music, looming large as the sound grew darker and leaner, from trip hop's emergence out of the shadows to ardkore's mutation into jungle and techno's increasingly cold, spartan shapes. Figures like Orbital and Autechre even released records in explicit protest of the CJB (Are We Here? and Anti EP, respectively). However, it was The Prodigy's second album that captured the most uncompromising, definitive snapshot of the moment.

Death Comet Crew At The Marble Bar Beggars Banquet

Although there had been hints of darkness on the first album like Jericho and Death Of The Prodigy Dancers, Music For The Jilted Generation introduced a distinct sense of paranoia into the mix. Guitars also make their first appearance on a Prodigy record, in the form of both samples (Nirvana's Very Ape) and live cameos (featuring Pop Will Eat Itself), giving the record a harder punk edge (cyberpunk, even). In fact, one could draw a direct line back to Terminal Vibration, particularly things like Meat Beat Manifesto and Cabaret Voltaire, Public Enemy and Death Comet Crew.

The Prodigy Music For The Jilted Generation XL

This was the first Prodigy record I ever bought. I can still remember picking it up at the Tower Records on El Cajon Blvd. on a rainy day in November (the perfect setting for this music). I'd already heard singles like Voodoo People and One Love (both on the Hackers soundtrack!), and was ready to take a deeper dive. Of course those two tracks were obvious standouts, but I was immediately struck by tunes like Break & Enter (with its soaring vocal sample from Baby D's Casanova) and 3 Kilos (apparently a riff on the brilliant gutter funk of S.O.U.L.'s awesome Burning Spear).

Goldie Timeless FFRR

Both tracks seemed to connect with a sort of urban corridor vision of futurist dance music, lying somewhere between the rhythmic Detroit techno of E-Dancer, Goldie's Inner City Life and the dark hip hop of the Wu-Tang Clan. This music seemed to hint at previously hidden corridors and sonic possibilities, bringing to mind images of subsonic frequencies echoing through city streets as high-rises loom and cast shadows from above, subways racing back and forth like circuitry beneath a lattice of power lines in the cold machinery of the night.

Various Artists Sub Base For Your Face LP Suburban Base

This is the point where The Prodigy really carve out their singular niche in the post-rave musical landscape. Even if Experience were arguably their greatest album (and it's certainly in the running), it's still not that far removed from contemporary ardkore records like Acen's Trip II The Moon and Jonny L's Hurt You So. One could even imagine it coming out on Suburban Base! The point being that the crew's early sound was still of a piece with that of their surrounding peers, slotting in comfortably alongside the steady stream of 12"s and white labels passing through the hands of DJs across the scene in rapid succession.

The Prodigy Poison XL

In contrast, little else sounds quite like Music For The Jilted Generation. What hits you immediately is the shift from the starry-eyed soundclash of the debut to a grimy, steel-plated aesthetic that seems to rope in all manner of post-rave currents into a vortex of swirling cyberpunk cosmic slop. The punk-edged hip hop of Poison and Their Law — all hydraulic rhythm and barely-contained fury — connect with the nascent big beat of The Chemical Brothers and Meat Beat Manifesto,2 while the manic fast-forward sonics of One Love and No Good Start The Dance conjure up visions of speed/happy hardcore/hi-NRG warping into a mutant strain.

Vangelis Blade Runner Atlantic

There's even an increasingly prog-tinged scope to tracks like The Heat The Energy and Speedway Theme From Fastlane (which even goes so far as to sample the Blade Runner soundtrack!) picking up where Weather Experience left off (albeit with a definite shift toward rushing cyberpunk vibes). Tellingly, the record ends with a three-track movement called The Narcotic Suite, kicking off with 3 Kilos's rolling cinematic hip hop before shifting gears into the mechanical techno rush of Skylined, ultimately climaxing with the speedfreak nightmare vision of Claustrophobic Sting.

The Prodigy Voodoo People XL

The tune that connects most logically with the debut is Full Throttle, sounding like a larger-than-life sequel with its collision of angelic piano, rave noise and rushing breakbeats. Similarly, Break & Enter seems to pick up where songs like Hyperspeed and Pandemonium (from the Charly 12") left off. And yet if there's one tune that manages to connect all eras of the band into one shimmering circuit, from the breakbeat ardkore of their earliest records to the rock-inflected attack of their mainstream peak, it's Voodoo People.

Voodoo People music video3

Sampling Nirvana's Very Ape over fast-forward beats and a thicket of racing electronic sequences, The tune also happens to feature the record's greatest music video, which finds the members of The Prodigy running through the jungle, trying to escape the presence of an ominous bokor (shades of The Serpent And The Rainbow) that always seems to be one step ahead! As evocative of the era's general tenor as Experience was to its own, it also points the way forward to where the crew would go next.

Firestarter music video4

When the Firestarter single hit the public in 1996, it came as a (future) shock: an unmistakable warning that the band's sound had mutated significantly. With familiar — albeit harder-edged — breakbeats and twisted guitars sounding as if they were being sucked backwards and circling the drain, the tune also featured Keith Flint's timely emergence as front man, spitting lyrics like I'm the trouble starter, punkin' instigator, I'm the fear addicted, a danger illustrated across the foreground. The result was something like The Sex Pistols if they'd emerged from the belly of rave culture rather than a back-to-basics riposte to mid-seventies stagnation,5 pointing the way toward the group's next quantum leap on their third album...

Prodigy The Fat Of The Land XL

The Fat Of The Land is built on a foundation of muscular breakbeats — now operating at a dusted, big beat pace — threaded by interlocking, razor-edged sonix and an ever-present industrial hum that seems to run through every track on the record. Tunes like Serial Thrilla and Firestarter seem to descend directly from the guitar/breakbeat equations of Jilted Generation's Their Law, with their fusion of live and sampled guitars bringing a rock 'n roll edge to the sound to a greater degree than ever before.

L7 Hungry For Stink Slash

The bracing punk blast of Fuel My Fire — featuring the crunchy guitarwork of Gizz Butt and backing vocals from Saffron (of indie dance superstars Republica) — even finds the group burning through a straight up cover version of the L7 punk classic, with more great, sneering vocals from Keith Flint. It's quite a change from the sample-based vocal snatches of the group's earlier recordings... this is certainly the first Prodigy record that would warrant a lyric sheet!

Gatefold image from Fat Of The Land

However, upon closer inspection, the record is less of a departure than it initially might appear to be, offering up a heavier, mid-tempo elaboration on the Jilted Generation sound that remains pure Prodigy. The rolling breakbeat epic Smack My Bitch Up is something like the criminally-minded cousin to Break & Enter and The Heat The Energy, while Funky Shit and Mind Fields get down with an electroid hip hop sound that envisions a winning combination of both Poison and 3 Kilos. The sweeping Climbatize even slips into cinematic side of the group's sound, tracing all the way back to Weather Experience in its bracing widescreen splendor. It even samples the voodoo horns from Egyptian Empire's ardkore-era classic The Horn Track!

Kula Shaker (Crispian Mills second from left)

Narayan betrays a similarly cinematic vision, with rolling breakbeats cascading beneath a synth progression that splits the difference between spectral piano and ghostly, moonlit strings. It's all remarkably linear, with the subtle shades of Eastern modes and minimalism about it. The gloriously doom-laden vocals come courtesy of Crispian Mills — of Indo-britpop sensation Kula Shaker — gleefully hurling portentous couplets like:

If you believe the Western Sun is falling down on everyone.

And you feel it burn... don't try to run.

If you would know your time has come.

Strangely enough — at the time — the resultant sound gave me the impression that Kula Shaker must have been sort of hybrid dance/RnB group, before I got around to checking them out! Even hearing it now, I can sorta see where I was coming from. It's probably my favorite song on the album, and clocking in at nine minutes, it's easily the longest. I've always thought that it would've worked brilliantly as a single in mid-1997 (released somewhere between Breathe and Smack My Bitch Up). At any rate, I wish there had been a whole scene that sounded like this.

Kool Keith enjoys a well-earned drink

The record's other big guest vocal spot is Diesel Power, featuring Kool Keith himself on the mic. Catching the man in the midst of his Dr. Octagon reinvention at the vanguard of underground rap, this is the hip hop hybrid that you always wished more big beat would have aspired to, with submarine sonix and heavy breaks pulsing beneath a first rate MC just doing his thing. One imagines Howlett reaching back to his earliest hip hop recordings — along with formative British rap like Hijack, London Posse and Ruthless Rap Assassins — even as it parallels contemporary trip hop's interface with New York rap like Tricky's Grassroots and Genaside II's New Life 4 The Hunted.

Prodigy Breathe XL

The awesome radio smash Breathe ties all aspects of the record into one demented package, with brilliantly dark production (those horns!) and a pervasive atmosphere of dreadful paranoia. The tune's bassline is essentially just a sub-bass industrial hum, while the melody is carried by an uncomplicated fragment of plucked guitar voodoo. The punky sonix swoop in to dominate the chorus, with Maxim and Keith sparring over baleful feedback, before doom-laden strummed Led Zeppelin-style guitars creep in for the breakdown.

Breathe music video6

Pure atmosphere and dread by virtue of sonix alone, Breathe's music video is the group's visual masterpiece of whole Fat Of The Land era, in which they find themselves in a crumbling, decrepit tenement building with all manner of insects and reptile crawling out of every drain and crack in the wall. Maxim and Flint are locked in adjoining rooms, seeming to mentally torment one another through a hole in the wall, while the other two lay low and witness various sequences of bizarre phenomena. It's the most fun nightmare you've never had, and the first time you see it, well, it'll stick with you for good!

Prodigy The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One XL

On the heels of The Fat Of The Land's blockbuster impact (and attendant tour), the group seemed to take a breather for a spell, with Maxim and Leeroy even recording solo albums of their own. Liam took the opportunity to dig deep into a pile of records and turn out a killer DJ mix,7 The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One. From the first bars of Intro Beats — with its razor-edged breakbeat attack built on Billy Squier's The Big Beat — you can tell you're in for a treat. Running the gamut from punk, hip hop and big beat to techno, indie dance and funk, it's a true tour de force of 21st century b-boy music.

Gatefold image from The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One

The gatefold inner sleeve, featuring Howlett hovering over a drum machine and surrounded by stacks of gear and records, perfectly captures the spirit of the whole affair. Bomb The Bass and The Chemical Brothers rub shoulders with Renegade Soundwave and Meat Beat Manifesto, spiked with a healthy dose of old school hip hop from Ultramagnetic MC's, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. Tying it all together with original beat junkies like DJ Mink, West Street Mob and The 45 King, Liam highlights the breakbeat continuity stretching from Sugar Hill to Skint. Once again, you wish more of the contemporary big beat had this strong a spirit and sense of danger.

The Beginning Of The End Funky Nassau Alston

As if that weren't enough, Howlett feathers in a brace of vintage funk gems like The J.B.'s Blow Your Head, The Beginning Of The End's Funky Nassau, The Jimmy Castor Bunch's It's Just Begun, and then spikes it with the killer rock 'n roll of Babe Ruth's proto-disco (by way of prog rock) classic The Mexican, Primal Scream's Kowalski and The Sex Pistols New York (Johnny Rotten's snarl clearly the blueprint for Keith Flint's trademark sneer). In a sense, one could even take The Dirtchamber Sessions as a late-nineties analogue of sorts to Johnny Rotten's storied appearance on Capitol Radio back in the day.

Andrew Weatherall Nine O'Clock Drop Nuphonic

Appearing concurrently with similarly revelatory discs like Terranova's DJ-Kicks and Andrew Weatherall's Nine O'Clock Drop, The Dirtchamber Sessions got me to reconnect with my musical roots and reroute it all back through the eighties and beyond, filling in the blanks in the process. As such, it remains an inescapably formative piece of the puzzle in the whole Terminal Vibration concept, sowing the seeds for its germination nearly twenty years before I even got around to articulating it. Even now, listening to it is as much a rush as ever.

Prodigy Baby's Got A Temper XL

Sadly, Thornhill left The Prodigy in the year 2000, whittling the group down to a technoid power trio. The next Prodigy full-length wouldn't come out until 2004, but the group did put out this solitary 12" in 2002. Baby's Got A Temper manages to distill the whole punk/hip hop axis of The Fat Of The Land into four-and-a-half minutes of feedback-drenched madness. By now seemingly airbrushed out of history — a lot of people seem/ed to hate it — it's nevertheless a key part of the Prodigy story.

I'll admit that it took me a second to warm to it at first (I just about choked on the twisted fairground loop), but the undeniable charms of its ultra-funky chorus quickly won me over. If memory serves, I think the complaint was that the band's sound hadn't moved on sufficiently, but with the benefit of hindsight, it's a glorious bit of 21st century cyberpunk fury. Just imagine if they'd put it out a few couple earlier... in 1999 I suspect it would've set the charts ablaze.

Baby's Got A Temper music video8

The tune's demented music video is something of a mini-masterpiece of the form, featuring Maxim and Keith bouncing around the stage like peak-era Onyx while Howlett pumps the Moog Prodigy (what else!?) and a dummy drums, the band playing for a room full of cattle. I don't want to give anything else away, but that's probably the least crazy thing about the whole affair. If it came out nowadays it'd be dismissed as offensive, but a closer inspection reveals it to be a striking commentary on the artifice of celebrity culture and the mechanical vapidity of mindless consumerism. Brilliant!

The Prodigy Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned XL

Fans had to wait another two years for the next album, and when it finally arrived, the sound had mutated wildly. The trio had been whittled further to just Liam (although the group hadn't broken up — it was simply a stripped-to-basics effort), and the sound was a wild mash up of electroclash shapes and breakbeat fury. Perhaps I could have let it lie with Baby's Got A Temper for today's discussion: a clear and concise ten-year arc stretching from the lean years of boy bands and nu-metal back to the glory days of marathon raves and pirate radio. I can't help it... I've always had a soft spot for Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned.9

Make no mistake, this is exactly what The Prodigy should have been doing in 2004. Dovetailing brilliantly with the whole post punk redux (now in full steam by this point), it also managed to run parallel to the contemporary rude movements of Basement Jaxx's Kish Kash, Audio Bullys' Ego War and Roni Size's Return To V, not to mention the rise of the grime zeitgeist in the wake of Dizzee Rascal's Boy In Da Corner crashed the party. All of which did a great deal to form my idea of what the pop music of the future would sound like.10

Gatefold image from Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

The D-Train-sampling electroid groove of Girls and the sleazy gutter disco That's Just The Way it Is (which might be my favorite thing here) sync perfectly with what DFA were up to around this point in time, while noise workouts like Get Up Get Off, Wake Up Call and Memphis Bells seem to trade the kinetic roll of classic Prodigy for a maddening start-stop take on the dirty south rhythm matrix. In a sense, the sound in these tunes might be the most strikingly different from the prototypical Prodigy template as things would ever get.

Further new forms take shape with the fiery electro-punk of Spitfire, Hotride and Action Radar (another favorite), which in retrospect seem to pick up where Fuel My Fire left off. The other big highlights (for me, at least) are the two hip hop instrumentals (You'll Be Under My Wheels11 and Medusa's Path), which bring it all full circle back to the hip hop sounds where Howlett started out in the first place. In the words of Liam himself, This album is about reminding people what The Prodigy was always about — the beats and the music.


After an extended hiatus, the crew went on to record further albums like Invaders Must Die and No Tourists. However, it's this initial run — spanning from What Evil Lurks to Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned — that forms the perfect conceptual arc, and a sound illustration of everything great about The Prodigy. Raw power and pure excitement rolled up inna virtuoso soundclash right there on the edge of madness, they were the original techno punks.

Footnotes

1.

The Prodigy. Out Of Space. The Prodigy Experience. Curtis, Russell. XL, 1992. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4eav7dFvc8

2.

See also The Prodigy's awesome remix of Method Man's Release Yo' Delf, which was roughly five years ahead of its time. Just listen to Lil Wayne's Tha Block Is Hot... or even Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury in 2006! I've often thought that Chinese New Year and Trill sounded like The Neptunes had been mainlining on Music For The Jilted Generation right before the sessions.

3.

The Prodigy. Voodoo People. Music For The Jilted Generation. Stern, Walter and Curtis, Russell. XL, 1994. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YV78vobCyIo

4.

Prodigy. Firestarter. The Fat Of The Land. Stern, Walter. XL, 1996. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmin5WkOuPw

5.

I always liked Simon Reynolds' offhand recontextualisation of Firestarter within the remit of the original sixties garage punk as enshrined in the Nuggets box set.

6.

Prodigy. Breathe. The Fat Of The Land. Stern, Walter. XL, 1996. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmHDhAohJlQ

7.

This at the height of the mix CD phenomenon, with series like Back To Mine and DJ-Kicks hitting their stride.

8.

Prodigy. Baby's Got A Temper. Baby's Got A Temper. Stern, Walter and Curtis, Russell. XL, 2002. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFBPnZe_iMA

9.

The album's title is a reference to the Laurence Fishburne film Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, which was based on Walter Mosley's book of the same title.

10.

I think both The Prodigy's Action Radar and Lucky Star by Basement Jaxx (featuring Dizzee Rascal) illustrate what I was envisioning: gloriously sleazy and exotic future shock music. Imagine my disappointment when future pop turned out to be Kesha and Ariana Grande instead!12

11.

I have a live bootleg13 from 1996 featuring a track called Rock 'n Roll, which rocks the same Kool Keith sample (from Ultramagnetic MC's' Poppa Large and seems to be an early version of this tune.

12.

Well, at least Azealia Banks managed to cut an inspired path every now and then...

13.

That bootleg was titled Techno Punks, which inspired the title and general thrust of this entire post. It's well worth checking out, offering a killer snapshot of the crew running through their rave-era repertoire, just before they unleashed Firestarter on an unsuspecting public.

Bomb The Bass – Clear

Bomb The Bass Clear

4th & Broadway 1995

I think it's time to discuss the philosophy of hip hop blues as it relates to Terminal Vibration. Prime trip hop, in other words. Aside from Tricky's debut, I can think of no record that embodies this outlook more than Bomb The Bass' third album, Clear. Squaring patly in the aftermath of Melting Machines — that place where live band dynamics melt into the sprawling electronic trip: samplers, breakbeats, studio-as-instrument chopping up loops and playing with time — Clear is the undeniable masterpiece from Tim Simenon and his wild offbeat vision of post-rave British hip hop, the culmination of over half-a-dozen years spent at the forefront of the sound that would become known as trip hop.

Bomb The Bass Into The Dragon Rhythm King

Bomb The Bass started out in the late 1980s with records like Beat Dis and Into The Dragon, which melded hip hop beats with Second Summer Of Love dawn-of-rave energy in such a way that came to define Rhythm King's whole anything goes patchwork aesthetic. Particularly interesting in terms of today's discussion, Into The Dragon — like Jon Saul Kane's Depth Charge output — went a long way to trailblazing the sort of rough-hewn trip hop that would set the tone for a whole sensibility that would come to define large swathes of the nineties. The Burt Bacharach/Hal David cover Say A Little Prayer mirrors the similar fascination Smith & Mighty — those other architects of trip hop — exhibited with the baroque pop songwriting duo on records like Walk On... and Anyone....

Bomb The Bass Unknown Territory Rhythm King

However, its on BTB's 1991 sophomore effort that things really start to get into Terminal Vibration territory. Unknown Territory, with its dirty beats and grimy basslines, plays like a sister record to Depth Charge's Nine Deadly Venoms inna true fellow traveler stylee. With a yet more rugged, dubbed-out sound than before —  with shades even of post punk lurking in its shadows — it makes perfect sense that the record also features the entrance of Doug Wimbish and Keith LeBlanc (aka the immortal Tackhead/Sugar Hill rhythm section) into the fold.

Tim Simenon: Bomb The Bass mastermind

With production that somehow manages to combine lush atmosphere and rugged edges, not to mention an added emphasis on vocal songs — featuring torch vocals from Loretta Heywood and raps from A La Mode — it all points the way forward to the inimitable Clear... Simenon's undeniable masterpiece and today's tile of the month. Like Massive Attack's Protection, Clear is constructed on an almost symmetrical structure, with one side mirroring the other. As such, it seems to make the most sense to tackle it track-by-track, and in order. Taking it from the top, then, let's discuss Bomb The Bass' mightiest lightning sword of death: Clear.

Justin Warfield: Hip hop's beatnik fool

The record opens with the awesome big beat pile drive of Bug Powder Dust, a rude slab of feedback-fueled hip hop that sounds like the greatest Chemical Brothers track you've never heard, and just as the Brothers Dust were beginning to gather steam with Exit Planet Dust (check out In Dust We Trust). Featuring the stoned free-association flow of the inimitable Justin Warfield, whose kaleidoscopic raps pull in everything from William Burroughs' Naked Lunch to Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness and Cameron Crowe's Fast Times At Ridgemont High, it's everything big beat could've turned into if only more MCs were drafted in and the often corny retro/rock goofiness had been reigned in just a little bit. Without a doubt one of the greatest album openers of all time, this is up there with Luv N' Haight, Immigrant Song and Straight Outta Compton.

Bomb The Bass Bug Powder Dust 4th & Broadway

Notably, the 12" for Bug Powder Dust took on a life of its own with remixes from La Funk Mob, DJ Muggs and, appropriately enough, The Chemical Brothers themselves. Most famously, Kruder & Dorfmeister reworked the track as a languid bit of hip hop noir, and it's this version that appeared on the U.S. version of Clear in place of the feedback-drenched original. It's this version of Clear that I actually started out with back in the day, before eventually tracking down the original 4th & B U.K. issue. Trust me, this is the version you want, especially since the two Kruder & Dorfmeister mixes are included on The K&D Sessions, which everyone should already have by now anyway.

Bim Sherman: Dreamtime dread

Sleepyhead follows in perfect precision, with reggae icon Bim Sherman providing the sublime falsetto over a grinding bassline and splashing breakbeats, while a talking drum creeps in and out of the mix just on the edge of paranoid consciousness. With its rugged beats anchoring a heavy duty bass-driven groove that slips and slides beneath a tune so chill its damn near sub-zero, make no mistake: this is what trip hop's all about. Embodying a deeply strange roots music shot through with spectral visions of the future, this would've provided the perfect soundtrack to the proverbial good nineties cyberpunk film.

Strange Parcels Disconnection On-U Sound

It's worth noting that these rugged beats are pure Tackhead — which makes sense since Doug Wimbish and Keith LeBlanc have remained in full force from Unknown Territory — augmented and abetted by one of trip hop's great sonic architect. Especially intriguing is the added presence of guitarist Skip McDonald, who makes his first appearance of the record on Sleepyhead, rounding out this de facto Tackhead reunion. This just after the Strange Parcels record, which featured LeBlanc, Wimbish and Bernard Alexander (but not McDonald) working up a series of kinetic endless horizon-evoking mid-tempo grooves. That album, Disconnection, makes an excellent companion piece to Clear, bridging the gap between Mark Stewart's proto-trip hop/post punk self-titled third LP and Clear's squaring of the circle between 1979, 1985 and the year of Maxinquaye.

Bim Sherman Miracle Mantra

The striking thing about Clear is its network of routes reaching out in seemingly every direction, drawing in as it does a rather disparate crowd of artists and iconoclasts into its singular, visionary orbit. Bim Sherman had been a fixture on the U.K. reggae scene ever since Adrian Sherwood coaxed him across the Atlantic for a tour, and (appropriately enough, given the On-U/Maffia connection) his presence on the record is a perfect fit. In fact, it's sort of surprising that Sherwood himself wasn't involved in this project. It's worth noting that Bim's Miracle set from the following year, featuring production by Sherwood, Skip McDonald and Talvin Singh (plus the presence of Doug Wimbish on bass), is something like a more bucolic extrapolation of Sleepyhead and a sublimely unique vision of ambient roots music.

Carlton: Trip hop's king of falsetto

But now back to Clear... One To One Religion rides in on a menacing bassline, driven by a slow-burning 4/4 pulse, while Carlton's angelic falsetto and skewed, new world cinematic strings soar across the mix. This is one of the few post-Call Is Strong appearances of Bristol blues' greatest falsetto, and for that alone deserves our attention. If anything, Religion plays like a harder, ruffed-up take on Smith & Mighty's stellar productions for Carlton's sole album, which brilliantly blurred the lines between trip hop, r&b and the lush rainforest productions of discomix reggae. Like Sleepyhead, it seems to spring entirely from within the Terminal Vibration tradition even as it gestures slyly toward the 21st century.

Bomb The Bass One to One Religion 4th & Broadway

In another twist of fate, I first heard this tune in its killer Dobie-produced Skankapella Mix, as found on the U.S. release of the record (along with some of the attendant 12" singles), which recasts the tune as a sumptuous ballad built on the back of a languid sample from Three Dog Night's Easy To Be Hard (which younger heads might know from the opening of the David Fincher film Zodiac). At first I dug this mix even more than the original (after all, I was exposed to it first), but over time I've come to regard them about equally. Different vibes for different occasions, and everything else the good man said.

Spikey T in full effect

Coming on dark and coming on hard, Dark Heart recasts Mark Stewart + Maffia records like High Ideals And Crazy Dreams, Liberty City and Survival as straight up trip hop literal, bringing it all back to Bristol once again (all roads, etc.). With its depth-charging bassline and waterlogged beats, featuring singjay vocals from one Spikey T, this menacing roots music sounds just like William Gibson's Zion recast aboard Captain Nemo's Nautilus, grooving in slow-motion 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Like Drexciya by way of dub rather than Detroit, or Hendrix's 1983... A Merman I Should Turn To Be reconstructed by King Tubby, this is deep six music for real.

Leslie Winer: Stylish and savage

If You Reach The Border follows, sliding into view on an electro-inflected beat like Barbara Mason's Another Man played at '33. The first of the record's two spoken-word pieces, this features vocals from model/iconoclast Leslie Winer on a druggy, stream-of-consciousness tip. Ill nonsense, and cool as can be, this picks up where her ahead-of-its-time, trip hop-adjacent (inna Mélaaz/Vanessa Daou stylee) 1993 LP Witch left off. More ghost-of-Burroughs' type madness, it offers up a welcome breather sandwiched between what might be the record's two darkest tracks. Shall I describe the person that I died in? Are you seeing the grave that I ride in? Tell me... am I, am I making sense? Not at all, Leslie, but we're down just the same.

Justin Warfield My Field Trip To Planet 9 Qwest

That other dark track, featuring the return of Justin Warfield from his Field Trip To Planet 9, is Braindead. Recasting Warfield's mad-crazy-mosaic lyrical style in a downcast nightmare backed by a twisted bit of slow-motion psychedelic rock (courtesy of Jimi Hendrix — by way of Curtis Knight) submerged in storm clouds of pure sensi. The effect makes me flash on both 1983... A Merman I Should Turn To Be (that tune again) and the Gravediggaz' Defective Trip Trippin', before it all drops out into a wall of low end feedback with Warfield's echo-drenched refrain:

Too much combustion gets my brain dusted.

Shadows of the pain, sucking on a young man's brain.

Yea, it's that type of tune! References to A Clockwork Orange, Modern English and Jim Morrison are swept into the strange brew, while Warfield rattles off his lyrics like a lackadaisical madman. Warped and heavy like prime New Kingdom, it even drops a dope little coda after the fade that could've sustained a whole other track in its own right.

Will Self in an abstract mood

The second of the weird spoken word pieces, 5ml. Barrel features outsider author Will Self narrating a disturbingly detailed episode involving a particularly resourceful addict's unconventional means of procuring vast amounts of morphine. Needless to say, its the one track that didn't make the U.S. cut at all! The dragging, druggy beat matches his druggy delivery perfectly, and — with a grinding bassline from the great Jah Wobble — the result is as hypnotic as it is unsettling. With two shots of black humor to chase down the horror, one senses the unmistakable shadow of William Burroughs hanging over the proceedings like a malevolent force.

Depeche Mode Ultra Mute

And then, an instrumental. Ah yes, Somewhere. We needed a breather after the last tune, and Somewhere delivers in spades. The album's lone instrumental, Somewhere starts out as pure ambient, sounding almost like something you'd find on Biosphere record, before veering off into fourth world territory, replete with iridescent percussion, downbeat dub and a looped Muezzin wail. Notably Simenon would go on to produce Depeche Mode's beloved Ultra a couple years later, and throughout much of Clear you can hear the roots of a lot of the low slung ideas he'd bring to that record. In fact, Depeche instrumentals like Jazz Thieves, Junior Painkiller and Uselink are essentially Clear tracks in miniature. See also Simenon's mixes for Material's 1997 reissue of Seven Souls (Burroughs strikes again).

Bernard Fowler: Tackhead and N.Y.C. Peech Boy

After that atmospheric sorbet to cleanse the aural palette, we enter the album's final three song lift off, where everything melts into a liquid stream of dream logic and lushly-arranged ambience. Sandcastles is just perfect, with descending vibes, sweeping ethereal synth architecture, dubbed-out textural flourishes, gently-strummed guitar, nimble bass, and vocals from latter day Tackhead frontman (and ex-N.Y.C. Peech Boy) Bernard Fowler. This is a definite contender for my favorite track on the album, and when it turns like clockwork to its resolutely unfolding denouement, the effect often reminds me of the gorgeous technoid denouement of The Isley Brothers' Between The Sheets. Sublime stuff.

Massive Attack Protection Wild Bunch

Sustaining the ethereal mood for our listening pleasure, Tidal Wave drifts in as if on an ocean breeze. Echoing the sultry trip hop ballads from In Dark Territory — tracks like Winter In July and Love So True — with post-Soul To Soul beats and bluesy pianos reminiscent of Craig Armstrong's work on Massive Attack's Protection, it's gentle collision of scratching, sub-bass pressure and slow-motion breakbeats embody the notion of hip hop blues. This is that sub-oceanic, dreamtime realm where trip hop drifts into the slipstream alongside everything from Sade and Vanessa Daou to David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti.

River (aka the inimitable Minnie Driver)

Strangely enough, the gorgeous torch song vocals come courtesy of the mysterious River, who turns out to be none other than actress Minnie Driver (of Grosse Point Blank, Good Will Hunting, Sleepers, et. al. fame). Of course this is slightly before all that. She actually went on to record a couple albums about a decade later, which are solid dream pop outings with fascinating jazz and country inflections. I often wonder if her career had taken a couple more years to make its ascent, maybe we'd have gotten a peak-era trip hop record credited to River and produced by Simenon? A girl can dream...

Benjamin Zephaniah and Sinéad O'Connor

All of which brings us to the final song of the album, the downcast, downbeat mirror image of Bug Powder Dust. Empire starts just like Timbaland And Magoo's Up Jumps Da' Boogie inna a dub chamber before kicking into a slow-motion stomp, pushed forward by subterranean acid and spectral voices seemingly in echo of the past. I'm instantly reminded of Funkadelic's awesome death dirge March To The Witch's Castle. 'Nuff dread! Benjamin Zephaniah trades verses with Sinéad O'Connor in a cutting critique of the British Empire, in which the forceful dub poetry and haunting vocals that compare it to a vampire and intimate that the sun might set on it one day after all. It's a rather fitting end to such shadowy, uncompromising record, wrapping it all up with a baleful understated epic that winds down the long daydream/nightmare trip.


So that's the story with Clear. It may not make the lists with the frequency of a Dummy or a Blue Lines, but it's every bit their equal. This record was a key moment in trip hop's protracted development, springing from a roots 'n future fusion of hip hop, reggae, soul and traces of post punk ghosts still lingering in the machine. As such, its also an undeniable Terminal Vibration record, tying its present of Tricky's Maxinquaye and Massive Attack's Protection back through Depth Charge and Smith & Mighty and into Colourbox's Baby I Love You So and Mark Stewart's third LP. And then there's Tackhead, lurking right there in the whole unfolding of the story, driving these twisted torch songs and grimy breakbeat burners that practically define the term hip hop blues.

Terminal Vibration: Melting Machines

Man-Machine Rhythms
Man-machine rhythms melting into the night...

There's a few things I noticed while compiling the Terminal Vibration anthology on Cheap Hotel, things that had been swirling in the background for some time before finally coming into focus. They all center around the idea of the 1980s as the decade when the liquid, telepathic grooves of funk and krautrock melt into dance music's sprawling electronic trip. Giving the drummer some inevitably led to breakbeats getting fed into Akais, recontextualized in the vibrant interzone between hip hop and rave, just as musicians locking into disco's tantric pulse will ultimately (and inevitably) bring you face to face with acid house.

Tackhead Strange Things SBK

I'm talking about the way the rubberband grooves worked up by live groups like Talking Heads/Eno/Byrne and Funkadelic (synth genius Bernie Worrell involved in both, of course) are gradually mirrored by the sequenced machine music of Hashim and the Jungle Brothers. To my mind, the year 1985 is the axis on which it all hinges. One could almost draw a line down the middle of the decade, with Tackhead/Fats Comet/Maffia's machine-inflected post punk as the axis around which everything else falls into place. By the end of the decade, they'd even drafted Bernard Fowler (of the N.Y.C. Peech Boys) as lead singer for a pair of records that seemed to scramble the entirety of the 1980s through the day-glo cyberpunk prism of The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, resulting in true parallax horizon music that hinted at Seal's early sound and would later culminate in the Strange Parcels record and Bomb The Bass' Clear.

Prince Sign "O" The Times Paisley Park

When it comes to merging man with machine in the sonic space, it's hard to beat Prince, who was arguably to the eighties what Bowie was to the prior decade. Leaping from the brittle new wave funk of 1980's Dirty Mind to 1999's increasingly machine-driven rhythms in the space of just two years, he wound up the decade by synthesizing the perfect hybrid of both sides of the coin with records like Sign "O" The Times and Lovesexy. One can certainly hear the next decade of RnB flowing right through the former with routes stretching out into everything from Teddy Riley and Jodeci to The Neptunes and Rodney Jerkins (not to mention D'Angelo and Terence Trent D'Arby!).

Big Audio Dynamite Megatop Phoenix Columbia

Sweeping back across the Atlantic, in some strange sort of parallel Mick Jones seemed to find himself at the very cusp of the zeitgeist again and again throughout the decade. Ringing in the decade with The Clash's Sandinista!, a rich, multifaceted record of day-glo new wave post punk dance drenched dub, he closed it with the kaleidoscopic post-Second Summer Of Love masterpiece Megatop Phoenix (the best indie dance record ever). In between, he put out records on Def Jam (Big Audio Dynamite's The Bottom Line) and brought the sampler into the charts, even featuring a post-Rip Rig & Panic/pre-solo career Neneh Cherry across multiple music videos. Usually decades don't break down so neatly, but 1985's This Is Big Audio Dynamite is another key record that seems to bisect the decade with its visionary approach to sound.

Kate Bush The Dreaming EMI

Of course Kate Bush had her own mind-bending Fairlight excursions even earlier on 1982's The Dreaming, even if they didn't hit the charts until three years later alongside B.A.D. with Hounds Of Love. The Dreaming itself is a bracing, one-of-a-kind listen, with threads leading out toward the avant garde of Holger Hiller, the arty pop of Japan/David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel, and even the electro-tinged productions Jam & Lewis later unveiled on Janet Jackson's Control, it's one of the key signposts of the decade. And I still need to touch on my whole theory that leads from Janet Jackson to Neneh Cherry (by way of Sinéad O'Connor), which is a whole other story.

Ryuichi Sakamoto B-2 Unit Alfa

There's this whole avant pop wing of the eighties exemplified by Ryuichi Sakamoto's Forbidden Colours (featuring David Sylvian) and Talk Talk that's of a piece with Ms. Bush's work. Sakamoto in particular gets into extraordinarily far-reaching territory right at the dawn of the decade with 1980's B-2 Unit, which features the unmatchable Riot In Lagos, sounding like the blueprint for The Black Dog ten years ahead of schedule. It's one of those records that laugh cruelly at the idea of synths aging poorly, and like contemporary Suicide and Thomas Leer, seem to exist out of time.

Wally Badarou Echoes Island

The logical conclusion of all this furiously innovative activity is an explosion of electronic dance music as a form in its own right, a sub-kingdom within the body pop encompassing everything from electro to house, techno and utterly unclassifiable records like Wally Badarou's Echoes. All of which come — surprise, surprise — at the midpoint of the decade (even if electro had already been kicking up a storm for a couple years by then). One could argue that the entire dance music explosion of the nineties could be traced back to this point, tracing a jagged line from The Egyptian Lover to The Prodigy.

Mr. Fingers Ammnesia Jack Trax

Early house records like Mr. Fingers' Can You Feel It, Jamie Principle's Waiting On My Angel and Jungle Wonz's The Jungle, which all poured out of Chicago around this time, were mirrored by early Detroit techno like Model 500's Night Drive Thru-Babylon, Rhythim Is Rhythim's Nude Photo and Reese & Santonio's The Sound, while killer electro like Hashim's Primrose Path and The Egyptian Lover's On The Nile sprung up from the coasts to build on the foundation of Planet Rock. These records all managed to build entire worlds from a spartan combination of synths, drum machines and sequencers, opening up exciting possibilities for a generation of would-be bedroom visionaries.

Marley Marl In Control Volume 1 Cold Chillin'

All of which brings us to hip hop, the other big sonic revelation that seemed to reach its tipping point in 1985 with Run-D.M.C.. I can think of no better illustration of the point I'm trying to make here than rap's evolution from the live funk jams of the Sugar Hill rhythm section through the hardcore machine rhythm matrix of Mantronix, Code Money and Orange Krush to ultimately come full circle to Marley Marl splitting the atom with his sampler. All those early Pop Art/Prism/Cold Chillin' records, featuring a slew of charismatic MCs like Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie and Roxanne Shanté (and later personal favorites like Masta Ace and Kool G Rap) paved the way for the likes of the De La Soul and The Dust Brothers' mad sampladelic tapestries. The blueprint for the nineties, in other words, when funk was reworked from scratch backwards until the machines would have their day again...

Which in a round about way, manages to both rewind back to My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and fast-forward to the future... but more on that to come.

CHR-009: Terminal Vibration Vol. One

Various Artists Terminal Vibration: Vol. One

Cheap Hotel 2019

I'd originally planned to put this out after the Terminal Vibration 100 hit the site, but the compilation wound up being ready ahead of schedule. This latest Cheap Hotel release rolls up the whole Terminal Vibration vision into an unmissable two-disc anthology, where new wave, hip hop, post punk, house, dancehall, techno, afrobeat, funk, disco, trip hop, electro, boogie, dub and fourth world avant pop all collide in a killer selection of 30 Riddimatic Traxx From The Wild Side Of The 1980s.

I've worked up a little mix from the original compilation. Please excuse the transitions, which are quite conservative — and in some cases a little rocky — but I wanted to retain as much as the original track as possible. Sure, I might have mixed from Junior Reid's One Blood straight into the wayward groove of Ryuichi Sakamoto's Riot In Lagos, but I just couldn't bear to skip the amazing intro and build up as riot begins to take shape! At any rate, on with the music...

Listen Now

    CHR-009: Various Artists - Terminal Vibration Vol. One Part 1

  1. Simple Minds I Travel Arista
  2. Bullet train punk disco from the band that would later bring you Don't You Forget About Me, this much earlier track finds the crew lean and hungry at the dawn of the decade. This is the sound of Europe-endless Moroder madness crashing the new wave party, screaming past skyscrapers and concrete bunkers, circuitry, telecommunications and the rising sun looming on the horizon.

  3. Doug Wimbish featuring Fats Comet Don't Forget That Beat World Record
  4. Pure fast-forward cyberpunk madness from Fats Comet (aka Tackhead aka the Maffia), this electroid punk-to-funk workout comes at you like a Prince cameo in the Count Zero motion picture. With a peerless stutter-funk groove hitting about as tactile as they come, this is everything implied in the promise electronic dance music.

  5. Jamie Principle Waiting On My Angel Persona
  6. Gothic digital disco from the dark prince of Chicago, shaded heavy with new wave colors. Rising from deep from the underground just as house was beginning to make its presence felt, this record arrived fully formed just as everyone else was still figuring out how to work the equipment. About as catchy as anything ever played on a dancefloor, in a perfect world this would have been a #1 smash hit (images of Idoru spring to mind).

  7. Junior Reid One Blood J.R.
  8. Apocalyptic dancehall masterpiece arrives at the tail end of the decade, the rhythms in this track are happening on something like four or five planes. Pepperseed drum machine beats flip into slow-motion breakbeats beneath the electronic roots-n-future mash-up, while the spectre of Junior Reid hangs above it all sounding like a prophet.

  9. Ryuichi Sakamoto Riot In Lagos Alfa
  10. Innovator on holiday from YMO turns in one of the most futuristic tracks ever laid down on tape. Coming out in early 1980, this could have been released twenty years later and still sounded ahead of its time. Unbalanced, untethered and utterly unpredictable, this is quite simply the benchmark of brilliance... everyone making electronic music should aspire to be this good.

  11. Thomas Leer Tight As A Drum Cherry Red
  12. Skewed electropop heaven from the Scottish bedroom auteur. From the brilliant 4-track EP, 4 Movements, the entirety of which is just stupidly, preposterously ahead of its time. Miles away from any sort of rigid synth pop conventions, this melts and glides like some Mediterranean sunset serenade.

  13. Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000 When One Road Close Another One Go Open Wrasse
  14. Afrobeat goes electro! After four stellar solo albums, Fela Kuti's main man behind the kit takes his sound into the 1980s in a big way, offering up the greatest polyrhythmic-fourth-world-dubbed-out-future-shock stone tablet since King Sunny Adé descended into the studio with Martin Meissonnier behind the boards. An indisputable monster-groove.

  15. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five New York New York Sugar Hill
  16. One of a handful of tracks that so perfectly fit the Terminal Vibration remit, it almost hurts! In fact, there were a handful of records from this crew that would have fit just as well: The Message (which this record echoes), Scorpio and especially Message II Survival. For me, the bionic superfly attack of New York New York is the pick of the bunch, a track that sounds better still with every passing year.

  17. Brian Eno/David Byrne Regiment Sire
  18. Like the last track, this is Terminal Vibration distilled down to its purest essence, only more so. Indeed, the entire My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts album was probably the impetus for this whole endeavor. Over at DJ Food had it down as a Trip Hop blueprint if there ever was one, and when confronted with Regiment's rock hard downbeat funk riddim and muezzin wail, you know exactly what he means.

  19. The Clash Outside Broadcast CBS
  20. A saner man would have gone with the original version, which everyone knows and remains a classic tune, but this seven-plus minute dub version is a wild tangled trip that fits in far to well to pass up. Dig that atmosphere — car horns, street sounds, disco diva vocals, throbbing bass, proto-raps, electrofunk hand claps, stylized sax and Joe Strummer swirling in a cavern — in this runaway late night taxi cab ride.

  21. D-Train You're The One For Me Prelude
  22. Part of why I love this era so much is the way so many disparate scenes suddenly found themselves in sync — punk/disco/rap/reggae/the avant garde — and wired up to to the dancefloor. In truth, much of this was down to disco's gravity pull, as both a force to be reckoned with and something to define oneself against. This seminal Prelude joint is the moment at which boogie splits off from disco proper, and is the secret cousin to all The Clash's Sandinista!-era dancefloor burners.

  23. Jungle Wonz The Jungle Trax
  24. More early Chicago. You practically get a hit of that sense of discovery — and wide-open possibilities — every time you spin the best of these records. The rule books hadn't even been written yet, so the prospect of Harry Dennis' Last Poets-style raps over lush fourth world minimalism must have sounded no more out of bounds than Larry Heard's proto-ambient house or Jamie Principle's solitary moonlight missives. Nowadays, we know better than to take this stuff for granted...

  25. Aisha The Creator Ariwa
  26. Roots reggae songstress does her thing in Mad Professor's digital playground, resulting in a crisp slice of liquid perfection that still sounds like the future. This is so lean and mean! I'm sure there are cooler songs... I just can't think of any right now. Ambient house heads will instantly recognize the vocal sample that later turns up in The Orb's Blue Room (all roads lead to Jah Wobble).

  27. Reese Just Want Another Chance KMS
  28. It still blows my mind that this record, with its bunker-crumbling drum machine beats and ten ton bassline oozing out of every pore, came out in 1988. But then, Kevin Saunderson is nothing if not an innovator (they don't call him Master Reese for nothing). As if the greatest bassline ever weren't enough, he peppers the track with killer sequence after counterpoint-sequence and spooked warehouse vibes to spare.

  29. Silicon Soul Who Needs Sleep Tonight Disko B
  30. Classicist electro-chanson from New York. Loneliness personified. First heard this, appropriately enough, on Terranova's DJ-Kicks — the O.G. Terminal Vibration experience — even if they just played the instrumental synth sequence. Hearing the original tune (from 1981) was such a joy, thanks to a timely reissue from Disko B at the turn of the century. I used to play this when I knew I was gonna have to pull an all-nighter, and it never failed to get me in the mode.

Listen Now

    CHR-009: Various Artists - Terminal Vibration Vol. One Part 2

  1. The Special AKA Bright Lights Two-Tone
  2. Shadowy post-ska dance music from Jerry Dammers and co. The protracted sessions for the In The Studio LP resulted in a brilliantly strange collection of moody tunes that seem — from the cover on downward — haunted by the spectre of trip hop menace well before the fact.

  3. Model 500 Night Drive Thru-Babylon Metroplex
  4. Dark, sleek future music from techno originator Juan Atkins. With Night Drive Thru-Babylon, he created an utterly kinetic perpetual motion engine, serving as electro's killer app and pointing the way forward to techno's otherworldly, psychedelic glow.

  5. Big Audio Dynamite Sudden Impact! Columbia
  6. Sudden Impact! is electroid dance pop of the highest caliber, shot through with just a hint of dub and strains of the nascent dancehall, sounding something like Mad Professor vs. The Latin Rascals. Proves that Mick Jones had his finger to the pulse of eighties dance music, running from Radio Clash right through Megatop Phoenix and the Second Summer Of Love.

  7. 808 State Narcossa Creed
  8. Rough and rugged acid house from Manchester's original techno proposition, back when A Guy Called Gerald was still firmly in the crew. As hinted by the title, this is electronic music at its most druggy and weird, even as it never loses sight of the dancefloor. The finest track from their excellent debut album, Newbuild, this manages the trick of sounding ancient and at the same time like it could have come out tomorrow.

  9. ESG Moody Spaced Out 99
  10. Girl group punk funk from New York. ESG managed to capture the spirit of Central Park's endless Puerto Rican conga jams (a sound that also inspired the likes of New Order and A Certain Ratio within the moody corridors of half-lit punk funk, getting tagged by the music press as PIL meets the The Supremes. And at the end of the day, what higher praise could you ask for?

  11. Hashim Primrose Path Cutting
  12. Overcast New York electro retrofit with bionic slap-bass funk, this sounds like it could've come from the streets of Chiba City. Coming out on electro/freestyle stalwart label Cutting Records and masterminded by the peerless Hashim (who also produced the definitive electro masterstroke Al-Naafiysh The Soul), this record's practically a genre unto itself.

  13. Massive Attack Any Love Massive Attack
  14. Trip hop supergroup's humble beginnings start with this killer Smith & Mighty-produced cover of Rufus & Chaka Khan's Any Love, fronted by the angel-voiced falsetto of Carlton and featuring a brilliantly introverted rap from Tricky (almost as an afterthought). That's a crazy amount of talent to squeeze into one studio, right there. Of course, it shows through in this deliciously minimalist tune, featuring some of the most kinetic drum programming ever laid down on tape.

  15. Grace Jones I've Seen That Face Before Libertango Island
  16. This skewed, cosmopolitan dubwise chanson always strikes me as undeniably trip hop in both spirit and execution. Look no further than Massive Attack's Spying Glass and Nicolette's No Government (1996 version) for some sound comparisons. From the storied Compass Point sessions that resulted in Nightclubbing, Grace Jones' finest hour.

  17. Virgo School Hall Radical
  18. Virgo unleashed this bit of moody dancefloor magic right at the close of the decade, perfecting the deep house blueprint just in time for the nineties. And I do mean perfect... this song — in form, sonics and execution — is like a flawlessly cut diamond. When that bassline hangs in repetition for a bar before cascading into the chorus, it captures every lonely walk through your high school's crowded corridors as you try to slip through unnoticed and as quickly as you can. It gets me every time...

  19. Derrick Harriott Dub Whip Hawkeye
  20. Ah yes, Derrick Harriott with another one that's almost too good to be true. Early-eighties cover version of — strains credulity — the Dazz Band's Let It Whip?! Not only that, but with a dubbed-to-pieces remix tucked away on the flipside. With its visions of discomix reggae on the game grid, this is one of the most prized 12"s I own.

  21. Wally Badarou Chief Inspector Vine Street 4th & Broadway
  22. More Compass Point magic, this time from synth man Wally Badarou. For people who don't know (who are these people?!), Badarou was in the Compass Point All Stars, who played on that Grace Jones record (and a whole other brace of brilliant things). So casually understated yet undeniably brilliant, Paul "Groucho" Smykle's notion of adding go-go-inspired percussion to his Vine Street remix push this over the edge into the divine.

  23. Roxanne Shanté Have A Nice Day Cold Chillin'
  24. Rock the bells! Roxanne Shanté does her inimitable thing over an impossibly funky Marley Marl production, this invents the sound of golden age hip hop. I'm only sorry that I couldn't include more hip hop on this compilation: The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better, Too $hort's Players, the Death Comet Crew's At The Marble Bar and The Junkyard Band's Sardines. Oh well, there's always Volume Two...

  25. Fresh 4 Wishing On A Star Lizz. E 10 Records
  26. Another Smith & Mighty production for another supergroup-before-the-fact. Fresh 4 were a crew consisting of Bristol royalty DJ Suv and DJ Krust (who'd both later wind up in Full Cycle/Reprazent), Flynn (later of Flynn & Flora) and Judge (who he?). With its blissful, sun-glazed Faze-O sample, torch song vocals and slow-motion breakbeats, this is trip hop's blueprint writ large before the nineties even started.

  27. Prince Something In The Water Does Not Compute Warner Bros.
  28. Sublime machine soul from the young Prince, just as he was poised to take over the world. Tucked away among the marathon electro boogie funk jams on his 1982 double-album 1999, this track rides a robotic start-stop rhythm haunted by Detroit-style synths, random computer bleeps and Prince's all-to-human paeans to the women who've done him wrong. The man's finest moment?

  29. Colourbox Looks Like We're Shy One Horse/Shoot Out 4AD
  30. Discomix post punk dub-cum-spaghetti western epic from proto-trip hop architects Colourbox, just grooves along for a satisfying four-and-a-half minutes while samples from Duck You Sucker and Once Upon A Time In The West drift over the top. Then, halfway through its eight-minute running time, it goes all moody and atmospheric before going all Binary Skyline with a fourth world cyberpunk downbeat coda that sounds like sci-fi Repo Man meets FSOL's Central Industrial. Really, it's the only way to end this mix properly...

Simple Minds - Empires And Dance Doug Wimbish featuring Fats Comet - Don't Forget That Beat Jamie Principle - Waiting On My Angel Junior Reid - One Blood Ryuichi Sakamoto - B-2 Unit Thomas Leer - 4 Movements
Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000 - N.E.P.A (Never Expect Power Always) Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - New York New York Brian Eno/David Byrne - Regiment The Clash - This Is Radio Clash D-Train - You're The One For Me Jungle Wonz - The Jungle
Reese - Just Want Another Chance Silicon Soul - Pouti The Special AKA - In The Studio Model 500 - Night Drive Big Audio Dynamite - This Is Big Audio Dynamite 808 State - Newbuild
ESG - Come Away With ESG Hashim - Primrose Path Massive Attack - Any Love Grace Jones - Nightclubbing Virgo - Virgo Derrick Harriott - Whip It
Wally Badarou - Chief Inspector Roxanne Shanté - Have A Nice Day Fresh 4 - Wishing On A Star Prince - 1999 Colourbox - Baby I Love You So
CHR009: The Records