December 1999

listen hear

The Rob Lo fidelity experience...
Listen as Rob Lo takes you on his Classical, Electronic, Symphonic, Modern trip every Friday night: 'Mosaic'@ Bartok, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1. 9pm - 1am (bar to 11pm), admission free.

Phil Oakey

Holding 'The Complete Birth Of The Cool' CD up to my boss at work and saying "This is all you need", he responds with a smile and says "Is it? All I need are the complete works of Phil Oakey!" - to which I have no immediate response. Then, out of kindness, and because I like him, I refrain from insults or violence (mindful of keeping my job) and suggest that such a collection would, at least, be a lot cheaper than the complete works of Miles Davis.

Each to their own, eh, dear reader? I've told myself this ever since reading the results of the poll conducted by Channel 4, HMV and Classic FM to find out the 'Music Of The Millennium'. Seeing Robbie Williams achieve position no.6, one place above Mozart in the 'Most Influential Musician' category, I had to take it with a pinch of salt. Salt extracted from the tears in my eyes, although not from grief, oh no, but laughter. How else can one respond? Phil Oakey means a lot to my boss and Robbie means a hell of a lot to a hell of a lot of people if these results are any kind of gauge. He makes no.2 in the 'Best Male Singer' category (Elvis won), two places above Sinatra. He is also, in case you didn't know, a better songwriter than Cole Porter, who could only make no.9, one place below Robbie, and three places below Noel Gallagher.

Mmm, I'd better stop looking at these charts because irate indignation is starting to replace calm indifference - deep breath, exhale slowly, eyes closed, focus on...loving feelings...yes, good vibrations to everyone, especially those who think so much of Robbie, dear Robbie, or Noel, or 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (no1 'Best Song')...excuse me whilst I chant the Buddhist mantra of toleration...Each to their own, each to their own, each to their own...

I snap out of my meditative state and randomly choose one of the five plates that make up 'Molten Beats', the debut album by Ram Trilogy. Five years ago I wrote the sleevenotes to a d&b compilation, stating that it was 'Britain's real New Wave in music' - slightly embarrassing in retrospect, I know, but it's had a good run, hasn't it? If you think listening to Ram Trilogy is akin to walking with dinosaurs though, think again, because the genre may be on the verge of extinction but the sound made by Andy C, Ant Miles & Shimon is very much alive and dangerous (he imagines a tyrannosaur crunching on the bones of a critic).

The tune I happen chose is 'Gridlock', starting with a crisp, loud break, and female quasi-scat vocals from a voice which, trapped in the digital mechanics, has no chance of either escape or rise to prominence. She's devoured by a typically rampant RT bass line and battered by rapid percussion, which is great because, as far as I'm concerned, vocals and d&b are an absolute no-no. This tune follows the pattern of all the others in as much as there has to be a break in the middle. These breaks are high points of every track, acting as crucial pauses in the power-drive, providing seconds of eager anticipation of the return of the noise. Flip for 'Time Chamber' and face one descending b-line met by another in the ascendancy; stunning, especially when accompanied by a simple, direct wallop of a drum beat backed by rattling 'jungle' percussion.

'Human Future' may be one of the best tracks, but to chose one above others detracts from the collective power of all ten. It's bass is a monster, or rather, another face of the multi-headed beast that is the RT sound. You can't help but think metal, liquid, muscle, metamorphosis...robots ruling the earth, ripping any sign of warmth and humanity into pieces...the terminator is out there, somewhere, indeed. As for 'Both Worlds', I defy anyone with a moveable bone in their body to hear it and stay still. You have to dance in your head, at least, and listen to the break, where one of the baddest b-lines ever concocted drifts into oblivion, gradually, before they bring the beat back with what sounds like the slash of a sabre - terrific. 'Molten Beats' is the last great roar of drum 'n bass during these, the dying days of the century. Do yourself a favour and allow yourself to be consumed.

Thomas Dolby

I don't normally waste space discussing bad albums (life's too short, isn't it?), but 'Neptune's Lair', by Drexciya, sounds like it belongs at the bottom of a toddlers inflatable pool rather than some oceanic kingdom far beneath the waves. The first lengthy track, 'Andreaen Sand Dunes', is something Thomas Dolby would have rejected, and things get worse with 'Running Out Of Space', by which time I thought I'd bought an 80s synth Pop compilation by mistake. Possibly the worst example of Drexciya's exploration of shallow waters is the unintentionally ironic 'Funk Release Valve', which is as funky as anything by Erasure. Nuff said. Except, how did Drexciya get from the brilliance of 'Molecular Enhancement' to this? Just thought I'd warn you.

Aux 88's 'Electro Boogie' (Studio K7) is, however, a good bet. I know nothing about Electro and didn't like it much first time round, but right from the start ('Electro/Techno' by Aux 88) I was 'poppin an' boppin like a well-oiled disco robot-type thing. All four Aux 88 tracks are fine (especially the bass ending of the aforementioned track), but there's also the butt-funk nastiness of DJ Good Groove's 'Rock It' to contend with, as well as the rolling bleeps of Dopplereffekt and the raw power of Di'Jital's 'Automatic Activity'. OK, so it isn't the deepest collection you'll ever hear, but the direct beats more than make up for lack of textural density (if that's your bag). I recommend this to anyone, especially those of you who don't like Electro.

I don't like reggae, oh no. I love it! (Quote there for the old ones amongst you - how can we ever get rid of all these old songs clogging up our minds? Perhaps we shouldn't, they may be all that keeps our psyche from collapsing into the void of total Silence/Nothingness - phew, this beer's strong). Reggae, yes, but as we all know, nothing after 1979 is worth listening to, which presents a pretty short lifespan (15 years?), but one which represents a trip from happy dancehall to spiritual highs, and a sound/space studio revolution in-between. Excuse my glib history.

The Upsetters

I speak of reggae having just bought 'Eastwood Rides Again' by The Upsetters, their 1970 album on Trojan. Phenomenal music, I'm sure you'd agree, especially since it sustains it's total charm by the simplest of methods - bass, drum, guitar, and of course, that groovy organ. Now, a word about The Upsetters' organ sound: it does not, as suggested by David Katz in The Wire recently, 'blow away Booker T and Jimmy Smith'. Hey, we all get carried away in our arguments, but to suggest that Jimmy's skills are shown up by whoever played for The, hello?

My personal gripe aside, the most intriguing things about 'Eastwood' are the 'soul' tunes like 'Popcorn' and 'Catch This', which amount to pure drum and bass excursions into the realm of funky breaks (imagine a JB tune stripped to these elements). Then there's 'You Are Adorable', which sounds like Acker Bilk (ask your Dad) doing reggae. And that's just Side One. Arriving at 'Baby Baby', the third track on Side Two, we run into a crazy hybrid of rock 'n' roll, r&b, and reggae - weird. On 'Red Hot', we're back to pure drum and bass, but listen carefully and you can hear what sounds like the guitarist, playing from a field several miles away. Perhaps our man Lee just didn't like him and exacted his revenge via the mix. All the Upsetter stuff is available nowadays for less than a fistful of dollars, but you know it's priceless music.

© Rob Lo 1999