Sunday, January 23, 2011

1990: "Tricky Disco", Tricky Disco

Tricky Disco is one of scores of pseudonyms used by spousal duo Lee Newman and Michael Wells (Greater Than One [industrial] and Church of Extacy [techno] are probably the two best known). "Tricky Disco" and its follow up, "House Fly", both landed on Warp Records before Newman and Wells got side tracked on lord knows what other projects... some of which we'll no doubt stumble upon by happenstance as this blog gets further into the 90s.

1990: "Aftermath", Nightmares on Wax

One of the clubbier tracks to drop on Warp in the early days was this follow up to Nightmares on Wax's 1989 hit, "Dextrous". "Aftermath" is too minimal and subdued to qualify as rave, but it did boast a formulaic house vocal refrain, which is a lot more of a nod to mainstream club culture than the label could be counted on for once the likes of Aphex Twin and Autechre started popping up.

Nightmares on Wax released an album in 1991 before falling off the face of the earth for a few years, finally returning in 1995 to re-establish themselves as a pivotal act in the trip hop scene.

[ed. note: ignore the "1991" in the YT vid title; I've verified through several sources that the original "Aftermath" single was released in 1990, though the track's appearance on the 1991 N.o.W. album A Word of Science: The First and Final Chapter may have resulted in the confusion.

Also, I'm beginning to think that Jarvis Cocker must have been Warp's house visual guy at the time.]

1990: "Testone", Sweet Exorcist

Another early Warp Records signing was Sweet Exorcist, a side project of Richard H. Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire). Kirk must have been funneling a large part of his talent into these side projects, because around this same time Cabaret Voltaire were just kicking off their acid house phase in truly anemic style; they'd rebound and establish legit credentials in the genre with 1992's Plasticity but, suffice to say, there will be no WKMR coverage of their 1990 elevator house opus Groovy, Laidback and Nasty.

By the way, the following clip was directed by Pulp's Jarvis Cocker. They must have met in a bar or something...

1990: "LFO", LFO

Though they would eventually become synonymous with the IDM genre, Warp Records started life in 1989 releasing rave-based club bangers with a slightly more cerebral edge, as noted on "LFO" by the eponymous Leeds duo of the same name. Comprised of Mark Bell and Gez Varley, LFO would go on to even greater fame as remix artists, with Bell also making a name for himself as one of the more sought after producers in the late 90s, when numerous pop and alternative acts got the techno bug and sought veteran DJs and engineers in the genre to assist them in "crossing over".

Thursday, January 20, 2011

1990: "Fun to Be Had", Nitzer Ebb

Coming off like a cross between the hip hop-informed Meat Beat Manifesto and the new wave-steeped A Split Second, "Fun to Be Had" either sounds like a groundbreaking classic or an aggro version of "Wham Rap", depending on one's post-millennial sensibilities. My own affections fall somewhere between those two extremes, but if anything these last few posts should show the widening gulf between many of the "old guard" and the new in the EBM / industrial overlap.

By 1990, many of the groups formed in the mid-80s found themselves floundering between heightened exposure of their musical niche and the skeletal, minimalist songwriting that had won them favor in the 80s but had since fallen out of style; not all, certainly, and many would rebound later with bigger budgets and forward thinking producers, but in the meantime there were plenty of stilted throwbacks like "Fun to Be Had": endearing yet fossilized, stagnant yet timeless, classic yet decidedly not...

1990: "The Parallax View", A Split Second

EBM - Electronic Body Music - was largely pioneered in the early-to-mid 80s by Belgian duo Front 242 as a new wave-inspired, dance-friendly take on the increasingly mechanistic beats of industrial music. Considered by most a subgenre of industrial, it also afforded a good deal of crossover potential with the burgeoning techno movement at the end of the 80s.

A Split Second were a little long in the tooth to be learning new tricks from acid house - unlike younger upstarts Meat Beat Manifesto, for instance - so "The Parallax View" sounds like it could have just as easily come out in 1984 as 1990, when it first appeared on the Kiss of Fury album... and yet ASS' 1986 debut single, Flesh, is often cited as the first New Beat record, a short lived micro-genre that directly inspired acid house and whose most famous artist, Praga Khan, would go on to be a key figure in early rave with his industrial-tinged Lords of Acid sect.

There were some solid remixes of "The Parallax View", but since the 12" single didn't come out until 1991 I'll stick with the 1990 album version for chronology's sake.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

1990: "Psyche-Out (Version 1)", Meat Beat Manifesto

Forging a career out of identity crisis, the fact that UK native Jack Dangers has gotten away with straddling the boundaries of industrial, techno, dub, hip hop and just about any other dance related genre you could dream up - never entirely committing to any specific genre convention - for over two decades is a testament to the man's creativity and engineering skills.

99% was the third Meat Beat Manifesto album in two years, and the second of 1990 (though that same year's Armed Audio Warfare consisted of archival recordings intended for the group's first album in 1988). "Psyche-Out (Version 1)" is a remix of a 99% album cut via 12" single, and though fairly minimal - it was 1990, after all - one can cut through the acid house tropes and pick apart a number of contemporary influences: the emphasis on original vocals, which were not prominent at all (aside from samples) in the acid house / rave movement but did have a lot in common with industrial dance groups like My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and KMFDM, or even the New Beat stylings of Lords of Acid; skeletal bass lines in an early Depeche Mode vein; a fairly sedate, almost swinging tempo, 100x removed from the frantic BPM wars of the techno genre, which was more in line with late 80s hip hop or even early 80s synth pop... the list goes on, as does the beat.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

1990: "Spasmolytic", Skinny Puppy

Rightfully heralded as one of the elite, most influential (electro-) industrial bands of the 80s, Skinny Puppy had long since planted their flag by the dawn of the 90s, establishing themselves as a difficult cult act with no hint of grooming themselves for mainstream success. Too Dark Park turned out to be every bit as murky and inaccessible as their previous records, but it was hard to deny by this point that their songwriting skills had improved immensely since the early minimalism of "The Choke" and "Deep Down Trauma Hounds".

Skinny Puppy - helmed by Nivek Ogre {a.k.a. ohGr) and cEvin Key - extended their agitprop aesthetic into their stage show as well, screening confrontational footage consisting of Iraq war footage and Budd Dwyer's on air suicide amongst other discomforting visuals. The music video for "Spasmolytic" was directed by obscure exploitation auteur Jim Van Bebber, who at that point was known almost solely for the hysterically violent 1988 gang war film Deadbeat at Dawn. Van Bebber and Skinny Puppy... an inspired pairing.