Think back, think back a long way and tell me, what was the first album that you got that got you into electronic music? I’m not talking a DJ’s mix or compilation album, I’m talking about an album by an artist? There has to be one?
You see, I was lucky, I had loads. And a lot of those electronic music albums went on to be regarded as all-time masterpieces. I had (not in this order) Leftism by Leftfield, The first 3 Prodigy albums, Homework by Daft Punk, Dubnobasswithmyheadman by Underworld. Going on further into the more obscure, I had Waveforms Vol 1 By Jeff Mills, Second Light by Dreadzone and let’s not forget such classics as Timeless by Goldie or Dig Your Own Hole by The Chemical Brothers and You’ve Come A Long Way Baby by Fatboy Slim.
I was spoiled. The UK in the late 80’s and the 90’s was a mecca for all things electronic and no matter what you liked, there was something for you. Brilliant new sounds were created, new production techniques we found in fact let me quote the lyric sample from Dreadzone’s Little Britain which when released in 1995 perfectly summed up the scene in the UK “Britain today is a powerhouse, Ideas, Experiments, Imagination.”
This made me think, I was trying to remember the last time an electronic music album was received with the anticipation that these album at the time were. Maybe Random Access Memories was it, but if I’m honest, it wasn’t what I had hoped for from Daft Punk. Before that maybe it was Invaders Must Die from the Prodigy. Again an excellent album but it didn’t excite me the way some of those other albums did.
I feel this is likely due to an overload. It’s excellent that people can create music so easily today and get it out for people to hear it. A lot of them (particularly electronic artists) start on Soundcloud these days and that’s great for us, especially if they are choosing to give us their music for free so we can play it. But there is so much of it. Which bits are the best, how do you find them? Well you can let your DJ’s dig through them much as we all do here at Dirty Disco Radio for our individual sessions, you can listen to commercial radio, or you can go have a dig through yourself. If you do decide to take this task on yourself, you’ll soon see what I mean about overload. Search for a song, a classic, Marvin Gaye or someone of equally high acclaim. You’ll find 40 remixes that are out of time and sound awful, 50 copies clearly recorded on a phone from another source, 20 dubstep remixes (I mean for real, who does that to Marvin?!) and after an hour, maybe 1 tolerable remix of a lesser known track. Occasionally you find that absolute gem, that one that is so good you just have to have it, but it happens less often than you think. The likelihood is that the producer that did that gem of a remix might get found, and a label might sign his single. Here continues the problem.
They’ll probably get offered a very low amount of money by a label to sell the entire rights for that track. They know it’ll make at least the top 10 in the charts with the right promotion, so they know they won’t struggle to make at least easily several times that amount, and the rest! Now the label says, make a second single, one that sells as well as the first. And sounds like it too! And this is what happens, so before you know it, you have an almost carbon copy, which either sells or bombs depending on the taste of the consuming market at the time. Carry on doing that 3 or 4 times you might get offered an album deal, so then you can release an album with 10 tracks that all sound the same. By the time you get to that point the taste will inevitably have changed and the album won’t sell. Off to the scrap heap for you then!
The thing that changed all of this was the internet.
Before The Internet
Before the days of the internet, everything was different. You heard a track, asked your mate what is was and tried to find it. You had to go to record shops, and record shops existed as the internet hadn’t out priced them! You’d go in a record shop, past the easy listening section on the ground floor and down into the basement where you’d find a DJ, a friend, an advisor waiting for you in a dimly lit and smoke filled environment. Other music lovers would be there too, sometimes even a famous local DJ. You could talk about anything there, but all you wanted to talk about was music. What white labels are selling well? Who do you think is behind this badly labeled record? Which new tapes yes in those days we had cassettes, but then people started using other types as mp3, and even start using devices as the best cassette to mp3 converters and more. You mind if I spark this fag up mate? Nice one, you want one?” What happened here is you built a community. Someone would ask you to play a night, and you could say, it’s not my style, but I know a guy who plays just that, drop me your number and when I go record shopping tomorrow and bump into him, I’ll pass it on and get him to give you a call. He’ll probably buy you a pint for that, or some records, or even return the favour for you when someone asks him.
The things with those days is that someone would make great music, press it to a very limited edition vinyl and see what the people thought. What was the acid test? How well it sells and if the DJ’s play it. This was the rank of how popular a track might become. There was also the concept of recording an album all in one. These days, labels look to grant singles deals initially and then may offer a deal for an album. Just one album though. Some of the old artists used to get offered 3 or maybe 5 albums! And with leaks and piracy, often the album can be ruined before it even comes out, again, only the internet can do that on that scale. The old recording an album all in one method meant that the thirst for a second single sounding just like the first was very few and far between (certainly in serious electronic acts) as the album was usually pretty much recorded when the band got signed so they would look at other tracks to release from the album which would showcase the band’s ability and styles. I often feel this has disappeared now as well, or it certainly has on the mainstream anyway.
An Issue of Perspective
I want to make it clear, I’m not trying destroy the internet with this piece. The internet is why we have this global community of people that are able to learn things from each other and on the whole, I genuinely believe the internet has made times better, in fact, the internet is the reason you are reading this, the reason that you can hear any of the Dirty Disco Radio team play a set even if you are in Russia and I am in England! I just feel the internet has led us not to appreciate music as much. Often when I hear people talk about music these days, it’s in a very throwaway way. I challenge you, next time you consider buying an album, go to a record shop, buy a physical copy and listen to it. I promise you that you’ll make more of an effort with that album if you have made that journey; you have handed over actual cash, not just downloaded or pirated it. Listen to it beginning to end, not using skip or scan in any way. Even if you think you may not be enjoying it. Listening to the whole thing is one of the most freeing experiences you can have, and if you don’t enjoy it, do the same again in a week. Still not feeling it? Give it one more time in around 3-6 months. If you still don’t like it, then you can say you don’t like it. Chances are though, if you liked it enough to buy it, you will start to form a bond with that album. Once you achieve that, that is what consuming music was like before the internet. A lot of you will already know what I am talking about, some of you, the younger crowd may not and if you fall into that group, please give it a try, I promise you that you will not be disappointed.
These days, it’s important for us to slow down and take stock of what we have. The consumer driven, “I have a huge Ipod and I must fill it with music regardless of the quality” situation has to stop for us to continue to make excellent music. We should appreciate the work people have put in to making their musical journeys. I’m not saying you should like everything; I don’t, but please try and respect it. I’m not a huge fan of anything that Calvin Harris has made, but I have to respect he was the highest earning DJ in the world last year, regardless of if I like his music and style or not. And I have tried listening to his albums a few times, they just on the whole, aren’t for me.
As I often do, I’ve had a few tracks and albums in my head when I have been writing this article, and so I’m going to list you 10 tracks from albums that I honestly think would not have been made/signed/been released now due to our changes in taste on how we consume music. If you haven’t heard them before, I’d definitely recommend them.
The Best Electronic Albums
The Streets – Original Pirate Material (2002)
The track of choice here is “Has It Come To This.” I first heard this on John Peel’s show on BBC Radio 1 and I actually stopped work (I worked in a shop and I was in the warehouse at the time) and listened to the whole thing in amazement. As soon as the Streets album got released I bought it and it was not disappointed. It sums up the time perfectly, garage beats and the slightly illegal but not overly offensive “geezer” movement of a few beers and a rave up, or sitting in your mate’s flat smoking and chatting nonsense over a drink. Skinner’s social commentary on this album is second to none. I also believe that this is the last electronic album to slip through before the big changes in the internet revolution.
Leftfield – Leftism (1995)
A great album. A very varied offering of styles is what makes this album so great. Whether it is the dub stylings of the opener “Release the Pressure”, or the tribal stylings of “Black Flute” this album will have much to offer you. The track I’ve chosen is “Open Up” which was a pretty successful commercial hit on its release. When I first heard this track, I’d not realised that the Lydon referenced on the track would ultimately end up being John Lydon Aka Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols, but I can remember liking the anti-establishment message about the track matched with the production of the actual track itself.
The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole (1997)
It was hard for me to choose between the first two Chemical Brothers’ albums. Exit Planet Dust is an excellent album, and where we all got to know Tom and Ed, but I actually prefer Dig Your Own Hole as I feel it is a better album and an all-time classic. This was one of the dance albums to be released in the middle of the “Cool Britannia” period where Britpop reigned. The idea that Noel Gallagher from Oasis had appeared outside an Oasis record was a little strange but once you heard “Setting Sun” you knew he was made for that record. Once the rolling bass hits through from the back of the drums on this track, you can feel something special, that we have come to expect from the Chemical Brothers. Add in the slightly faded and distorted vocal’s from Gallagher and you have an electro-britpop masterpiece.
The Prodigy – Music for The Jilted Generation (1994)
I also struggled with this as a choice for the Prodigy. Their first 3 albums are amazing but I’ll tell you why I chose “Music for The Jilted Generation.” A lot of us first came to know the Prodigy through “Experience” which is a classic no doubt, but it is very of its time. If you were there, it still sounds great. It would be quite hard for someone to pick up these days who had had no exposure to the UK Rave culture. “The Fat Of The Land” turned the Prodigy into the international festival packing act that they are now, and again, every track on there is superb. I chose “..Jilted..” though as when I first heard this album, I heard a new sound, I heard progression and a band that were now taking themselves seriously enough to keep the rave feel, but established enough to lose the cartoon samples, and maybe throw a political statement in as well (“Their Law”) a stab at the 1994 Criminal Justice Act which banned unplanned unlicensed raves in the UK. “No Good” is simply my favourite track on this album.
Goldie – Timeless (1995)
Goldie was one of the first producers to bring drum n bass into the mainstream in the UK. We had had the term jungle circulating for a while and we were all very used to a sound that was very heavily influenced by reggae, with deep sweeping basslines, dancehall style lyrics and lots of attitude. Attitude was one thing Goldie was not lacking. Upon seeing him, a lot of people were quite scared of him, but this man took the music to the next level. A lot of people say Roni Size’s Newforms is the first Intelligent drum n bass album that was made. I argue this is. With its rich sounds and varying influences shown throughout you could tell Goldie had put all his years into this album. Inner City Life again for me is the standout track even though the version on the album is nearer 20 minutes long.
Daft Punk – Homework (1997)
This is probably my favourite electronic album ever made. It has a special place in my heart and always will. Each track shows different elements and a different sound whilst keeping the repetition that I love from this era (and still do) with the progressive/deep genres. I’ve chosen one of the lesser known tracks off the album here, but again it’s my favourite track and where I get the chance I still play this now.
Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994)
Dubnobasswithmyheadman was the first album that Underworld released under their new line-up which included DJ Darren Emerson (later of the famous Underwater records.) It is a showcase of long and beautifully crafted soundscapes which trigger a range of emotions. “Dark and Long” seems to bring feelings of an almost uneasy trance as it builds, but as it peaks, seems to be like a weight lifted from your shoulders, “Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You” has a tribal and pulsing sensation to it and becomes more and more complex as it builds. The track I chose here is “Cowgirl.” When I first heard this on an underground tape from an unknown DJ, I heard it doubled up with “Rez” which was released as a single but never made the album (until its re-release some 10 years later). “Cowgirl” is a beautiful mixture of electronic music and distorted lyrics which could almost be the ramblings of an insane man, but just work so well. This is another one of those tracks that as it lightens to the end almost feels like a relief to have made it through.
Fatboy Slim – You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby (1998)
In the late 90’s big beat became huge in the UK and the name behind the vast majority of it was Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim. There is a great fun element to this album with big Northern Soul and Motown samples thrown in “The Rockafella Skank,” trip-hop breaks “Gangsta Trippin” and the track I’ve chosen here “Love Island” almost has a garage feel to it with a touch of acid house to boot. A very varied album with loads of singles all of which have become classics.
Faithless – Reverence (1996)
What can I say about Faithless that you don’t already know? They created that big room almost trance sound with Insomnia on this album. It’s a great mix of huge sounding electronic tracks mixed with much more intimate sounding Buddhist influenced vocals from Maxi Jazz. I chose “Salva Mea” for two reasons. One, this full length version showcases all their talents that I have just described on this album. Two is the fact that “Salva Mea” is the stuff of legend and is said to be the only record to have ever been Pete Tong’s essential new tune 2 Fridays running when he used to present his legendary Friday evening show on BBC Radio 1.
M.J. Cole – Sincere (2001)
Matthew James Cole is a classically trained pianist and has a background in the Royal College of Music and that shows through on this album. Much in the same way we picked up the term intelligent Drum n Bass, if we had the term intelligent garage, this would be it. A well-made and well-arranged garage album, made for the more sophisticated ear than a lot of the garage of this point was so it came as a breath of fresh air. It was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize following it’s release as well. It contains a great mix of digital bass-lines, rich strings, pianos and containing across the majority of the album the vocals of either Elizabeth Troy or Nova Casper it feels well rounded and grown up. I have chosen Sincere here as it’s an all-time garage classic and showcases both the artist and the album perfectly.
Ian "Skev" Hardy developed a love for music at a very young age and set his goals around two simple tasks, collecting great music and playing great music.
Ian established FunkySexyMusic in 2013. “I needed a brand to create my vision of how things needed to be, something that when you heard it mentioned meant quality, great music, fun, how house used to be.”
FunkySexyMusic is about music that is of the highest quality, "it’s about the fact I spend ages looking for that tune, the new one, the one you haven’t heard before, the perfect one that makes your heart smile and your feet dance when you hear it. It’s about unity, it’s about family and ultimately, it’s about freedom, freedom for you on the dance floor and freedom for me behind the decks." It’s about the fact when you hear Ian Hardy or FunkySexyMusic mentioned, you know what to expect and you should never accept less. Finally, it’s about the love, not the money.
Ian was overjoyed to be welcomed into the Dirty Disco Radio family in early 2015 and is aiming to bring you sets and editorial pieces that are to the same high standard that you have always come to expect from Kono and the rest of the Dirty Dsico radio family.
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