So anyway, as I was saying I bought another UK garage compilation the other day, Pure Silk: The Third Dimension
mixed by Timmi Magic of The Dreem Teem, and my is it good, so I thought I'd talk about some of the excellent tracks on there. It's not really the purchase I'd recommend for those new to the style, as it's a bit light on the hits (with the exception of the ubiquitous "Little Bit Of Luck", the closest it comes are N&G's "Right Before My Eyes" and B15's "Girls Like This"), but for the established fan, this is about the best single purchase I can think of.
A big factor in my buying this was the presence of some new stuff by Dem 2, specifically their single "Baby (You're So Sexy)" and their remix of Basement Jaxx's "Jump 'N' Shout". Both are brilliant, and reveal something of a new direction for the duo. "Baby" paradoxically contrasts their previous style of intense minimalism with a maximalist approach - the mix is cluttered with sonar pings, tinkling glockenspiels, random clanking, cut up and patched together vocals, and above (or perhaps below) all lots of drony, dirgy bass. Despite my earlier comments, hearing something new from the duo has made me realise that they're not operating so far away from the garage massive after all. I mean, they still sound very weird, but their style has progressed in tandem with the progression of the entire scene, incorporating the same tricks and techniques in their own inimitable style.
The remix of "Jump 'N' Shout" is along the same lines, taking a much less dancefloor-friendly approach than that of the Stanton Warriors mix. The duo butcher Slarta's vocals, looping small ticks and gargles, and isolate specific one off sounds from the mix so that this sounds more like a nightmarish hallucination of the original than a remix per se. It's ambiguity is heightened by the use of bass again, both of the metallic elephant fart variety and a particularly baleful midrange boom. It's captivating, if not particularly pleasant. Listening to these tracks in the context of much more welcoming fare, Dem 2 seem very admirable, but in a certain sense not very likeable.
They're spot on though in their realisation that the bassline has overtaken the 2-step beat as the most important aspect of garage these days. In fact all my favourite tracks from this compilation stand out due to their basslines more than anything else. I reckon this is because the use of bass pretty much defines a track's position within the scene; while beat complexity is really up to the individual producer, the underground prides itself on the rudest bass sounds possible, while the more R&B-flavoured popular crossover tracks tend to employ fluttery treble sounds
Maybe it's because they're pretty much the ambassadors for the scene to the English populace, but The Dreem Teem seem hellbent on reconciling these two divergent urges within garage. I read DJ Spoony saying recently that he really felt that the R&B song structure was the future for garage, but "it's gotta have a nasty b-line!". Nowhere is this compromise more evident than the style of their own recent tracks, which is a far cry from the ethereal sensuality of their classic remix of Amira's "My Desire".
The Dionne Rakeen track "Sweeter Than Wine" (co-written and produced by Timmi) is unambiguously sunny, soft-centred 2-step R&B: a rousing string intro, soothing female vocals and a plangent guitar backing. Which is why nothing can prepare the listener for the shivervescently funked-up metallic bassline that drives the chorus. It's the kind of bass that you can generally only find in harder drum and bass tunes, where it would practically be the entire track. In the context of a honeyed R&B ballad, it makes for deliciously conflicted listening (and indeed dancing).
Less confused but more punishing is the altogether more propulsive Dreem Teem mix of Neneh Cherry's "Buddy X". This is so hard! The bottomless bass is mirrored by these amazing mid-range mentasm-style synth riffs which impact you physically, as hard as anything by Zed Bias (whose "Neighbourhood", featured here, has a bassline like a building exploding), while my dad reckons it's got a bit of a latin groove to it (it still finds time to explore a bit of a dub tangent towards the end). And yet, the whole thing is quite obviously an R&B track, as much as Neneh's original. In fact I'm surprised this wasn't the hit people predicted it would be.
Other excellent tracks? There's quite a few actually. M-Dub's ragga anthem "For Real" makes an appearance, while The Artful Dodger offering a gorgeously aristocratic take on Gabrielle's "Sunshine". Wookie's contribution "Down On Me" is a seriously unstable midtempo number, with compulsive snares, a distressed diva and one funky bassline. It's pretty much a Groove Chronicles track, only it's better than anything Groove Chronicles have ever done (no mean feat). Put this up against "What's Going On" and "Battle" and it seems clear that Wookie is the most talented all-rounder within the scene. Meanwhile the award for "most charmingly individual producers" must go to New Horizons, whose reggae-flavoured '97 anthem "Find The Path" still manages to confound with its minor harmony bleeps and cross-hatched vocals.
The Stanton Warriors continue their winning streak, proving they've still got the best beats on the block with their Busta-sampling collaboration with DJ Skribble "Everybody Come On". I guess these guys are like the Urban Takeover of garage, adding elements of hip hop and big beats (all those build ups and breakdowns, plus the papery authenticity of their breaks). Considering that they're far too populist to go weird like Dem 2, they really do stretch the limit of garage's definition as a subset of house. Which makes their mix of Jocelyn Brown's house classic "Somebody Else's Guy" an unexpected proposition that I approached with some caution.
I needn't have worried though, because the remix is utterly fantastic. This alone justifies my desperation for someone, anyone to start up a garage night here in Melbourne. Apart from Jocelyn's untouchable vocals, this is little more than breaks and bass, but it makes that combination sound so fresh, so new, and so unavoidably danceable that it's as if the Stanton Warriors went and erased hip hop, jungle and big beat from history in order to start with a blank page. For anyone into house or big beat who is unsure how to approach garage, this is what you need to hear.
But that's not even the best track here! That honour simply has to go to Richie Boy and DJ Klasse's "Madness On The Street" from '98, which has the most peerless bass sound I think I've ever heard. Seriously, the sub-sub-sub-sub-bass being employed here has not only ruined my speakers, but its effect when played loud (and properly - I fear the sample I've included won't do it justice) is both to make you feel like you're dancing on a cloud and wading through a river of treacle. It also somehow manages to frame the spare beats perfectly, leaving them sounding austere and hyperreal, so that every microhesitation sparkles. If that wasn't enough, add the sly saxaphone, an entirely bizarre baroque piano interlude and the female MC's ridiculously catchy cries of "London MASSIVE", and you'll understand why I've just played it five times consecutively.
The one influence I pick up in tracks like "Madness On The Street" that I hadn't noticed before is that of the mid-nineties dark Chicago house put out by labels like Cajual. In particular I'm thinking of Dajae's brilliant Cajmere-helmed "Get Up Of Me", which "Madness..." mirrors in its shadowy, subdued sense of contained hysteria. It's that, rather than just overt experimentalism, which I think I want to see surviving within garage's image of itself. Luckily, with tracks like Wookie's "Down On Me" it looks like it will. The exploitation of the bass line though basically guarentees this in one sense anyway. Unlike jungle, which had to spawn a whole new scene (techstep) to retain that edge, garage producers seem to be inately aware of the dangers of blandness. All of which bodes very well for the future.
Anyway, a wholehearted recommendation for the Pure Silk compilation, which has pretty much made my week (oh yes, my life is sad!).