Wednesday, November 08, 2000
Foul Play - Total Control, Music Is The Key, Open Your Mind (Remix)

The best thing about Napster is being able to hear stuff you never expected to come across. Foul Play, masters of the sub-genre "ambient jungle" before it became "intelligent drum & bass" and lost most of its appeal, put out an album Suspected in '95. You'd be hard-pressed to ever find it now though, so my previous knowledge of the group's ouvre extended only to tracks that I'd found on various compilations. Still, even if all I'd ever heard was "Being With You", their blisteringly beautiful epic from '94 and one of my favourite jungle tracks ever, they'd still qualify for immortality.

But now I have three more reasons. "Total Control", darker than their usual fare, is like a precursor to Photek's "Hidden Camera", employing militaristic rat-a-tat snares, a moody dub bassline and sleazy saxaphone blasts. And, er, that's about it. This is the very essence of minimalistic drum & bass, reminding the listener that no matter how grandiose jungle's musical arrangements increasingly became, the revolution was always in those frisky, mindmelting beats that skip and bounce around your head like gnats in a bottle.

Way way way in the other direction is "Music Is The Key", which could be Foul Play's own "Inner City Life". Weaving her voice around stirring strings and pealing percussion, Denise Richard's dramatic, uplifting performance soon floats over a bed of compulsive, shuddering breakbeats, her vocals distorted and morphed into wordless moans. What's impressive is how the group alternate their plan of attack between lush atmospherics and hard-driving funk interludes, as if to say "yes, we're accomplished, but we haven't forgot what you came for either". Many of the breaks are quite recognisable, but it's the way that Foul Play keep changing them, cutting them up and switching back and forth that sets their programming ahead of the rest of the pack.

Best of all though is the group's astonishing remix of their own "Open Your Mind". "Open Your Mind" was actually the first Foul Play track I heard, and at the time I was a bit confused; it seemed too disjointed, an almost ungainly combination of soothing ambience, darkcore bass churn and chipmunk antics from the early days of hardcore. Later I learnt to appreciate its schizophrenic universality, but could it really be (according to Simon Reynolds) the best hardcore track ever?

This remix justifies the accolades though, being possibly the best thing Foul Play ever did (it also turns out to be the version Reynolds was talking about after all). Jettisoning both the early hardcore and darkcore influences from the original, the group instead intensify its melodic lushness and rhythmic intensity to the point that it's almost too chromatically dense: amorphous, squiggly samples; Oriental atmospherics; a dewy, sentimental Bukem bassline; and rhythmic programming so layered and nuanced that it ceases to function as a rhythm and becomes instead another component of the textural landscape. It's one of the most gorgeous pieces of music I've yet heard, and a reminder of just how revoloutionary jungle used to be. If you find it, be sure to snap it up.


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