Styles & Forms | Trip Hop | Electronic
Influenced by 1980s dub acts like On-U-Sound, Adrian Sherwood and African Headcharge and their own sound system backgrounds, Bristol based acts like Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack, as well as London outfits Pressure Drop and Renegade Soundwave, had been experimenting with the fusion of dub influences with hip hop and breakbeats since the mid-1980s.
Renegade Soundwave also released club-based, dub-influenced tracks like ‘Biting My Nails,’ and Massive Attack even drafted in dub pioneer the Mad Professor to do a dub version of their Protection album, called No Protection. The dub ethic was also adopted by second wave Bristol producer Tricky, whose Maxinquaye album went to paranoid extremes – a mixture of dense, claustrophobic beats and ominous rapping.
It was Portishead, however, who brought the fusion of heavy bass lines and dead-paced beats, as well as dub’s sense of mournful spaciousness, to the wider public’s attention. Captured on the duo’s debut album, Dummy, Portishead’s melancholic outpourings ensured that the album became a brooders’ favourite without sanitizing blueprints explored by their predecessors.
The Mo’Wax Connection
In the US, producer DJ Shadow started to release his own haunting compositions. Unlike its progenitors, his 1994 ‘In/flux’ release dispensed with the notion of vocals, especially the violent, misogynist gangster rhymes, breaking with the traditions of US hip hop and opting for barren, otherworldly instrumentals.
London DJ James Lavelle, who had already put out instrumental hip hop tracks on his Mo’Wax label, signed Shadow. Lavelle’s label also put out the Headz compilation, which became a landmark release. Pre-empting the glut of compilations keen to cash in on the trip hop sound, Mo’Wax was also the first imprint to document the music’s development from a narrow set of influences to a wide range of flavours, with contributions as diverse as Warp stalwarts Autechre’s menacing ‘Lowride’ and US West Coast act Tranquility Bass’s uplifting ‘We Came In Peace’.
With Shadow’s debut album, Entroducing, selling half a million copies, it looked like trip hop was set to followan inclusive rather than an exclusive blueprint.
E Is For Eclectic
Trip hop’s diverse approach was borne out by the individualistic approach other producers embraced. Washington DC act Thievery Corporation embraced dub and bossa flavours on their 1995 album Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi, Fila Brazilia looked to funk and jazz influences, Si Begg explored an unpredictable electronic sound, and Lamb’s orchestral, vocal style, embodied on tracks like ‘Gorecki’, made clear that trip hop was flying in the face of purism and advocating a refreshing, eclectic agenda.
Unsurprisingly, this eclectic modus operandi influenced trip hop’s most prominent DJs, with pioneering DJ/production/ multimedia outfit Coldcut laying down the gauntlet with their aptly named 70 Minutes Of Madness mix CD. Fusing the theme music from Dr....
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