By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
Mysteries of Funk
U.K. JUNGLE COLLECTIVE Roni Size/Reprazent's New Forms did something almost unheard of: It presented drum 'n' bass as living-room music without sacrificing the genre's innately funky dance-floor strengths. By keeping the beats alternately rough and smooth, and highlighting melody (the twist-and-crawl acoustic bassline in "Brown Paper Bag" is the best stand-up routine this side of Jesse Ventura's), Reprazent's rap-influenced mix was smart, serious, and never devoid of fun(k). New Forms also seemed grounded in the here and now, without succumbing to the grimy futurism of the U.K.'s jungle craze of that period: the then-ascendant speed-noise of the "techstep" aesthetic explored by underground labels like No U Turn and Prototype. Subsequently, curious American fans and journalists went for what they knew, choosing Roni's neo-hip hop over the edgy sounds compiled on definitive 1996 compilations such as No U Turn's Techsteppin' and Grooverider Presents the Prototype Years. It was their loss.
As its title suggests, The Prototype Years was put together by the important U.K. DJ Grooverider. One of England's first jungle DJs, Grooverider enjoyed a tenure at London's Rage club (along with partner Fabio) that helped spark the fire which would eventually engulf London's club life. But since several important London venues switched from the waning jump-up jungle sound to the fresher, housier sounds of speed-garage last year, that fire has started to sputter. In late 1998 the debut full-length by the DJ considered the most influential in drum 'n' bass is less anticipated than it would have been had it appeared in late 1997 as was originally scheduled.
Which is too bad, because Grooverider seems to have spent his downtime coming up with an excellent record: Mysteries of Funk is the meatiest drum 'n' bass full-length since New Forms. Techstep is by its nature confrontational, deploying blender-speed beats and toxic drones to communicate a stark, menacing worldview. Mysteries of Funk gooses its engagingly sinister sound with unexpected, almost poppy juxtapositions. "On the Double" mixes blaxploitation horn stabs, funky synth ostinatos, and cornet chirps with rigid, crunching snares and thick, mutating basslines. Fusion influences abound throughout, but there's little of the slack pseudo-jazz riffing or tedious melismatic emoting that debases the worst work of former Grooverider protégés like 4Hero and Goldie.
On "Imagination," he keeps the keyboard tinkles and breathy female vocals simple, mixing them with two basslines--one distorted, one clean--while filtering each part with a dub mixer's ear for sonic variety. Sure, there's straight-up techstep here, too (note the storming "Where's Jack the Ripper?"). But even at his most unhinged, Grooverider has the gift of restraint. He's as crafty and listener-friendly as anyone currently wrecking the decks, and the delicate tension between dissonance and consonance is a thing to behold.
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