- What are the classic drum & bass albums? Goldie's Timeless, Roni Size & Reprazent's New Forms and Ed Rush & Optical's Wormhole are certainly among them. The latter LP, from 1998, is generally considered the moment the genre shifted into the aggressive and minimalist form of techstep it's most known for today, full of growling basslines and crystal-clear production (other classic records in the style include Dom & Roland's Industry album and Konflict's "Messiah"). But there's a large gap between what Goldie was doing at the height of his powers and the brooding style of techstep that took the genre by storm. Sawtooth, released in 1997 on XL to wide acclaim, is the missing link that foreshadowed where drum & bass would go over the next two decades.
Though he made a mark on drum & bass, John Lisners also pursued other musical styles. He had a massive hardcore hit, "Hurt You So," in 1992, before switching gears to drum & bass. And a few years after Sawtooth, he joined True Steppers, a UK garage duo who once worked with Victoria Beckham and Dane Bowers. Sawtooth reflects this restless spirit. "Piper," Lisners' biggest hit, was inspired by the techno and electronica of the time, with a stop-start stutter that moves more dynamically than most techstep. And there's "Detroit," a haunting ode to the Motor City that features classic 808 sounds, a low-key melody and killer drum interplay. Vintage but forward-thinking, it's unlike much else that came before or after.
20 years later, Sawtooth still sounds like an outlier. It's a survey of drum & bass sounds done in Lisners' own quirky, electro- and techno-influenced style. Techstep turns giddy and funky on "Wish U Had Something," a track that feels like it's constantly trying to go faster. The straight-up drum & bass workouts like "Treading" have a unique clarity and focus—you can hear the heft of each drum sample, and the melodic interplay makes it feel like more than just a six-minute drum loop. "Tychonic Cycle" is atmospheric drum & bass that worships LTJ Bukem—complete with ocean waves and squawking seagulls—but the reinforced low-end gives it a formidable bite.
Sawtooth lay the groundwork for the sub-genres that followed. "I Let U" is an early example of liquid funk, and predicts how the genre would marry the crossover ambitions of the mid-'90s with the dance floor focus heard later in the decade, a winning formula for artists like High Contrast. dBridge and Instra:mental would expand on the Motor City vibes of "Detroit" with the Autonomic sound. The twitchy, unorthodox drum programming of "2 Of Us" is echoed in the music of modern producers like Fracture and Moresounds. It's tracks like these that made Sawtooth more than just a blueprint for the techstep sound that less imaginative producers drove into the ground. It's a classic album that still outshines much of what it helped inspire.
04. Wish U Had Something
06. 2 Of Us
07. Tychonic Cycle
08. Moving Thru Air
09. I Let U