- The sound that launched Warp Records and the UK's greatest dance floor innovations is presented in this essential compilation.
- The journalist Matt Anniss' obsessive documenting of bleep and bass, a niche sub-genre of '90s techno, has done much to enhance the music's profile. In simple terms, bleep was the result of a collision between US house and techno, Caribbean soundsystem culture and the industrial heritage of northern England. The early releases from LFO, Nightmares On Wax, Forgemasters and Sweet Exorcist—all via Warp Records—remain the best-known bleep bangers. But as Anniss demonstrated in his exhaustive book, Join The Future: Bleep Techno & The Birth Of British Bass Music, the movement was more widespread than a handful of hits. It foreshadowed the evolution of UK dance music through hardcore into jungle and beyond.
After the book, it's fitting that a compilation should emerge. Given the book's contrarian approach, designed to counteract London-centric narratives surrounding the growth of UK dance music culture, it's not surprising to see an alternative vision of bleep presented in the selections. There are no big anthems here—LFO's "LFO," Sweet Exorcist's "Testone" or Forgemaster's "Track With No Name," for example. Instead, there are obscure dubplate lifts, deep remixes and low-key club smashers from the producers who were in the cut-and-thrust of this sound at its peak.
Bleep embodied the experimental spirit of late '80s and early '90s electronic music. You can hear producers using the technology with naïve aplomb—there's Original Clique madly triggering samples on "Come To Papa" or 100 Hz cutting up kung-fu chants on "LFO (Subsonic Mix)." On occasions, there are bizarre juxtapositions, erratic arrangements and sentimental diversions. But the music's raw basic elements and sub-heavy sonics made the music eternally cool. Bleep and bass has a weighty moodiness that still holds up more than 30 years on.
One of the cofounders of Warp Records, Robert Gordon, is intrinsic to the bleep story. He was the studio visionary behind Forgemasters (with Winston Hazel and Sean Maher) with production and engineering credits for many of the style's early hits. Gordon mastered this compilation, which in some cases involved working from vinyl rips where original masters couldn't be sourced. In dance music's early records, there is often a disappointingly large gap between stellar ideas and their presentation in the mastering quality. The sound Gordon achieves across Join The Future, however, is brilliant. A warm, cohesive hum resounds around the low-end without dulling the bite of those crisp, dry snares or pealing bleeps.
The moodiest cuts shine. Demonik's "Labyrinthe" still soars, but the emphasis is on eerie string pads and the ominous throb of the heavily submerged bass. The DJ Martin and DJ Homes "Primordial Jungle" mix of Man Machine's "Animal" is an outstanding, fiercely reduced rhythm track with malevolent bass hits and a sprinkling of wildlife sound FX. (The haunting pad hints at Martin's involvement in the early LFO tracks.) The minimalist breakbeat funk of Nightmares On Wax's B2 obscurity "21st Kong" sounds shockingly fresh.
Alfanso's "Dub Feels Nice (Version 4)" makes the clearest link to bleep's soundsystem roots—it has been a treasured dubplate for Sheffield DJs like Hazel for years. For pure atom-rearranging bliss, though, the Jive Turkey remix of Cabaret Voltaire's "Easy Life" takes the prize. The handiwork of Gordon and Mark Brydon (who later cofounded Moloko), the Jive Turkey remix was named after a key Sheffield party helmed by Hazel and DJ Parrot that incubated bleep and bass. A naggingly simple bleep hook, furious percussive loops, jacking drums and ascendant synth chords are but some of the energies that collide in this perfect dance track.
Join The Future isn't a bleep primer. The compilation sidesteps canonical tracks for an unrepentantly headsy selection. That only adds to its value. Though many tracks here are available at accessible prices on the second-hand market, they've never sounded as strong as they do here. More importantly, the compilation brings into sharp focus the relevance of bleep in UK dance music history. It was a seismic progression in electronic music that established a new bassweight paradigm that would manifest in hardcore, jungle, garage and onwards. Having emerged from a deceptively simple premise, bleep and bass became the most vital, original and fun dance music of the era.
01. Unique 3 & The Mad Musician - Only The Beginning
02. Demonik - Labyrinthe
03. Original Clique - Come To Papa
04. Nexus 21 - Self-Hypnosis (Mr Whippy Mix)
05. Cyclone - A Place Called Bliss (Dub Mix)
06. 100 Hz - Low Frequency Overload (Subsonic Mix)
07. Cabaret Voltaire - Easy Life (Jive Turkey Mix)
08. Alfanso - Dub Feels Nice (Version 4)
09. Ital Rockers - Dreams
10. Man Machine - Animal (DJ Martin & DJ Homes' Primordial Jungle Mix)
11. Nightmares On Wax - 21st Kong
12. Tuff Little Unit - Join The Future (Original Instrumental Mix)