Rewind: Origin Unknown - Valley Of The Shadows

  • Andrew Ryce tells the story of Andy C's seminal jungle anthem.
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  • There are certain sounds that'll prick up the ears of any experienced raver. They're the leitmotifs of dance music, samples or phrases that repeat through decades and generations without losing their potency. The loon call, vocal cuts from First Choice's "Let No Man Put Asunder," the Ha stab, the Amen break. Another one, at least for junglists, is the slippery keyboard arpeggio from Origin Unknown's "Valley Of The Shadows," one of the genre's foundational tracks. Most recently, the arpeggio appeared in chopped-and-diced form on Hooverian Blur's "Old Gold." As Andy Clarke, better known as Andy C, told me, there's no special provenance for that sound. Like so many of dance music's famous samples, it came from a random yet painfully obvious source: a sample CD called Pure Gold And Old Gold Synths that Clarke got as a covermount on a magazine and brought to a fateful studio session with his musical partner Ant Miles. "The riff was played out at some point on the keyboard," Clarke told me over the phone. "Playing up and down the octaves on the keyboard to make it sound slow, with a bit of delay. It's a unique-sounding arpeggio, and it was one of them zones when you get in the studio and every sound you load is perfect." The keyboard arpeggio was only one of several samples taken from that CD. "Valley Of The Shadows," in fact, was nothing more than a few of them thrown together, stripped-back even considering the capabilities producers had back in '92. With just a drum pattern, a string sample and that synth arpeggio, it was far more minimal than the UK hardcore that came before it. That was part of what made it radical. Alongside essential (though very different) '92 records from The Ragga Twins and Rufige Kru, "Valley Of The Shadows" was the evolution of jungle in real time. The track didn't look like a home run at first. Clarke told me that, when he took the Origin Unknown cuts to his local record store, the staff insisted that "The Touch" should be the A-side, because it was "more contemporary and would go down better in the raves.""The Touch" is a banner UK hardcore tune, with soaring vocals and bouncy breakbeats. Compared to "Valley Of The Shadows," it's practically happy-go-lucky, and was more in step with the house-influenced hardcore that Clarke and Miles had made as Desired State before they started Origin Unknown. Instead of wailing divas or pitched-up chipmunk samples, "Valley Of The Shadows" featured terse spoken word: the baritone "31 seconds," taken from a 1985 NASA broadcast of a satellite launch, and a recording of a woman recounting a near death experience. You know the one: "I was in this long, dark tunnel." It's ominous and mysterious, a line that could be about getting lost on the motorway or inside a rave as much as what it's actually about, the kind of thing that could be profound heard on the dance floor. The woman's voice was Miles' contribution, recorded to VHS from a UK documentary series called QED, about a woman who almost died during childbirth. It's heavy stuff, and the duo chose it because it added, as Clarke put it, "a real sense of weight and depth to the tune." That depth is key to "Valley Of The Shadows," a menacing hardcore-jungle hybrid that deals in sophisticated atmosphere and surprisingly technical production, in spite of its simplicity. The duo took a Think break sample from the Old Gold CD and ran three loops of it at once, intentionally processing the hell out of them—time-stretching the samples to ultra-speedy extremes and slowing them back down again—to give "Valley Of The Shadows" the jumpy feel that would come to define jungle. Like a film noir version of the hardcore they'd been making before, the new tune fostered a tense mood instead of the the anxiety-inducing darkcore sound that was dominant at the time (like 4Hero's "Mr. Kirk," released a year earlier). "We didn't set out to make a dark track," Clark explained, "but it's got a mood and a feeling. The tune came together in like four hours, as we were making it we would turn the lights out and dance around the studio with it on a loop." Though the initial release focused on "The Touch," most people who bought the record discovered the real magic on the back half. "Valley Of The Shadows" was a runaway hit at London nights driving the transition from hardcore to jungle. One of them, Telepathy, made Clarke a resident off the back of it. He was just 16 at the time, not old enough to legally enter the club in the first place. "Valley Of The Shadows" was re-released (on the A-side this time) in 1996. Since then it's become the subject of innumerable bootlegs and tributes, some of them hits on their own terms (like DJ Sketchy's "Mantis Strikes"). Even the woman whose voice was sampled on the track eventually heard it—her teenage daughter showed it to her 16 years after it came out—and came to know Miles and Clarke through it. The impact of "Valley Of The Shadows" is undeniable. Jungle would become deeper, faster, harder and more complex than the duo's 1992 effort, but Clarke and Miles' track is a piece of history frozen in time, a snapshot of one of the most exciting periods in UK dance music. And it laid the foundations for one of drum & bass's most enduring and influential figures in Andy C. He and his label, RAM, are still going strong today. "It was like everything started from that point," Clarke said. "Me and Ant had been making tunes before under different pseudonyms like Desired State, and I had started RAM with a solo release, but then this track fell out the sky. I met so many people through this song—DJs, producers, record labels. 'Valley Of The Shadows' completely changed my life."
  • Tracklist
      A The Touch AA Valley Of The Shadows