Bleep It Out! The Bowelquaking Dance Music Of Late80s Yorkshire
In 1989 , George Evelyn led 10,000 people into Blackburn abattoir in a flood of bright lights. He remembers thinking: "It should have been like this in the 60s, I was sure that we would make a revolution.
A few hours later, Evelyn was out in the fresh air when she heard familiar beeps and booms echo through the night air, and cheers rang out. "We walked in and oh my god," he recalled. "This is the first time I've seen anything like this." They performed their first song "Wax on Ghosts, Dextrous". "It was pure euphoria and excitement," he says. "But I was also scared because we just existed in the Leeds bubble."
It was one of those times between 1988 and 1991 when beeping, a sub-style of techno often loaded with knee-shaking sub-bass, came out to make dancers head and guts. But since then, the genre has often been left out, says Matt Anniss, author of Join the Future: Bleep Techno and the Birth of British Bass Music. "It was criminally overlooked," he says. "There should have been a Bleep, there was a huge gap in the history of British dance music. I wanted to fix it." "Join the Future" was re-released this month in an expanded edition, featuring a compilation of the same name and another just released: "Bleeps, Breaks + Bass Volume 2".
Bleep is part of an obvious continuum: soul and jazz funk all day long, British black house nights called blues or shebeens, and the reggae sound system culture that inspired both. However, it's also a series of big bang moments where dazzling new sonic languages are created. A guy called Gerald's Voodoo Ray will always and rightly be considered a sound trigger, but another 1988 song released within months was just as explosive: Theme from Unique 3.
Created in a wall-shaking Bradford town, the track was hand-delivered to record stores amid a wave of admiration, exploding heads and rumbling guts. "The Dust came out amazing," says Winston Hazel, the buyer of FON Records in Sheffield, DJ for Jive in Turkey and soon composing for Forgemasters. “People sang the beep riff in unison, like a football song. It was a tribal call to play that damn song again."
"Vodoo Ray and Theme fit the Chicago and Detroit records we play," says Jive Turkey DJ Richard Barratt aka Parrot, who co-founded Sweet Exorcist with Cabaret Voltaire's Richard H. Kirk and Testone-published Anthem Bleep. "But they were created by people like us. It spoke of a voice with a unique Scandinavian accent."
Gez Varley, one half of the original LFO band, was in a Leeds record shop when Theme landed. "We were blown away," he says. "It just felt like we had to release something. It was local guys who made this great record. I wouldn't have believed any of us could have done it before. There was such a belief around The Theme that Unique 3 even went to a party of a rival dance group in Leeds and DJ'd them to play. crossed the crowded dance floor to celebrate giving up a copy for The B-side, which played so well that they played it three times in a row.
That moment of harmony on stage was rare, because everything left over from the culture of kids growing up in breakdance teams was tribal. In 1989, Dextrous' reputation in town even led to Evelyn confronting a rival team at a barbecue joint saying, "That's your damn piece." Evelyn tells the story with a laugh, adding, "The best compliment you can get."
There were rumors of a new label in Sheffield and they were going to be Warp Records, which would eventually house Aphex Twin, Autechre and more, so the first band they wanted to start was Unique 3, but they signed with Virgin. Warp co-founder and hugely talented producer and engineer Rob Gordon, who is pivotal in Bleep's history, remixed the Theme as a "bass statement" for the reissue for Virgin, but no mastering engineer would play it. One of them, Jeff Pesche, however, crawled under the mixer to remove the limiters to bring the sub-bass depth to full on the record. Virgin has received many letters of complaint after poorly designed loudspeaker systems have exploded and broken in the UK.
Meanwhile, Hazel was writing music with Gordon and Sean Maher as the Forgemasters. While sound system culture and reggae were crucial to many staples of beep and bass, including techno, house and electro, Sheffield had another unique element. "The sound of Sheffield," explains Hazel. "Our sounds were wonderfully evocative of heavy industry, particularly 15-ton hammers working 16 hours a day, seven days a week. This created deep sonic reverberations that reverberated over the Sheffield hills." Hazel's dreams: "As I slept, the noise became a continuous pulse; that unconscious hypnotic rhythm stayed with me and began to appear in the music."
As a result, the song "No Name" became another milestone. A flurry of rhythmic drum patterns programmed into his Gordon 909 machine, a catchy synth line and a chopped sine wave for a bass line resulted in a raw yet flawless cut of South Yorkshire techno. It was Warp's first release and launched a line-up of classic dance tracks from Nightmares on Wax, Sweet Exorcist, LFO, Tricky Disco and Tuff Little Unit.
Evelyn calls this schedule a call-and-response approach between activities that try to outdo each other. "When we were teenagers, we all competed against each other in breakdancing," he says. "So it was a continuation. We didn't take the song as a club anthem, we were like, fuck, man, we gotta do something."
Not everyone shared Evelyn's belief in fierce competition, but a wave of groundbreaking music nonetheless took place. Teststone remains perhaps the most literal example of signal techno as it consists of non-musical tones used to test audio material, resulting in an incredible recording that sounds eerie yet euphoric. But the giant LFO hunk LFO sent this music, made in dilapidated industrial buildings, dormitories and makeshift studios, into another world.
The world of LFO was so closed that they dreamed of making music for a place. "It was about playing illegal parties in Chapeltown," Varley said. “We started playing muted bass to blast reggae kids at a local party. In LFO, we used Talk and the Magic Machine kid's toy to say "LFO" so they knew it was us as a band. the breakdance you brag about".
But the act was brilliant and eventually became a hallmark of Great Britain. People are flocking to the DJ booths, driving them to record stores and asking, "Do you have a song called 'LFO'?" This question is easy to answer. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies and peaked at number 12 in the charts. "We went from nothing to Top of the Pops," Varley recalled.
Like Unique 3, which also stormed the charts, LFO blew up in more ways than one: blowing up club systems again or smashing wine glass shelves in bars. Along with the increased use of ecstasy, this music drove people crazy. "But it was the little speakers that made me laugh," Barratt said. "When the records first hit the charts, most people were listening to little transistor radios that couldn't pick up the low frequencies. The LFO would go down and it was just silence."
This beginning surprised Evelyn. "We all had our shit, but we made something great out of nothing," he says. “What was so beautiful and so naive was that the starting point was another DJ playing your song. It was absolute, nothing else. We all come from there. Warp's success was so great that this small Sheffield venture, which started with a £2,000 business aid scheme in a bedroom, failed to reach 2% of all record sales in the country in 1990.
Bip is often synonymous with Sheffield because of the distortion, but it's wider. Ital Rockers from Leeds created one of the genre's most popular songs with Ital's Anthem, released on Bassic Records, but the parties they threw through their sound systems were just as important. "These parties in Leeds were as big as a farm in Manchester," Varley said. Birmingham-based Network Records also played a big role, releasing names like Forgemasters, XON and Rhythmatic.
Captured is a great moment for Sally Rogers, who stars on the Bleeps, Breaks + Bass compilation as a man named Adam. "It was during this short period of time that true DIY became mainstream and democratized thanks to access to new technologies," he said. "Before, everything was getting bigger and bigger. It was a real golden moment."
It was a dizzying trajectory for dance music in the early 1990s, and the scene evolved and evolved, but Anniss says Bleep has come a long way since then, "from bass and dubstep to grime." "Also bass-heavy techno promoted by labels like Livity Sound, Timedance and Trule."
More than 30 years later, Varley still can't get rid of the endless LFO reverb. "I can't do without it," she laughs. "If I die, he'll play at my funeral... although I'm not sure the church officials will be into it."