Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Automation - Triple Helix Records

Automation were two producers from Gravesend in Kent who produced some rip-roaring techno/hardcore between 1991 and 1993. The majority of their tracks were fast and hard, making great use of stabs, bleeps and sci-fi noises. They were relatively well produced, both in terms of sound quality and structure.

Although popular back in the day with support from Joey Beltram, Kev Bird, Colin Faver and Aphex Twin, their tracks are rarely heard in contemporary old skool sets, possibly because many of them fall somewhere between techno and UK hardcore.

Automation and the Triple Helix label were pretty much interlinked, with all bar one release on the label originating from the duo. The highlight on their first release, Espionage, is a dreamy track with a slow amen drumbeat and bleeps sampled from Kraftwerk. Pretty simple but effective. Ten years on, Luke Vibert reworked the track as Ataride under his Wagon Christ alias.

The second EP, The Appliance of Science, steps the Automation sound up a gear in pace and intensity. Beginning with T99 stabs, tribal chants and screams, building to a "This Is Sick!" sample before bringing everything crashing back in like a train crash. Awesome stuff, that would probably see most contemporary clubbers running for the fire exit.

The third EP, the Red EP, begun the colour series. Featuring the beautiful detroit inspired Comedown, this presented the diversity in the Automation sound and quality they could achieve.

However, in the spirit of hardcore, it couldn't all be serious and Automation weren't afraid to throw a remix of William Tell's Overture, Bloodsport, onto the same release, complete with hunting horns and cock-a-doodle-doo samples! The tongue-in-check outlook continued on other releases with tracks like 'Wild-E', sampling Road Runner's famous Cayote. When you had three other belting tracks, this experimentation was simply amusing.

The pinnacle of their back catalogue, the Remix EP, contains four remixes which surpass many of the originals. The Doomsday Remix contains every element that makes Automation great. From the mysterious spoken intro, "My children, the only true technology...", to its underlying moaning and tribal chants, to the brilliant breakdown with the pitch shifting stabs. Dark and brooding, but always danceable and easily accessible.

Also worth a mention is the super-fast Speedway, played by Joey Beltram to great effect at the Galactica Rave in 1992 at 4m 40s:

The full track can be heard here.

I'm not certain what happened to the release with catalogue number 'AUTO1', as the Triple Helix label starts at 'AUTO2', but interestingly AUTO1 corresponds to Kraftwerk's Autobahn album, so its a possibility the Automation name and initial catalogue number was a homage to the pioneers of electronic music.

Aside from hardcore, both producers composed a small number of other tracks in the early 90s under aliases including I.D. and Unlocking the Astal, but I haven't managed to track down anything more recent.

I created a short 30 minute mix of the best Automation tracks last year. Some of the mixing is not up to the standards I'd like, but it got a good response:

1. Comedown
2. Tramp On 45
3. Drone
4. Espionage
5. You
6. The Appliance Of Science (Techno Mix)
7. Pacemaker (Remix)
8. Vinyl Warfare
9. Doomsday (Remix)
10. Asphxia
11. Speedway

Saturday, 2 February 2008

A Brief History of Rave

There have been a variety of TV programmes covering the history of dance music in recent years. Many of these programmes skirt over the early days of rave for a variety of reasons; video footage is scarce or poor quality, the music is alienating and somewhat faceless, and there are few figureheads recognisable to a modern audience who can summarize the scene.

How can a TV producer convey a movement built around the ebb and flow of a night in short TV clips? Ultimately, these programs tend to show a few comical pieces of rave footage, with soundbites from a contemporary artist reminiscing about a scene they weren't particularly integral to. This always leaves me feeling disappointed.

I thought it would be interesting to compile a potted history of the early rave scene, focusing on real underground event footage to convey the initial euphoria and innocence of those hazy days. This was an era far removed from the commercial superclubs of the late 90s, where many ravers really believed they were part of something revolutionary and special.

Sunrise were one of the famous early promoters of illegal 'acid house' events in the UK. They staged a series of increasingly elaborate events in aircraft hangars and large warehouses. The music was a mixture of Chicago house, Detroit techno combined with homegrown tracks from the UK.

1989: Sunrise & Back to the Future 1989 @ Longwick, Buckinghamshire

The sheer scale and production of these early unlicensed events is overwhelming, but unfortunately very little video footage exists of them. Sunrise went on to organise the massive 'Freedom to Dance' demonstration in Trafalgar square with up to 7,000 attendees. This event was largely ignored by the mainstream media due to pressure from the government.

1990: Freedom to Party Demonstration

A polarising musical change arose in late 1990 with the birth of hardcore. Hardcore was to dance music what punk was to rock. Techno purists derided it for crude 'cut and paste' production values and lowest common denominator approach, and house fans found its 'fist in the face' sonic ethos somewhat overwhelming. However, ravers were heading out in their thousands to an increasingly large number of legal and illegal events.

May 1991: Time & Underground @ The Rag Market, Birmingham

The first track, Dimension 5's 'Utopia', is a great example of the early UK hardcore sound. It contains influences from Belgian's techno scene merged with the sped-up breakbeats favoured by British artists. This is followed up by Shut up and Dance's 'The Homeless Problem' and the aptly titled 'Dance Before The Police Come', which helped pave the way for the Jungle that followed two years later.

This was an era when underground music was mutating at a pace that has never been equalled. Anything and everything was sampled and interbred, from cheesy pop classics through to hip-hop, electro, ragga and house leading to an unprecedented level of creativity and diversity in the music you'd hear on a night out.

Meanwhile they were rocking it in the south as well at one of the most infamous hardcore venues in the UK...

1991: In-ter-dance @ Sterns, Worthing, East Sussex

Evil Eddie Richards on the decks here climaxing with Frank De Wulf's seminal 'Magical Orchestra', another Belgian classic forging the music of the future in the UK scene.

Notice that in the footage we've seen so far, few people are drinking water or anything else for that matter. Alcohol was a rarity at early raves, with some only serving soft drinks.

By 1992, events had increased in scale and ambition, as promoters became increasingly organised and the scene exploded in popularity. Fantazia's largest outdoor rave saw 25,000 people partying to the early hours along with thousands of unofficial attendees who broke into the site.

July 1992: Fantazia One Step Beyond @ Donington Park

The music was climbing in speed as producers realised amphetamine charged ravers would dance to increasingly faster tracks. Every element of the music was over emphasised, whether hard, euphoric or even cheesy. Whilst underground output remained strong, many tracks unintentionally charted simply because hardcore (or rave as it was commercially branded) was proving popular with a mainstream audience.

However, this was also the year of dubious toytown tracks, including remixes of the Sesame Street theme, Rhubarb & Custard and Trumpton. These tracks arguably dented the credibility of the rave scene and accelerated the polarisation of the music into darker jungle (or darkside hardcore as it was briefly known) and happy hardcore.

By 1993, the music had sped up by around 30% and DJs were increasingly playing a particular style. With 25,000 people in attendance Tribal Gathering's event caused a 15 mile traffic jam leading to the site.

1993: Universe - Tribal Gathering, Warminster

In the rave fanzines, punters were complaining about the change in scene and perceived atmosphere. How much of this is genuine, or simply the classic 'it's not as good as it used to be mantra' is debatable. However, as the dance scene became increasingly commercialised and polarised, we'd never see a return to the unified massive raves of the late 80s and early 90s.