Friday, 5 December 2008

Progressive - a dirty word?

First coined by Dominic Philips to pigeon hole an emerging genre during his days reviewing for Mixmag Update in the very early 90s, progressive has gone on to become a byword for boring, convoluted house music. And yes, even if you put aside Sasha, Digweed and Lawler’s mind numbing take on the genre later in the decade, it’s still easy to knock the first wave of progressive house now as it quickly became a parody of itself – music for long haired blokes on drugs made by long haired blokes on drugs. BUT it’s also easy to forget there was actually some very exciting music being made at the beginning.

It was a reaction to the times. Cooler London clubs were playing slickly produced house and garage sounds of New York, New Jersey, Rome and Rimini, movement 98 was just a recent memory, and the harder edged sounds we had grown used to the early days of acid house had been become the property of rave DJs and ravers. Early progressive house producers, like D.O.P, started to reclaim these rawer sounds, set them in a house context the right side of rave and forge a distinctive English sound, that wasn’t just a rip off of what the Americans or Italians were doing.

And in most clubs you’d be unlucky to be subjected to night of Fabi Paras b-sides, because this music was getting mixed up with early Wild Pitch, Instinct and Murk stuff from the States and new sounds from northern Europe like early Jam and Spoon, R&S, early Eye Q and Harthouse stuff (anyone remember intelligent techno?!) and things like SIL and Wonka Beats.

Hard as may be to imagine now, it was fresh and it was exciting. I remember being at an early Puscha, when it was still good (the Salvidor Dali one by the Tate and Lyle refinery), and hearing Smokin’ Jo drop Acorn Arts and Gat D├ęcor alongside Weatherall dropping Wonka classic The Traveller ‘Father and Son Shine’. It felt like the future.

The reason Leftfield were so popular was because what they were doing sounded so original and many artists you don’t think of as being progressive were part of it all – Andrew Weatherall and early Sabres releases like Secret Knowledge and SYT (Shave Your Tongue), Slam/Soma, Junior Boys Own acts like Underworld/Lemon Interrupt, Outrage, and even X-Press 2.

It was an exciting and musically creative time, the influence of which reached across the Atlantic, where Junior Vasquez was hugely influenced by the X-Press 2 sound and even used to play Guerrilla releases like Two Shiny Heads ‘Dub Disco House’ at the Sound Factory.

Unfortunately, back on this side of the pond, people with little or no musical talent quickly got to grip with the basic elements of the sound and there we were soon buried under a deluge of really boring bongo/timbale records - Cowboy Records, in particular, were terrible for putting out this crap.

I think there are actually a number of parallels to be drawn with the recent surge in minimal house – a few pioneering, innovative producers, making groundbreaking music and quickly followed by a load of talentless imitators out to make a fast euro. They do say we can learn lessons from history, don’t they?!

Anyway, I liked the early days of progressive house. I liked it a lot. And so did many other people who may deny it now. I recently read that Dom Philips has said of his coining of the genre, “It was meant to refer to progressive rock in that it would all become overlong and sound the same and be pretentious... which is just what happened."

I think that Dom is either talking with the benefit of hindsight, using a touch of journalistic license or is a great big fibber. I'm pretty sure the review in question would have been around about 1991/1992 during the very early days of the sound, and it didn’t become overlong and pretentious until the Digweed/Sasha era years later, when it had become pretty much a completely different genre of music.

If Mr Philips really did know that in its second incarnation it really would turn the prog rock of house, can some one give me his telephone number? I need to know what next weekend's racing results are!

Progressive Not Progressive 10

1- Jambo ‘Drum Attack’ (Wonka)
2 - SIL ‘Windows’ (Work)
3 - Original Rockers ‘Push Push’ (Cake)
4 - Secret Knowledge ‘Ohh Baby’ (Sabres of Paradise)
5 - Future Sound of London ‘Papa New Guinea’ (Jumpin’ & Pumpin’)
6 - The Traveller ‘Father & Son Shine’ (Wonka)
7 - Slam ‘Eterna’ (Soma)
8 - Techno Grooves Mach 5 ‘You Got Me Running’ (Stealth)
9 - Age of Love ‘Age of Love’ (React)
10 - C.J. Bolland ‘Camargue’ (R&S)

Progressive ‘You Probably Had to be There’ 10

1 - Tonto’s Drum ‘Eagles Prey’ (White)
2 - Lemon Interupt ‘Dirty’ (Junior Boys Own)
3 - Acorn Arts ‘Silence’ (X-Gate)
4 - Spooky ‘Don’t Panic’ (Guerrilla)
5 - Djum Djum ’Difference’ (Outer Rhythm)
6 - The Disco Evangelists ‘De Nero’ (Black Sunshine)
7 - React 2 Rhythm ‘I Know You Like It’ (Guerrilla)
8 - Sound Clash Republic ‘Sack the Drummer’ (Junk Rock)
9 - Alabama 3 ‘I Shall Be Released’ (Strictly4Groovers)
10 - Megatonk ‘Belgium’ (Kai Tonk)

15 comments:

Gweilo said...

I really enjoyed reading this in the Faith fanzine, it's about time someone stuck their neck out for all these great tracks.

Milo said...

Glad you liked it - there were indeed lots of great tracks, many of which have been tarred with the same brush as all the rubbish ones and forgotten about. I' glad I wa sthere to hear them and hopefully a few young 'uns will read this article in the fanzine (or on here) and hunt a few of them down.

Simon said...

Di Niro? Nah, whether you were there or not it's the best track that sounds like a helicopter ever!

joseph said...

great article and an even better list of records, I don't know if it was because I was just discovering dance music in 91-92 but that era will always seem to be the most exciting, nostalgic and fun for me. Absololutely loved those days.

Some other faves from me...

Havana - Ethnic Prayer
Virtualmismo - Mismoplatico
DJ Hell - My defenition of House music
Mukkaa - Buruchacca
Slam - Positive Educantion
Spooky - Little Bullet
Jaco - Show some love
Delta Lady - Anything you want
Underworld - Rez/Cowgirl
Drum Club - Sound System (underworld mix)
Jam & Spoon - Stella

Milo said...

I liked those Havana records too. Time asn'tr been kind to them though, file alongside Brother Loves Dubs and Nush I think. Great at the time though. And as for Virtualmismo 'Mismoplatico', I think that whole Italian progressive hard sound deserves a article of its own at some point in the furture... Ooooo, Hablando!

Gweilo said...

Hablando is a corker, I remember hearing it for the first time on a show that FSOL were doing on Kiss FM and it blew my young mind. Muzika Tremenda is another great Ramirez track and El Gallinero is, erm, not. Although well worth checking for comedy value.

Milo said...

All about the DJ Ricci mix of Muzika Tremenda, the one with the Flash Gordon sample at the start. Mr Marvin and DJ Ricci ruled - although I think Ricci is dead now.

jonathon said...

great article! I was quite involved in that scene back then. I used to run a club called Naked Lunch with the boys from Tag records, we had some top nights and many of the records you listed were played there. But you missed one that for me was the record of that time which was Energy flash by Joey beltram. I’m a graphic designer I worked on the Leftfield covers and many of those indie labels around at that time. I agree there was a lot of dross around as well but on the whole a great time for music and clubbing. does anyone remember a track called axecorner?

Milo said...

Yep, could have included Energy Flash. Also on the R&S tip could have also included Golden Girls 'Kinetic'. Do you mean 'Tortuga' by Axe Corner? Amazzing techy Italian number that now goes for money. Here's a youtube link to the mix that used to get played: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=JbFTXFUDGGs

Gweilo said...

SAS 'Amber Groove', also rather naughty.

Milo said...

One for the fact fans: Clive Henry of Peace Division fame, was one half of SAS.

jonathon said...

the great thing about djs then is it wasn’t to far away from 88 and all that, so they’d play amazing tracks like bam bam give it to me and lauren x machines which sounded amazing mixed into those records we are talking about. Also a really exciting record was baseheads is there anybody out there. chime by Orbital is worth a mention as well. intoxication react to rhythm was a seminal track as well.

Ando said...

"'Tortuga' by Axe Corner"

At long last I can put a name to that tune! Absolutely loved that track back in the day but never knew what it was called or who it was by. Proper goosebumps listening to that youtube link, cheers Miles!

Top blog by the way mate, thoroughly enjoyed reading through the articles.

Anonymous said...

Mark Seven said it all it in a interveiw he did recently!
The chap who wrote this shit should read that.
It's not real.

Miles said...

Hey Anonymous, thanks for your contribution. I know Mark but I'm not aware of the interview in question, so point me in the right direction and I'll have a read. I can assure you it is real though. Cheers x