When I was sauntering through early morning mist, wearing the half-demented-smirk-half-gurn of a madman on a day out of the funny farm, a dreadlocked ragamuffin lounging at the wheel-arch of his van, perpetually waving one hand from fist to flat palm, appeared like magic through the haze. He greeted me with a wide smile, asked me how it was going. Between concentrating on my breathing, I told him it was going very well, save I’d mislaid my “posse.”
I complemented him for his wheels, a high-sided second-hand post office van, as I circled it for further investigation. I found at the rear a ladder and asked if I may climb it, in order to get my bearings. He nodded his approval and so I scaled.
On top of the van I could see above the low lying mist to the beautiful sunrise, below it the hats and scraggly ponytails of ravers bobbing like buoys on a temperate ocean. Overcome with the desire to dance, I shouted down, “can I have a little dance up here?!” and again the crusty was only too kind to permit my request.
I was at a disused airfield near Enstone in Oxfordshire, dancing adolescent cares away on top of a total stranger’s van. Other grounded ravers, pointed and joined the dance, until one of the congregation visible attempted to climb the ladder. The owner stood and I suspected he wouldn’t wish for this to become a trend, so I took the opportunity to decend before the girl could reach the top, stating we shouldn’t all clamber on the guy’s home. She agreed and we gathered in a circle, dancing, smiling and trading chewing gum for water.
In today’s age you’d be forgiven for suggesting I made this up, but really, this is just another insignificant happening from 1991, when rave was in its infancy and everyone partied together in peace, illegally. I guess you’d have to have been there to understand, but we danced, we danced harder, faster and a heck of a lot longer than any previous generation.
We danced in fields, in warehouses, on boats, beaches, service station carparks, and even the occasional nightclub. So much so, if you had to label the decade under one united musical genre, “dance” would be most apt. Dancing wasn’t compulsory, more essential; you’d only chew your bottom lip off if you didn’t boogie.
Musically it was pioneering, the first not to lend itself to individual artists and bands, rather a DJ culture where a mesh of tastes merged into melting pot. An era when a child could gather a TV cartoon sample, slam a breakbeat loop over it and make a record twenty-thousand tranced nutters would dance all night to. Almost punk in nature, skill caved into creative urge, like rock it experimented until it developed into a million branches, but like folk music, it was the united music of a people, an epoch.
Despite not having a “king,” as reggae had Marley and rock had Elvis, though many tried, the concentration of record sales, and creating albums thwarted; a “white label” more sought than a picture disc.
The hit factories exhausted albums in the previous decade, now compilations of hits, rather than the “concept album” of the seventies. As the underground surged into mainstream, and everyman and his dog took up white gloves, plastic horns and whistles to join a burgeoning revolution, albums battled “rave tapes,” to find a home again.
Despite this, albums did quite rightly resurface, many influencing the next decade. This then is my definitive top thirty dance albums of the nineties, let the arguments commence. I complied this list from fond but fragile memories, rather than online researched, so it was personal. Feel free to comment with ones I missed, which in your judgement needed to appear.
But why, I hear you cry, why now; you crazy old sausage?
I theorise trends return in blocks of twenty years, whence the youth inspire their offspring. Think about it, since pop music begun, in the 1950s, when it was supposed to be wild, rock n roll, there was more jazz than the 1930s. The 1960s we accept as the time of mods, merging into flower power, great experiments in music abound, but listen to the charts back then, full of crooners akin to the 1940s.
Ah, but when rock came of age in the 1970s, it stretched to new avenues, glam and punk. Yeah but no but, the 1970s was also jammed with teddy boys; caricatured rock n rollers from the 1950’s with bands like Matchbox, Darts and Showaddywaddy for crying out loud!
The 1980s, again a golden age of musical experimentation, with electronics. But hear the charts, note classic soul from the sixties blessed by adverts for jeans, and rock n roll merged into one excruciating “megamix” by a cartoon rabbit who should’ve been shot at birth and boiled in a stew.
So through all eras we seem to hark back twenty years, the nineties may have been my age of dance, but as the hardcore chilled into clubs, house and garage tunes lent themselves to the disco of the seventies, and indie kids revitalised seventies rock, well, they were just indie kids and ravers were having too much fun to pick them up on their radar. The noughties, if they were naughty at all, rather a cultureless of bombardment of naff, so-called R&B; cliché musical technology found solace in the sounds of electronic eighties, and the fashion matched too.
So, by my reckoning, before this decade is through we’re due a flashback to the rave scene, and with the Tory government treating working class like vermin, it’s not so hard to foresee something major slapping them in the face with a Vic’s Vapour-rub smeared dust-mask and blowing a whistle in their ears; least I cross my fingers and hope.
30- Monkey Mafia – Shoot the Boss (Heavenly Records 1998)
If you thought Damon Albarn was pushing limits with The Gorillaz at the turn of the millennium, or if you thought Death in Vegas made blended cutthroat techno, Jon Carter’s Monkey Mafia outdated and outstripped them both. This is funk, punk-reggae, ragga and sparse beats fused into a frenzy of techno. It’s a dark, nasty and rambunctious clatter which wobbles the mind. It now lives on my CD rack dusty, too scared to dip into again.
29- Black Star Liner – Bengali Bantam Youth Experience! (Warner Music – 1999)
If you missed this one, it’s never too late; it’s timeless. Imagine Massive Attack making an album for Indian restaurants, fuse it with haunting epic movie themes and you’re partly the way to the dub/Bhaṅgṛā sublime crossover experience of the Black Star Liner. This is so gorgeous I couldn’t swallow it, not even with mango chutney. Savour tracks like Swimmer on the tip of your tongue, as the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.
28- Moby – Play (Mute – 1999)
Play signifies an end to the most mental decade ever, the fact advertisers, TV producers and filmmakers flocked to acquire every track meant the masses were taking heed of what we knew ten years previous, electronic was music’s destiny. Moby, mild-mannered for an American (he didn’t write a book about his dick,) and modest of his creative output, had been known to us since the word, or track “Go,” something we never thought he’d surpass; if I only could’ve heard “Porcelain,” in 1991.
27- Morcheeba – Who Can You Trust? (Indochina 1996)
A hefty night’s clubbing saw us washed up on Brighton beach. My mate hopped over to the little chill-out café to ask what the tune was that they were playing; been a Morcheeba fan since. Breezy trip-hop, sublime vocals, it mellows the soul. There seemed to be a plethora of similar styled artists arise to chart after Big Calm, their second album; Dido for instance, M People et-al, while Morcheeba remained in the underground, like an old raver’s secret.
26- Jamiroquai – Emergency on Planet Earth (Columbia 1993)
With the Criminal Justice Act taking hold, the free rave scene lay wounded, and I was open to new avenues. Imagine today, recording stuff off the radio to cassette! I was recording the SoundCity on Radio 1 in 1993 when I heard something awesome, something which bent my conceptions of dance and blistered it with unadulterated retrospective funk. I imagined the vocals were supplied via a large afro-Caribbean lady, visualise my surprise when I saw a skinny honky smaller than his hat, the super-cool Jay K. By the following year I’d seen him perform at Glastonbury, bought a gaudy cap and submerged myself in acid jazz. My peers didn’t favour this move as much as I; popularity of the genre remained exclusive. While Jamiroquai made it through to mainstream, groups like Corduroy, JTQ and Children of Judah went on to produce a few too many albums of similar formula and the movement was short lived. Still, this debut album was earthy-jazz with a conscious and a didgeridoo, and never surpassed by Jay-K.
25 – Photex – Modus Operandi – (EMI 1997)
Well-worn by 97, drum n bass for me had seen better days. But where Goldie and LTJ Bukem’s pioneering albums wasn’t without their flaws, Modus, with peerless Photek drums colluded with the superior jazzy atmospherics of a thriller movie, and melded dystopian synth arrangements, to make it quite simply, perfection. It was a drum n bass awakening for rural techno-heads too, who so far had considered the genre too urban for their tastes. I recall listening to it on the way our first rain-drenched Glastonbury, prior years being clement; it felt apt as we took shelter wherever we could, and wrapped our feet in plastic bags before our putting boots back on.
24 – The Orb – UF Orb – (Mercury Records 1992)
Glastonbury, 1992, maybe, scampering like crafty felons through a maze of tents in the dark, deciphering guide-ropes from hallucinogenic wavy lines and somehow magically avoiding tripping, over the guide ropes I mean. There was a noise, it was not music, it was waves, a soundscape dangling in the air; The Orb were on stage some distance away. Ambient house has no place today, face it, but at the time it wowed. It broke all the rules, hardly strokes of melody, more drifts of resonances and echoes of bass. It was the sort of music to either be awake or asleep to, or drift between them blissfully. While the KLF pioneered this from an ice cream van, the mysterious Orb championed it and their second album UF-Orb was the masterpiece of its genre. There were tracks forty minutes long, which would take twenty five of those minutes before a beat came in. Imagine having to cut Blue Room to three minutes for Top of the Pops!
23 – Deee-Lite World Clique – (Elektra Records 1990)
I bought this on cassette, why you cry, when you had vinyl? Convenience is the simple answer. Witness the confused expression on a millennium kid’s face when you show him a “tape,” but it was the digital download of the era, you could share easier than vinyl. Plus, the American funky sounds of Deee-Lite, which would accompany me on bus journeys to art college, would’ve been viewed as second place during the early “hardcore,” section of the dance revolution. Who’d have imagined in only a few years, DJs like Sasha would take the helm and garage and funky house would be at the forefront. But as we matured it did, for us; the hardcore split into “jungle” and “happy hardcore,” as younger, fresher faces adopted it.
So back in 1990, Deee-Lite was a refreshing break, it was psychedelic enough to satisfy, and Lady Miss Kier had legs which went on forever, should you be lucky enough to climb those platform shoes to the beanstalks of tie-dye leggings. I think, however, the timing wasn’t quite there, and in the UK they never made it far past “Groove is in the Heart.” That said, it’s still a floor-filler today.
22 – Daft Punk – Homework – (Parlophone 1997)
Unsure why on earth anyone would call an album this, the last thing you want to be thinking about when partying full force, but that’s the French for you. Also unusual for a video to attract me to a song, but when I saw that guy with the dog’s head, wandering the streets considered obnoxious for not turning down the volume on his beatbox, well, I rode right into that enormous plodding bassline and figured here was something solid and timeless. I was right, for though my journey into French house was short-lived, Étienne de Crécy’s Super Discount and Air’s Moon Safari coming close to inclusion on this list, Daft Punk are still strong today and still pushing the boundaries of the genre.
21- Rebel MC – Black Meaning Good (Desire 1991)
Over the oceans, and apparently, over the seas, you know when we come it’s just reality. This “jungle” antecedent wasn’t originally on my list, but when it suddenly sprang to mind I wondered how I could’ve missed it out. I replaced The Ragga Twins’ Reggae Owes Me Money album for it, because in reality, it surely worked the other way around for both the Ragga Twins and Rebel MC; they owed reggae money.
Rebel MC though gave credit, even cameos to his reggae influences, and while he may have been aiming for commercial success in the 1980s, when he fired back with Black Meaning Good, he had a powerful message of which hadn’t been tackled from this angle in hip hop previously.
“No,’ some say, ‘that’s not the way, Chat like that, your tracks won’t get played, Stick to the formula ya had before, Fame and money and a whole lot more’, Cha! Wheel out ah dat, seh dat can’t be, I gotta true-speak intelligently, Maybe for that I might sacrifice sales, but I’ll put more weight on the justice scales.”
Plus he done it in a breakbeat style which whipped ravers into a frenzy; sounds a bit dated now, but a pioneering album the drum n bass scene wouldn’t be the same without; nuff said.
20 – Eat Static – Implant (Planet Dog 1995)
Frome’s space-rock the Ozric Tentacles were always a popular band, but once the crusty techno scene took hold, their new outfit was sublime trance, and was the West Country answer to Orbital and Underworld. Oh, attire me with glowsticks and take me back to The Berkely Suite of Longleat, when the whole Universe was compressed into a much smaller Tribal Gathering and despite stern thumps protruding, the crowd were amalgamated, approachable, and hardcore.
This third album from Eat Static was, for me, their pinnacle, but although times were a changin’ in 1995, clubland getting wise, it couldn’t replace getting down and dirty in a forest where police helicopter search lights scanning through trees were treated as visual effects far beyond a nightclub’s glitter ball!
Oh, I’m going to have to leave it there for now, and return next week with 19-11; anyone got any Veras?