I’ve always been a little obsessed with the short-lived musical revolution that was “bleep and bass”. I’m not entirely sure why; maybe it’s a product of my Yorkshire roots, an attraction to the heaviness and sparse nature of the sound, or a grumpiness that the producers who made it – LFO aside – are largely overlooked.
Whatever the reason, bleep has been an itch I’ve been trying to scratch for some time. Back in 2010, I put together a mix and article for the now defunct Internet station Hivemind.fm, after getting into an argument with a load of 20 year-olds about the origins of the various strains of bass music they were playing in Bristol clubs. In 2011, Idle Hands boss man Chris Farrell, an old friend of mine from the best before: days, asked me to play an “all bleep” set at an Alfresco Disco party in the old coroner’s court down by Lakota. I did, and it was one of the most memorable sets I’ve played – seeing a load of Bristolians go crazy to all these old, alien-sounding records from my youth was a special experience.
Even that didn’t stop my obsession with the sound, though. Ever since I’ve had a desire to tell the story of how bleep developed in Yorkshire, its’ role in the development of distinct styles of UK electronic music, and the long-lasting legacy of the sound. I was given the opportunity to write about the first ever bleep record – Unique 3’s “Only The Beginning”/”The Theme” – for Juno Plus. You can read that piece here.
That wasn’t enough, though, so I contacted Resident Advisor about doing something more in depth. My argument was simple: not enough has been written on bleep, and nobody – in recent years, at least – has told the story properly. The admirable Simon Reynolds did a piece for Fact on the 20 best records, which served as a good introduction for those unfamiliar with the style. Even so, it wasn’t the forensic examination of the reasons for the style’s development, its’ popularity and legacy. This was my aim – to speak to both contemporary producers and original pioneers, in order to put bleep in context, while filling in the gaps in my knowledge – and therefore also potential readers.
Thankfully, Resident Advisor were keen, and decided to commission me to write the article I wanted to – one that told the story as accurately as possible, giving due credit to those originators who are so regularly overlooked. Over the years, the “bleep” story has been confused by years of skewed reporting and the dominance of Warp Records in promoting many of the biggest records between 1989 and 1991. I know this is a constant source of frustration to those from West Yorkshire – the likes of LFO, Unique 3, Nightmares on Wax and Ital Rockers. If anything, bleep was – originally, at least – more of a West Yorkshire sound than a Sheffield one, though DJs and producers in the Steel City were certainly inspired by it. It quickly became a Sheffield movement, too, with Warp Records playing a key role in getting the music out to the masses. This is undoubtedly why people feel it is a “Sheffield” sound.
You can read the finished article now on Resident Advisor. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. I can honestly say that it was a true labour of love. I made a conscious effort to contact as many of the original producers, DJs and label owners as I could. Some turned down interview requests – most notably Robert Gordon and Warp co-founder Steve Beckett – but most were happy to chat and share their memories of the early days. I ended up with about 12 hours of interview recordings, plus reams of email answers. Along the way, I visited DJ Parrot and Winston Hazel at the former’s home in Hathersage, chatted to both original members of Nightmares on Wax (Boy Wonder having been part of Unique 3 originally, interestingly), and stopped by in Nottingham to chat to Mark Gamble from Krush and Rhythmatic in his home studio. I can honestly say that I spent more time on this feature than any other I’ve written, and hopefully it shows.
This may not be the end of the story. There’s so much information I couldn’t include for space reasons, and I’m considering doing something even more in-depth. I may even spend more time tracking down those who I couldn’t get hold of this time round. Watch this space. Maybe that itch hasn’t been scratched after all.