Happy New Year! As 2017 begins in earnest, I naturally found myself looking back over 2016. From a work perspective, it was a busy 12 months.I was fortunate enough to work on some very interesting projects, resulting in some articles I’m particularly proud of. In a bid to keep track of this – and naturally to showcase my wares – I thought I’d gather together some of my favourite 2016 features and reviews in one place. So, here goes.
The Story of Ambient House & Chill Out Music 1988-95
An epic (circa 7,000 words) history of chill-out culture and the ambient house movement of the late 80s and early 90s. Naturally, this took months to put research and write, and features interviews with a whole host of original scene players. I was really happy with the outcome. If you want some musical accompaniment, there’s a mix of mine prepared to go with the article over at RBMA Radio.
The Birth of House Music in New York City
For a long time I’ve been slightly obsessed with the sparse, synth-heavy sound that came out of New York City in the early-to-mid 1980s. To me, the work of Boyd Jarvis, Paul Simpson, Winston Jones and others seemed to offer a blueprint for house music as we know it today. So, I pitched the idea of a feature telling the story of the birth of the New York/New Jersey variant of the house sound (known as US garage to British listeners and clubbers for many years). Happily, they were more than happy to let me indulge this particular musical obsession.
Crate Of The Nation
Part 1 / Part 2
The closure of Juno Plus, a site I contributed to for many years, in the autumn of 2016 cast a long shadow. The site is sorely missed, I’d argue, but that’s an argument for a different day. In the summer, the Editor, Tony Poland, commissioned me to write a two-part exploration of crate digging culture in 2016. The first part focuses on record collecting at large, and how it has become a much more cherished part of DJ culture at large (it has always been there, of course, I just believe that collector-DJs are more celebrated now than they have been for some time). In the second, I dug into the related reissue scene.
Holovor: Soundscapes From The Margins
Under his Holovor guise, Jimmy Billingham was responsible for some of the most magical ambient and IDM records of 2016. Curiously he doesn’t seem to have got the credit he deserves for fine albums on Firecracker and Further. Regardless, I tracked him down for a chat for Juno Plus. It was the last interview I did for the site before its’ sad closure.
Matt Karmil: Tesselation & Repetition
I have a lot of respect for Matt Karmil, a hugely talented producer who put out some great music on PAN and Idle Hands during 2016. In the spring, I called him up for a chat. He was sat in a cupboard for the duration. True story.
Africaine 808: Rhythm Is All You Can Dance
This was published way back in January 2016, just before the release of Africaine 808’s debut album hit stories on Golf Channel Recordings. Nomad and Dirk Leyers were good value, from what I can recall, and it was great to be able to tell their story (I’d been a fan for a few years).
The Orb’s Continuing Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld
Shockingly, 2016 marked 25 years since the release of The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, arguably ambient house’s “Sergeant Pepper” moment. This was as good as excuse as any to have another chat with “Dr” Alex Paterson for IDJ Magazine.
I always enjoy speaking with Sheffield veteran DJ Parrot, so it made sense chatting to him about the release of his first album under the Crooked Man alias. This was my second feature about the project, with the first appearing on Juno Plus a few years previously. As usual, Parrot was in entertaining form this time round.
Telephones: Feel The Vibe
Henning ‘Telephones’ Severud finally delivered his debut album in 2016. Entitled “Vibe Telemetry”, it was one of my favourite full-lengths of the year. Happily, he was up for discussing his work – and specifically his search for a “hard to define vibe” – for an IDJ magazine feature.
Trevor Jackson has some history. He’s been involved in the music industry in some capacity – graphic designer, beat-maker, label boss, DJ, compiler, producer and remixer – since the turn of the 90s. In 2016, he went ‘back to the future’, dropping a wealth of previously unheard material from his late 90s/early 2000s Playgroup project. That was a good excuse to interview him for IDJ.
Instrumental Instruments: Roland TR-909 – The Drum Machine That Defined Techno
In the spring of 2016, I went to RBMA with an idea for a featuring celebrating one of electronic music’s most important, but least celebrated, instruments: Roland’s SH-101 mono-synth. They were impressed with the resultant article, and decided to start a series called Instrumental Instruments, focusing on iconic music-making machines. The SH-101 piece was put on hold (it will run in the spring of 2017), with the first instalment in the series being another feature of mine, on Roland’s iconic – and much better known – TR-909 drum machine.
Instrumental Instruments: The Fairlight CMI
There have been few electronic instruments quite as far-sighted as the Fairlight CMI. While prohibitively expensive (roughly equivalent to £80,000 today), this combined digital synthesizer, computer and sampler was years ahead of its’ time. I’ve long been fascinated by it, and was lucky enough to write an Instrumental Instruments feature about it. RBMA also turned my chat with Fairlight maestro JJ Jeczalik (Art of Noise etc.) into a standalone feature, too.
Up To Date festival review
In September, I travelled to Bialystok, a sleepy, historic city close to Poland’s eastern border with Belarus. It’s hardly the sort of place you’d expect to find a fiendishly left-of-centre electronic music festival. Then again, the crew behind Up To Date Festival like to do things differently, as I found out over the course of a memorable weekend. I wrote about what I found for Resident Advisor. Pozdro Techno!
Versatile 1996-2016 review
Before Juno Plus shut its’ doors, I contributed regular in-depth reviews of interesting new music releases. There’s not space to include them all, so I’ve decided to pick out a couple of memorable ones. This lengthy review looks at Versatile Records’ 20th anniversary compilation. I’ve been a big fan of Gilb’R’s eccentric imprint since the tail end of the ‘90s, so it gave me a good excuse to champion the label’s output.
Chi Factory: The Bamboo Recordings review
I’ve not bothered contributing to any ‘best of 2016’ lists – I can barely remember what was released last week, let alone 12 months ago – but this is one album I’ve returned to a lot since it was released in the summer. As ambient sets go, it’s near perfect. Read the review for an idea of what to expect, and some ‘context’. After the review was published, one of the producers behind the album got in touch to say how much he enjoyed reading it, which is always nice.