Music writer Michael A. Gonzalespenned a dynamite article celebrating the 20th-anniversary release of Mezzaninefrom UK band Massive Attack.
Mezzanine is an album best listened to loud, preferably on earphones, to properly hear the layers of weirdness and rhythms, a soulful sound collage that was miles away from the “Parklifes” and “Champagne Supernovas” of their Brit-pop contemporaries Blur and Oasis.
Along with the likes of fellow Bristol-based artists Portishead and Tricky, the band helped usher in an era of trip-hop. The trip-hop genre mashed hip-hop and electronica, adding layers of rock, soul, and dub. Mezzanine was therefore fresh and original, contrary to the DJ sampling on the group’s previous two albums Blue Lines and Protection.
The trip-hop label was bestowed on the group by the Brit journalist Jonathan Taylor to describe the trippy music that was simultaneously street and psychedelic. Trip-hop was a tag that, like jazz, was often rejected by the practitioners, but it fit perfectly.
Mezzanine contained 4 singles, each matched by a dark and intriguing music video (see below). It’s also worth mentioning that one of the three key band members, Robert Del Naja, is rumored to be street artist Banksy.
To celebrate the album’s 20th anniversary, the band decided to release the album in DNA format. 920,000 DNA strands make it the second-largest file ever stored in DNA. This is sure to make it forever timeless.
The greatest DJ of all time John Peel played his music before ‘breakcore’ existed as a recognized genre. Thom Yorke of Radiohead once called his music ‘menacing.’ He opened for Radiohead in 2001.
Christoph de Babalon AKA Jan-Christoph Wolter is an electronic music producer from Hamburg, Germany. His discography is exhaustive, but he hasn’t always produced dark, intense breakbeats. According to his profile, he withdrew from the music scene in 2001 to compose music for theater and dance before making a comeback in 2008.
Now back to basics, the 4-track Grim Zenith EP is refreshing as it is melancholic. The track ‘Could We Be?’ kicks off the record with a gloomy breakbeat against the nasty sub bass that bounces around the eardrums. Haunting but poetic. Grab the album on Bandcamp or Boomkat.
I remember buying this random disc in Palo Alto, California while at summer camp in high school. I had probably read a review about it in an issue of URB Magazine, which was one of my primary 90s go-to sources for discovering fresh underground music.
In the CD age, everything was a $14.99 crapshoot. You really never knew what type of sound you were going to hear, let alone if the music was worth the price tag. But I got lucky with Smith & MightyBass is Maternal, 15-tracks that introduced me to the sound of dub while also converging elements of techno, hip-hop, and jungle music. Their music planted the seeds for the Bristol trip-hop explosion from Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky.
I don’t think you’ll find the album on any of the streaming services (here’s the Amazon link for the CD) but if you’re going to start digging, start with the crispy breakbeats on the track ‘Evolve.’
Marcus Intalex aka Marcus Kaye/Trevino was a drum n bass from the UK, known for spinning the liquid and soul side of DnB.
He created one of the best– if not the best–mixes of the Fabric Live compilations. The record introduced me to the likes of Calibre and Alix Perez. Fabric made the album available for streaming for the next week or so. Stream it below and be sure to snag a copy on their website.
Intalex’s last release Four: Fit EP appeared on his Manchester-based Soul:R record label. Peep the stellar tune ‘Step Forward’ below.
Shugo Tokumaru is a Japanese singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. He’s basically a one-man show.
But you don’t need to understand his native Japanese to dig his euphoric melodies, such as the jubilant track ‘Bricolage Music’ which pops and claps in a fidgety rhythm before breaking open to a balearic jam at the two-minute mark.
Compton-based rapper Buddy is back with some beats and rhymes on the 5-track EP entitled Ocean & Montana, a collaboration with Canadian producer Kaytranada.
Buddy originally signed to Pharrell Williams’ I Am Other label where he released the Idle Time album in 2014 along with his single ‘Awesome Awesome.’ But the label relationship fizzled out.
The partnership with Kaytranada is a better fit nonetheless. ‘Guillotine’ pairs Buddy’s smooth flow over some funky West Coast electronic vibes. This is certainly no come-back record; rather, Buddy is just getting started. And Kaytranada’s beats continue to get more interesting.
Yasmine Hamdan is a Parisian-based electronic musician who grew up in war-torn Lebanon. While’s she gained a reputation in the Middle East as an underground artist, her latest solo record Al Jamilatplans to unleash her to a broader audience. The track ‘La Ba’den’ offers dreamy electronic Arab vibes. Compelling stuff.
+ Listen to her interview on the latest Gilles Peterson show.
Liam Bailey is a soul and reggae artist from Nottingham, England. He’s collaborated with drum n bass producers Chase and Status and Shy FX, as well as Amy Winehouse and more recently, Gorillaz.
The reggae-infused track ‘When Will They Learn’ originally released on vinyl in 2011 but got a rerelease in 2013 on Magic Records. An untrained vocalist, Bailey says his raw singing is reminiscent of the sounds of vinyl, something the greatest rock DJ John Peel also echoed.
“I don’t want to compare myself to magic, but imperfections are what make us human.”
Jan Jelinek is a Berlin-based electronic producer. He’s known for his abstract style of moiré in which he reduces beat patterns to a third dimension.
The minimalist track ‘Tendency‘ appears on the album Loop – Finding – Jazz – Records, originally released in 2001. So it predates the dub-techno framework later adopted by Burial and the likes of Forest Swords.
Slowthai is a rapper/producer from Northampton, England. His latest solo release slowitdown packs a serious punch of grime beats and lyrical jabs, most notably on the track ‘Wiseman’ which originally premiered on Boiler Room and played more recently on the Gilles Peterson show.
Hector Plimmer is an electronic producer from South London. His latest record, Sunshine, is an exploration of trippy synths and jazz drums. “It represents (in no particular order) my musical journey over the past 4 or so years, some of which may never have seen the light of day,” says the musician.
The opening track ‘Let’s Stay’ is a sublime mix of dreamy keys laced to a head-nodding drum kicks. It’s no surprise his influences range from Flying Lotus, Portishead, to Theo Parrish.
Kara-Lis Coverdale is“one of the most exciting young composers in North America,” proclaimsThe Guardian. It’s not hard to understand why.
Her new 22-minute track ‘Grafts’ is gorgeous, rolling in hypnotic piano layers and echoes, “never fully coming to a resolution,” as Boomkat describes it, “Lingering on like a slowly dispersing plume of smoke.”
Between listening to this and the new Actress record, I feel like I’ve been living in another world for days.
Flako is Dario Rojo Guerra, a Berlin-based producer known for his helter-skelter beats. I first discovered him in 2010 with his jaw-dropping Pharcyde sample on the track ‘Love.’
He’s since expanded his sound beyond hip-hop to include more live instruments and global soundscapes, paying tribute to his German-Chilean heritage. Now releasing music under his rebranded name Natureboy, Flako has done some reworks most notably with Malian Wassoulou Oumou Sangaré’s track ‘Yere Faga.’ A worthy listen.