Last week I wrote about the early days of Production House, covering the releases the pre-1991 releases, trying to give some background on the depth of knowledge that fueled the label. This depth is vital - Production House was run by musicians coming from a funk and soul background, well versed in traditional song writing techniques. Unlike a lot of the kids in the hardcore boom, Production House’s main writer, Floyd Dyce, had been involved in producing music for nearly a decade by the start of the 90s, even working as a backing singer in Phil Fearon's Galaxy. Crucially, Dyce had the rare ability to unlearn. Rave demanded a totally different approach to structure, arrangement and melody than the funk and boogie Dyce (or anyone!) had been involved in, and I think it’s testimony to the producer that he managed to jettison what must have been deeply ingrained working practices, to deliver music that clattered, snapping from sample to sample, and raging with discordant melody. When contemporary critics of the rave scene were dismissing the music as ‘kids stuff’ they really didn’t have a Scooby what they were on about – the Production House records are rich with samples, not because they were being made by kids grabbing anything that came to hand (not that there’s anything wrong with that approach), but because the core Production House team were utterly immersed in a funk, soul and breakbeat background. The samples were parts of a continuing conversation, a way of hacking the past into chunks and dragging it into the future. These weren't chancers who couldn't write music - they were artists who were so far ahead, they'd outgrown traiditonal methods of composition, and were forging new relationships between song, rhythm and the manipulation of recorded sound.
The first Production House track that really signposts the label’s step into the big time is the (Dyce produced) House Crew classic ‘Keep the Fire Burning’. Opening with samples from an earlier Baby D track clashing with sharpened stabs of synth, at first ‘Keep the Fire Burning' is a wall of cacophony, owing as much to the noisescapes of Public Enemy hitmakers The Bomb Squad as it does Belgian New Beat. It reaches a near unbearable peak, then the immortal ‘cut the midrange, drop the bass’ vocal drops (taken from The House Crew's earlier 'All We Wanna Do Is Dance', see last week for more on that), and the track kicks into one of the warm, bouncy basslines Dyce perfected. This is layered up with Annie Lennox's ethereal vocal from 'There Must Be An Angel', pitched up higher than heaven. Dyce may not have been the first to create breakbeat rave. but with 'Keep the Fire Burning' he laid out a blueprint for what was possible - noise, melody, pop hooks, and heavy bass.
It was an instant, massive hit on the underground, and the start of a mighty run for the label that peaked with the huge 1994 chart success of Baby D's 'Let Me Be Your Fantasy'. The intervening years threw up too many classics to cover in the space of this piece - and I'm probably not even gonna have time to get into the jungle comps they put out round '94... Recent years have also seen a reissue program which has digitised the work of Acen, The House Crew, and The Brothers Grimm and I've got no intention of taking food from there mouths - here's a taster of each of their work though, click the links above to buy any of their tracks on mp3 through Amazon - this music would set you back a small fortune on 12", so it's amazing value.
First off, this 12" from The Brothers Grimm (an alias for Dyce and Acen) is pretty much perfect - Exodus opens with Tubular Bells samples and tightly controlled breaks before completely swithcing up half way through into a ragga tear out. I've never been able to establish where the 'lion awakes' sample comes from, and would love to know - if anyone can help me out please hit me up in the comments - it's been nagging at me for years.... The other side has a meticulously utilised string sample taken from 'Papa Don't Preach' - it's often overlooked in favour of 'Exodus', but equally worthy
Next up, no Production House piece would be complete without touching on Acen's 'Trip to the Moon' - a prog epic, rich with arpeggios, strange cosmic synth and eerie sapces. 'Trip to the Moon' saw mulitple renditions, with Acen repeatedly refining the track until he was happy. I feel that the final part (Part 3) is the most complete version, but heads can debate it for days -
Now, onto the more obscure tracks - none of these have been properly digitised as yet, which is remarkable given their quality. The X-Static EP was another project from Dyce and Acen, this time collaborating with a guy called Russell Norris, who I can't find any info on. X-Static had released one earlier 12" in 1991 ('Free'), but on this 3 tracker, they deliver everytime. Opener 'Ready 2 Go' chops up the break 4 Hero made famous on Mr Kirk, combining it with a sub tear out that should sound familiar - Dyce and Acen recycled it for the breakdown on 'Let Me Be Your Fantasy'. Here it is in it's rawest state. On the flip side, Murderous Style is some ragga styled hardcore, whilst 'My Inspiration' revists the bass preset that made 'Keep the Fire Burning' a hit.
Surprisingly, the DJ Solo track Axis has yet to be digitised - the flip of the more widely known and often compiled ‘Darkage’, 'Axis' lifts it’s ‘deep in the underground’ vocal from the US soulful house banger ‘I’m Falling Too’ – I’m fairly convinced those synths have been used somewhere as well, though I can’t place em now. It's a 1993 slice of darkcore and a decent indication as to where the sound was going.
That's it for now - next week I've managed to get a rare interview with Suburban Base's Danny Donnelly, talking about hardcore's other greatest label, and I've got a few more exciting interviews in the pipeline.... Whistle posse hold tight .... !