Electribal Gathering – Billie Ray Martin recalls

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Written by Tim Murray

As Electribe 101’s masterful debut album Electribal Memories gets a welcome remastered release spanning a vinyl version and a four-CD box, singer Billie Ray Martin recalls the formation of the band, record company problems and getting the Marshall Jefferson seal of approval…

1990(ish) and as the house music explosion across the `UK splintered into a million and one different offshoots, with a myriad of different takes on what had happened two years previously,  one song seemed to unite everyone from the Acid Teds and cheesy quavers populating the fag-end of the M25 rave boom to the Michiko-clad west Londoners hanging out in more chic central locations.

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Electribe 101’s Talking With Myself, remixed by some fella called Frankie Knuckles, was ubiquitous – in the clubs, at raves, in the car on the way there (and back), at the afters and even making it as the last record as the night and day and party finally drew to a close.


It wasn’t just that imperial single either – one that still holds its own and stands up supremely as a gorgeous slice of soulful house, a slower tempo than many of its contemporaries and other Knuckles outings with Billie Ray Martin’s swoonsome vocal riding over the top of Knuckle’s lush synth strings and pianos. It had that perfect combination that suited the time so well, slightly mournful, melancholic and yet simultaneously uplifting.

It was followed by a clutch of singles, including Tell Me When The Fever Ended and a cracking cover of Odyssey’s Inside Out.


All featured on the band’s debut album, Electribal Memories – when style and music magazines were consistently asking “has xxx just made the first truly great house music album?” – but it never felt as if they fully got the recognition they deserved, and they split after the band’s second album was deemed not worthy of release.

Now, after a belated bow for that lost sophomore LP, Electribal Soul, singer Martin has helped oversee a four-CD box featuring the first album, Electribal Memories, remastered, alongside a slew of remixes, unreleased versions, demos and more. It’s a fascinating look not just at the gestation of an album, but also the opportunity to give a real reappraisal of what is an overlooked classic. The fact that it’s taken this long to get the kudos it deserves is a crying shame, but at least, now the record company wrangling has long disappeared, it can be fully reassessed and rightfully rake its place in the house music pantheon and earn its recognitions as one of the first truly great house music albums.


As Martin says now, the band were partly exiled from the story of house music in the UK. “I am chuffed people still like it and that now they tell us, for instance via social media, that this is the case,” she says. “We were completely written out of history, so I never had a view on whether the album was worthwhile beyond the time it was made and released. Apparently it is. I love some of the songs and I have said may times in the last couple of years, particularily when I released Electribal Soul, how much more aware I am now of the sheer brilliance of the guys in the group in terms of their skills, their judgement of what works and so forth.


“They created much more than a backdrop on which I could shine, much more. I am very grateful.”


The band famously formed after Martin, who’d already sung with S’Express after meeting Mark Moore on the dancefloor at Shoom (where else?), placed an ad in Melody Maker and, driven by a passion for what was happening at the time – the Acid House explosion – they quickly bonded around house music. The template for their early demos that ran through to the album was provided by songs such as Talking… already penned by Martin, and a copy of Julian Jonah’s deeper than deep deep house record Jealousy and Lies.

“I had brought the moody nature into the equation, by bringing Julian Jonah’s track Jealousy and Lies to our first session,” she explains. “I had an instinct also that my voice, being a songwriter as well, would fit tracks that would breathe, leave some space. This was picked up by the guys immediately and so the album was created.”


Was there pressure to create “the first great house music album” though? It wasn’t felt by Martin and co, nor was there any real competition with contemporaries. It was, she notes, just about being part of the same scene.

“We had no agenda other than to make good music,” she says. “Rivals didn’t exist. We were a worldwide movement, even if we didn’t know each other. Our inspirations were Julian Jonah, Fingers Inc., Marshall Jefferson, MC. 900 ft Jesus and DJ Zero, Kraftwerk and any and all soul music.”

The nationwide and global growth of house music provided the backdrop and what Andrew Weatherall (borrowed from Orson Welles), would call the confidence of ignorance, of being young and not knowing the rules you were meant to follow. “I think we were winging it. I’d bring a song or we’d try and write one, according to whatever we were listening to at the time, and what I’d bring and suggest. We didn’t know if we could write songs together yet so there was no vision as such. But being part of this worldwide movement showed us the way.”

That worldwide movement, the positivity and optimism that house and the accompanying MDMA-laced trimmings, influenced the album. Or, to put it another way, the relentless partying and clubbing, the joy of being out every night of the week, with the Monday through to Thursday clubbing just as important as the weekend side, fed into the album.

As Billie Ray Martin notes: “Every day. I’d bring tracks up to Birmingham or they would come to London and we’d sit and listen to my latest obsession. I was part of the London house movement and I don’t think a day went by when I didn’t go nuts in one of the clubs. Even when we first toured with I-D Magazine, I jumped off stage and could be seen leaping around the dancefloor more than I was on stage. It was just too exciting.”

The Knuckles mix, along with contributions from the likes of Larry Heard, were all part of that club-friendly vibe. Even the ones that turned it down brought a certain satisfaction. “We approved any suggestions that came from the side of the record company…or dis-approved. I suggested some of them. Frankie I can’t remember how it came about. Marshall Jefferson we asked, but he said he couldn’t improve on the perfection. Praise indeed.”

The newly remastered material has given time for that reappraisal and, as Martin notes, the support of a record company behind them is in sharp contrast to more than 30 years ago.

“It’s been a joy [working on this]. Demon Music created such an incredible package and had wonderful masters done. Working on the artwork with Philip Marshall has been great, as always. We have a long term relationship as friends and we’ve worked on my artwork for eons so we argue like mad about stuff. In the end it always seems to work out. Reading the reviews of the album is mind-blowing.


“Because the songs were hits and things like TOTP happened, albeit obviously not huge hits we were aware that we had a following and we saw it growing. "


But the record company did not give us a chance to continue but sacking us. Luckily the second ‘lost album’ is now out. After the brand broke up we were never mentioned again so…. [I have] no idea who liked us and who didn’t.”

It was, as she acknowledges, a strange time. The majors had been caught on the fly and didn’t really know how to market in this brave new world. And perhaps Electribe 101 got caught further up, not only were they part of the new, post-1988 scene, where the rulebook was being updated and rewritten on the fly, but they didn’t fit into the catsuits, hoodies, baseball caps and Troop trainers style that was de rigueur for the new crop of bands riding in to the Top Of The Pops studio in the wake of the rave and house explosion.

“I am not sure if it was maybe the same old story of record companies jumping on a movement and doing their best to capitalise on it, while it lasts."


“They certainly promoted dance music but Talking With Myself, for instance, was an underground hit already, before they got on board. Nothing new there I guess. But it was a good time in terms of all these weird dance tracks being on TOTP. There was a freedom which they couldn’t ignore. I remember the record company having trouble understanding my ideas in terms of promotion. Because I brought ideas for the styling, artwork and videos to them which were not standard rave aesthetic they thought I was weird and they seemed scared. They did definitely try to keep me in line, and I tried to let them know that I was not willing to compromise.”

But despite the wrangling that hampered the release of the first album, the shelving of the second one, the band are belatedly getting our dues and Billy Ray Martin, who of course went on to enjoy major success as a solo artist and more, is not weighed down by bitterness. “I’m so grateful that I could be part of it, got my chance, and we as a band got our chance. That’s what remains. The music was incredibly soulful so what more could I have wished for. Karl Bartos from Kraftwerk once said to me over coffee that he couldn’t imagine Aretha Franklin singing over Krafwerk music. With a bit more imagination however it’s easy to know that are opportunities for such attempts. (Not that I can sing like Aretha of course)… I believe Electribe’s music achieved just that.”

And how does the view the wider acid house malarkey and its ramifications?

“I don’t think it can be copied into the present times,” she concludes. :People try but.. nothing will match the excitement and innovation of Fingers Inc, Master C&J and all the others. It was in the air. With my new music I’ve put that to rest and I will be releasing completely different music.

The phenomenon was freeing and I feel that it reverberates to this day in us. We could just be happy and at the same time create new stuff.”

  • Electribe 101’s Electribal Memories is out now on 180g half speed mastered vinyl and a deluxe four-CD set collecting together remixes, extended versions, radio edits and original band demos. A special translucent yellow vinyl edition has just been released through HMV