A creative conclusion: Sabres of Paradise alumni Blue come full circle
28 years ago, under the moniker Blue, Chris Mann and Paul Darking released their debut EP on Andrew Weatherall’s Sabres Of Paradise.
This was the beginning of a fruitful partnership with the Guv’nor and his labels — several other releases followed; another EP for Sabres; two LPs on Weatherall’s other label Emissions Audio Output; and a hand on Emissions’ sub-labels. A couple more landed on Iris Light Records, but as the millennium approached the pair decided to call it a day.
Now, almost three decades later, Brussels’ imprint Souvenirs From Imaginary Cities have collected an LP of music made by the duo between 1997 and 2001, all of which were saved on DAT-tapes.
The Path Of Least Resistance Meets The Point Of No Return was originally intended to be an ambient album but it wasn’t finished before Blue stopped producing – that is until now. A recent return to the studio allowed Chris and Paul to complete the release, bringing the project to a coherent and mesmerising conclusion after all this time.
In the below interview, the duo discuss their formative musical influences, making the connection with Andrew Weatherall and the magic formula that makes their music stand out from the pack.
Paul and Chris, you are both from Cambridge in the UK. How did you meet each other?
Paul: It was the end of the eighties and acid house had just started to become big. We both had played in several bands already when we met in a group called The Mood Assassins. Obsessed by Shriekback and A Certain Ratio, we were completely into post-punk.
Chris: Cambridge had a lively but small scene, so you kind of knew anyone anyway, you bumped into each other. We gigged a lot but never released a record and it all fell apart after a few years. We were in our early twenties.
Other than post-punk, what were you into during those formative adolescent years?
Paul: I had a broad church as far as my musical taste concerns, I have always preferred to divide music into good and bad, regardless of their genre. For a while I drummed in an African-influenced band with a close friend of mine who had Senegalese roots. We even travelled to Senegal together, it had a tremendous influence on me and was a very educational period.
Chris: I played in bands from the age of 13, mostly dodgy rock music. When punk broke, we all joined punk bands and when punk turned into post-punk, we followed. I have also been part of Stormed, a reggae band with a punky attitude. Later I started to get into hip hop and industrial music and released a couple of twelve inches with House Grinder, where I rapped on some kind of industrial funk influenced by the Manchester scene. When Mood Assassins folded and House Grinder fizzled out, I joined a soul band where we tried to become professional musicians for a few years. And I started another band dubbed Sonic Love Coalition.
Paul: After Mood Assassins I did various things, among others a folk band crossed with a rap band and CAN. But when acid house kicked in, I instantly realized this was what I had been waiting for. I bought a pair of turntables and started DJing. I remember playing Newbuild by 808 State to Chris, we both were flabbergasted, this music came from another planet.
From there, how did you end up releasing on Andrew Weatherall’s labels?
Chris: We started writing house and techno tracks together, mostly built on samples. Technology made the hardware affordable, so we programmed the hell out of it, using these machines like toy boxes. Being able to deconstruct music and put it back together in a different format was a process that was very satisfying to me. When My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne was released I was completely flabbergasted, it sounded so fresh.
Paul: First we intended to make the same kind of music that I was DJing, but soon it turned into our distinct Blue sound. It wasn’t conscious, it just happened.
Chris: We had a combined love for everything signed by Andrew Weatherall, first the uptempo music and later the On-U and dubby stuff.
Paul: Adrian Sherwood and the On-U Sound, Lee Scratch Perry and Studio One are definitely major influences. Stripped down, dubby and roots reggae have always gotten to me.
Chris: The Clash got me into reggae and then The Pop Group and they started working with On-U Sound, that’s how I discovered them. At the same time I was listening to bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy, which again goes into Front 242 and industrial techno.
Paul: Finitribe and Test Department were other industrial bands I was very much into. All these bands started making acid house at a certain point. A friend and I were running an acid house club in Cambridge in the early nineties and Andrew Weatherall was one of the first DJs to come down and play for us. He kept coming and was really supportive, even leaving us promo records or copies of his Boy’s Own fanzine. I can’t say we were best friends, he was a superstar DJ from London that we greatly admired, but when we had our first demos ready, we obviously gave them to him.
Chris: To him and Warp. Warp was a bit interested, but not that much. Andrew really liked it.
Paul: When we first sat down with Andrew, he started asking about our sampling, we instantly connected well, he understood what we wanted to do with our music.
On April 8th 1995 British weekly music magazine Melody Maker wrote: ‘Fusing contemporary deep techno with ON-U sensibilities and an obvious love for the Studio 1 roots vibe, Blue’s Chris Mann and Paul Darking display an intrinsic understanding of the sensual power of dub at its best on their debut album Resistance’. What do you think your magic formula was?
Chris: A lot of what we did was based on the fact we were drummers.
Paul: It was all rhythm at first, later on I started to understand melody and vocals more.
Chris: I believe our broad sampling is what distinguished us from other popular music at the time such as trip hop, who were mostly referencing hip hop. We took it quite far and sampled bands I can only mention off the record. (Laughs hard).
Did you perform live as Blue?
Chris: We both come from a history of performance and Paul was doing his DJing, so playing live was something that came naturally. But technology was still very primitive, using Cubase on a computer where the mouse could shake too much it froze the computer and we had to reboot in the middle of a gig.
Paul: We did a few memorable gigs together, but not so many in total. Thanks to Sabres Of Paradise we made it to the UXI Festival at the bottom of a glacier in Iceland on the same bill as Bjork, The Prodigy and Aphex Twin. We spent the weekend in a tent, it never got dark, and Bjork borrowed our Atari. It was quite an experience.
Interview conducted by Koen Galle (Souvenirs From Imaginary Cities).
‘The Path Of Least Resistance Meets The Point Of No Return (SFIC002)’ is out digitally and on 2×12” vinyl LP on Souvenirs From Imaginary Cities. It collects a coherent set of tracks – all carefully saved on DAT-tapes – made between 1997 and 2001.