Gone To A Rave: Before Pulp Fiction – The Early Classics Of Alex Reece
Alex Reece is one of those producers whose long, prolific career has often been hidden behind the sheer bulk of his one monstrous hit. Pulp Fiction is an inarguable jungle milestone, it’s warm sub bass and slick, stripped drums sounding as fresh today as when it first dropped on Metalheadz in 1995. In fact, fuck it, let's hear it now.
But Pulp Fiction’s genre crossing success has masked the fact that in the two years preceding it’s releases, Reece was involved in countless killer tunes – tunes that have equal, if not more appeal to readers of this column. And it's with that in mind that I thought I'd trawl through as much of his early work as I could find. But first a some background. Raised in Ealing, West London, Reece first learned his craft at Basement Records, the label set up by his school mate Ron ‘Jack Smooth’ Wells and Basement Phil – more on those two happy campers in a bit. With Basement churning out numerous tunes – many of which are now recognised as amongst the greatest hardcore made, Reece learned quickly from the best. The speed of Basement's release schedule suggests that Reece must have been in the studio on a weekly basis, explaining just how prolific he was in the years 93-94. From his work at Basement, he then ended up engineering for DJ Phantasy’s Liquid Wax – notable as being a label releasing bass-n-breakbeat tracks called things like Jungle Bass as early as 1991. There’s not even the space to go into the many, many bangers that Reece engineered at Basement and Liquid, although I think it's worth mentioning that he was pushing the buttons on Wax Doctor’s Logical Progression, the tune that ended up gifting Bukem a name for his hugely popular compilation series (EDIT! Gone to a Rave reader Darren Legg has just pointed out that Bukem was using the Logical Progression name as far back as '91 – Doh! Schoolboy error on my part, but shout out to Darren for knowing his shit..!).
When he made the switch from engineering to production, Reece’s early work shows a London kid dipping into rave regardless of genre boundaries, help set the parameters for jungle and hardcore in the process. Anyone who knows him only for his Pulp Fiction and his work after is going to be shocked to hear the jackboot techno of his work with his brother as Acid Lab and XE-DUS, or the pill boshing hardcore of the crazy rare 20 Hurts tear out The Voice. Meanwhile fans of jungle will find so much to love in his ’94 period – particularly the Radioactive Kids releases, with their visionary, peerless futurism. Essentially, there’s a lot of great music to get through, so let's get started-
XE-DUS – Where’s Your Daughter // Acid Lab – Acid Lab
In the spirit of starting with a palette cleanser, let’s kick off with this shirty brainslapper of a record. Think of every single, overly-packaged, longue-bar-ready, smug bastard of a chill out compilation that has got Pulp Fiction stuck in the middle, and then mentally annihilate them with this raging act of aural vandalism. Even the hi hats sound like a hate crime. All four tracks are pure evil, perfect soundtracks for favoured 90s teenage hooligan activities; as well suited to huffing a gluebag as they are for pulling doughnuts in a Happy Shopper carpark. Ahhh nostalgia.
More from Alex’s acid dalliances, the single Acid Lab release sees him linking up with his brother Oscar to produce 4 more tracks of militant Roland-fuelled warfare. Hard acid bubbler Lost Control is probably the track that has given this 12” it’s healthy £20 price tag, but my vote for true sonic innovation goes to the title track, a harsh, glitching attack of sound that has the kind of vicious drum work that you can hear (in admittedly toned down form) in Maurice Fulton’s MU releases. Brutal.
Kid Twist – Champion Sound // Dope on Plastic // The Reece Project – Spirit Come Down
Kid Twist was Reece’s first DJ name. On this, one of his first artist releases, he went right ahead and nicked his main sample from Total Science’s Champion Sound to create a well-crafted darkcore banger. The track was always going to suffer from not being as good as it’s classic namesake – but it’s a decent roller none the less. Dope on Plastic from the same era is stronger. It features devastating sub bass – it’s worth remembering that people just weren’t generally getting this kind of low end on their records in 1993, and it’s testimony to the young Reece’s engineering skills that he managed to EQ out such a neighbour baiting gut shaker.
S.H.A.R.P. Vol 1 was released via Liquid Wax, and recorded in conjunction with label owner Phantasy. Both sides are accomplished ’93 hardcore – they’re still running on four/four beats, even as the breaks hammer over the top. The sheer detail of Reece’s production helps the 12” stand out – the seperation of elements on the tracks is impeccable, with the bass, beats and synths cutting through crystal clear. The quality levels are up there with the kind of thing Production House was putting out; rare in a label as relatively underground as Liquid Wax. A side Spirit Come Down probably just edges it, although both tracks are strong.
Electronic Experienced – V-10 Overload / No. 303 // IQ / More IQ // 20 Hurts – Stay At Home
There are a few releases that saw Reece and Jack Smooth move away from engineering others work and start producing as artists in their own right, using the names Electronic Experienced and 20 Hurts. Under the Electronic Experienced name, V-10 Overload is a fast techno doofer with a bass riff that’s as bouncy as it is gnarly. Those beautiful Jack Smooth synth washes, skittering Detroit robot synths and thumpin 4/4 kicks make this Detroit via London techno; dark and lots of fun, if not exactly groundbreaking. But on the flip the duo found something new. No. 303 fuses Landlord synths with a high speed breakbeat and – here's the twist – a relentless acid line. It's a strange hybrid that was little repeated at the time. At first the acid stis uneasy in the mix, but when the 303 bubbles in on the break its pure rave euphoria. I'd suggest this record contains pretty much every idea that made it into neurofunk DnB around a decade later. Visionary.
When Reece and Smooth returned to the Electronic Experienced project a year later, you can hear how rapidly the sound has moved on from hardcore to proto-jungle. IQ and More IQ retain the darkness and shining synth washes of the previous EE release, but ramp the tempo up and cut out the 4/4 kicks completely. IQ scores points for pulling off a breakdown that's pure Toy Town rave nuttiness while still managing to sound cool as fuck – I can’t think of many other examples that walk that particular tightrope with as much style.
More IQ leaves more space for those incredible synth pads. If you check under the current Youtube video you’ll find a short, moderately peeved comment from Ron ‘Jack Smooth’ Wells correcting someone who attributes the synths to Reece. Ron, in the traditional mould of a million disgruntled hardcore producers, can often be found online slagging off almost everyone he worked with in the 90s. We interviewed him a few years back, and the piece was a blinder of no-fucks-given finger pointing. One of the tragedies about the Ransom Note site revamp that took place a couple of years back up is that we lost all the comments on old articles, thus losing the extended and vitriolic comment battle between Ron and Basement Phil that took place beneath the interview, both claiming the other was talking shit. Nothing the hardcore community likes more than a bust up.
To be fair to Ron, he’s produced countless belters and he definitely doesn’t get the love he deserves. On the other hand, his insistence that Reece did nowt is kinda undermined by the long, fruitful career Alex had away from him – regardless, it’s true that the synths on this are lush…
And now onto a hardcore Holy Grail, a record that’s often seen as the pinnacle of the Reece/ Smooth output. Copies of this were being flogged for three figures until Ron sensibly realised he should just repress the EP. The Voice is the one here, an all-time hardcore classic that features every possible thing you could want; a disembodied voice claiming to be ‘the voice of ecstasy’, a saw toothed bassline that seems louder than a slice of vinyl should possible be able to take, diversions into oddball synth passages, and a breakbeat that rattles along with amphetamine mania. It’s simple and it sounds amazing.
Fallen Angels – Oh Yeah / Hello Lover // Radioactive Kids – Frequency / You Got Me // Unit 1 – The Theme / Atlantic Drama // DJ Pulse & Alex Reece – Kudos
Onto the jungle years proper. Fallen Angels was the first of a few aliases Reece would use when collaborating with Paul ‘Wax Doctor’ Saunders. Realistically, their first release, the two track 12” Oh Yeah / Hello Lover, isn’t about to shake your world. Whilst Oh Yeah is a tasty enough roller with some nice intro pads and strong drums, it doesn’t really do enough to distinguish itself from the millions of other tracks that bubbled up on a similar vibe in 94. Hello Lover is interesting in that it has a healthy chunk of Stacey Pullen’s track Mystical Adventures chucked in the middle – with the Pullen track coming out only a year before, this is a great example of the influence Detroit was having over the melody and texture of jungle’s synthetic, future soul aesthetic. The DJ Hype remix of Hello Lover retained the Mystical Adventure sample, and delivered some typically ragga-fied peak era Hype bass pressure. It’s a banger, and here it is:
It was on Frequency that the Reece/ Saunders duo really made their mark. Released in '94, the first minute of the track is up there with the opening of Arsonist as one of the jungle’s greatest intros. The tune feels like the birth of a new planet, synths toppling from the sky like falling stars as the drums wriggle and evolve into a new life form. When the heavy bass kicks in around 4.30 it’s all over. This is golden age stuff; sonically breath-taking dance floor genius.
Frequency dropped on Reece’s Radioactive Kids label, a sublabel of Creative Wax that only existed for a handful of projects. There were four Radioactive Kids 12”s released through 1994, with Reece involved in all of them – and every one is a killer. Under the Interception name (one of his many collaborations with DJ Pulse) he kicked the label off with Ominous Clouds. As aptly named a jungle tune as you’re going to get, the track starts off with creeping bleeps and sinister washes of sound laid over bone dry breaks. In many cases this would have been enough to last the whole track, so it’s something of a shock when, a few minutes in, the brutal aggy synth ploughs through the wall, clutching a fistful of shattered amens.
A couple of releases on you can hear Prescription Underground, which itches like a clucking junky before switching into jazz samples grabbed from Jeru the Damaja’s Can’t Stop the Prophet (as with the previously mentioned Stacy Pullen sample, the Jeru track was out earlier that year- no one gave a shit about copyright in the golden age of jungle)
For more Reece and Pulse, you need to check Kudos. Sharing DNA (and drum breaks) with Omni Trio’s Renegade Snares and Deep Blue’s Helicopter Tune, Kudos is a sublime work of golden age sunrise jungle – it’s got the epic, beautiful pads and reverberating diva vocals that would characterise the emerging intelligent DnB scene, without ever losing it’s grip on rave battering amen chops and ultra-low bass. Something of a slept on classic.
Away from Radioactive Kids, but still in 94, Reece recorded more work with Saunders under their Unit 1 name. Of the Unit 1 releases, their first 12” Theme shows an attempt to push their sound outwards. It opens in slightly predictable style; deep synths accompanied by gurgling water samples – surely the most thoroughly rinsed of all the intelligent jungle staples. But then after 4 minutes in it switches into a wild amen cut up that’s at odds with Reece’s usually sleek breakbeats – it sounds more like a Desired State production, and is worth checking.
Their other major ’94 release as Unit 1, Atlantic Drama, is currently being listed for 50 notes on Discogs. Those intelligent collectors are going to be spitting all over their audiophile rigs. Whilst I’m not convinced the track is worth shelling out £50 on, it is a clean and lovely work that sees Reece and Saunders move beyond their more straight forward nice sample + amen formula into a newly complex musicality, the track evolving through several phases of melody as the drums slower layer up. If you’re looking for signposts to Pulp Fiction, this is the place to start. Intriguingly the flip side Love Me is a dark, chopped up roller, almost techy in execution. It drops down into keyboard stabs that are pure industrial menace half way through and the more I listen the more I’m starting to think this record might be worth the cash after all…
Alex Reece – Basic Principles
And here it is – away from the collaborations that had characterised his work up to this point, in late '94 Reece stepped out into the limelight to and switched his sound. Out went the aggression and busy percussion of his early releases, replaced by a freshly minted aesthetic of clean lines, soulful vocals and keys that were clearly influenced by the jazzy end of Detroit techno, and drums reduced to a driving, minimal funk. Basic Principles lays out the Pulp Fiction blueprint, right down to the sizzling crash cymbals, the diva samples, and the sense of mystery created from a careful use of delay. The track name was a clue that Reece had settled on a new direction – whether this was intentional or not, Basic Principles marked a new phase in his career – and perhaps a new phase for drum n bas as a whole.