‘Music unearthed from the depths of the earth’: how trip-hop never stopped | Music

NOTNo one really wanted to be a trip-hop. Nightmares’ stoner beats on Wax’s 1995 album Smokers Delight were defining for the time, but it bore the prominent caption: “THIS IS NOT TRIP HOP.” James Lavelle’s Mo ‘Wax label flirted with the term after it was coined by Mixmag in 1994, but soon switched to displaying it conspicuously crossed out on their sleeves. Ninja Tune imprinted the phrase “triphoptimism” on a large packet of rolling paper in 1996, but only as a category breakout joke.

“I’ve always hated the term,” says Lou Rhodes of Lamb, “and I would always make a point in interviews to dispute its use in relation to Lamb.” Mark Rae of Rae & Christian similarly states, “I would give a rating of 9/10 on the lazy journalist scale to anyone who put us in the trip-hop camp. ” And The fierce hatred of the term Geoff Barrow – not to mention its app in Portishead – has become the makings of a social media legend.

The disgust is understandable. The pattern of creeping rhythms, cinematic strings and dubby basslines, usually with a singer and weed-smoking signifiers, became one of the most ubiquitous sounds of the late ’90s. The phrase itself- even has stretched to become a catch-all for all downtempo music, from budget “chillout” CD at the supermarket checkout to very elaborate British soul. It soon became the object of a snobbery, called “coffee table music” by those who found the idea that music could be heartwarming or domesticated like anathema.

Jhelisa Anderson found in the UK “a version of the modern blues, a depth and a darkness”. Photography: Dwayne Boyd

But whatever you call it, the specific downtempo vibe of the ’90s remains. Nightmares on Wax’s new album, Shout Out! To Freedom…, shows producer George Evelyn as committed to cosmic rhythms and as inspired as ever, and Smokers Delight received a deluxe reissue treatment last year. Forever I Wait by Martina Topley-Bird (with several productions by Robert “3D” Del Naja from Massive Attack), Squaring the Circle by reformed Sneaker Pimps, and even I’ve Been Trying to Tell You by Saint Etienne, mainly instrumental, meander all with classic trip-hop style mood. Jhelisa, whose ’90s albums easily bridged the gap between trip-hop and acid jazz, is back and on spectacularly trippy form with 7 Keys V.2, too.

And perhaps more importantly, young musicians channel the sound. Some of the world’s most prominent artists – Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey, Lorde – don’t shy away from these ’90s references. Alicia Keys’ new single Best of Me couldn’t be more trip-hop if it had been filmed in a smoky Bristol basement in 1995. In left field, groups such as Young Echo, Tirzah and Space Afrika explore eerily familiar dark, dubby spaces, the latter citing Tricky as a key precedent. Much of the new British soul and jazz, from Jorja Smith to Children of Zeus to Moses Boyd and Sault, is distinctly trip-hop; Arlo Parks’ award-winning album Mercury is imbued with it, as is Greentea Peng, the cosmic provocateur and tattooed dub-soul. Lo fi homebrew remixes of anime and game themes, which could easily pass for trip-hop, regularly record tens of millions of streams on YouTube, as do “study / relax / beat beats” streams. sleeper ”trip-hoppy. Even Drill in the UK demonstrates a connection, in Tara Mills’ album False Hope, to the music of drill and road rap producer Carns Hill. “It’s interesting that all of that era is coming back,” says Evelyn, noting the extraordinary Afghan-German producer Farhot’s similarity to DJ Shadow. “So, of course, you start to think: am I that old?” “

Liam Howe passed the trip-hop gene down to FKA twigs, Lana Del Rey and Adele.
Liam Howe passed the trip-hop gene down to FKA twigs, Lana Del Rey and Adele. Photography: Chris Frazer Smith

To understand the durability of these sounds, it’s worth considering some of the objections to how they’ve been labeled. Evelyn grew up with the reggae soundsystem culture and was a hip-hop and electro fanatic, who broke competitively as a teenager. He viewed his early rave tunes as a hip-hop collage in the tradition of instrumentals from Mantronix, Marley Marl, DJ Red Alert and co. “But,” he said, “in the UK we’re really good at taking something and making it our own, and when I think back to that whole ’90s period, it was exciting: we were doing all this stuff. downtempo, but merged with all this other exciting electronic shit going on at the same time. The drum’n’bass thing, the jungle thing, all of which were born out of the same set of influences. 90s. It was exciting, it was like a new sound came out of the UK every three days.

Rhodes, too, took inspiration from the rave’s breakbeat collage. “Our experience was the nights at the hacienda and Manchester pirate stations,” she says, recalling the voice of Peter Bouncer on the Shut Up and Dance breakbeats on the 1992 rave song, Love Is All We Need. “My mom was a folk singer and I felt the urge to write songs that danced around those damn beats. This was the impulse for the Lamb. Closeness to techno, rave and electronica is embodied in labels such as Warp, Ninja Tune and Mo ‘Wax, where Squarepusher, Autechre, Roni Size and Carl Craig rub shoulders with – or remix – groups downtempo. This is a lineage explored in the 2020 Bedroom Beats & B-Sides book by Laurent Fintoni, which also explores how trip-hop influenced Flying Lotus (an avowed fan of Portishead), and thus the experimental ‘beat scene’ and the 21st century hip. -hop more widely.

Louise Rhodes and Andrew Barlow of Lamb in 2001.
Louise Rhodes and Andrew Barlow of Lamb in 2001. Photograph: Gie Knaeps / Getty Images

The other essential precursor was the unique UK soul line. “Sade, Cymande, Soul II Soul,” recalls Evelyn, “that was the foundation of everything we did too. Even when we were rocking [reggae] soundsystems, you always had about half an hour when they were playing street soul or rare grooves. All of this has influenced us all; I’m sure someone like [Massive Attack’s] Papa G would say the same. In the late ’80s and early’ 90s, bands such as Smith & Mighty, the Sindecut, Young Disciples and, of course, Soul II Soul and Massive Attack made a very British casual breakbeat sound ubiquitous on the charts. to underground clubs. The acid jazz movement was superimposed on that too: this is the scene from which Mo ‘Wax emerged, and Liam Howe of Sneaker Pimps remembers, around 1993, “taking our white labels to record stores in Soho, where you might stumble upon [acid jazz movers] Kevin Beadle, Gilles Peterson, James Lavelle and Patrick Forge…

Jhelisa Anderson is one of the most obvious soul / jazz ties, but also one of the few musicians to affectionately adopt the term “trip-hop”. Mississippian by birth, she liked British eccentricity and independence from an American industry that “would have made me try to copy Janet Jackson.” She found, in Portishead, Tricky and Topley-Bird, “a version of modern blues, a depth and a darkness” which drew a line of soul from the 60s and 70s, but also had a connection with “something old and of pagan that I heard in Thom Yorke and shoegaze, another kind of old expression of feeling blue, of being dark ”.

This conception of a kind of uniquely British blues is not so far-fetched. Tara Mills was not born when Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy came out, but cites it as one of her favorite songs: To This Song. And she found precisely the right darkness in Carns Hill’s exercise rhythms to “make you feel something the same way.” And bad humor and melancholy have permeated a new generation in so many other ways. Rhodes hears “a kind of bloodline that runs through James Blake and the xx” to Billie Eilish et co. His son Reuben, who releases downtempo beats under the name Joseph Efi, links the “bristol sound” of Portishead and Massive Attack to the ineffable sadness of Burial. “There is something about the melancholy of these Bristol tunes,” he says, “that could only have come from the depths of a small British town. Music dug up from underground or heard in the pouring rain on your return home in the evening.

Martina Topley Bird
Martina Topley-Bird: “In America, people talk about trip-hop without any feeling of shame or embarrassment. Photography: Martina Fornace

This mood gradually spread across the world. As well as through electronic and hip-hop artists such as Flying Lotus, and the ubiquity of tracks such as Rob Dougan’s Mo ‘Wax, Clubbed to Death in the Hollywood soundtracks, the British bad mood has found its way. place in the major pop exports. Mark Rae notes that “our production and writing of the Texas-influenced song The Hush by Dido and the domino effect is created when this language is successfully disseminated to the general public.” It’s not a big step to hear trip-hop echoes in Mark Ronson’s work with Amy Winehouse and Adele – and there are also direct links: Howe, for example, passed on the trip-hop gene in as a writer and producer for the likes. of Twigs FKA, Lana Del Rey and, indeed, Adele.

It seems that the further one gets from its origins, the less toxic the sentence seems. Even Topley-Bird, who never accepted it at the time “because I thought we felt quite unique,” ​​said “in America people talk about trip-hop without any sense of shame or embarrassment, which is endearing … And a few friends tell me that artists like Billie Eilish sound like me – which can’t be a bad thing, I came back with some new music at the right time!

  • Nightmares on Wax’s album Shout Out! To Freedom… is now available on Warp. Mark Rae’s novel and soundtrack, The Caterpillar Club, is now available on Mark’s Music. Sneaker Pimps’ Squaring the Circle album is now available on Unfall. Jhelisa’s album 7 Keys V.2 is now available on Dorado. Martina Topley-Bird’s self-produced album, Forever I Wait, is now available. Tara Mills’ The False Hope album is now available on CL Management. Joseph Efi’s EP Candor is now available on Lowlife.

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