Friday, April 03, 2009

Flashback: The Trip Hop Test, Part One (1995)

The very definition of trip hop was in flux when Moonshine Music released The Trip Hop Test, Part One in January of 1995. The term had already surfaced in the US characterizing the downtempo music coming across the pond from Bristol producers like Tricky and Massive Attack but those listening closer to the underground also described rave music influenced equally by hip hop and psychedelic music by the same name. Was it the same movement? The Trip Hop Test doesn't answer the question but instead presents evidence allowing the listener to decide. Compilations almost always take related tracks to make a statement on a scene or time so taking the risk to ask questions about a scene is one of the most endearing things about the collection. Impressively the disc also manages to catch many of the major players of electronic music before they came to prominence in the later half of decade. Here is the track listing and some thoughts:

Saint Etienne "Filthy"
Originally the b-side to "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" the oldest track on the collection dates from the Saint Etienne's early days when they only had guest vocalists here featuring British rapper Q-Tee who was only 15 when she recorded the track.  The song was later remixed by Monkey Mafia and included on the band's Casino Classics remix collection.
The Dust Brothers "My Mercury Mouth"
Actually a track from The Chemical Brothers taken from the last EP they released as The Dust Brothers before going chemical for legal reasons.  The reason to buy the disc since the track is closer to delicate ambient techno than anything Brothers have released since becoming album artists.
Step Disk "Boing Dragon" 
The disc's first misstep from a group that faded away shortly after releasing this.  Notably "loose" production emphasising samples demonstrate the sound of the time but it is extremely repetitive.
Skylab "Sea Shell" 
This was a massive track on college radio at the time that introduces an unusual laidback beat to an ambient template. This group effort is the first time future Bjork and U2 producer Howie B appeared on my radar.
Paul Weller "Wild Wood (Portishead Mix)"
Who would have guessed the sole representation of the Bristol sound would come from The Modfather?  Portishead weave their Dummy-era sound around the original song's structure incorporating the best of both worlds.  A must for Portishead fans.
The Aloof "Society"
This group is probably better known for their work in other projects which include The Sabres Of Paradise, Red Snapper and the vocals to Luke Slater's 2002 electropop masterpiece Alright On Top.  This track is a bit shouty and has sirens but fails to effectively convey the talent involved.
Tranquility Bass "They Come In Peace"
More music branching out of ambient adding hip hop beats to the mix.  While they would go on to release higher profile albums this is as good as Tranquility Bass ever got.
The Crystal Method "Dubeliscious Groove"
American electronica's great hope turn in an early ambient techno track that sounds unfinished.  Try the far superior Fly Spanish Version from the Keep Hope Alive EP for something that will stick to your brain. 
Single Cell Orchestra "Transmit Liberation"
Another college radio hit here from San Francisco artist Miguel Fierro.  One of my favorite ambient techno tracks of all time.
Lemon Interupt "Minneapolis"
When Karl Hyde and Rick Smith left behind the gothic gloom of their first Underworld outing they added Darren Emerson and gained some techno edge but chose to release their initial offerings, and production on Saint Etienne's Tiger Bay, under the name Lemon Interupt.  This b-side to "Dirty" shows them working their new sound out even if it falls short of essential.
Tales from the Woodshed "Brainclog"
Proto-big beat from a duo that would shorten their name to The Woodshed before disappearing a few short years later.  

:  Moonshine Music would go on to release another two volumes of The Trip Hop Test before branching off into other ventures but they deserve credit for taking a snapshot of electronic music at the crossroads and not giving us the answer key.


jsd said...

I sent your post to Single Cell Orchestra. He was happy to hear you still remember the track fondly.

Daft Monk said...

The track is massive and absolutely holds up to this day. Thanks for passing my praise along.