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Zed Bias: 2step has a Right to Children – Part 1 (2000)

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Kodwo Eshun
London – Hyperdub HQ

Originally published in 2000

Sweeping through the clandestine cartography of East by North East London pirates like Deja FM, Mac FM, Rinse FM, Magic FM and Station FM at 3 am in September ’99, one sample stood out, insistently repeated until it nag nag nagged: ‘Reflex action/like as nake/like as nake/ like a snake’. The frisky time feeling of 2 Steps programmed triplet had gone, replaced by a brooding,repressed tension stoked by a baleful, sinewave bass. What was left of 1999 would be infiltrated by the revisited darkside mood of this track: Zed Bias mix of E.S. Dubs Standard Hoodlum Issue.

A heavy set 26 year old, plagued by a winter cold, the congested 26 year old Dave Jones lives in a Milton Keynes semi detached house, with his girlfriend Elissa. Like many producers, Bias is mildly reclusive, a self-confessed homebody compulsively producing tracks in his bedroom studio, running his Sidewinder and Sidestepper labels with DJ Principal, his more outgoing label partner.

Released in late ’98 on Social Circles, the label founded by producer Jason Kaye/ Top Buzz, the Standard Hoodlum Issue heavy 2 Step-p-p-ressure announced a new name in garage rave. The E.S. in E.S. Dubs stands for Environmental Science, the name of producers Spatts and Zak, once hardcore duo Criminal Minds, now a South London based nu-skool breaks partnership.

Bias drastically reworked their obscure original, retaining its martial arts video sample and scrapping everything else. It took literally 4 hours one Saturday afternoon, he says. “I basically chopped up about 6 breakbeats into little bits and patched them all together. When I made that track, I had a sampler, a mixing desk and 2 hi-fi speakers that I was hearing it all through. There was no hi tech equipment involved and I still to this day cannot believe how big this tracks become.”

Initially played by the DJ Pied Piper- who called it The Shaft Track- Standard Hoodlums bruising emotions are just the edge of the Bias ouevre. Right now, there’s at least 14 Zed Bias tracks on the racks, out on labels like Brasstooth’s Well Built, Dreem Teem’s DFL, Metrix Recordings and Public Demand, the garage off-shoot of jungle’s Labello Blanco which took The Artful Dodger to No 2 in December 1999. Thats not counting forthcoming hyperfunkular mixes of DJ Zincs Super Sharp Shooter, Gabrielle and Richard Blackwood, Brit chat-show host turned MC.

As a teenager, Jones travelled around Germany and Israel, came back to the UK, settled in Milton Keynes with an Amiga in 96 and stayed in every night chopping up Amen and Lynn Collins’ Think, just learning drum patterns. Soon he bought an Akai S2000 in Hanover, hauled it back home and carried on self-training, taking tapes round to producer Steve Gurley for advice. A founder-member of Foul Play back in the early ’90s, Gurleys mix of Victor Romeros Spirit of the Sun is a 2 Step landmark while personal tracks like Lessons in Love and All Nite Jam are devastating symphonies of syncopation. To Zed Bias, he is definitely the best drum programmer in this country, if not the world.

Like so many others, the turning point for Jones came on hearing Dem 2’s epochal Destiny in ’98, in Phat Trax, Milton Keynes one and only(and now defunct) dance record shop. Released in February ’98, as Sleepless on The Boston Experiments EP under the name New York Soundclash, Destinys android soul breakbeat changed garage overnight. What . A. Track .Jones says with a wide-eyed fervour. “It brought to mind the possibilities of breakbeat. Destiny, for me is like a proper hiphop pattern but halftime. Those little synth sweeps just amazed me, how something so unpercussive could be such an integral part of a groove. Its almost tying you up in knots then falling back into a groove.”

It turns out that Standard Hoodlum Issue style darkness is atypical for Zed Bias. He’s just as infatuated with jazz funk and latin as breaking beats, enthusing knowledgeably about 70s fusioneers like Roy Ayers, Johnny Hammond and Chocolate Milk, whose rare groove classic Time Machine he’s covered as JMD with another cohort Mayhem. He casually mentions a hip hop album in progress with MC Juiceman, the collaborator on his forthcoming Locked On darkstep Phuturistix EP.

In fact, the one sound Bias isn’t crazy about is the 4/4 beat of ’96 ’97 era garage, the time of RIP/187 Lockdown/ Armand Van Heldens Spin Spin Sugar b-line, the moment he calls ‘proper garage’ and the sound Dem 2 consigned to history. Looking back, he thinks that when UK garage first came into existence, it seemed very much a closed kind of club click. “There was a few well established older djs that brought it here in the first place- The Dreem Teem, Karl Tuff Enuff Brown, Mike Ruff Cut Lloyd. It was a lot more about putting your best togs on, drinking champagne, all the cliches we have now.”

This UK sound has had 2 development stages, Andy Lewis, 27 year old Mac FM pirate dj, Cookies n’ Cream club dj and A & R at Locked On Records concurs. Locked On reissued Dem 2s Destiny, Artful Dodgers Movin Too Fast and a series of Zed Bias collaborations- Neighbourhood with dj-producer Glenn Woods, Down as Ruffcut Bias with dj/ producer Mike Ruffcut Lloyd and the forthcoming Matrix EP as Phuturistix with MC Juiceman. Garage was the mellower sound of raving, taking the best of the US sound and turning it into a tougher UK sound but with a 4 to the floor beat. 2 Step is really like starting again. It’s a completely new dance form. We never had that before.

Dem 2’s rhythmic revolution triggered a demographic shift; crowds suddenly got younger; the mid 20-30 somethings found themselves matched move for move by school age teenagers. As Bias observes, Since school kids have got into it, kids from the age of 13 upwards, the more experimental tunes have caught their imagination.

Now, in March 2000, garage rave is poised between the 2 meanings of the term rave : firstly, the ’96/’97 smartly styled Sunday ravers who lived through ’91/2 hardcore and defected from drum ‘n’ bass in ’95/6 and secondly, the ’98/99 school age ravers singing Sweet like Chocolate and Rewind in gangs at the bus stop, piling onto the double deckers, sitting at the back and singing pirate anthems all the way home. It’s those teen-ravers that pushed Rewind from pirate to club to radio to Top of the Pops.

For this generation, 2 Step is a new sound which simultaneously updates the ’91/92 hardcore tradition by sampling theme tunes such as the Saturday night BBC1 hospital soap Casualty, the 60s Brit sci-fi serial Dr Who, the Superman soundtrack and the Tom Selleck tv cop rerun Magnum PI. There was always a hardcore component to Phase I UK garage in tracks like the Fabulous Baker Boys irresistible 1997 remake of Johnny L’s Hurt You So but the halftime breakbeat of pioneers like Skykap, Chris Mac and Dem 2 radically intensified it.

By late ’98, 2 Step had developed a taste for updated mental nuttiness/psychosis in pirate anthems like Madness on the Streets. Shanks and Bigfoot called themselves Doolally-19th Century Victorian slang for mental breakdown and wrote songs introduced by a pre-teen kid gleefully chanting: “I think I’m going doolally/ The whole world’s going doolallay.”

The downside, as Bias hears it, is schoolkid’s omnivorous appetite for all 2 Step garage. Rightly enough, they love it all because so much is so great. They don’t discriminate; they absorb. For an auteur-producer like Bias, this means novelty tracks are getting a lot of sales at the moment because the kids are liking them- Casualty, Dee Kline’s Dont Smoke the Reefer, Bass Lick- that sold 4000 in a couple of days. There’s certain dj’s pushing these novelty tracks and the kids can associate with them. The older crowd are pulling their hair out.

On the pirates, this generational schizm isn’t so audible. All styles of garage from M-Dubs to Wookie, Todd Edwards to Stanton Warriors, Ramsey and Fen to Groove Chronicles, can and do meet in the mix. You rarely hear pirate djs complain about novelty tracks. But the producer, proud of his (it’s usually his) hard won signature sound bridles at being lumped together with people he feels nothing in common with. Bias is utterly dismissive about the Casualty track. It’s a poorly produced track by some 17 year old kid, he’s got lucky, he’s hit the right chord with his first ever track.

According to Andy Lewis, the rest of 2000 and 2001 will see 3 or 4 different styles of 2 Step, almost like the drum’ n’ bass scene. “Youre gonna get your commercial angle, nice melodies, nice vocals, your Artful Dodgers and your Y-Tribes. Then you’re gonna get a reaction to that – very intricate programming, harsh sounds, headnodding music, like Bukem and Roni Size, that style, like Steve Gurley, El B, one half of Groove Chronicles and Zed Bias. It is gonna split and not in a bad way. I firmly believe that.” The way Bias sees it, this is a natural progression of the scene in just the same way as jungle and happy hardcore went their separate ways.

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Copyright © Hyperdub 2001 – Reprinted with permission.

Category: Hyperdub

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