Let ´em Bleep!

When the madness of Acid-House died down a bit by the end of the eighties, it was time for a breather. But we were not ready for ambient and wall-paper-chill yet. Around the time the British house scene found their own sound by channeling Detroit, Electro, Jamaica and the BBC Radio Workshop.

New labels like "WARP", "Shut up and Dance", "Outer Rhythm" and "Network" were pioneering the sound that was fittingly called "Bleep", or "Bleep & Bass", or "Bleep & Clonk". Actually, "Clonk" was a mini-genre in it´s own right, and I always found it very interesting that the words "bleep" and "clonk" are appearing on the same page in William Burroughs novel "Nova Express" from 1964! Yes, I am sad, I know...

"Bleep" came at the right time for me. The German Techno sound that was developing at the time was never my cup of tea. Far too unfunky and boring for my taste.

The "Warp"-sound however had the right mixture of futurism, rhythmic invention and a nerdy infatuation with sound. Instead of cooking up the same, tired Front 242 formula with "Blade Runner" images, the new "sound of Sheffield" was forward looking, micro-funky and -on the right soundsystem- absolutely earth shattering.

Then of course there was the iconography of the emerging Designers Republic, who helped to carve an image for this futuristic sound.

The scene was a bit incestuous and orbited around studio wizard Mark "Moloko" Brydon and the Fon Studio in Sheffield. Other recurring figures were Richard H. Kirk from Cabaret Voltaire, the late Lee Newman and Michael Wells and - of course - the co-founder of WARP Records and seminal producer Robert Gordon.

In fact, this "Tricky Disco" was clearly music for boys. A new form of bachelor-pad music, which had guys racking up their subwoofers while dreaming up chat-up lines like: "Why don´t you come up to my place and I show you my BASS!"

It didn´t make a big impact on the German club-scene and for the most part it was mostly listened to in an environment that drove your neighbours or parents nuts.

I have written several unfinished "Bleep"-posts, but I recently found out that others have written about the subject much better and with far more authority than I ever could.

Looking back, what was considered to be "state-of-the-art"-music was actually pretty low-tech. Even by the standards of 1989. Acid used "dated" instruments, which were for the most part out of production by the time people started to dig the squelchy sound of the 303.

The "Bleep"-scene used similar instruments. Instead of the expensive Fairlight or Emulator, they utilised older gear and the cheaper samplers which began to appear on the market.

Especially Rob Gordon went further in his attempt to deconstruct the prefabricated sounds by programming them in slower, unusual rhythm patterns. The studio and its effect-boards became another crucial instrument to experiment with sounds.

The subsonic bass and the overall polished production was a product of people who knew their way around a studio. Gordons´ rhythms were syncopated, minimal and often folded in on itself. In all it´s abstract glory and "machinespeak" aesthetic, his productions were often very soulful and heralded a new form of pop-music.

Maybe "Bleep" will never have a real "revival" because it never went away for the people who were into it in the first place. I also believe that the kids of 1989, who are now well in their 30s and beyond, are for the most part interested in looking forward by transporting their "baggage" with them.

I see the current interest in the eerily titled "hauntology" as a result of trying to refrain from wallowing in nostalgia by re-constructing the lost emotions and echoing sounds of the past into a relevant and up-to-date framework. "Meta nostalgia", if you will.

In this regard I see the brilliant net-label Bleepfiend which was born out of an idea by Gutterbreakz.

Bleepfiend is bound to collect unreleased home-recordings from the electronic scene before fully digital home-recording became available. A time when people were still working with minimal equipment, cheap samplers with a sampling time of one second, 4-track tape machines and so on.

As Bleepfind explains: The music on offer was recorded in a time before the Internet made it possible to upload, share and promote work to a wider audience. This is music that never had a chance to be heard by anyone outside the artist's immediate circle of friends. But still it exists...it's forgotten potential locked in the ferric particles of dusty cassette tapes.

At the time of writing there are two releases available for download, which once more show the heavy influence the BBC Radio Workshop must have had on British kids.

Their "Dr. Who" was my "Kraftwerk".

The sound range of a Youtube clip (and laptop speakers) is of course unable to give a good example of what I am talking about. Anyway, here is a Rob Gordon Remix of "Yeah You" by The Step. It´s magic!

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