27 August 2019
20 tracks that shaped UK dance music
(According to me...)
This article was inspired by a recent BBC article about the tracks that shaped dance music over the last 30 years.
Such topics are always very subjective and while I agreed with a few of the tracks mentioned in the article, I thought it would be interesting to do my own slightly condensed version based on my own experiences.
So I give to you my top 20 tracks, listed in date order, that I believe have helped to shape UK dance music over the years from 1987 to around 2012.
I've tried to pick out tracks that deserve to be included on merit and not because they were pumped and hyped by the music press and media.
I touch upon all the dominant UK dance music genres that I have had the most exposure to - House, Techno, Garage and Drum & Bass.
This list is just my opinion having been around the dance music scene since the late eighties and is just for a bit of fun so please don't read it as gospel!
1. Phuture - Acid Tracks. 1987. I shouldn't really need to explain this one, but for anyone who has been living under a rock, this track defined a whole new genre - Acid House - and kick started the birth of the UK rave scene, even though the track itself was made in Chicago.
2. Rhythm Is Rhythm - Nude Photo / The Dance. 1987. This gem gets mostly overlooked in favour of Strings of Life. This EP came out first though and when I first heard The Dance as a 16 year old in 1987 it was like nothing else I'd ever heard before. This was my introduction to Detroit Techno and I still remember where I was when I first heard it.
3. 808 State - Flow Coma 1988. There's no denying that A Guy Called General's Voodoo Ray was a seminal UK Acid track but this track, from the album 'Newbuild', came first and signalled the UK's arrival on the scene as competent Acid House producers. A Guy Called Gerald, who was once part of 808 State, had a big hand in this track as well.
4. Shades Of Rhythm - Sweet Sensation 1989. An absolute anthem from my good fiends Shades Of Rhythm. Back in the 1990's these guys were up there with the Prodigy as one of the best live acts on the rave scene.
They also put out a number of iconic records that were often sampled by other bands, this track being one of them.
They were also one of the first rave acts to start using breakbeats in their tracks, well before the days of Hardcore and Jungle.
5. Fast Eddie - Yo Yo Get Funky. 1989. I love the vocal delivery on this track. One of the first rap house tracks. I also remember the dispute with the UK group the Beat Masters about who first created the Hip House sound. I'm going to give it to Fast Eddie, and not just because I met him back in 1989 when he played in my home town!
6. Sweet Exorcist - Testone. 1990. Shout out to the northern England crew. 1990-1991 was your time with places like Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford leading the charge with artist such as Nightmares On Wax, LFO, Unique 3, Richard Kirk etc.
A time remembered for the clonk, the bleep and the bass!
7. Shut Up & Dance (featuring Nicollete) - Waking up. 1991. Shut Up And Dance (AKA PJ & Smiley) were absolute pioneers who also tend to get somewhat overlooked in my opinion. Like Shades of Rhythm, these guys were also producing breakbeat fuelled rave tracks a long time before hardcore and Jungle arrived and they were a major influence on the early 90's rave scene.
They'll always be remembered for having the fastest selling 12 inch record in history with their track Raving I'm Raving. Unfortunately they never earned any money from it due to a copyright claim.
8. Lennie De Ice - We Are I.E. 1991. Widely regarded as the first real Jungle track. It contained all the basic elements that subsequent Jungle and Drum n Bass tracks would use for the next 4 or 5 years. What they call a genre defining track.
9. Robin S. - Show Me Love 1992. I don't recall hearing this tune until 1992 but I understand it was initially released in 1990 which makes it even more impressive. The track was always popular back in the day and that popularity never waned and it still gets played regularly to this day.
The track would go on to become an unofficial anthem of the Niche/ Bassline House / Organ House movement in the early to mid 2000's, over a decade after its initial release.
10. Metalheads - Terminator. 1992. Goldie (or someone) had the idea of putting a drum loop through a guitar harmonizer and the end result blew everyone away.
A definite game changer and landmark moment in Drum n Bass which kicked the scene forward.
11. LTJ Bukem - Demons Theme 1992. Probably the worlds first Ambient drum n Bass track. 'Thinking mans DnB'. A step away from the darker hardcore ragga Jungle that was becoming prevalent, though it wasn't until around late 1994 or early 1995 that there were enough of these types of tunes in circulation to start forming a sub-genre.
LTJ Bukem and MC Conrad's appearance on BBC Radio One in July 1995 introduced the world to what was being termed as 'Intelligent Drum n Bass' and no doubt helped to increase the popularity of the scene.
12. Origin Unknown (Andy C) - Valley Of The Shadows (31 Seconds) 1993. Not only did this track blow up the clubs back in 1993, it also goes down in folklore because it was made entirely with samples from a CD that was given away with the first edition of a UK hi tech music magazine. I still have my original copy. Read more about it here.
13. Basic Channel - BC03 Lyot Rmx. 1993. The mysterious Basic Channel from Germany put out a bunch of obscure tracks in the early 90's and gained a hardcore fan base that still exists today. Their 3rd release, a remix of a popular Techno anthem Lyot, is regarded by many as the birth of Dub Techno.
14. Robert Hood - Minimal Nation. 1994. Another genre defining record. 25 years on and Minimal Techno is still very much with us and more popular than ever in the underground scene.
15. Tuff Jam / Large Boy - Unda-Vibes Vol 1 1995. People point to Arman Van Helden and Rosie Gaines as the forerunners of what would become UK Garage, but this Tuff Jam production pre-dates them both and was a clear indication of where things were headed.
No other House track in 1995 (to my knowledge) was packing a heavier bassline than this one. It wasn't until early 1997 that I heard any comparable tracks that could compete with it.
16. Amira - My Desire. Dreem Teem remix. 1997. Although tracks like Tina Moore's 'Never Gonna Let You Go' and Roy Davis Junior's 'Gabriel' are sighted as the roots of UK 2-Step, neither track was originally released as such and both were US tracks that were just 'adopted' by the UK scene.
The remix of Amira, however, was the first 'purpose built' 2-Step track and set the tone for a new direction in UK Garage. A whole slew of 2-Step tracks followed and within about a year the 2-step sound had replaced the old four to the floor style Garage for the most part.
The 2-step style also attracted more MC's to the scene and it would eventually give birth to Grime a few years later - but it wasn't an easy birth by any means with the new generation of MC's and producers often clashing with the older established UK Garage pioneers.
17. So Solid Crew - Oh No. 2000. Love them or hate them there's no doubt that these guys were dominating as the new millennium descended and are an example of the new breed of MC's that were coming through and stepping on the toes of the old school UK Garage producers.
This was an awkward period when Grime was still evolving and was not yet a separate genre. Other notable 'Crews' from around this time were: Pay As You Go, Heartless and Genius.
18. Fedde Le Grand - Put Your Hands Up For Detroit. 2006. This one stands out for me as the tune that signalled the arrival of Electro House, the first new sub genre of the new millennium.
Debates can be had as to who invented the sound but there's no doubt that this track was a ground breaker as it found commercial success and introduced many people in the UK to the Electro House sound.
19. Bodyrox - Yeah Yeah - D. Ramirez remix. 2006. Very much in a similar vain to the track above. This one followed soon after and was also causing a fuss in the dance music scene. Initially released as a remix, it quickly overshadowed the original version with its huge brash Electro House synth arrangements.
20. The Crystal Method - Come Back Clean - Annie Nightingale & Far Too Loud remix. 2010. Now I'm not too sure about my facts on this one but all I can say is that this is definitely one of the first tracks I heard that could be defined as 'Complextro'.
When I first heard this track in early 2010 it was another one of those 'WTF' moments as I was being introduced to a sound and a style I'd never encountered before.
And it wasn't a one off as a whole load of crazy-complex House tracks came out between 2010 and 2012 by the likes of Far Too Loud, Darth & Vader, Porter Robinson and Alex Mind to name but a few.
The flame only burned briefly however and by the end of 2012 the genre was pretty much dead.
Some producers admitted that it was just too much hard work to churn out such complicated tracks on a regular basis.
That's about as far as I can take things for now. I'm sure there are plenty of other tunes I missed or forgot that would make the list but I think I pretty much covered the past few decades as far as my memory goes. I must admit that I struggled to think of any landmark or game changing tracks from 2001 to 2005.
Not to say there weren't any quality tunes about because there were plenty. However, I think this was a time when things were maturing and finding their feet on the underground circuit.
The Grime scene was now beginning to establish itself with acts like More Fire Crew and House was about to reinvent itself again with the imminent arrival of the Electro sub-genre.
I guess it was a time of transition in many ways as the industry was being shaken up by the new MP3 sharing phenomenon at Napster. Social media as we know it was about to take hold with the launch of MySpace then later Facebook.
Then at the same time there were huge shake-ups in music production with what they refer to as the 'democratisation of technology' that happened around 2000-2001, meaning that pretty much everyone now had access to the same professional sounding music making tools inside their computers for cheap or even for free.
Today, in this high speed Internet age things are a lot more fluid and there are more genres and sub genres than ever. The sheer number of tracks and producers out there make it pretty hard to keep up with it all nowadays.
But At the end of the day names and genres are not important. The most important thing is whether the music touches your soul.
So stayed tuned for the next instalment - The top 20 Artificial Intelligence created tracks that shaped UK dance from years 2022-2052!
Words by Casey Tucker © 2019.