Available on: Ninja Tune LP
Only one person would even dream of preparing the first opening minute of a tune with the following ingredients: one looping soulful croon, two synth bass lines (one dirty, one jolly and clean), an electric piano, a pinch of distorted guitar, heaps of stuttering rapid-fire junglist backbeat, and a dash of what sounds like a sneezing horse. Our protagonist, of course, could only be Luke Vibert, who has suddenly decided to take us on a trip down skewed memory lane through his unreleased archives.
Way back in 1995, jungle had begun to make the transition into its sibling drum ’n’ bass, rapidly disappearing up its own arse in a disappointingly musicianly volte face. Maybe that was understandable after years of critical ignorance but it hardly made for the best of music, especially after such a shockingly vibrant and future-bound few years. A strange kind of response to this begin to emerge from a variety of producers previously unassociated with the scene who pulled several different tricks in the face of this increasing pomposity like pushing the already lunatic speed of the breakbeats in to the realm of the absurd, dismembering the structure and knocking out the rhythmic flow and expanding the sample pallet outside of the now almost standard dark fare.
Unfortunately, the majority of this activity was basically just IDM in disguise and then we ended up with drill ‘n’ bass and all kinds of horrific nonsense inflicted by producers who had never cared about rave, jungle or dancing to begin with. But, before it quickly turned to mud we got Aphex Twin’s wonderful Hangable Auto Bulb 12’s and Luke Vibert’s planet-smashing, mind-bending Rebulit Kev and Visible Crater Funk EP’s and sole Plug album until now, Drum ‘n’ Bass for Papa.
So after a bit of hard-drive spring-cleaning, Ninja Tune have packaged up and dropped a collection of newly discovered and unreleased Plug music as Back on Time, a kaleidoscopic collection of just under an hours’ worth of absolutely prime Vibert that outclasses the first Plug album and occasionally hits the dizzying heights of those first truly insane EP’s.
If you’re familiar with Plug then you know what you’re going to get, which is an explosion of spasticated, elasticated breakbeat craziness bouncing around Vibert’s typically wayward approach to the sampler – an abundance of Wurlitzers, sitars, genital and chemical spoken references, ultra-bendy bass lines, exotica, bells, jazzy guitar and piano chords, library tones and Radiophonic interruptions, kinky melodies and just about anything that you wouldn’t expect to hear on drum ‘n’ bass album. There are some giddy highlights: ‘Come on My Skeleton’ rocks it with some febrile beat-boxing, wailing female voice, bells, darkside synth played for funky fun, glockenspiel and that ever-present sitar. ‘Mind Bending’ is just that – manic shuffling and splashing hardcore breaks, creepy music box melodies, laughter and a “woo”ing crowd, gigantic depth-charge bass drops, an endless foggy soft static hissing around the back of the mix, speak and spell machines and a triumphant yell “fucking excellent acid house!” Closing tune ‘Flight 78’ starts in truly abstract mode with a minute of Vangelis chimes and dislocated clarinet. Slowly, some brass accompaniment approaches from behind and then a gorgeous ‘Pacific State’ ambient rave riff circles the horizon with a female cyborg announcing “Disco Airlines Flight 78” before leap-frogging into an extended percussive workout.
The Plug project is elevated by two things though. As much as it’s produced with a sense of humour and a lightness of touch it never degenerates into taking the piss or being completely tongue-in-cheek – Vibert may be prankster-ish but this is never at the expense of his audience or the genre that he’s working at the margins of. The drum ‘n’ bass crew may not have taken to him and he may have had nothing to do with them but unlike the IDM and drill ‘n’bass crews, Plug is not an exercise in genre snobbery – this is warm music made with love. And if you want proof of that you only need to listen to the furiously frenetic and brilliant percussive hooks and passages that litter the whole album. The extended middle section of ‘A Quick Plug For A New Slot’ is an astonishing cascade of beat-science – manic and messy but entirely funky, flowing and totally off on the good foot.
What may have seemed anachronistic doesn’t seem so crazy now and certainly in terms of a surrealist approach to sampling you needn’t look any further than Chicago and juke to see where this approach is entirely the norm. Regardless of this, for music that is over 15 years old, Back on Time sounds as fresh as a sitar-wielding half-stepping daisy.