Dusted Down – Various Artists: Bio Rhythm (Network Records, 1990)
The bleep comp that started it all
As influential rave-era imprint Network Records drops a third instalment in its Bio Rhythm compilation series – the first in three decades – Matt Anniss revisits the first volume and considers the role it played in popularising bleep techno.
Although the Yorkshire-pioneered, sub-heavy sound of bleep & bass will forever be associated with Warp Records, it was a record label from Birmingham, Network Records, that delivered the first compilation of “dance music with bleeps”.
When it landed in stores in 1990, Network’s Bio Rhythm compilation sold like hotcakes, in part because it arrived at a time when British dance music was going bleep crazy. In the wake of pioneering singles from Unique 3, Sweet Exorcist, Nightmares on Wax, Forgemasters and Ital Rockers, scores of British-made records emerged that sported sparse, alien-sounding bleep melodies and chunky, robust basslines.
Network Records co-founder Neil Rushton, a former journalist and Northern Soul club promoter turned techno evangelist, was canny enough to see the potential of a compilation champing the style – or at least showcasing futurist music that had at least some passing connection to the fast-rising genre.
Rushton was the man behind the earlier Virgin Records compilation Techno: The New Dance Sound of Detroit, which introduced The Belleville Three and the sci-fi sounds of Motor City club cuts to a wider UK audience. When compiling Biorhythm, he chose to pair far-sighted dance music from Detroit, Chicago and New York with fresh UK productions from some of the Midlands-based artists he’d already signed to Network. As a result, Biorhythm framed bleep – or at least his interpretation of it – as an authentic cross-Atlantic movement, rather than one that had initially emerged from multi-racial inner-city communities, where soundsystem culture was king.
This is not meant as a criticism, because the inclusion of sought-after imported sounds arguably gave Biorhythm more subcultural credibility and authenticity. Besides, the tracks Rushton chose from across the Pond were universally excellent. The collection included a breathless slab of clonking Detroit techno from Derrick May (Rhythim is Rhythim’s ‘Emanon’), the rushing, sunrise-ready bleep-house bliss of Neal Howard’s ‘Indulge’, a very Detroit-influenced workout from Symbols and Instruments (future deep house royalty Derrick Carter, Mark Farina and Chris Nadzuka) and a typically organ-heavy workout from a then-emerging producer called Mark Kinchen.
However good they were, these tracks had very little in common with bone-rattling bleep & bass cuts from Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield. The British-made tracks on Bio Rhythm, though, most certainly did. The compilation opened with the self-consciously sub-heavy weightiness of Rhythmatic’s ‘Take Me Back’, a successful attempt by Nottingham’s Mark Gamble and Leroy Crawford to create a track that offered the same blend of raw energy, alien bleeps and bowel-bothering bass as Unique 3’s ‘The Theme’.
The other two UK-made cuts on there were both productions by future Altern8 members Chris Peat and Mark Archer. ‘Self-Hypnosis’, credited to Nexus 21, remains one of the greatest fusions of bleeping, bass-heavy UK techno and the sci-fi sounds of Detroit, while ‘Biorhythm’, crafted under their C&M Connection guise, is the sonic equivalent of a big old hit of pure MDMA.
The compilation was also cannily marketed, as befitting Rushton’s role as a former journalist with his finger on the pulse. Two years earlier he’d helped to create endearing narratives around Motor City dance music via the marketing campaign for Virgin’s Techno compilation; this time round, he recruited one of the music writers he took to Detroit to help with that, John McCready, to spin an entertaining yarn in the accompanying liner notes.
During this period of British dance music history, sleeve notes were often used to nudge journalists and listeners towards particular narratives – see the freewheeling, “I’m on one matey” madness of Terry Farley’s words for London Records’ Balearic Beats compilation, as well as Stuart Cosgrove’s notes for the same label’s 1988 set The House Sound of Chicago Volume Three: Acid Tracks. Cosgrove, another who had accompanied Rushton to Detroit, framed the then nascent acid house style as “drug-inducing”, “psychedelic” and capable of inducing “moral panic”; as Sarah Thornton detailed in her 1995 academic analysis of UK dance music culture, Club Cultures, Cosgrove’s sleeve notes, which were shared with journalists before release, inspired countless articles and helped set in motion the now infamous Tabloid outrage about “acid house parties” and Ecstasy culture.
McCreeady’s Biorhythm sleeve notes didn’t quite have the same effect, but they were brilliant. He claimed that the compilation was inspired by a series of raves inside launderettes promoted by a shady character called ‘Sueno de Niro’, whose chosen resident DJs –including the equally fictitious “Kid Persil” – would cut and blend “using the sound of [washing] machines on their final spin”. Fanciful stuff, but close enough to the truth – or at least rave culture’s own mythology – to hoodwink a few buyers into believing the hype.
Biorhythm, then, was the complete package. It was quickly followed by a second volume, this time containing a few more UK-made tracks blessed with ridiculous bass-weight (including a rare collaboration between Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H Kirk and Warp Records co-founder Rob Gordon as Xon). This month we’ve been treated to a belated third volume and it, too, feels pleasingly timeless and futurist in tone. Like volume one, it is – in the words of John McCready’s 1990 sleeve notes – “the sound Salvador Dali would have made had he bought an 808 drum machine instead of a paintbrush”.