Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Your Soul Has Been Touched By Hidden Forces

They say every picture tells a story – well for me, pretty much every piece of vinyl I own comes with its own unique story (apart from the many I mindlessly blagged during my time working in the music industry). I’ve got a lot of records, so that’s a lot of stories, but that’s what this place is for. Take this Spiral Tribe 12”. It’s rarer than a lump of tuna that's barely on speaking terms with the frying pan, and there’s hardly any information about it anywhere on the internet. It was released either late in 1991 or early 1992, I can’t remember which, but I do remember buying it during my doomed year out between college and university, which I wasted signing on, until finally getting a job working on a fruit farm for 6 months. Highlights of that year were few and far between, with only a dysfunctional relationship to keep me entertained, so a shopping trip to Bristol with friends stands out as one of the better moments. Flicking through the racks in Revolver, I came across the familiar Spiral Tribe ‘23 Face’ logo, which I’d seen on flyers various friends had brought back from raves. I hadn’t been to a Spiral party at that point – my brother went to loads, including the early raves at a disused hospital in London, and the exotic sounding Torpedo Town festival – but I’d always been fascinated by them. A journalist writing at the time, remarked that in the olden days kids ran away to join the circus, but these days they ran away to join Spiral Tribe. They were a loose soundsystem collective who organised free parties wherever and whenever they could at increasingly high profile venues, until the advent of legislation contained in the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 turned them into criminals and forced them even deeper underground. I would eventually catch them at the apocalyptic Castlemorton Free Festival in May 1992, which you can read about here. Also, certain members of the collective (in particular, DJ Aztek and MC Scallywag) took a shine to Dorset and would play at hastily arranged illegal raves in random locations like local woods, where a strobe light up a tree provided the only illumination to a crazy night of impromptu raving. Golden days. I used to have a brilliant tape of Aztek and Scallywag playing in someone’s kitchen, but it got flung out of the sunroof of a car for reasons best known to the person who did the flinging.

Anyway, back to the vinyl – it was a self-produced, self-financed release on no label and they pressed somewhere between 500 and 1000 copies. I snaffled it up for a fiver, but on my return to Dorchester, friend, rave mentor and drug dealer Al Smooch flipped his lid when he heard I had it, and pestered me incessantly until I agreed to give it to him. It seems crazy that I would just hand it over, but I’m sure he sweetened the deal with something I wanted, and he could be extremely persistent. Plus, he had a phenomenal collection of early rave and techno vinyl, whereas I was very much an indie kid and the record did seem out of place in my collection. So, I reluctantly gave it up to Al, who sadly died in tragic circumstances a few years ago. A load us went back to Dorchester for his funeral, and it was at his wake afterwards that Al’s brother DJ’ed a set selected from the Smooch’s awesome collection, including tracks from the EP I had given to him. I was drunk at this point and almost went and asked if I could have it back, but luckily common sense prevailed and I didn’t. Definitely not the time or place. A year or so after that, I found a tape with the EP on that Al had recorded for me to make up for not having the actual vinyl any more. I was determined to get it back, and after months of searching on eBay, I finally managed to pick up a copy, shelling out £70 for the pleasure, but it’s worth every single penny, both for the memories and the music.

I’m posting all four tracks from the EP as they are completely different, representing Spiral Tribe’s first recordings and showcasing their love of deep, dark techno. The music was completely different to their more commercial outings on Big Life, and the intense nosebleed gabba of the material they recorded under the SP23 alias. It was far more experimental than you might expect; an eclectic collection of densely layered tracks.

**** Update - May 2009 - I've uploaded all four tracks from the EP as one zip file due to popular demand. Only up here for a limited time, so spread the word if you know people who will want to download it.****

Spiral Tribe - Spiral Tribe EP

'D.J. Nasty' develops with a surprisingly subtler touch than the opening salvo of chaotic tribal drums and distorted, twisted analogue effects suggests. A measured, melodic bassline combines with light drums and sinister whispered intonations. The production is fairly primitive, and it is unclear which members of the collective were responsible for this experimental slice of far from pristine techno.

'Wasp I', the second track on the EP, is perhaps the most interesting of the lot. Opening with a dirty, squelching bassline and spooky Native American chanting, it develops with rudimentary drum programming and an insidious, high-pitched oscillating acid line, giving the whole track a dark and eerie atmosphere. It's techno alright, but not as we know it, and definitely one designed to totally bend the mind rather than inspire the feet.

Flip it over for 'U Make Me Feel So Good', the best known track of the lot as it later received a release on Guerilla Records, under the Drum Club moniker, the eventual nom de plume of it's composer Charlie Hall, a founding member of the collective. I'm not sure what part he played in the rest of the compositions, but this is definitely the most accomplished track of the four, demonstrating slick studio and production skills. It's verging on the trance-like with the repetitive barking synth, funky tribal drums, a mystical Eastern sounding guitar loop and vocal samples, including one from the Mad Professor that would also be utilised by the Orb on the 'Blue Room'. Seminal stuff.

The final track on the EP, 'Wasp II', has very little in common with it's namesake. This is the most straightforward banging techno track on the EP, but it still has hidden depths that make it unique. Driving cymbal heavy beats, a pulsing bassline, twitching acid and vast, spacey synth effects provide an elongated intro into the deepest, darkest realms of techno, before a euphoric, reverbed choral melody kicks in to send you off your nut.

Search eBay for Spiral Tribe
Spiral Tribe at My Space - there's a mixtape by Aztek and Scallywag to stream, plus loads of pictures, You Tube video links and info about what the collective are up to these days
Informative Spiral Tribe entry at Wikipedia
Spiral Tribe photo archive here
A brief overview of rave culture from a Spiral perspective here