Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blissfully Suspended in the Salt Tank

Salt Tank - Pacific Diva

Salt Tank - Olympic

Salt Tank - Final Charge (D.Up)

I finally left home in 1992, aged 19. Packed all my possessions into a trunk and took the short 50-mile trip from Dorchester to Bath, and the Halls of Residence at Bath College of Higher Education. BCHE (now Bath Spa University) was situated a few miles outside the city, so we had to rely on a sporadic free shuttle bus to get us into the city and back. If you wanted to go to a club or see a band, you ended up shelling out for a cab back as the last free bus went about 9pm. Like most poor students cash was always in short supply, so we were looking to the SU Bar to provide us with entertainment staggering distance from the Halls. Cheap booze will always be entertaining, but the odd live band made a refreshing change. Unfortunately, acts willing to come to our isolated campus were rare. The most prominent was the Arch-Drude himself Julian Cope. He played a blistering two-hour set, and spent most of it prowling around the audience. I touched his shoulder and he sang in my face. Had I been a bigger fan, I would probably have never washed the spittle from my cheeks. Back to the Planet couldn’t stay away, but their brand of crusty agit-ska wasn’t really what we were clamouring for. Neither were local outfit K-Passa. Foot-tapping folk rock was more my Dad’s bag. Nope. We wanted techno, but techno never came, so we resorted to sitting in our box rooms with the latest Colin Dale or Spiral Tribe mixtape rocking the stereo, wishing we’d been clever enough to be accepted by a better university.

It wasn’t until my second year, once I’d moved out of Halls and into the city, that techno finally came to BCHE in the form of the London-based production duo Salt Tank - Saturday 15th October 1994 to be precise. I don’t have that good a memory but Salt Tank have a list of all their live dates on their website. Salt Tank were a criminally underrated act comprising of two studio boffins (David Gates and Malcolm Stanners) who signed to the same label as Orbital (Internal) on the strength of two well-received EP’s; ‘ST1’ and ‘ST2’, which were released on their own label and championed by Weatherall. I first came across them when I bought the ‘ST3 EP’ from HMV, where I was earning a few extra quid on a Saturday. ‘ST3’ featured seven tracks of predominantly blissful ambient trance, with most of the tracks based around themes found in the opening 9-minute epic ‘Pacific Diva’, with its haunting melodies and lush trance soundscapes. The seventh track, ‘Eugina’, was an edited version of ‘Pacific Diva’, and went on to be Salt Tank’s breakthrough track when it was re-released as a stand-alone single in 1996. The EP also featured remixes from Astralasia and Zion Train, chucking new age and dub elements into the melting pot.

They followed ‘ST3’ with the imaginatively-titled ‘ST4’, subtitled ‘Laguna Calorado’, though the lake in Bolivia which featured in pictorial form in the accompanying CD booklet is actually called Laguna Colorado, so that may have been an embarrassing typo! ‘ST4’ was a six-track EP, opening with the epic ‘Olympic’, which marked them out as worthy contemporaries of label mates Orbital. Like the Hartnoll brothers, they enjoyed spinning out tracks over 10 minutes, taking the listener on musical head-trips. ‘Olympic’ entered into progressive territory with driving percussion, a euphoric melodic loop and culminated with an acidic trance coda. This was serious music for the mind and feet. ‘ST4’ also featured ‘San Francisco HM’, a drum-heavy song utilising breakbeats and mystical, droning Eastern pipes. ‘San Francisco HM’ was produced by Cisco Ferreira and Colin Bean, who recorded as The Advent, and also worked on tracks on ‘ST3’.

Salt Tank recorded a Peel Session in 1994, which was released as the ‘ST5 EP’ and comprised four tracks. It featured the fantastic ‘Final Charge (D.Up)’, which is probably a pretty good representation of the kind of material they were playing live at the time they graced the SU bar at BCHE. ‘Final Charge (D.Up)’ was another epic 10 minutes of constantly evolving, organic techno and trance, reminiscent of peak ‘Brown Album’ Orbital. It feels like four songs all wrapped into one, combining guitar loops, pounding techno drums, breakbeats, squidgy acid lines, atmospheric synths and vocal samples. I honestly don’t remember much about seeing them live, which probably means it was a top night, but I will always have a soft spot for Salt Tank for eschewing the traditional venues of the college circuit to come and play for us. Thank you!

They released their debut album ‘Science & Nature: ST7’ in 1996, which felt like more of a ‘Best of...’ as it picked up tracks from the previous EP’s and placed them alongside newer material. They never really noodled, always dealing in songs with proper tunes and strong melodies that your postman could have whistled. Despite a lengthy recording career that only faded in 2004, they will probably be remembered for ‘Eugina’ (some of the versions featured a sample of Tori Amos' 'Me and a Gun'). It wasn’t even their best song, but it seemed to appeal to a broad range of clubbers, and enjoyed another lease of life on Lost Language (Trance offshoot of Hooj Choons) in 2000, when it became a staple in the sets of DJ’s like Digweed and Sasha. Bizarrely, they remixed Duran Duran’s ‘Girls on Film’ in 1999. I’d love to hear how that one turned out if anyone’s got a copy.

Official Salt Tank website
Salt Tank discography
Search eBay for Salt Tank