We live in unprecedented times, with the rapid global spread of COVID-19 leading to lockdowns and quarantines around the World. Because of this, we thought it would be a good time to start adding new content to Jointhefuture.net on a more regular basis. Over the next few weeks and months we’ll be uploading a new edition of the Bleepography series every day. Each article will focus on a different Bleep & Bass track, with Join The Future founder Matt Anniss offering analysis and historical context based on his research for the book and years spent digging into the sound.
He’s going to start by taking you through the tracks onJoin The Future: UK Bleep & Bass 1988-92 in sequence, before moving on to other historic tracks, obscurities and gems from his expansive collection of Bleep records. So, without further ado, we bring you Bleepography #1: Unique 3 & The Mad Musician – Only The Beginning…
Every sound needs a blueprint: a set of sonic instructions that others can copy, tweak and twist into exciting new musical shapes. In the case of Bleep & Bass, that blueprint started appearing in record stores in October 1988. It was the work of a popular DJ crew from Bradford, Unique 3, and their music-mad friend David Bahar, who took the alias The Mad Musician. The track in question was called ‘Only The Beginning’ and looking back, you’ll struggle to find a more raw, alien and mind-altering set of sonic instructions.
Recorded in the spare room of Unique 3 member Ian ‘Cutz’ Park’s mum’s house, ‘Only The Beginning’ was an early, in-progress version of the subsequent record’s B-side, ‘The Theme’. While the latter track would have greater impact – especially after it was re-recorded at FON Studios in Sheffield with Warp Records co-founder and Bleep’s leading sonic magician Rob Gordon’ (more of which at a later date), it was ‘Only The Beginning’ that set out the Bleep blueprint in its purest form.
Before buying some cheap, second-hand electronic instruments on the suggestion of friend (and later Unique 3 member) Delroy Brown, Unique 3 were best known within West Yorkshire as a DJ crew. Park (as Cutz) and Adrian Collins (as Edzy) were the main DJs, with Patrick Cargill (as Jam Master P or JMP MC for short) acting as the mic man. They originally came together during the electro era, initially as break-dancers with the Solar City Rockers crew whose members also included Nightmares on Wax’s Kevin ‘Boy Wonder’ Harper (Cargill’s cousin) and George ‘E.A.S.E’ Evelyn.
Initially it was Park and Harper who began DJing together (with Cargill on the mic) as Unique Three (swapping to the number 3 came later). When Harper left to join Evelyn in Nightmares on Wax, Collins took his spot. He would become integral to the Unique 3 story, primarily as the driving force behind the project, the main promoter of their parties and the crew’s unofficial manager. It was he and Park that became the Unique 3 DJs, first playing regularly at community venues such as Checkpoint and Benson’s before graduating to regular nights in Bradford clubs.
Park and Collins were experienced DJs who loved electro, hip-hop, reggae, jazz-funk and the emerging house sound. They were also confident young men surrounded by – and immersed in – musical cultures that prioritised rivalry and competition (think reggae soundsystem clashes, hip-hop DJ battles, electro dance-offs, the dance circles that formed around the jazz-dancers that flocked to their nights etc.) They were not slow in accepting a challenge from rival crews, either, and once challenged Chapeltown, Leeds-based ‘party sound’ Ital Rockers (an early project from UK dub legend Mark Iration of Iration Steppas fame) to a soundclash.
Mark Iration explained more in Join The Future: Bleep Techno and the Birth of British Bass Music:
‘Unique 3 was a big name coming out of Bradford at the time. They played really good music. People were saying to us things like, “Unique 3 say they can kill Ital Rockers!” It was a big Bradford and Leeds rivalry I suppose. It wasn’t a big deal at first, but the closer it got, the bigger it became. We took it really seriously.’
The eventual soundclash took place in Bradford – on Unique 3 territory, of course – and by all accounts was a popular local attraction. Mark Iration enlisted the help of local Chapeltown musician Homer Harriott to help him make ‘specials’ – unique versions of popular club cuts. Iration – then known as Mark Ital – was a reggae afficionado and knew the dancefloor power of dubplates. Interestingly, he and Harriott didn’t make versions of reggae riddims, but rather cheap, lo-fi covers of early Chicago house tracks.
In the book, Homer Harriott takes up the story:
‘One of them was a cover of Hercules’ ‘Seven Ways’. We included us singing lyrics saying what we were going to do to Unique 3. So ‘Seven Ways To Jack’ became ‘Seven Ways To Kill Unique 3’. The lyrics said things like, ‘One, go to the studio; Two, get some dubplates’. Near the end of the dance, we’d always want to end with a bang, so we’d have some ‘specials’ to drop.’
Mark Iration claims that Ital Rockers one this particular grudge match; whether that’s true or not, some older dancers in West Yorkshire still ask him to drop ‘Seven Ways To Kill Unique 3’ during sets (for the record, he hasn’t for a long time, and my pleas to get a digital copy have so far gone ignored).
Given this level of rivalry within the local dance music culture, it’s unsurprising that the first record Unique 3 made – alien and out-there as it was – would be a challenge record: a throw-down that stated their case and effectively stole the thunder of all of their rivals down the road in Leeds and Sheffield. Of course, they would all eventually respond in equally dramatic musical fashion, but those stories are for another day.
Here’s what I had to say about ‘Only The Beginning’ in Join The Future: Bleep Techno and the Birth of British Bass Music:
‘In hindsight, it was a stunningly far-sighted title for a record that provided a blueprint for much of what followed in the years following its release. It began with sampled crowd noise and an announcer saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, live on stage we have Unique 3 and the Mad Musician – check it out!” As the impressively sub-heavy bassline and loose, electro-influenced beats kicked in, another voice proclaimed, “You’re in tune to Unique 3 and the Mad Musician, creators of the ultimate sound.”
And what a sound! Driven forwards by Bahar’s simple but devastating bassline, the kind of lo-fi bleeps and electronic blips usually found in cheap 1970s sci-fi flicks, footworker-friendly bursts of military-strength percussion and a ghostly synthesizer line, ‘Only The Beginning’ was a sweaty rush: Bradford bass and Yorkshire jack that was every bit as alien and otherworldly as [A Guy Called Gerald’s] ‘Voodoo Ray’. Crucially though, it was nowhere near as polished or professionally produced; this was a combination of raw power, brilliant ideas and dancefloor-friendly elements that sounded like nothing that had come before.’
Listening back today, ‘Only The Beginning’ sounds cheap and lo-fi, as you’d expect, but when pressings first hit record shops in Yorkshire they flew off the shelves at great speed. DJ Parrot, one of the resident DJs at the popular Jive Turkey club night in Sheffield, described hearing his friend Winston Hazel play it – and the sparse, even heavier B-side ‘The Theme’ – for the first time as being, “Mind-blowing”.
He and other early Bleep producers were hooked in part because it sounded like it had been made by people like them, resident in a similarly bleak, post-industrial Yorkshire sound. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that Parrot, Hazel and many others across the region would head into the studio and make records in response, all of which retained two key features: the bleeps, and the dub-influenced sub-bass weight. This is what makes ‘Only The Beginning’ crucial; it’s not so much the track itself, but rather the movement it inspired.
When putting together the Join The Future compilation, I knew I wanted it to start with ‘Only The Beginning’. Happily, we managed to license it (the track has never been re-pressed or reissued) and it sounds better than ever thanks to the fine mastering job by Rob Gordon. You can judge for yourself if you pre-order the limited-edition purple vinyl version of the compilation from Bleep.com, as they’re offering an instant download of ‘Only The Beginning’ once your purchase has gone through.
Naturally there’s a whole chapter dedicated to Unique 3 in the book (titled, of course, ‘Only The Beginning’) if you want to find out more, while many years ago I also wrote a piece for Juno Plus’s excellent Dusted Down series on ‘The Theme’ which you can read here.