In the second part of our ongoing ‘Bleepography’ series on Bleep & Bass tracks, Matt Anniss focuses on a killer cut from an unlikely source.
Although the Midlands played a big role in how Bleep & Bass developed, the number of producers from the region that made key tracks was actually relatively limited. There were outposts in Stafford, Nottingham and Leicester, the latter on a very small level, and Network Records – one of the leading British techno imprints of the period – was based in Birmingham. Yet despite Network’s presence, there were very few producers making straight-up Bleep or Bleep-influenced cuts in Britain’s second city, a fact that has always puzzled me.
Birmingham as a city had many of the same social, economic and musical ingredients as Leeds and Sheffield in particular. It had a vibrant soul ‘all-dayer’ scene that went back to the Northern Soul days, venues that had been hugely popular in the electro era, and boasted a sizeable Afro-Caribbean community and a reggae soundsystem scene (with accompanying shebeens/blues) that was second only in prominence within the UK to London.
Yet despite these factors, which all played a massive role in laying the foundations for the Bleep & Bass movement, the number of bleep tracks made in Birmingham is very low (though it should be noted that there were more dub house records made in the city during the period than there were in Yorkshire, which suggests that the reggae influence found its way into locally-made dance music in a slightly different way).
Demonik’s ‘Labyrinthe’, then, is a rarity. It was the work of a then teenage bedroom producer called Peter Duggal, the well-behaved son of Indian immigrants who didn’t drink or take drugs. When I chatted to him last year, while licensing ‘Labyrinthe’ for the compilation, he told me that he attended raves and club nights and was inspired by the music but was always more of an observer than an active participant.
Duggal grew up in an area of Birmingham where soundsystem culture was strong, while his musical love affair with electronic music was fired by electro first and foremost (Kraftwerk was an influence, and fittingly he now works a lot with the German robots’ former percussionist Wolfgang Flur). When pioneering British dance records began to emerge from the North of England in 1988 – A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’ and Unique 3’s ‘The Theme’ in particular – he was particularly inspired.
He sent some of the tracks he’d made in his bedroom on a simple, lo-fi set up to the label that had released ‘Voodoo Ray’, North West-based Rham! The tracks mixed electro, house and techno rhythms with lo-fi synth sounds, bleeps, and for the most part basslines that were as heavy as he could get with his limited set-up. Manchester dancer-turned-producer Aniff Akinola, who had helped turn ‘Voodoo Ray’ from a demo into a finished track and was then doing A&R for Rham!, liked what he heard. The label snapped up five of Duggal’s tracks, stretching them across two EPs that he asked to be credited to two separate artistic aliases: Demonik and Doggy.
While the more electro-flavoured Doggy two-tracker has since become something of a sought-after item amongst collectors, it was ‘Labyrinthe’, the A-side of the sole Demonik EP, that became a club staple following its 1990 release. Listening back 30 years on, it remains as alluring as ever – an undeniably foreboding affair that cunningly builds in intensity throughout while celebrating its’ relative darkness in comparison to some other Bleep cuts.
Sonically, the similarity between deep, sub-heavy bassline and the bleeping lead line recalls Unique 3’s ‘The Theme’ and many other early Bleep gems (‘Dextrous’ by Nightmares On Wax being a good example). The haunting synth -strings employed by Duggal sit somewhere between early Detroit techno and “LFO”, while the raw, dark and aggressive stabs that increase in prominence throughout can be traced back to the “hoover” sounds of Belgian techno. The bursts of breakbeats peppering the track are interesting, too; despite being made years before jungle emerged, the sharp editing and choice of sampled drum loops feels like a hint of things to come.
When Duggal handed over a WAV of ‘Labyrinthe’ so we could get it re-mastered for the compilation, it was taken straight from the original production DAT. It was a ‘pre-master’; suffice to say, Rob Gordon has made the track sound better than ever, beefing up the bass in his trademark style while keeping Duggal’s drums crisp and the bleeps bright and breezy. Remember to check this remastered version out when the compilation drops. Officially, it will be the first time the track has appeared on vinyl for 30 years.
Incidentally, following the release and relative sales success of his first Demonik single, Duggal received little in the way of royalties. He was treated the same way as A Guy Called Gerald, another Rham! Records signee, who for years made more or less nothing (directly at least) from ‘Voodoo Ray’. While Rham! wasn’t the only label in the period not to pay artists promptly or lock them to restrictive contracts, all anecdotal evidence suggests that they were worse than most.
To purchase a physical or digital copy of Matt Anniss’s book Join The Future: Bleep Techno and the Birth of British Bass Music, head to the Velocity Press website. To pre-order vinyl or digital copies of the Join The Future: UK Bleep & Bass 1988-91 compilation, head to Bandcamp or Bleep.com