In today’s Bleepography entry, Matt Anniss discusses one of the first records on Chill Music, a Luton-based label that arguably did more than any other to join the dots between Bleep and early UK hardcore.
When I set out to write Join The Future: Bleep Techno and the Birth of British Bass Music, many of the biggest questions I had – other than the ‘big picture’ ones surrounding the impact and legacy of the Bleep & Bass sound – were about Chill Music, a Luton-based label that seemed to more accurately reflect the shifting sands of Britain’s early ‘bass music’ sound more than any other.
The first of these questions was quite simple: why did Luton, a provincial town just North of London, boast a successful label that championed Bleep and hardcore cuts, as well as EPs that touched on both? Once I tracked down the man who effectively ran the label for owner Damon D’Cruz (the man behind the Jack Trax imprint that imported Chicago house and championed it to the UK public), Tim Raidl, it soon became clear.
At that time, Luton and nearby Bedford were both ‘post-industrial’ towns in the same way that Sheffield, for example, was a post-industrial city. While hat making and car and van manufacturing continued in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the industry didn’t employ anywhere near as many people as it once had done. At one point in the 1960s and ‘70s the need for workers was such that Luton and Bedford both became hot-spots for Commonwealth immigration.
By the mid 1080s, both places had established Caribbean communities; Luton, the bigger of the two, boasted a number of soundsystems, West Indian community centres and and ‘Blues’. There was also an annual carnival – a kind of scaled-down version of those found in Notting Hill (London), St Paul’s (Bristol) and Chapeltown (Leeds). The soul, electro, hip-hop and jazz-funk scenes were strong in the 70s and early 80s too; so strong, in fact, that Luton boasted a number of pirate radio stations before house and rave culture helped them spread far and wide. In other words, what was then called ‘the black music scene’ was very healthy, despite the relatively small size of the town.
Crucially, Luton and Bedford also near enough to London to feel the pull of the fast-rising club scene. They were also adjacent to the M25 ‘London Orbital’ motorway, allowing easy access to the illegal raves that regularly took place on rural sites close to junctions. Young people in the Home Counties were in some ways spoiled in this regard: if dance music and the new acid house scene inspired you, it was possible to go out and dance all night in muddy fields on a regular basis.
Luton also boasted a dance music focused record shop: Soul Sense, which also played host to the offices of Jack Trax. Tim Raidl, who had been working as a graphic designer, remixer and DJ for Jack Trax, worked behind the counter. When he began to notice a rise in killer British-made dance releases coming into the shop, most of which boasted bleeps, bass and either jacking machine drums or sampled breakbeats, he suggested to his boss that they should start a new label to champion UK sounds. D’Cruz agreed and Chill Music was born.
To kick-start the label, D’Cruz and Raidl simultaneously released two EPs by a mysterious act called Original Clique. There were no detailed writing or production credits to be found on the artwork of either the ‘Ten To Midnight’ or ‘North of Watford’ EPs, and in the time since they were released no information about the identity of the artist had been shared online, either. This, then, was my second key question: who the hell were Original Clique and whatever happened to them?
When I came to interview Raidl for the book, it was top of my list of questions. Happily, he did offer some titbits of information about Original Clique:
‘There were two of them, but the main guy was called Tony. He used loads of pseudonyms, but the main ones were Tony Bone and Tony Boninsegna. He’s never given away his real surname and I don’t intend to now either. He prefers not to be known.’
The story of Tony Bone, the producer behind Original Clique and a host of other releases on Chill Music, was eventually answered when I tracked him down (with a little help from Simon Purnell of Leng Records/Z Records) in the summer of 2019. Far from being mysterious, he was quite open, explaining that he had never done an interview before but ‘liked the idea of being part of history’.
You can read his full story in the book – hence why I’m not posting all of the details here – but to cut a long story short he worked in a studio in Bedford called Budeaux’s, which was based in the garage of a regular suburban house in his home town of Bedford. He was a synthesizer and drum machine enthusiast who had been recruited by a former punk-rocker to help engineer and produce tracks by hip-hop loving American airmen based at the local RAF base, punk acts and reggae bands.
When dance music began to become popular in the UK, the studio was booked by a number of wannabe house, bleep and hardcore makers who needed Bone/Boninsegna’s engineering assistance. The fact that the studio boasted samplers, synths and drum machines – which he could use after hours to make his own tunes – helped. One of those to use Bone/Boninsegna’s engineering skills was, you guessed it, Tim Raidl.
Original Clique was born at Budeaux’s, with Bone/Boninsegna joining forces with one of their regular clients, a wannabe DJ/producer called Micky Thomas. Most of their tracks were apparently completed within four hours and made using a limited range of synths and drum machines that Bone/Boninsegna says he knew ‘inside out’.
“Come To Papa” was inspired by hearing Unique 3’s “The Theme” which Bone/Boninsegna told me was a game changer: ‘It was just so different. I don’t know how to describe it. There was just something about the way the bleeps hung in the air.’
Listening back all these years on, it’s obvious the debt the track owes to Unique 3’s bleep blueprint. The lo-fi 8-bit melody sounds like it was made in tribute, the fuzzy stabs that pop in and out of the mix sound like they were created by sampling feedback (a trick used by Unique 3 and the Mad Musician to create the bass tone) and the construction/arrangement is devilishly simple. The beats have a little electro swing but revolve around a sturdy 4/4 kick-drum pattern, while the bold, jaunty bassline drives the track forwards – something found in almost all Bleep & Bass records of any significance. It also included a spoken phrase – “Come to Papa”, of course – which was a trick repeated on the lead track from Original Clique’s second EP, “North of Watford”.
The number of Southern-made Bleep & Bass records that are any good – especially ones whose drums owe more to house and techno than hip-hop and rare groove – is actually rather limited, and “Come To Papa” can be included in that bracket. It’s a favourite of mine and JD Twitch, so it was obvious that it would end up on the compilation. Happily Tony was keen to license it, allowing it to appear on vinyl for the first time since the 1990s.
The EP that the track originally appeared on, “Ten To Midnight”, was Chill’s first hit. It sold like wildfire when Raidl started delivering copies to record stores in London and beyond. Sadly, legendary Record Mirror journalist James Hamilton – a “black music” specialist who had been very influential during the jazz-funk era – wasn’t a fan of either that or the simultaneously released “North of Watford”. Tim Raidl made a point of mentioning this in our interview:
‘He didn’t know what to make of them. They were verging on industrial. I don’t think he liked them at all. Both of those records rubbed some people up the wrong way.’
It’s true that some of the other tracks on ‘Ten To Midnight’ are quite brash and noisy, but then this was the rave era and mind-altering noises are all the rage. ‘Come To Papa’ remains the pick of the bunch, though the warehouse-bothering, stab-happy sweatiness of ‘Mayhem’ and the quirky, altogether deeper ‘Xamax’ are worth a listen. Also, if you listen to ‘U=Underground’, you’ll hear grooves and electronic motifs that sound like a blueprint for Isolee’s “Beau Mot Plage”. Well, I did at least; maybe I’m hallucinating.
I’ll deal with the “North of Watford” EP on here at a later date, along with some of Bone/Boninsegna’s lesser-known productions.
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