BLEEPOGRAPHY: 09 – ITAL ROCKERS ‘DREAMS’

The ninth article in our ongoing Bleepography series focuses on ‘Dreams’, a lesser-known 1991 gem from legendary Leeds artist Ital Rockers AKA Iration Steppas

A few weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown, I went up to Leeds to take part in this year’s edition of Inner City Electronic. I’d been asked by Resident Advisor to host a live edition of their long running RA Exchange series with Orbital, a session that will live long in the memory (in part because Phil and Paul Hartnoll were both a little loose-tongued and highly entertaining). While waiting to be called on stage, Mark Iration breezed into the green room with Mr Scruff, Ryan from Mastersounds and Cosmic Slop soundsystem supremo Tom Smith.

Mark spotted me straight away, told me how much he’d enjoyed the book (he features quite prominently) and then started complaining that I’d used his real name throughout. While I did this for everyone in the book w(IE using their real names rather than artistic aliases) he jokingly complained that I’d done so. Because of this, I’ll refer to him on this website purely by his artistic aliases old and new. It’s the least I can do.

In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Mark was a young DJ and future soundsystem builder making an impact within the vibrant music scene within Chapeltown, Leeds biggest West Indian neighbourhood. Along with his friend Sam, and with a little help from local reggae musician and friend Homer Harriott, he ran the Ital Rockers soundsystem – a “party sound” (initially without much of an actual soundsystem) that mixed reggae and dub records old and new with soul, hip-hop, electro, house and techno.

Taking the name Mark Ital, he held residencies at several local venues and was reportedly repeatedly criticised for playing house and techno by the reggae-heads – particularly the operators of rival soundsystems. Ironically, when the acid house movement swept through the wider population in 1989 and ’90, some of these rivals began running “acid blues”. Unlike regular “blues” – all-night, unlicensed venues for drinking and dancing held in residential houses for the benefit of those within Caribbean communities – these “acid blues” featured DJs playing contemporary dance music (house, techno, Belgian new beat, early hardcore etc) rather than different varieties of Jamaican music.

Ital Rockers were amongst the most popular and successful of the new DJ crews that started popping up in West Yorkshire in the mid-to-late ‘80s. They hosted their own dances in Chapeltown, of course, but also undertook occasional sound clashes against rival sounds (the most famous of these being against Bradford’s Unique 3) and played guest spots in Bradford and Leeds.

The picture below was kindly sent over by Homer Harriott and shows the Ital Rockers crew behind the decks at Checkpoint in Bradford, a community venue that also hosted early sets from both Unique 3 (when future Nightmares on Wax members Kevin ‘Boy Wonder’ Harper and George ‘E.A.S.E’ Evelyn were part of the extended crew). Homer isn’t quite sure when it was taken, but our guess is 1987 or ’88.

ital-rockers
Ital Rockers, circa 1987-88 – Mark Ital is holding the mic. Picture courtesy of Homer Harriott.

Although a reggae selector at heart – as seen by his phenomenally successful career as the man behind the Iration Steppas Soundsystem – Mark Ital was genuinely inspired by house and techno. For this reason it’s hardly a surprise that he went on to make one of the greatest early Bleep & Bass tunes, ‘Ital’s Anthem’, a tune I’ll discuss on here at a later date. That record was released by the short-lived BASSIC label, an imprint established by Mark’s friend Homer Harriott, DJ Martin (real name Martin Williams), and the owners of Crash Records in Leeds. The BASSIC story is covered in greater detail in the book, but suffice to say that the label ended up imploding after 12 months or so, despite the runaway success of some of its locally-made releases (‘Ital’s Anthem’, Juno’s ‘Soul Thunder’ and Ability II’s ‘Pressure’ to be exact).

When that happened, Mark Ital signed to Outer Rhythm, a more underground-focused sub-label of the initially Mute Records-funded Rhythm King. The deal was reportedly for some singles and an album. In the end, that Ital Rockers album never materialised; instead, Mark Ital released a sole EP on the imprint, ‘One Day’. According to Mark, all of the material for that EP was recorded in 1991, though by the time it reached stores it was 1992. Its’ heavyweight fusion of steppers reggae, Bleep & Bass and flashes of piano house was by then a little out of step with the prevailing dance music narrative.

It was perhaps for this reason that the EP has been a little overlooked in the years since and was nowhere near as successful at the time as Outer Rhythm hoped it would be. In my opinion it contains one of the weightiest and most rush-inducing Bleep & Bass cuts to emerge from West Yorkshire, the thrusting techno stomper that is ‘Dreams’.

There’s much to enjoy about the track, not least the increasingly intense and sub-heavy bassline – a stabbing, faintly threatening affair that powers the track forwards far more than the crispy, crunchy machine drums. In fact, the sub-bass is so deep and booming that some soundsystems will struggle to cope with its heaviness.

The ghostly chords that drift in and out of the mix recall some of the great earlier Bleep & Bass cuts – think ‘LFO’ and Forgemasters’ ‘Track With No Name’ – while the sparse, raw, high-end bleep melody is the kind of subtle variation on the bassline that marks out some of the formative records in the style, including Nightmares on Wax’s ‘Dextrous’, Unique 3’s ‘The Theme’ and, of course, ‘Ital’s Anthem’. Mark Ital’s dub-style mixing can be heard throughout, with the finished version being a live pass with the producer muting and unmuting elements as the track progresses.

It’s arguably one of the harder and sweatier Bleep & Bass cuts about, so I’m delighted that we managed to persuade Mark to let us use it on Join The Future: Bleep & Bass 1988-91. Rob Gordon’s re-mastering tidies it up a little, but the sheer bass-weight remains in tact.

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

 

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mattanniss

Freelance writer, editor, copywriter and communications professional. Music obsessive. DJ. Sports anorak.

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