Wednesday, November 25, 1998

Form and Function

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 1998 at 12:00 AM

UK drum 'n' bass pioneer Photek -- aka Rupert Holmes -- was one of the first producers to strip jungle of its ragga roughneckism and rethink its melodic possibilities using only icy percussion riffs and elegantly skeletal rhythms. No bowel-quaking sub-bass or noisy MCs here, just streamlined rhythm sections that are ends in themselves. Photek's titles often flirt with Eastern imagery and philosophy, and here the stately minimalist harmony and economical grandeur of a Japanese rock garden wouldn't be too far off to describe his less-is-more sound. As such, this 12-cut compilation of new mixes and original versions of Pho's genre-defining classics ("UFO," "Rings Around Saturn," "The 7 Samurai") does a competent job of detailing why Holmes is more than just a track maker for a dance-music subgenre and more a sample-aged composer in his own right. In fact, the real revelation here, especially after enduring the remix dissection treatments of other d 'n' b heavies (Dijital, J Majik, etc.), is how compelling Holmes' patient use of space and gray tones is within the usually wall-to-wall mania of club-mixed drum 'n' bass. There's the tense, hesitant energy of "The 7 Samurai" -- here in two versions -- and, even better, the glistening, rainy, stop-start, horn-stab jazz of "Rings Around Saturn," which, as remixed by Peshay and Decoder, sounds like Herbie Hancock grooving in a weird, sideways time signature.

While neither a proper full-length nor a particularly accurate portrait of UK drum 'n' bass circa 1998 -- some tracks are three and four years old -- Form and Function does succeed utterly in amassing Photek's brave fringe of a 12-inch deejay culture over the last half-decade for home listening, and in the process makes the case that this is where Pho's take on the drum 'n' bass form functions best of all.

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