Boomkat Product Review:
Punch Drunk & Tectonic pay dues to pivotal Bristol duo Smith & Mighty with an unmissable compilation marking 30 years of crucial, if overlooked, influence on Avon bass styles and the UK scene at large. Anyone into dubby strains of breakbeat rave, jungle, dubstep - the ‘ardcore ‘nuum - needs to check this one!
Weighing in 10 massive riddims recorded between 1988-1994, ‘The Ashley Road Sessions’ drills down to the mutant roots of deep, UK rave music as a synthesis of Jamaican dub, rolling hip hop breaks, deep house pads and nagging electronics - a sound that was arguably unprecedented in British dance music for its bias toward proper, wide and glutinous subbass and stoned, rolling structures, rather than wide-eyed nuttiness.
Back in the late ‘80s this sound sort of had parallels in the rolling dance forms of SoYo bleep techno and NYC house, but Smith & Mighty were out on their own in Bristol, a city steeped in Caribbean culture perhaps more than any other in the UK. It was here that Smith & Mighty shaped a definitive Bristol sound at the time when The Wild Bunch and Massive Attack were also coming into their own. It’s maybe stating the obvious that Massive Attack have had the most financial success since then, but ask almost any Bristolian DJ or raver and they’ll tell you Smith & Mighty were the real dons of that era.
‘Ashley Road Sessions’ is another timely reminder, then, where needed, of S&M’s masterfully grooving, deep and rude style. Stepping down the timeline from Bristol Sound Archive’s ‘The Three Stripe Collection 1985-1990’ to the most critical phase of UK rave music circa 1988-1994, you’ll hear acid house moulded for play on proper sound systems, with proper scoops that could recreate the sensuous pressure of their subs and crisp, lithe percussion and filigree moire of FX. Sounds that could equally work in a big dance or a packed, smoky blues, provided the system was rite and nice.
If pushed to pick favourites from this set, we’d highlight the bare bones pressure of ‘Through A Dark Cloud’, where the division between UK steppers dub, D&B and hard techno is only a slight pattern change; also the beautiful slow chuggers’ recoil and spine-tracing arps of ‘Higher Than Tempo’; the skittish jungle dexterity of ‘Filmscore’; the haunting dread dub dirge ‘Tumbling (Death March)’; and the proper ravers’ spesh, ‘Always Be There (Step Up)’, but we’d be remiss to not state it’s all killer, absolutely no filler.
For any with an interest in the history of UK dance music, the technoid links between dub and techno, the Black Atlantic, or who simply like getting red-eyed and having a bubble, this set is 100% indispensable.