Bristol has in recent years made quite a name for itself musically, but not as far, as I am aware, in the house/techno area. It always did have a vibrant reggae and black music scene, thanks to St.Paul’s—a district with a substantial Afro-Caribbean community. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the city was one of the first stopping off points for touring Jamaican acts and from early on had its own Sound System culture. Those systems, along with an underground soul scene and the multi-cultural meeting ground of the St.Paul’s Carnival were the precursors of the hybrid styles developed by Massive Attack and Roni Size, the two names most associated with the West Country capital. Maybe in a few years, NRK will have a similarly high profile. If so, they will be worthy inheritors of a distinctive and proud musical tradition.
NRK are Bristol-based and release intelligent and well-made house music. Deep and leaning towards techno as a rule, their output has quickly become a byword for good taste and integrity in a club scene not over-blessed with either quality. Up to now it has been the essential Nitelife series that has had most attention but with this release, and the even more impressive Audio Soul Project CD, they have proved themselves one of the few dance labels able to to license single artist projects that stand up to repeated listening.
What makes Jamie Anderson’s debut of particular interest is that, unlike most NRK product it is very much a British sound, it was partly recorded in Bristol, and yet appears to be every bit as accomplished as the San Francisco, Chicago and Toronto premier league names that have hitherto dominated their catalogue. In addition, Anderson has managed to make a coherent and deep album that has cut across the boundaries between techno, tech-house and deep house. Championed by the likes of Carl Cox and Pete Tong, yet subtle enough for the most pipe-and-slippered Dadhouser, Blue Music should have both underground and crossover appeal. Anticipate hearing a lot more of (and from) this young producer.
However, don’t expect to be instantly blown away by any of the 10 tracks on offer. This is a record that sounds merely competent at first and then gets a little more intricate with each listening. Generically it will be assigned to the burgeoning tech-house category, which makes sense. It is certainly too whimsical for hardcore techno, containing as it does Latin, jazzy and even some acid house flourishes. Its flavour on certain tracks is deep to the point of ambient and I am surprised that it is having the dancefloor impact it seems to be achieving. Things must be looking up in techno-land.
The album sets off with “Puesta del Sol”, which isn’t quite as Iberian as it sounds but does have a distinctly un-techno melodic sense. It is getting plenty of plays but is a little half-hearted about its would be eclecticism. Much more substantial is “Black Sun”, already something of a classic. With its organic bounce and percussion and its abstract, hypnotic electronics, it sounds like good old instrumental house to these ears. The tweaked vocals on “They See Nothing” are a little hackneyed, although the Kraftwerk-on-the-Autobahn style keyboards and easy rhythm make it perfect late night mood music. The more tribal “Rebel Sound” is lacking in soul but creeps into your consciousness, insidiously and very effectively. Another proven winner, “Can’t Stop”, is more energetic than the preceding tracks and boasts a disturbingly skippy beat and an intensity all of its own.
By now the pattern is set. These are impeccably formed variants on very familiar aspects of dance culture. Not done as a history lesson but as contemporary summation of the essential ingredients of all things digital. Of the rest of the CD, “Falling” attracts because of its jazzy keyboard lines and quirky funkiness,as does the beaches-at-sunset vibe of “Another Day”, which would be at home on any Om or Naked Music compilation. “Trippin” is a wonderfully anachronistic rave work-out while “In Two Minds” is a no-nonsense semi-vocal cut that threatens to fall apart but just holds itself together thanks to some crisp production and elastic bass.The atmospheric “Oceanic” is more imaginative than its title and acts as a polished and elegant concluding cut.
A little dry and reserved perhaps, this is still a very impressive outing. The formula is tried and tested but the meticulous care and attention given to each particular piece brings out the best in them. Anderson has given himself a very restricted palette to create from, in terms of sound options rather than musical categories. That he has produced such a listenable set is testimony to his craftsmanship. It’s no “Blue Lines”, but it will do Bristol and NRK’s reputation no harm at all. Anybody writing a history of music in the city may just have to add an extra chapter.