Manchester duo Rae & Christian spearheaded the soul/funk-hop scene of the late '90s. Their Grand Central label released great music by Aim (including chill-out classic ‘Cold Water Music’), Riton, Boca 45 and more, not to mention their own superb two albums. ‘Northern Sulphuric Soul’ — their fantastic debut opus of sunshine soul grooves and dope beats, which was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize — and follow-up ‘Sleepwalking’ in 2002 featured guests such as Bobby Womack, Jeru the Damaja, The Pharcyde and the Jungle Brothers.
Mark Rae moved from Manchester to London (before relocating to LA and back) and their Friends & Family nights at Cargo in London were pivotal for the UK beats scene throughout the early part of the noughties. Now, after a decade away, they’re back with gorgeous new album ‘Mercury Rising’. “The songwriting is varied, with a broad base of subjects ranging from female Russian snipers, monkeys who attack, commuting and redemption,” illuminates Mark Rae, sagely.
The album — four years in the making — features slo-jams with Ed Harcourt, Gita Langley, Sam Genders, Kate Rogers and Jake Emlyn on vocals, plus rhymes by Masta Ace from Brooklyn, and Jazzy Jeff and Agent 86 from Australia on deck skillz. It’s a real return to form, so DJ Mag asked the duo to pick out 10 influential tracks…
01. U96 ‘The One Russian’
“I found this cataclysmic beauty on one of those late-night YouTube crawls. It captures an unspeakable darkness, colliding European electronics with Russian folk music. It served as a cornerstone to a couple of the tracks from our ‘Mercury Rising’ album. Balalaikas drift through a chilling super-slow-motion beat that seems to have the weight of the world on its shoulders. It has the power to make you feel physically cold, standing up to your knees in fresh snow. Not for the faint-hearted.”
02. Etienne Daho ‘Signe Kiko’
“An early '80s French pop track that resides on Etienne Daho's second album, it’s a perfect piece of electro-pop chic. It’s both playful and melancholic, which is a hard balance to achieve. Dancing with fresh-out-the-box synths and drum machines, it provides a perfect trotting lilt for the Frenchman's plaintive Leonard Cohen-style vocal. Daho is not so well known on UK shores, but the list of artists he has worked with includes Arthur Baker and Francois Hardy. This style of French music is greatly under-appreciated, deep and soulful.”
03. The JB's ‘The JB's Monorail’
“This does not refer to a current proposed monorail in Malaysia, it is rather one of the filthiest funk jams ever committed to vinyl. A pure sleaze-out of horn notes and tight riffing that has ended up in many a sampler over the years. The JB's were James Brown's band from 1970 onwards, and originally contained within their ranks were Bootsy Collins on bass and Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker on horns. Often fronted by Bobby Byrd and Lyn Collins, the band are responsible for two of the most used drum-breaks in the history of music. The break at 2.36 on this one is my favourite of all-time, it sounds like caterpillars swimming in whisky.”
04. Taku 'Higher (Flume Remix)'
“Really really dope. I should stop there but they won't let me. Flume is a young Aussie producer who captures the true spirit of hip-hop with some aplomb on this remix. Full-on gospel vocal chops and massive everything else, it makes you feel like you're standing on top of the world. Give it a whirl and tell your mum I got you high.”
05. Mike Oldfield 'Incantations Part 4 (Excerpts)'
“You may ask what has Mike done for you lately, you may have never heard of him. Either way, he is responsible for Richard Branson's Virgin empire, for without his first album things may not have panned out the same way. I found this on vinyl in a backwater village in Northumberland. It is a very beautiful piece, gentle, warm and seems to be drifting from both outer space and little England simultaneously. It was used as the Test Card music in Australia for decades, and thus has a lot of fair dinkums attached to it.”
06. David Bowie 'Life On Mars'
“I've always thought there's a handful of tunes that you can remember exactly where you were when you first heard them — you remember the room, the colours, and that makes them game changers. My friend's brother had all the Bowie albums, but we weren't allowed in his room, but then again he was never home. We put on 'Life On Mars', and I was astonished. The tone of it, I hadn't known you were allowed to do that, to use so much classical music and integrate it so seamlessly with rock and it's still cool, so cool.”
07. The Stone Roses 'I Am the Resurrection'
“Just epic. For me, before this there was The Smiths, music to dance to, and then guitar classics, but this was the first time I'd heard the three put together in one truly epic package. Reni's drums were immense with aggressive funk, and the guitars were endless. That end section!”
08. De La Soul 'Me Myself & I'
“I was too young to know the original tracks it sampled, it just sounded so fresh and new, accessible, friendly and nasty. The whole album was a massive game changer, the money I'd long saved for a motorbike immediately went on a sampler and I was away. It got me listening to hip-hop properly for the first time, and I hadn't heard anything like it. I still have no motorbike.”
09. Massive Attack 'Unfinished Sympathy (Paul Oakenfold Mix)'
“It was this, or 'Teardrop'. The atmosphere in the original is beautifully stated from the outset — drum break, the odd sample, strings and a soaring vocal, a stone cold classic. Any combination of instruments with beautifully arranged strings always has me hooked. Then the more aggressive Oakenfold mix just pips it at the post for the extra bass, scratching and dance production.”
10. Rachmaninov 'Piano Concerto No. 2'
“I was hooked at 11 watching the first chords played, and it's been with me ever since. Written during his emergence from three years of depression and writers' block, and dedicated to his psychotherapist, it's the most complex, warm, uplifting, romantic piece ever composed. There are classical influences all over the new album from baroque ('Still Life Freefall') through string quartets to full overbearing orchestrations ('Mercury Rising') but it always comes back to this, cheesy and schmaltzy or not.”
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