‘Boulevard’, the 1995 debut album from Parisian producer Ludovic Navarre — aka St Germain — was by no means the first time jazz had mixed with house. Larry Heard, to name just one artist, was making those connections years earlier. But it was perhaps the first time the mixture had felt so downright inevitable. ‘Boulevard’ is one of those rare records that makes everything sound easy: An album that revolutionized the perception of French music, consummated the union between house and jazz, and spawned a million weakling copies.
‘Boulevard’ created waves in France and beyond. America may have initially looked the other way— the album wasn’t even released there until 2002 — but the UK, then in the middle of an acid jazz splurge, flipped for the album’s Parisian cool, with it topping dance magazine Muzik’s albums of the year list ahead of Goldie’s ‘Timeless’. This may seem unremarkable now. But in those days, British attitudes to French music often fell somewhere between willing ignorance and downright contempt.
1998 was a landmark, if slightly troubling, time for drum & bass. It was a year of shifting styles, sprawling albums, and new sub genres, one that saw the still buoyant scene start to fracture from the unified highs of 1995 and 1996.
'Paul's Boutique', Beastie Boys’ second album, is the sound of unrestrained musical joy; an adventure playground bouncy castle fart-joke of a record where boundary-pushing, world-building fun drips from every pore. It is also utterly influential, a work of sampling technology running wild, free and unencumbered by legal headaches — a cut-and-paste, plunder-phonic masterpiece that The Avalanches, Beck and The Chemical Brothers would all sound very different without. Much of the credit for this must go to the Dust Brothers, the L.A.
Needless to say, this surreal eclecticism was not what the Beastie Boys’ frat-boy fanbase was expecting. Released in July 1989, three years after their debut, ‘Paul’s Boutique’ limped to 24 on the U.S. Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and the group’s new label, Capitol, soon gave up on it. The album did have some fans, though: Chuck D once claimed in an interview that the “dirty secret” among the black hip-hop community was that “‘Paul’s Boutique’ had the best beats,” while jazz legend Miles Davis apparently said he never got bored of listening to the album.
If the world Björk inhabits on ‘Debut’ sounds a little every-day for such an extraordinary star, its because Björk made it so. Of course, the concept of solo singer plus dance beats was hardly new back in 1993 when ‘Debut’ made its bow — Donna Summer would attest to that — but on ‘Debut’, Björk pioneered the idea of artist as auteur that would later be so integral to the success of Drake and Kanye West, to name but two.
Writing in The Face, Mandi James called ‘Debut’ “a delightful fusion of thrash metal, jazz, funk and opera, with the odd dash of exotica thrown in for good measure,” while The New York Times found the influence of “early ‘70s jazz-fusion of bands like Weather Report.” But ‘Debut’’s versatility is such that you can see in it anything from hip hop to handbag house, depending on the way you cut it. To even envisage such a fusion is impressive.
The TB-303 is one of the most iconic sounds in electronic music; a kind of acidic, alien howl that immediately places the listener in the world of techno and acid house. It is also, to be frank, one of the most over-used tools in dance music.
The sound of ‘Sheet One’ is strangely familiar and utterly alien. It’s no exaggeration to call Hawtin the Jimi Hendrix of the 303 for the way he utterly reinvents the sound of the mechanical box on his 1993 album, making it emote like no one has managed before or since. On ‘Sheet One’, the 303 is by terms pensive, melancholy, malevolent, cheeky, frosty and welcoming, with Hawtin ringing a world of emotion out of Roland’s failed bass synthesizer.
Bastardisation has long been at the heart of the British musical soul. The Beatles had it, tying up US R&B into wonderful new forms in the 1960s; David Bowie had it, subsuming everything from disco to drones into his individualistic musical world; and in the 90s Leftfield had it, their mighty debut album ‘Leftism’ uniting the musical melting pot of post-rave Britain under the steady thump of the house beat.