[this is adapted from a piece written for Watch The Hype, so it features a few track selections from Special Request at the end]
I had broken my wrist on the first day of Bristol university’s ski trip. On the third night, I went solo to see Barely Legal play a small mountainside club. At some point I made friends with another dancer and beat-lover. At some point I brought up my love of dance music stories, and he offered his, which took place at a drum’n’bass night Lakota, an hour after he had finished a dj set. He had popped a pill and had a scary intense comeup, one that briefly but intensely made him fear for his life. As he swayed on the dancefloor and slowly realised that he wasn’t going to die, he suddenly realised that he didn’t give a fuck. It was important to him, he said it out loud, over and over again. Maybe people looked, they probably did, but for the first time he really didn’t care. Until that point he had never ‘got’ drum’n’bass, but ever since he’s associated the music with that deep awareness of how dusty the whole idea of ‘appropriate’ is, how it crumples and scatters before the steadfast power of honesty.
‘What the fuck is this mate, what are you playing at?’: the reaction Paul Woolford described receiving when DJing under his own name a few years ago, and playing tracks with a certain dark, intense energy. Time to give up on those tracks? Of course not. Woolford knows that the most exciting music is often wildly controversial; sometimes the most special of requests are those demanding that tracks stop. Some ideal records can reliably make a crowd bop their heads, whereas some “illicit”-sounding tracks have potential to make people lose themselves.
With the creation of his Special Request alias in 2012, Woolford shook off association with previous euphoric club hits (an impressive move considering his Planet E-affiliated, extensively toured notoriety), allowing him to explore extreme territory, driven by skull-shaking, syncopated beats. Shedding all PR assistance and changing agents, Woolford was driven by estrangement from the music industry and faith in the invigorate power of the UK hardcore sound, despite its being out of fashion at the time.
Aside from breakbeats, Special Request is typified by shocks and surprises, like the placement of a Lana Del Rey remix in its first album, and said track’s slap-bass-plus-whisper break. You get the feeling that anything could happen, as experienced by acolytes of the pirate radio stations and jungle raves which inspired the project. The music’s deadly power is fuelled by combination of this strident, singular attitude with dramatic, precision-tooled production; you may be watching the apocalypse, but its storms and storms’ eyes are still broadcast in HD, Mad Max-style.
Special Request’s selections for Watch The Hype are themed as tracks that make the Warehouse come alive. If you can’t capture him shaking a cavernous space any time soon, his recent, critically acclaimed fabriclive mix deserves to space in your speakers. Discussion of its creative process in a recent RA exchange reveals the motivation and standards that moulded it. On one hand, fabric allowed him complete creative freedom, mapping its general structure was simple, and the mix was made in a comfortable zoned-out state without the use of computed aid. However, significance of the club loomed large, severe anxiety came with licensing issues, and the choice of mixing style was motivated by desire for listeners to “feel my hands on the plastic”, representing physical skill developed over many years. The result is like watching a volcanic eruption from first tremor through to climax; awesome in scale, varied in texture and unified in its pure, natural power.
“Absolute classic German techno of the highest order, taking the Basic Channel blueprint onward – this was the maiden voyage for the Chain Reaction label, the first release on it, and it’s an evergreen example of the kind of record that works in a warm up pitched right down, or peak time, or even at the end of the night. Super-versatile, super-stripped to the bone yet full of soul. A real firecracker.”
“The already incredible 808 State taken right through the blender by Richard David James, in the way that only he is capable of. Stacks of irregular edits still cannot disrupt the flow of this face-melting juggernaut that throws a handful of breakbeats at 808 State’s already lethal lysergic groove-bomb. Still to be deployed with care, usually in the later hours, this is pretty much guaranteed to send the warehouse into spasms of ecstasy and send home the easily-scared via the nightbus. Wallop.”
“A combination of Richard Barrot, Richard H. Kirk, and Rob Gordon – this record sounded like nothing else and inspired legions of other producers and dilettantes to get in the studio. Of all the versions of this track – it was the Testfour version that got absolutely hammered out in the North of England in this era. Utilising crisper, sharper and tighter production than most records back then, the impact was enormous. The video was also made by a young Jarvis Cocker and it was released on Warp. The Sweet Exorcist project took this bleep sound to its logical conclusion, and it’s well worth exploring the catalogues of each of the individual members – from Richard H. Kirk’s work with Cabaret Voltaire to Barrot’s Crooked Man releases, to the rest of the tracks Rob Gordon engineered for Warp around this time.”