Justin Robertson is my kind of DJ. Someone who’s very much ploughed his own furrow, it’s hardly surprising he’s earned kudos from some of the scene’s major players, with everyone from Erol Alkan to the sadly departed Andrew Weatherall quick to shower him with praise. A longtime resident at the seminal Bugged Out! party, Robertson is an astounding DJ, just as anyone who’s experienced his Essential Mix (from 1994!) or any of his mixes for Bugged Out! will surely attest.
Outside of the booth Robertson is equally prolific, finding time to remix everyone from Justice to Bjork to Happy Mondays to New Order. On a more recent note, I’d also recommend his Deadstock 33s project, with his collaborations with Daniel Avery especially worthy of your attention. So…with over 30 years experience as a DJ, producer, promoter and remixer in his locker, it’s safe to say Justin Robertson is a fitting inductee into our Talking Classics series. Giving us his thoughts on classics from Plez, Leo Anibaldi, Chez N Trent, Joe Louis (and even some curveballs courtesy of Ruffneck!), Justin provided some really great insight here into a bunch of frankly classic records. Which really, is why I bother with all this in the first place. Big thanks to Justin and as always…enjoy!
Joe Louis – The Love of My Own (Target Records, 1986)
A classic from 1986 when I’d just moved to Manchester and was beginning to get into the early house sound. My mate Eddy and I would hang out in Spinn Inn records just off market street hoping to get copies of the latest American imports, we were pretty far down the pecking order so we weren’t often successful. This is one that got away! Luckily I managed to get one eventually and it has been reissued now thankfully. A beautiful collaboration with Larry Heard with that classic Mr Fingers sound. Again, like all good house records, it’s deceptively simple. The stripped back sound lets the instruments breath, each has its own space. I love the marimba and the lush haunting strings, but it’s still propelled along by that insistent bassline that makes it irresistible for dancers and swayers alike. It has an almost jazz fusion feel to it, like Dexter Wansel or Atmosfear, this was the type of record you’d hear in Manchester’s underground clubs in the late 80’s. It was this sound that provided the perfect soundtrack for dance groups like Foot Patrol. They’d do this amazing freestyle choreography on the dancefloors of central Manchester, looking sharp in suits and spats doing this incredible jazz dancing whilst we all looked on blowing whistles.
Plez, Can’t Stop (Acid Rain Forest Mix) (Plezure Records, 1990)
Ah yes, I remember this well! Big tune from windswept fields to sweaty basements. A spooky, smoky intro with those strings that sound quite basic to modern ears but are just the ticket in my book. Then the percussion counterpoint with that simple driving bassline that morphs into an incessant pulse. It has that protype New York tribal house feel that builds into a hypnotic swirl. Although this was originally released several years before the Lady B number, this again was a tune that would roll across the spectrum from hard jacking to hypnotic deepness, you could hear this at Pure or DIY pitched up or pitched down. It’s raw and simple and as a result the very essence of good jacking house, no frills are necessary. The fact that Bush Records picked it up and reissued it a few years later is testament to its lasting appeal.
Leo Anibaldi – Elements (ACV, 1991)
Oh my! By way of research, I checked on this release on Discogs, this is now going for serious money. I think Young Marco put this on a compilation of ‘Dream House’ he did a few years ago, which might explain its surging cost. The ‘Dream House’ sound of Italy has become increasingly popular in recent years and for good reason. Those early tunes like some of the DFC records were played quite extensively across the spectrum of Djs, but it became more of a niche sound as the years went on and the clubs and raves became bigger. As a result, many gems went undiscovered and neglected in favour of bolder riffing, arms in the air tackle. Again, it’s ethereal simplicity is striking, it’s quite beautiful. I rooted around my shelves to find my copy and discovered, according to my stickers, that I favoured the acidic ‘House’ from that EP, which is not what you would call subtle, but is very effective.
Chez n Trent – Morning Factory (Prescription, 1994)
The mid 90s, a great time of flourishing for underground music. Prescription Records was a very big label for me, everything release was of the highest quality and channelled both the purity of ‘deep house’ and the considered minimalism of techno. I would place this next to stuff like ‘Round One’ and ‘Maurizio’. Deep house has become such a loaded term now and like ‘tech house’ its essence has been lost through successive unfortunate mutations, but this is deep house in the best possible sense; it takes you deeper but never so deep that you fall into a coma. This particular number reminds me of James Holroyd and Rob Bright, the residents at Bugged Out, who would expertly weave tunes like this together building solid foundations for the banging to come. At the risk of evoking another much maligned genre, this is proper trance music.
Lady B – The Groove Is Going (Evolutive Hard House Mix) (F Communications, 1994)
I used to hammer this tune in the mid 90’s and also ‘Yes it is’ on the other side, which I put on one of my mix compilations. Just the sort of techno/house sound I love; hypnotic, melodic but with a trippy urgency to it that gives it a psychedelic edge. The mid 90s was a quite fragmented time in the dance music world, at least in the clubs that played house-based styles. DJs were kind of positioning themselves on an imagined continuum between commercial vocal house and perceived underground techno. I always found this to be an unsatisfactory approach, it meant to discounted lots of great records because you might be thought to have ‘sold out’ in some way. Like a lot of stuff on labels like ‘Touche’, records like this bridged the gap between the harder end of house and techno. You could play it in the back room at Cream or Renaissance next too ‘Wild Pitch’ records or blended with ‘Red Planet’ numbers at the Orbit. I think F-Comm epitomised Laurent Garnier’s open-minded approach, which was an attitude that very much resonated with me.
Black Science Orchestra – New Jersey Deep (Junior Boys Own, 1994)
I think this originally came out on the ‘Altered States’ EP in 94? Again, it’s pretty much timeless, Ashley Beedle, Uschi Classen and Marc Woolford were a killer combination, effortlessly classy music. Come the mid 90’s I think the flourishing of electronic musical styles had led to some great hybrid sounds. Some were really pushing the machines into weird places, while others like Black Science Orchestra were digging into the past and reinterpreting their musical roots. It’s easy to use 1988 and the ‘Second Summer of ;ove’ as the spurious starting point of the dance revolution, but it’s really not the case. There is a history of dance music that goes right back to the dawn of time, people gathering and losing it to repetitive rhythms, it’s a ritual that has always existed for humans in one form or another. So there was no year zero as such, just a change in fashion and drug habits. So, I think you can see records like this in that light, continuing a tradition but updating it, adding modern techniques and adapting it to the dancefloors of the day. I loved this record and it very much fitted in with that crossbreeding of scenes; jazz, house, disco, that began to flourish around this time. Proper roots music.
Ruffneck feat Yavahn – Everybody be Somebody (MAW, 1995)
I initially thought that I’d never played this record, but a brief dig into the boxes disavowed me of that impression! This was a big crossover hit and I must say I did enjoy hearing large crowds of clubbers on the streets of the world’s city centres shouting the Yello sample in the early hours. I’ve not heard it for a while, and I must admit to liking it much more than I remember. Good rude house with a rolling bass straight out of the New York ‘Red Zone’, ‘Gypsymen’ play book. I liked those heavy house records with big basslines that fitted in with the housey end of techno, so I guess I played it in those sorts of sets. There’s something irresistible about that chant like vocal, the message is very positive, but somehow it carries a feeling of trippy menace! Great for trance-like jacking.
Mike Delgado – Byrdman’s Revenge (Original Mix) (Fuel Records, 1999)
I dig that Donald Byrd sample. In fact, I used to love a loopy house track, or a loopy techno track for that matter. Even in my most banging sets when I was well over 135 bpm and laying down the Djax upbeats, I would try and slip in funkier numbers that were often built around disco or jazz loops. Perhaps sadly I don’t really play a lot of those numbers now, but it’s still a sound I have a lot of affection for. This was a classic of that genre, solid militant drums, really heavy chunky stuff, but then the loop lifts it into more ethereal dimensions. It’s just a great straight up good time party jam that isn’t particularly sophisticated in the elements it uses but is built on such solid foundations that its simplicity becomes its strength. It really reminds me of a party I attended the one time I went to the Miami Music Conference, the sun may or may not have been shining, I forget, but it was pure house, house, house beats for days, and tunes like this just kept rolling in and out of the mix. It was magic.
Octave One – Blackwater (430 West, 2000)
I recently played this at a Bugged Out night (well pre lockdown so perhaps not that recently) and it still sounds fresh. Released just as the new millennium commenced, it’s a timeless piece of techno futurism that really demonstrates the emotional power of electronic music. The intricate weave of melodies is just beautiful, both subtle and yet urgent, it gives you the impression of travelling through inner space. The ability for techno to transport you to other dimensions and mental states is one of its abiding strengths. This number is both rooted in the bricks and mortar of Detroit and simultaneously not of this world. I love the Anne Saunderson vocal mix too, it’s quite a different tune in many respects, but I dig its epic quality with that dramatic string introduction. I remember distinctly the moment this popped into Eastern Bloc records on Octave One’s 430 West label, it was one of those records that made you long for the weekend, because you knew people were going to lose their minds to this masterpiece.
Stylophonic – Soulreply (Tom Middleton’s Cosmos Vox) (Prolifica, 2003)
Tom Middleton is just great, both as a human being and as a producer. We’ve played together a lot over the years and it’s always such a pleasure to see him. His productions and remixes are always on point, thoughtfully inventive and well executed. Even when he’s using a quite classic technique, say the filtered disco loop, he manages to twist the template just enough to make it sound fresh. That acid line that comes in towards the end! That is a good example, it lifts it out of the ordinary and into outer space. I’ve played an enormous quantity of his music over the years from Global Communications, Jedi Knights and his Cosmos material. Tom’s definitely one of the greats.