Essential Listening: Blowing Up The Workshop 90 by X-Altera & 95 by Death Is Not The End

In recent times the prospect of listening to a multi-hour mix has held little appeal. I mean, what if I like it? And it requires multiple listens to parse it’s elements satisfactorily. While that makes mixes similar to albums, how I consume them on repeat listens is completely different. Little doubt this immensely time consuming rigorousness is just me being really fucking weird, but I have to listen, and then investigate a certain section (or song) that caught the ear. Preferably the mix would have a tracklist which truncates the process, making it easier to discern if it’s a product of mixing or an individual track. Failing that, there’s Shazaam. Sadly I’ve found it isn’t consistent with recognising obscure stuff I often gravitate towards.

I only found and gave either of these mixes a look due to the Blowing Up The Workshop’s reputation for quality or conceptual esotericism. That and I’m currently on a Jungle and drum’n’bass listening phase. The concept of X-Altera’s almost four hour mix of Jungle cuts, all from the era when it ascended (circa 1992-96) is one of the mix series’ most conventional offerings. And for good reason. Only Jungle from that era sounds authentic. It has DIY in its genes, with many of its classics created in dingy bedrooms, dingier backrooms and small studios by ‘non-musicians’ (they’re called producers now) using less than stellar gear. My pious trumpeting of genuine Jungle solely belonging to said circumstances is frivolous and inverted, fallacious, myopic snobbery. However, the quality of this mix supports my prevaricating.

And it made me realise something else – I just need to get over myself and stick to my guns. Gotta suppress those momentary lapses where existential dread that I’m blowing my life bubbles over. If you can’t shake the feeling that you’re wasting time, or your life generally, that there’s something else better, but, frustratingly, you can’t conceive of it, you might as well do something you know you enjoy. Identifying the individual tracks of a mix, and fusing them with my existing playlists, is one of my pettiest vices. Thankfully this X-Altera’s mix isn’t one from Demdike Stare, with disparate offerings over-lapping, featuring bountiful obscurities which come from fanatical crate digging, the kind which tend to have no home other than the context in which they were discovered.

It also served another equally beneficial purpose, by reminding me of Jungle tracks in my library that I’d neglected or forgotten I had (and yes, it’s bleeming large), and introduced me to cuts from the era which eluded me completely. Another consequence of my obsessive mix mining geekery is putting one of these track ID’s into YouTube (to confirm it is the right one) and letting its autoplay algorithm que up tracks. It’s a great way of discovering other belters. While you may rightly bristle at your browsing data being stored and potentially exploited, this instance is one of the few occasions where it can be beneficial.

I can’t help but link these mixes together as representative of a systemic feedback loop, albeit with their release order inverted. With 95 showcasing the fertile sub-culture supporting independent music, and 90 extolling a genre of music which spawned from it.

Death is Not The End’s mix inhabits the conceptual end of the mix spectrum. It’s a highly personalised curation, as if it’s one’s memory of pirate radio stations fragmented by time, and or just by the cassettes they were recorded on. The mission is clear – to rep what was as an essential element of Bristol’s fertile music scene. Much has been written in mythologizing Bristol music and subculture, but somehow, in just over an hour, Death is Not The End, through a series of disparate, often amusingly cringey, anecdotal excerpts from pirate radio, be it phone calls from inebriated listeners (or their mothers), adverts (including jingles) for club events or meetings (to resist capitalist influence/corporatised health warnings) or just random DJ commentary, manages to create a more vivid homage that just a selection of tracks could. There is music, mostly dub and drum ‘n’ bass, but it shifts with the sudden cuts, and remains secondary throughout.

It’s both miraculous and heartening that these clips were somehow saved for posterity. It makes me want to hear more, and hear more independent radio like this. Sadly, like Jungle, it cannot be synthesized in different circumstances, and certainly not now without feeling disingenuous. The closest I can think of to it, in terms of tone and format, is Charlie Bones’ morning show on NTS, but that’s syndicated worldwide on the internet. I also lament all the other snippets that were left out of this mix or that have been consigned to attics or garages, or never recorded, never to be heard again.

There’s something to be learned by re-examining the structures of musical niches from this perspective: before contemporary modernity, when pirate radio was dependent on a hyper specific eco-system; independent, genre oriented and with an intimacy between DJ, listeners and callers. The audience was sustained entirely by belonging to that time, place and taste. It was an investment that clearly paid dividends for all.

While the internet (so vast and encompassing that there is no privacy, no true ownership) has supplanted independent radio’s place and removed demand for its past incarnation, at least it is furnishing us with other creative variables and greater reach. These two mixes are evidence we shouldn’t be pissing and moaning about how things have changed. They remind us of how and why pirate radio and Jungle music were so important to the people then and influential to creativity today. Their message still stands: Imagination costs nothing and anything is possible if you’ve got it.

About Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard

Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard. 'Mediocre blogger and a piously boring and unfunny writer'. Enthusiastic purveyor of the KLF sheep.
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