The World, Me and Mezzanine
Words by Brinsley Chidavaenzi
First, there were drums. Second, we had excellent drummers that played drum breaks. Third, some of these isolated drum sections would turn to be the pillars of modern electronic music. Technology as always is the gift that keeps giving.
Technology mixed with a communal scene has always lead to pioneering breakthroughs, and Bristol’s scene was no different. A hotspot of reggae, punk glued a community together in unison – there were more commonalities than dualities. Unison and technology are the genesis of a crucial instrument in making music of the past 30 years. The sampler (technology) memorizes data from a source (audio) – both of them working in unison to give you a tool of any form of audio isolated which could be manipulated further. Drum breaks could be replayed at any speed after placed through a sampler – speeding up to the higher tempo range (of 150+ bpm) would lead to the development of jungle and drum and bass, (110-30bpm) would leave you in the sweet spot of big beat (Fatboy Slim) and slowing down would land you into the world of trip-hop.
Every new genre is just a new reflection of the world we live in. Genres are just the internal response to the changes of the external. Trip-Hop is a world where all the ghouls and ghosts of the past meet in a future where experimentation is liberation. Cloaked samples of soul music serve as sonic antiques, which meet slowed down breakbeats which become punishing mechanical grooves. These relics accompanied with the low-end intensity of reggae with dub psychedelia gave birth to a new hue and a new mood. This was art that was ready for the 21st century and the melancholic mood that crept through the next decade’s art.
1998 was already an unrivalled year across music, with works that are genre defining or completely challenged the framework of how that genre operated all across. Outkast’s spiritual masterpiece Aquemini, Air’s Moon Safari, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Ray of Light, In the Aeroplane Over The Sea; only to name a few. Mezzanine had a song that could have soundtracked anything from the espionage of 24, the supernatural thrill of LOST, but the song Teardrop ended up being the theme of House and echoed throughout the next decade of film and television.
My introduction to Mezzanine was through hearing Angel on Toonami as a kid on a bumper past my bedtime. It’s a mood that hung with me before my interest in music and my understanding and that will continue to stick with me throughout my own journey. Beyond my experiences, you can hear the echoes and work of Mezzanine creep up in work such as Gorillaz’s opus Demon Days and their self-titled record which are almost companions in melancholy with bitter, grungy, punk basslines. You can hear the echoes haunt the work of Dean Blunt (throughout Soul on Fire and Black Metal) with tempos of a crawl and foggy tones. Also throughout Young Fathers work with grayscale synthesisers which mimic the Mezzanine world.
Mezzanine’s a record that’s stood tall on its spine for over two decades and will continue to do so, for the fact its multicultural influences are soaked rich and veiled proudly across the eleven tracks, with genre binding marriages and a reminder of we can all do when we work together to build together whilst acknowledging what’s looming around us.