The last great time of personal musical discovery that I remember came during the early to mid ’90s. Before widespread access to the internet made finding new music easy, the old methods of traditional media, radio and word of mouth were still in play, making the search and discovery of new music even more rewarding. Various forms of alternative music were becoming more mainstream. Leading the way was electronic dance music (EDM).
So much was going on that it was difficult to keep up with the many splinterings of club sounds that were slowly making their way to the edges of the mainstream. Unless you were a frequent club goer (I was not) there was little opportunity to be exposed to the best EDM unless you were patient enough to wait for the next Orb or Aphex Twin track to make it to radio.
So aside from reviews that came form mostly British publications, I would cruise the record store isles in search of something to take a chance on. One such chance paid off in the form of a CD from the English band B12. Like just about everything on the ultra cool Warp label, B12’s name suggested futuristic compositions, but it was the cover art for Time Tourist that sold me. The concept of a future educational tool packaged as an album was intriguing, much like the ’80s sci-fi paperback cover style of Trevor Webb’s illustration of a future London..
The music was not bad either.
B12 consisted of Mike Golding and Steve Rutter, two DJ/sound tweakers who formed the band in the early ’90s. The two have worked on multiple solo projects and collaborations under different names, but as B12, they were noted for having a Detroit techno influenced sound.
Unlike most of the electronic music I was discovering at the time, B12 stood out. The subtle hip hop undertones from the Detroit techno influences made B12 soung a bit more gruff (in an American urban kind of way) than most of their European contemporaries who’s influences went back to New Romanticism and early new wave. Time Tourist on occasion featured the kind of break beats that were popular with break-dancers and other hip hop dancers – a kind of holdover of classic hip hop DJ culture. Despite that Time Tourist was not by any means a collection of hip-hop electronic beats.
Although it was not completely new material, Time Tourist captured the vast array of influences and styles that Golding and Rutter have explored together as solo artists. In fact the track names, all inspired by various science fiction themes, are credited to the many ailases that the duo have worked under.
Musically Time Tourist runs the gamet of hyper almost Aphex Twin-like “Cymetry” to the chill of “Radiophonic Workshop”. There are tracks like “Phett” that sound like mainstream mid ’90s club music while “Gimp”could be an electronic equivalent to jungle/trance. Nearly all the tracks inspire visions of sci-fi distopian soundscapes. “Void/Comm” my favorite track and presumed reference to Blade Runner has the calming effect of layered synths contrasted by a ominous beat suggesting drama or danger.
Interestingly much of the album is mid tempo- not fast enough for the all out sweaty romp of the dance club, but a bit too hyper to be completely chill ambient techno. Perhaps moving to the middle may have prevented B12 from moving to the mainstream where tempos tend to be more decisive.
B12 never blew up like The Orb or Aphex Twin did, but should have. Like Meatbeat Manifesto, the duo was wildly experimental and inventive (they too dabble in the fusion of jazz and electronica). By the ‘Os they has disbanded leaving fans with the choice of getting hard to find official material or poor quality bootlegs of earlier material. The pair reappeared with a new material in 2008. B12 is still together, although the pair record presumably under their many aliases.