Bittles‘ Magazine | Mo’Wax Records
While browsing in my local book shop the other day I came across the recently published ›Mo’Wax Urban Archaeology: 21 Years of Mo’Wax Recordings‹. A mighty tome of a book, it chronicles the life and times of this beloved label, through meticulous design, a lot of love and some beautiful artwork. For former beatheads like myself it is a wonderful read, and quickly makes you nostalgic for the plethora of great songs they released over the years. By JOHN BITTLES
The book chronicles a time in the middle of the 1990s when a strange, yet wonderful thing began to happen. The furious bleeps of rave, techno and drum & bass that had dominated the nation’s dancefloors began to give way to something a little more subtle and sedate. Labels like ›Ninja Tune, Pussyfoot and Mo’ Wax‹ began to release records of jazzy interludes and laid back beats. And these tunes weren’t for dancing! No, they were for nodding your head to, playing on headphones, or for lying down on the settee smoking a big, fat spliff.
Mo’ Wax Please‹ , to give the label its full name, was founded in 1992 by James Lavelle and Tim Goldsworthy (who later went on to form ›DFA Records‹ with James Murphy, fact fans). Within two short years the label would become synonymous with the, hastily coined, trip hop sound that was taking over the nation’s hearts, clubs and bars. They brought us a series of beat-based, yet mellow 12inches that, while accused of being only for stoners, contained some of the most exciting and entrancing music around.
As I enjoyed my trip down memory lane so much, I set myself the challenge to compile my top ten absolute faves from the ›Mo’ Wax‹ catalogue. If you are a fan of music then you really owe it to yourself to track these songs down and give them some love and repeated plays.
With its drawled-out, melancholic sound this is trip hop so stoned it can hardly even breathe. Numerous samples work in tandem with the barely there beats to create a trip of truly epic proportions. Yet, it is the elastic sounding bassline which holds the whole track together and strides purposefully into the recesses of your brain. Over 10 minutes long, this is surely one of the defining moments in Mo’ Wax’s output, if not in dance music in general.
The repeated vocal refrain of ›I was all alone. No one around. And all I could hear what this fucked-up sound‹ together with a big bassy attitude has helped ›What’s That Sound?‹ rock many a dancefloor since its release way back in 1995. An instant anthem for students, stoners and the big beat generation alike, this is one tune that you simply can’t get out of your head. Even playing it now, you can’t help but feel that this is the coolest four minutes of music that have ever been committed to wax.
This is one of those tracks that is so cinematic-sounding that it, almost literally, featured in every film and TV series released in the late 90s. Don’t let that put you off though, as once the lush strings, ominous bass and low slung beats enter the fray this track is one perfect build-up of tension. When the piano breakdown arrives three minutes in, it is more than enough to make grown men cry. Best used in the French-made Clubbed To Death movie, this is as powerful a piece of music as you are ever likely to hear.
A furiously funky bassline highlights a kick-ass trip hop song that you can actually dance to. Largely instrumental and with a strangely eccentric air, 2000 sounds like it should be sound-tracking some 70s cop show. Released way back in 1994 this is a tune that I know I will cherish until my dying day.
Rap mastermind and musical madman Kool Keith wound up on Mo’ Wax in 1996 with his gloriously deranged Dr. Octagon project. Produced by Dan the Automator who would go on to work on the first Gorillaz album, one of the highlights of the set were the deranged strings and strangled cooing of ›Blue Flowers‹ . Sounding like no other rap song ever, this just has to be heard to be believed.
6. LA Funk Mob – ›Ravers Suck Our Sound‹
From the Tribulations Extra Sensorielles EP this tune explodes in an air of beat-driven grooves that are so funky it is impossible to stand still while it plays. This was one of the very first Mo’ Wax tunes I ever heard. I remember that it confused me at first, before I finally succumbed to its skewed hip hop beats. Also well worth checking are the Carl Craig and Nightmares on Wax remixes as featured on the Casse Les Frontières, Fou Les Têtes En L’Air EP.
From the ›Vibes, Scribes & Dusty 45’s‹ EP (what a name!), a hazed, jazzy vibe permeates the air on this head-nodding dream of a track. The soulful vocals by Roba make the spine tingle as they meld with the clacking percussion and mellow melody to create a deliciously narcotic feel. One for when the lights are low and you are quite happy being all alone.
From the excellent ›Meiso‹ LP, ›Only The Strong Surviv e‹ saw turntabalist extraordinaire DJ Krush present us with a straight up rap track. With the conscious flow of C.L Smooth, the beats and flutes signalled a producer working at the very top of his game. In fact this tune is so good that you can’t help reflect that with both ›Meiso‹ and his first album ›Strictly Turntablized‹ selling for silly money on second-hand sites the world over, isn’t it time to finally reissue these LPs?
Decidedly downbeat and melancholy, the early works of DJ Shadow, literally, sounded like no one else. An amazingly evocative synth clashes with snare like beats to create a tune so wondrous that you never want it to end.
With an effortlessly cool vibe, this track is one of the few songs released on ›Mo’ Wax‹ which perfectly fitted into the trip hop mould. Featuring on the excellent ›Headz 2‹ compilation the track is so laid back a couple of times you actually expect it to stop for a nice cup of tea. Hailing from Denmark these guys really knew their way around a fantastically good beat.
There is so much great music on this label that keeping the list down to ten proved a frustrating and emotional experience. Right minded people will bemoan the lack of tunes such as ›Kemuri‹, ›What does Your Soul Look Like ?‹, ›Rabbit In Your Headlights‹ and more. Fantastic tracks one and all, but there just wasn’t the space! And for those who are not familiar with the label can I recommend you track down everything you can. The label went a bit crap as the decade came to an end with duff releases by the likes of DJ Mike, Malcolm Catto etc. But, anything before 1998 will be pure aural gold!
At £40 a copy ›Mo’Wax Urban Archaeology: 21 Years of Mo’Wax Recordings‹ might be an extravagance to most. Yet, it is a thoroughly comprehensive and lovingly compiled document of its time. And if you don’t like to read, you can always listen to the music instead.