Various Artists - Techsteppin'

(Click on the picture to download.)

The Emotif labe was founded in 1995 as a subsidiary of SOUR. In late '95/'96 techstep was all the rage and Emotif picked up on it pretty soon with this compilation. In fact, Techsteppin' played a major part in both establishing the genre tag and bringing the sound to a wider audience beyond the jungle massive.

Though most of the tracks are Emotif exclusives, it's hardly surprising that Techsteppin' is dominated by Ed Rush, DJ Trace and Nico Sykes of the genre defining No U-Turn label. Of the twelve tunes, five (plus a remix of Mutant Jazz) are by the duo Trace and Nico under their Rollers Instinct and Skyscraper aliases, while three are by Ed Rush aka Hydro aka The Zone. (Here's a complete tracklist.)

Released in 1996 at the tail-end of the classic jungle era, Techsteppin' came out when the genre was already morphing into drum'n'bass. So the two-steppy kick drum is already in full effect, but the drum beats are still a far cry from the broring straight-forward linearity of later d'n'b . Rather, the two-step beat is used similiar to the four to the floor-bass drum in some of the best house and techno tracks: as a rhythmic anchor around which all sorts of crazy percussive shit is going on.

In preparation for this post I've been listening to Techsteppin' for the first time in years. What amazed me was how versatile the tunes are and that most of them sound quite different from your typical techstep. They veer towards the eerie and uncanny instead of launching the full-frontal attack usually associated with the genre. The harsh, punishing rhythms and growling industrial noise are often juxtaposed with forlorn synth sounds slightly reminiscent of the icy beauty of Underground Resistance's Galaxy 2 Galaxy and X-102 releases. It's a vibe that's more Blade Runner (with some 2001 lost in space-feeling thrown in) than Robocop/Terminator. Still, Techsteppin' is jungle/early d'n'b at its most menacing and vicious. It just shows that darkness can have many shades.