I often summarise the most important US geographical centres for the book’s story as L.A, Detroit and NYC/East Coast. The latter is a lazy generalisation, because while NYC was a definite focal point in the evolution of hip hop I’m documenting there are other cities and location along the East Coast that were equally important. Perhaps none more so than Miami. And it’s easy to forget about Miami.
Miami’s importance comes from its position as a hub in the late 90s and early 00s for a lot of the more experimental labels that would come to define the US so-called ‘IDM’ scene: Schematic, Merck, Chocolate Industries and Counterflow. And IDM as I’ve mentioned before is an integral part of this story I’m telling, it’s as much of a foundation for what would follow in the 2000s as Mo’ Wax and the trip-hop movement.
I arrived in NYC on Monday this week for what should be my last serious field research trip, taking in both New York and Detroit over a month to conduct interviews and do, well, field research. On tuesday I met up with Sam Valenti, the founder of Ghostly International. At some point in our chat Sam mentioned the importance of the Tried by 12 remix EP in this story of mine, noting how it was a portent of things to come. I’ve owned that record since the early 00s and certainly remember the impact it made on me when I discovered it during my university years.
The original Tried by 12″ release, by East Flatbush Project, is somewhat of a 90s New York rap classic. Issued by 10/30 Uproar Records in 1996, it’s one of those hip hop tracks you instantly recognise from the first notes of the string sample the song is based around. It was produced by Spencer Bellamy and was the result of – if memory serves me right – a local youth outreach project.
Fast forward two years and a then little known label by the name of Chocolate Industries – at that point based out of Miami/Chicago – released a set of remixes on double 12″ featuring a who’s who of the IDM and instrumental/alternative hip hop scene: Autechre, Squarepusher, The Herbaliser, Ko-Wreck Technique (aka Push Button Objects and DJ Craze), Phonenicia, Funkstorung and more. Pretty quickly that release got picked up and licensed by Ninja Tune. Not bad for a label that had barely started.
That was the thing about that Tried by 12 remix EP: if you were into the original, and thus by extent the classic New York production sound it represented, and also happened to be into the weirder movements in hip hop and electronic music at the time, IDM and trip hop and the like, it was the perfect blend of the two. And let’s face it in 1998 not many people were making those kind of parallels yet.
Following my chat with Sam, and on his recommendation, I met up with Michna today. Our chat proved to be utterly fascinating, least of all because of his own involvement in the aforementioned Miami scene. Before we met Michna also mentioned the importance of the Tried by 12 remixes. During our chat he divulged more background info on it, recounting stories of how Seven – the founder of Chocolate Industries – would come to his dorm room with carefully selected bags of vinyl that showcased an incredible ear for joining the dots between the NYC hip hop sound and the experimental electronic movements happening across Europe and the US. As Michna put it to me, it was almost like you could see Seven A&R what became the Tried by 12 release.
[UPDATE]: I spoke to Seven following writing this post and he pointed out that while the stories of him going to Michna’s dorm with records are true, the Tried by 12″ remixes came out before they met. Most likely my recollection of Michna’s words was a little blurry. Once I’ve transcribed both chats I’ll make the relevant quotes available.
Not only is this release a perfect encapsulation of the dots that existed between seemingly disparate sides of hip hop and electronic music – New York rap, IDM, trip hop – but it also summarises Miami’s growing importance as a geographical hub at the time, which both Michna and Push Button Objects have pointed out was definitely due to Autechre coming to the city in the previous years thanks to the Winter Music Conference.
To be continued…