GARY STEEL makes his reacquaintance with a 2001 favourite that soothed his savage beast while getting roundly ignored by the rest of the world.
RANDOM PLAY IS A REGULAR COLUMN IN WHICH GARY STEEL RANDOMLY SELECTS AND DISSECTS AN ALBUM FROM HIS COLLECTION.
Sometimes an album just fails to find its audience. During the late 1990s and the early 2000s there was a wealth of creativity surging through the electronic music scene, as well as an eye-opening diversity.
I ran a record store that focused on the more underground, experimental edges of what was then known as electronica (a term that was later repurposed just like R&B has been to denote something altogether different).
This included the minimal techno that had moved continents from Detroit to Berlin and then got wrapped up in dub values and finally morphed into what some wag labelled as “glitch”… electronic music that exploited malfunctioning CD players and computers and capitalised on the sonic potential of scratched and worn-out vinyl records. It also included the doom dub of groups like Scorn and the so-called trip-hop of DJ Shadow and Massive Attack and the ambient soundscapes of groups like Monolake and the “brain-dance” IDM (Intelligent Dance Music – ha!) of the Warp label crowd and their numerous offshoots.
In 2001 the debut album by Readymade (aka Jean-Philippe Verdin) turned up and I fell in love. Bold was an odd name for an album that, if anything, played on subtlety and nuance and surprising eclecticism. I thrashed the album on the store’s sound system (oh, how I miss those 15-inch dual concentric Tannoy studio monitors) and sold a bunch to browsers who liked what they heard, but I could never convince the majority of my clientele that what we had here was something special.
I put that down to the fact that despite the fact that the album has a recognisable flavour throughout, it’s also a bit much and not enough at the same time for most people. What the hell does that mean? Well, where a group like Massive Attack were varied to the extent that they would bring in guest singers and have a couple of lush songs to counteract the deep grooves, Readymade somehow fell between a rock and a hard place.
For instance, Verdin was clearly part of the slightly fruity French house music scene of the period. He was signed to a label – F Communications – that specialised in it. It’s not obvious, but there’s a sensual French house influence here that gives many of these tracks a slightly moist feel. But the house influence won’t have been obvious enough for any real fan of the genre, and the album rarely gets its BPMs up. It’s for listening to, with maybe a bit of head-nodding on the side.
There’s an interiority about the very sounds and textures Verdin uses that would also have been anathema to any club bunny. David Sylvian (of Japan fame) guests on the second track, ‘Sugarfuel’, and his appearance gives a good insight into the kind of mood Verdin was seeking on the album. But while Sylvian is well-respected for the series of frequently gorgeous, introspective albums he forged in the 1980s, his fans would have wanted the singer’s tonsils wrapped around every track on the album for it to be of much use to them.
Elements of many styles can be found on Bold. There’s a bit of glitch (whose time had really already passed in 2001), some lush semi-orchestral moments, and the type of brief sampling of vocal sounds that gave a trip-hop record a cool vibe for play in cafes and hairdressers. The notes and textures he chooses are keyboard-oriented, mellow but gently reedy. I don’t know how much of the album is composed, played or merely sampled and edited, but compositionally, there’s quite a bit to enjoy.
Released in this part of the world by Australia’s dance-oriented Creative Vibes label (RIP 2009) I’ve always felt that their pressing of Bold could have been a bit, well… bolder! It was mastered by Stefan Betke (of the Scape label and the glitch-dub Pole project) who usually squeezes every sonic shard out of the shadows, so I’ve made it my quest to track down the original French pressings. As the CD is for sale on Discogs for as little as 98 cents, it’s a steal.
I feel kind of sorry for Jean-Philippe Verdin because it seems that he didn’t go on to set the world on fire musically, and there appear to be only two proper Readymade albums. And it seems that for whatever reason, the album has been blocked from the popular streaming services, at least in New Zealand.
In my view, however, he can be proud of Bold. It may not quite be an Endtroducing or a Blue Lines and it may not have been staunchly single-minded enough to make its mark with the various subcultures it nodded to, but 19 years on, it sounds much fresher than many of its contemporaries.