Updated on November 17, 2022
Without them, Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack simply wouldn’t sound the same
As Vadim’s 1995 debut on his own Jazz Fudge imprint proclaimed, heads weren’t ready
You can’t have a conversation about trip-hop without mentioning Bristol, and you can’t talk about the Bristol scene without giving a nod to Smith Mighty. The West Country duo took soundsystem culture and a hefty scoop of the ideas informing an increasingly popular jungle scene and helped formulate an entire sound. Bass Is Maternal is the best representation of their scope, and illustrates their experimentation as they attempted to summarize the meeting point between UK rave culture and Jamaican dub. It’s not always successful, but to ignore it is to disregard an important chapter in British musical history.
The first of Vadim’s four albums for Ninja Tune, U.S.S.R Repertoire is a weeded-out take on an American musical form by a Russian immigrant living in the English capital – an instrumental microcosm of hip-hop’s globalisation. Beneath a layer of simplicity, there is depth to Vadim’s approach; the beats feel expansive, the music inviting the listener to cradle in the grooves of the breaks and warmth of the bass. Much of this debut also acts as an echo of what Wordsound and We™ were doing across the ocean at the same time.
After a decade penning film and TV music in Italy, British producer James Braddell decided to head to London and set up his own studio, where he would use some of his commercial writing tricks to come up with Funki Porcini, one of the most recognizable names on Ninja Tune’s early roster. This was trip-hop with a side helping of very English humour, from the moniker itself to the record’s awkwardly suggestive cover. Musically, Braddell laid out a template that would be traced over for years to come with his combination of dusty hip-hop rhythms and booming dub bass. The swirling, reverb-drenched samples just added an extra layer of thick smoke to an already bloodshot premise.
Or as Select put it at the time, “the missing link between Aphex Twin and Mo’ Wax
If the elephant in the room here is acid jazz, Red Snapper are one of the rare acts who addressed it head-on. Prince Blimey is their first full-length and is certainly more overtly jazzy than most of the records we’ve highlighted on this list. That’s not a negative though, the trio – a bassist, guitarist and drummer – had genuine chops, and managed to inject their musical training into a more contemporary mode, touching on trip-hop and drum bass without ever sounding forced. It’s a concoction that might now sound too close to the coffee table dreck that sat next to a copy of American Psycho and a rolled up tenner at the close of the millennium, but Red Snapper managed, somehow, to keep things edgy and unusual. They even, somewhat inexplicably, ended up touring with The Prodigy.
Despite becoming the figureheads of Austria’s downbeat scene (a continental take on trip-hop), Viennese duo Kruder Dorfmeister never released an album. Instead it was through their debut EP, G-Stoned, and absurdly popular mix CDs that they accrued fame. Their 1996 contribution to !K7’s DJ-Kicks series captured the sweet spot between the blunted grooves of chill-out rooms and the rolling breaks of jungle, an approach they’d refine two years later on The KD Sessions. KD’s arrival on the scene came at a time when trip-hop had started to resemble a safe version of hip-hop for those seeking thrills without effort, and their mixes remain as close as you can get to the bland, coffee table take on the genre without feeling too sick.
With releases under a variety of aliases on seminal labels like Ninja Tune, Mo’ Wax, Planet Mu and Rephlex throughout the 1990s, Luke Vibert is one of the artists that best connects the dots between the various styles and ideas that fed into trip-hop. His second release as Wagon Christ pieces together elements from hip-hop, the burgeoning UK dance music scene and electro into a colourful sonic puzzle that glides along in splendid fashion. ”