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Trip Hop

A MUSIC COMMENTARY

By Anusmita Datta

Much has been said about the teeny- bopper pop music flooding the airwaves nowadays. The invasion of barely pre teen musicians singing about things we were forbidden to even talk about when we were growing up. Risqué videos accompanying these songs have only made them more popular. Are these artists even of legal age? Where have the good old nineties gone?

Although I must confess I did listen to my fair share of Backstreet Boys when I was growing up, the derision I received from my peers for doing so only led me to discover the two amazing bands I’m going to talk about later on.

Firstly these two bands belong to the trip – hop genre. Trip hop is often cited as the British alternative to American hip hop. At the same time that Hip hop was becoming popular in America (the early nineties), trip hop gained a large audience in Britain, and later, around the world. Trip hop is characterized by the inclusion of bizarre noises, slow beats, prominent bass and sometimes gloomy undertones. It is what a trip would sound like if it were somehow converted to music. Hence the term “Trip hop” was coined. Secondly both these bands were active in the nineties.

Bristol is oft called the birthplace of trip hop owing to the many artists of the genre who got their start in the city. This port city in southwest England is where the abovementioned two bands originated.

Portishead is an English trio consisting of Beth Gibbons, Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow. Although the band was formed in Bristol, it was named after another town ‘Portishead’ situated a few miles away. Famous for being extremely media shy, they released their debut album called Dummy in the year 1994. Despite the lack of promotion for the album as well as the band, the album did very well in terms of sales. Although Dummy was their first album, it is considered to be their best one. Rolling stones magazine granted upon it their greatest honour by naming it one of the best albums of all time.

Portishead
     
Their songs were sensual, dark and weird and were sung beautifully by vocalist Beth gibbons. The single “Numb” was also accompanied by an equally dark and creepy video. The scratchy, melodic and completely unique voice possessed by Beth Gibbons heightened her as well as the Portishead’s popularity. The combination of her deeply sensual voice, stark bass guitar, bizarre sampling and slow drum beats made ‘Numb’ a song like no other.

Another single off the album- ‘Glory box’ was of course sexier, in reference to the name of the song. This song was slightly more upbeat owing to the violins and less prominent bass. Nonetheless it didn’t stray too far from their trademark sound.

‘Sour times’ sounded like it should be in the climax scene of a James Bond movie. Clever sampling of music and Gibbons’ vocals made this song exciting as well as depressing at the same time. Their next self titled album was released after a long hiatus and although the music and the videos seemed more experimental, it went on to become more popular than the first album.

Here I’d like to mention how many artists completely fall flat when performing live, but Beth Gibbons’ flawless vocals and stage persona captivated the audiences at their live show in Roseland Ballroom, NY. Her looks were in no way comparable to say Madonna or the present day Beyonce nor did she come out on stage with the ‘glam costume plus dance troupe’ thingamajig. She was tomboyish even but no one could deny the captivating live vocals. Portishead discreetly left an indelible impression.

Massive Attack
Beth Gibbons is often compared to Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, which brings me to the next band. Massive Attack, also from Bristol, is currently made up of DJs Grantley "Grant" Evan Marshall (Daddy G or "G") and artist Robert Del Naja (3D or "D") although previously they had a third member who was also DJ.
                            
They collaborated with Liz Fraser, whose voice was once said to be the ‘voice of god’, on their most well known and used songs- ‘Teardrop’, it being most famous for being used as the theme song for drama series ‘House’. My use of various adjectives for both female singers might suggest a slight girl crush on both of them but let’s not get sidetracked.
Fraser collaborated with them extensively on their third and most well- known album, Mezzanine. Another track ‘Angel’, with its deep, dark vocals and sharp beats, went on to be featured in quite a few movies, most notably in ‘Snatch’.

Their first album Blue Lines came out in the year 1991 and contained the beautiful track ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ sung by Shara Nelson. Her ballad style vocals were complimented beautifully by a dark and elaborate string arrangement to give the song a rather dangerous edge.

On their next album Protection they collaborated with Tracey Thorn, vocalist of Everything but the Girl. Her smooth, alto voice made the track ‘Protection’ sound optimistic and cheery albeit it’s rather depressing lyrics.

Although both these bands are still active and performing at concerts around the world, the glory days of trip hop are long gone. Their songs have been covered by various artists such as Incubus and Newton Faulkner but no new artist has been able to match the unique trip hop sound and no current female vocalist can match the effortless sensuality and uniqueness possessed by Beth gibbons and Liz Fraser.

When thinking of current artists who could possibly have the unique trip hop sound, the Russian band Rekevin comes to mind. With their unique, almost jazzy sound combined with the great vocals by lead singer Ksenia Istenko, Rekevin seems like the closest match to Portishead or Massive attack. Ksenia Istenko possesses a smooth voice and a sexy persona which will hopefully make her as legendary as Beth Gibbons or Liz Fraser. Although they are currently unsigned, one can only hope that they will stick around for a long time.

Rekevin

 

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