Ever since the Beatles proved that literate wit, deft manners, and British theatrics were not incompatible with rock and roll, English Pop has been a hot cauldron boiling with style wars, fad jihads, and vogue explosions. And for the last decade or so, British pop trends have been replacing one another with stopwatch regularity. For a fan with a comfortable seat in America, the chief pleasure has been listening for a movement that combines modes into the sound of one's dreams.

Britain's hottest current compound, which first jelled about a year ago, is called trip-hop, a clunky name that suggests a rabbit stumbling over a fence. Still, trip-hop and its offshoots in this country prove once more that lively ears and lots of inexpensive electronic equipment can forge, however briefly, an international community of taste. Mostly instrumental, with jazzy horn breaks, off-kilter beats and occasional soft raps, trip-hop appeals because its quicksilver moods are elusive and beguiling, not confrontational. Without question, a music by hipster introverts for hipster toe-tappers.

Trip-hop came together in the bohemian, multi-ethnic city of Bristol, where restlessly inventive DJs had spent years assembling samples of various sounds that were floating around: groove-heavy acid jazz, dub reggae, neo-psychodelia, techno disco music, and the brainy art rap. By 1991 oddball underground dance outfits like Nightmares on Wax showed the way. Another influence, the smooth jams of Philly disco from the middle '70s, pervades the work of the prime trip-hop precursor bands, Soul II Soul (Keep On Movin', 1989) and Massive Attack (Unfinished Sympathy, 1991). Late last year, a pure trip-hop group, Portishead, rated high in critics' polls with its debut Dummy and has gone on to provide spooky bumps for movie soundtracks. Just a bit later, trip-hop produced a pair of superlative albums: Maxinquaye (Island) by Tricky (Massive Attack's former DJ/producer) and Krush (Shadow Records) by DJ Krush (who probably considers his album just the latest word in acid jazz).

by Milo Miles

Related links

DJ Krush
DJ Shadow
Massive Attack


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