Much like with everything he ever did, Toyin Agbetu's sole LP effort as Andromeda is a superbly controlled blitz through the elegantly rhythmic and the deeply hypnotic, as the vibe bounces between Breakbeat, Bleep and everything inbetween.
Sometimes you come across sounds that speak on multiple levels, ushering a multitude of emotions that spread themselves out amongst an array of contexts. Sounds that converge and multiply with one another, forge new bonds and solidify existing ones, omnipresent to the listener as we get lifted from the ground and shown around a vast network of notes and chords. Certain producers made a mission out of exploring ways in which differing genres can be cross referenced in this way, and more often than not these explorers of sonics and rhythms left behind the most intriguing of discographies for us to dwell deep within. The 90s in particular saw this notion really take root, with a reflection of this wide reaching approach taking the form of aliases and the creation of not just one but a number of labels. Individuals in this instance seemingly wanted to be able to express themselves across a wide spectrum of outlooks, covering all the bases from the softly speaking to the devastatingly explosive, and as a result their works can be viewed from multiple angles. Hence the fact that, if you come across certain artists who predominantly released in the 90s, they might have (usually) a number of names that have an array of records released underneath, representing a spread of styles and genres that help to not only build the world of that artist, but highlight their dexterity in mastering a number of genres. To be inspired in singularity is one thing, but to be able to take in and harness the collectivised power of a number of threads is awe inspiring, and means that when you jump between differing discographies, the positive impression only grows in scale. Whilst the ability to do this is praiseworthy, there were some even above this that were able to blend and merge the lines between what was thought possible, blurring the bridges that existed before and crafting something that existed between their own aliases and then breathed new life into music itself. The various strains they explored became converging lines of thought, expanding beyond their initial parameters to create shared spaces that link the hivemind together, which leaves behind a body of work that is as bold as it is extensive. There are a number of these legacies that the 90s left behind, visionaries who sought out something that couldn't be tied down, instead their work remains as a testament to passion and looking out beyond the peripheries of what was considered possible. We look back now fondly, imagining what might have been going through their mind then, as we enjoy the fruits of their efforts over and over again. Sounds that speak on multiple levels will always remain close to the consciousness, and that fact is true for a long time to come yet.
It's the same reason why I do activism, the same reason why I do everything. I'm not really concerned or deterred from trying because of barriers to success—I do things I love, what I feel, where my spirit takes me.
An artist who very much epitomises these ideals, and in many ways so much more, is producer, label head and activist Dr Oluwatoyin Agbetu, who is perhaps known better to the music world via the name Toyin Agbetu, and what he achieved via the constant renewal and establishment of new names and imprints in the late 80s and early 90s was quite simply, unmatched. Raised on a mixture of Reggae, The Beatles and Fela Kuti, Agbetu's first lightbulb moment came when he stumbled across a Jazz-Funk radio station, which included at the time a number of Brit Funk numbers, and this when paired with his already established affection for Hip Hop, meant that Agbetu had a very solid musical and conceptual foundation to build upon. He would first be signed to Elite records as a member of KEW-T, but as tensions arose within the band Agbetu found himself being asked to do production work on a couple of releases, working with artists such as Marcia Johnson and Rosaline Joyce, along with mixing the iconic tune 'Lovestruck' by Projection. However, after seeing his name struck from the credits of the 7" of 'Lovestruck', he left Elite behind, and would use his experiences from the imprint as a basis for forming the first of a number of iconic record labels, Unyque Artists. Unyque would go on to define the nature of 'Street Soul' music, with Agbetu recording albums within his own bedroom and others on various council estates in London, using borrowed equipment and annoying his neighbours with extended saxophone segments, but the genesis of a legacy was being set in stone here. Unyque became a audial playground for Agbetu's large scale musical vision, with releases from the man coming forth from the likes of MC.IB and the Beatmaker, Deluxe and the Project (duos formed with singer Delores Springer), Too Tuff, Mykrophone, and Shades of Black. The first Deluxe 12" was a great success and would lead to Agbetu purchasing the equipment he borrowed initially, and would lead to writing a business plan to push forward the imprint and perhaps start new offshoots. Agbetu not only concerned himself with the production side of things, but writing too, with his name found all over the releases that would come out of the Unyque house, having been inspired by the nature of Jam and Lewis releases. In 1988, Intrigue Records would be founded, with Agbetu seeing this imprint as a sister label to Unyque, and would provide listeners with a more house orientated sound. Like with Unyque, Agbetu released a number of records under different alises here, such as his Nemesis alter ego, and as a member of Soul Connection alongside Earl Myers. The five 'Produced By Nemesis' compilations are truly extrodinary, and remain as some of the finest early 90s records we have ever come across. A sub label of Intrigue, EP Records, showcased the works of Raphael and Attitude, and is a lovely little collection of House leaning cuts, if you so wish to check them out. Not wanting to completely out do himself yet, Agbetu also founded a Hardcore leaning label, Mutant Records, which released a number of records by such acts as X-Men, The Witchdoctor, The African and Matrix Rise. Its truly inspiring to dip and dive within Agbetu's multiple alisaes and group projects, as they give over the impression of a man deeply entrenched within a musical mantra that was constantly on the lookout for new ways of blending this, with that, and everything else. His contributions to the UK underground around this time are almost unparalleled, as he helmed not just one but a number of now recognised as key Dance Music orientated imprints. To have so much in your arsenal is impressive in itself, and Agbetu's vision and spirit allowed for the various labels to have an enormity of success, with legacies laid down that will last until the end of days. Agbetu has worked as a community educator at Ligali, a Pan African Human Rights based organisation for the past 20 years or so, and lectures at his alma mater, UCL, in Social Anthropology. To go back to that quote included earlier, Agbetu has always followed his own sense of direction, be it within music or his community based work and research, and its this approach which has always led to meaningful contributions to whatever field he was giving over to. If you so wish to do so - and we highly recommend it - be sure to check out his many records and labels, along with reading up on what the man is up to today.
And now we arrive at the subject of today's review, his sole LP effort as Andromeda, 'Control of the Dancefloor', which landed via his Intrigue imprint. Not content in spearheading and defining the notions and styles of Street Soul and UK Deep House, Agbetu also had his finger on the pulse when it came to the emergence of Bleep, Techno, Hardcore and Breakbeat within the UK's rapidly developing Dance Music lexicon. Andromeda was the manifestation of this, with the records he released under the name featuring a beautiful fluidity that served between those aforementioned genres, displaying the kind of dexterity and curiosity we have come to know Agbetu for. EPs such as 'Gazza/Sexy', 'Control' and 'Da Buzz' all showcase the rich sound found within the Andromeda name, with the step beyond that being found on 'Control of the Dancefloor'. Here we see Agbetu in full on exploratory mode, searching between the lines with effortless control in order to discover all the minute details that persisted between the sound of the Rave. The result is an impeccably balanced experience ,with songs teetering between different vibes with such ease that you would forgive yourself for thinking you were listening to the same album at times. The journey is sublime, the audial identity far reaching, the scope always being redefined, and the lasting effect is very special indeed. So, without further delay, lets dive into this little gem of the turn of the decade....
Up first comes 'Survival (Urban Mix)', which begin with the whistle and the bleep line to get us going. The whistle like line dominates the top end, crafting engagement immediately as the drums move from the kicks and right through into a proper breakbeat affair, and as the vocal sample leads us directly into the dance we await the next passage eagerly. The removal of the initial melodic elements then leads into a segment with the deepest of pads, adding plenty of emotion in the mix. The track then splits its time between differing combinations of layers, swinging from dense structures through to melodic led euphoria, and these swings are managed superbly. When the original blend comes back into view it really does bind us to the momentum, and as the track passes away we are left with a big impression. Top notch opener. 'A Cry 4 Dub' comes next, and this one begins with the bleep undertones alongside exquisite pads to get us going. The beat that throws itself into the ring is slow, sultry and effortless, providing plenty of room to grow as the bass begins to let itself be known within the melodic less sections. The dips in energy provide breathing space, and as the kicks come back into view a lovely flute line is added to really push things onwards, as Agbetu once again showcases his ability to balance layers out within segments. Some piano is melded into the mix to add further beauty to the scene, with a drum led segment coming along next to provide further binding to the excellent groove. This one is a real beauty. Up next comes 'Simple', and this one starts with some softly speaking keys to get us going. Their chime like ethereal quality charms the ears, with stab chords arriving next to fuel the emotion being captured, but its what comes next that really shines. The drums that arrive are deeply intricate, swerving across the pan to provide a groove like no other, as the whole ensemble merges together in a swirling notion around the listener. The blend is managed impeccably as well, with segments never sticking around for too long in an effort to make the track feel much longer than its 2:44 running time - this one could last forever, it really could.
'Dance Everybody Dance' comes next, and straight out of the gate you know you are in for a ride on this one. The chiming chords are interspersed with emphatic vocal samples, and as the blood rushes around the body the heavy hitting drums come into view, with hardcore leaning chords coming through underneath as descending chords keep the eyes firmly fixed on the progression. The drums continue to impress with their heavy set nature, as the original chord sequence swings in and around the groove, teasing the mind with its delicate nature. A piano line is added to keep the intrigue going on strong, with this introduction proceeding a dip in energy that provides the dancefloor with some breathing room, but the drums aren't far behind. The next section is just amazing, with glassy chords dominating the exchange, but the counteraction with the hardcore chords are a delight to engage with. Agbetu once again strikes a fine line here, and its very impressive to be in and around. Superb work, once again. 'Modulation' slides into view afterwards, and this one begins with the lightly chiming notes to get things going. This gives way to a very sweet sounding progressive bass line, and before we know it our head is filled to the brim with the most intoxicating breakbeat led rhythm going. The way in which the song builds, from its impressive use of sonics through to the way in which the piano chords creep into view, or the way that the looping vocal sample looks to imprint itself into the mix, everything here is designed to get the body and mind pumped. As the track moves into its second half, there is increased impetus injected into the feel, as the piano chords double up and the vocal sweep becomes more present, all of which appeals to the senses as we drive onwards into the stratosphere. Up next comes 'Xcite Me', and here we are welcomed by a series of intricate key sequences to get things going. These lines are quickly joined by a beautiful rhythm section, with all the elements working alongside one another expertly to craft a connection to the listener that knows no bounds. The pads that emerge are wonderful, along with the little key solos that abound alongside the emergence of short but very memorable vocal samples, with the balance once again struck expertly between the various ingredients. The track continues to swerve and dip between differing densities and layers, finding spaces within spaces and grooves within grooves, and we think this one will live on long in the memory.
'Control' arrives next, and this one begins with some killer bleepy feels to get things going. The original line is slow and rhythmically a bit off kilter, but this only fuels the intrigue we have, and soon enough we are joined by a highly dynamic beat that leaps up both sides of the pan, bringing the listener closer to the action with each bar. The pads that come into view are highly infectious, but as time passes by the focus inherently returns to the rhythm, with additional melodic elements thrown in to add weight to the breaks. When the pads and drums do align, it is something special, and its a harmonious relationship that leaves a lasting impression. To wrap things up, we have 'Savage', and here the tempo of the keys is really up for it. No sooner had we got acquainted with the arpeggios and vocal samples, the drums slide into view and everything kicks on into the new space, defined by a beautiful rhythm and a series of well crafted melodic notions, all of which swirl around the listener, helping to curate the most exciting of feels. Its a fitting end to a record that showcases a producer with a well defined and deeply expansive vision, one that sweeps through the spectrum of Bleep and comes out the other side with an album that adds enormously to the genre's rich network of sounds and styles. Deeply expressive, beautifully harmonised, and deftly balanced, there's an enormity here to praise, and we cannot get enough of it.
There's plenty to be said of the rich audial language that exuded from the 90s Dance Music scene, where anything felt possible and the excitement around new releases was at fever pitch, as music lovers and party goings awaited the next slice of brilliance that would illuminate the general consciousness. Toyin Agbetu was at the forefront of many of the the wider scene's greatest steps forward, and his work under his various aliases, his imprints and working alongside others have all been noted as truly groundbreaking. This record under the Andromeda name is no different, as he skilfully combines bleep undertones with gorgeous breakbeat notions and his signature understanding of deep melodies. The result is a record that feels very well balanced, filled to the brim with clever ideas and inventive progressions, where densities are managed beautifully in order to direct momentums on the dance floor and leave the listener in a consistent state of bliss. Pure energy, pure euphoria, this one is a true solid gold classic.
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