Nexus 21 - The Rhythm Of Life (Blue Chip, 1989)
Come dive with us into one of the most important jigsaw pieces in the UK's rich and lauded electronic musical landscape, with this pioneering early techno masterpiece that would shape the country's soundscapes for a generation to come.
Sometimes, to link as many things together as possible, you have to go back to the very start to truly understand how the pieces and ingredients began to align in order to see the roadmap that would unravel as a result. The importance of records that were the starting to sow the seeds of a musical revolution cannot be understated, in any genre of music, and as you throw a stone through the ripples of time you would see these large waves be created when a moment of rebirth or reinvention would occur. To delve into these seismic events with hindsight is quite the experience, as although some of us were not alive to immerse ourselves in the delicate interchanges that made up the UKs burgeoning electronic music scene, we can enjoy how one record flowed to the next, how one rave or club night contributed to a new genre beginning to see the light, or how a select amount of records changed the game forever. During the 1980s, dance music evolved rapidly, with the genres of Chicago House and Detroit Techno very much at the beating heart of that. By the late 80s, imports from the likes of Transmat, Trax, DJ International and the like had made their way from the two neighbouring cities and into the hands and hearts of invigorated dance music fans across the globe. However, there was one country that developed a ravenous appetite for these new sounds, the lust fuelled by the new party scene and the ideals of pure unadulterated fun and unbridled euphoria. The UK would quickly see its own techno and house scene bear fruits, with individuals all over the country inspired by the Bellevue Three and the varying house artists on Trax. UK techno quickly developed its own unique and quirky take on the classic sound, combining the fast paced riddims of the Underground Resistance led second techno wave, with all the emotive intricacies of the classic Detroit sound. Alongside that, a UK house and acid house scene would also flourish, again presenting the world with their own intrinsic take on the genre that would go on to conquer the world for years to come. However, whilst these two genres undeniably had enormous influence on the rave scene, alongside fast paced disco that naturally slotted in to proceedings, it was all the micro transactions that occurred musically within the late 80s and early 90s that late to an explosion of UK led genres coming into the spot light, as rave culture began to inspire the continual evolution of the original vibes that had made their way across the Atlantic. As more and more genres made their way across, genres such as Acid House, Breakbeat, jungle, drum 'n' bass and IDM were born from the swimming pool of endless inspiration and creativity, so much so that many of these sounds made their way back across the pond to the clubs that sparked that inspiration in the first place. The imagination was well and truly sparked, a nation captivated by the rawness, emotional train ride that was House and Techno, the hunger from a new generation of pioneers looking to exude their own unique take on proceedings became the new norm. Continually, the groundbreakers made themselves known, with the blueprint allowing for all manner of new sounds and concepts to come into their own, with the producers behind them acquiring legendary status as the years rolled by. In many ways, it was one of the most innovate times in musical history, where dance music moved a little way out of the small underground community and became a cultural phenomenon, for bad or for worse, but certainly in the late 80s and early 90s, it was a hotbed for which so much we hold true to this day came into the world.
From a UK perspective, there were a fair few who picked up the mantle of crafting some of the very early ideals that would become the drivers of the nation's dance music scene. The sounds of labels such as Zoom Records, Black Market Records and Network Records were driving this new sound forward, aligning themselves to the pulse of the new dance floors and fields, and combining this energy with the creation of evocative and invigorating new forms of dance music expression. Very much in the mix during this time were the duo Mark Archer and Chris Peat, aka Nexus 21, who would begin their journey right within the new simmering sea of innovation and forward thinking ness. The pair began life as the C&M Connection, releasing one EP under this name eventually in 1990, the Italo house infused classic 'Another Night', that really pulled together many vibes and stylings under one name and gave birth to a true rave classic. However, during this time, they became much better known under two other alias, Nexus 21 and Altern 8, which would become their main musical focuses during the late 80s and early 90s. Whilst they would find enormous amounts of fame as Altern 8, with their quintessential rave orientated tunes becoming the soundtrack to many young enthusiasts indulging in endless nights and euphoric induced experiences, it was their Nexus 21 alias that saw the duo find their feet. The duo formed in Stafford in 1989, and during this time they became mostly associated with the Blue Note and Network record labels, which would oversee the vast majority of their outputs as Nexus 21. Their debut, '(Still) Life Keeps Moving', arrived in 1989, and combined the vast array of sounds and tones that existed in techno at the time, aligning the features under the English flag. Driving, rhythmic and with a eerie harmony that floats and hunts around the beat, it was a good indicator of things to come. 'Progressive Logic', 'Logical Progression' and the 'Limited Edition Sampler', that featured Paris Grey, all arrived in 1990, and were certainly a continuation of ideals and notions that were served up on their debut; a maturing that evolved from increased exploration, the melodic side was fleshed out and given a new lease, the beat patterns continually morphing and switching, the diversity in sound pushing the spectrum of techno and house into new uncharted territories. Tunes like 'Together', 'Techno Symphony', 'Logical Progression' and the monster track 'Self Hypnosis' are all utter classics of the period, timeless gems that resonate as much then as they do now. 'I know We Can Make it', released in 1991, seemed to feed into the notion that the duo were focusing their efforts within their Altern 8 alias, as rave and breakbeat culture became the dominant force in the UK, but a reissue of a lost 1990 recording flew into our laps this year, aptly named 'Made in Detroit', that was recorded in the KMS studio in the city. During their brief history, Nexus 21 curated an incredible sound, one with extraordinary character and depth, their ability to balance out the eerie with the emotionally thought provoking has made their music cherished for decades now. Their contribution to the UK techno scene is immeasurable, with their styles and concepts still prevelent to this day. Its hard to consider the history of UK dance music without them.
Ahhh yes, but there is one release we are yet to mention, and its the subject of todays review; the sole LP from Nexus 21, 1989's 'The Rhythm of Life'. Its importance lies in its near complete tour through the sounds and styles of the late 80s British dance music scene, with each song displaying a certain air and affinity either with the newly blossoming rave culture, or with its spiritual roots of Chicago and Detroit. Featuring a few tunes off of various EPs, the record is a whirlwind sprint through varying tones, experiences and essences, its a record unlike no other, and certainly a holy bible and stylistic reference guide to any who wish to dip head first into the riches of old school UK techno and house. Even though Altern 8 found the most fame, it is perhaps this LP outing as Nexus 21 that will remain the duos most significant legacy. So lets take a dip.
Up first comes '(Still) Life Keeps Moving', and we are not messing about at all here. This track is a very much a homage in particular the Inner City sound, and this mix was featured on their debut single from the same year. The intro features those big, fast paced and full as fuck techno keys, that Kevin Saunderson made his own, and the track moves through the gears with similar impact as the big man himself. The chords are quickly joined by the kick, and after a few runs through the track switches down into the dub sequence, where the high line vocals pierce the heart as the beats underneath do their work to keep us moving. Wonderfully balanced, the album version certainly has a grittier vibe to it, a deeper depth that permeates through a great deal within the sea of precision beats and intricate key lines. The little vocal samples shine brightly during the break down moments, and on the whole its a class way to get into proceedings. Up next comes 'Bass Inclusion', and the beats introduce themselves in the fullest way possible. The intricate blend of fast paced cymbals and hi hats merge and groove together so effortlessly, their balance one that holds fast and sings so true. As the drum pattern moves through the motions, the rave-esq chords chime in the distance, their presence well and truly recognised, with their disappearance signalling the movement into the breakdown. Here we see the bass line emerge as a key melodic feature, its nature beginning off quite low key, before it evolves into a full on arpeggio that smacks you right in the frontal lobe. A masterclass in effective and intuitive rhythmic melodies, their presence continually moving between varying structures and textures to achieve internalised satisfaction. Up next comes 'Techno City', which contains both vocal and drumming samples from Cybotron's classic tune of the same name. The tune begins off with the squelch of the bass, as it dwells somewhere in the murky depths of the machine. The drums and bass line quickly come into view, as the melody begins to build through a series of key sequences that chat and discuss things with one another. The vocal sample filters in through the backdrop, as the tune moves forward through into its next phase. The layering of features and tones is exceptional, with all manner of pieces to marvel at, with the tune allowing us time to get to know it better by not moving through the gears (just yet). The track displays an intelligence in its progressions, never needing to over reach or over do, instead content in its contents and pacing, our minds firmly lost within its hypnotic barrage of sound. 'Girls' comes next, and its a track to marvel at for sure. The effected vocal line begins things in a very unassuming place, but it all builds out from this point, with the kicks and percussive features providing the bedrock for the full as hell organ like techno chords to make maximum impact. Its quite something, before the shift moves into the piano progression that begins to take hold. The track harks back to the golden era, its big and bold chordal lines a reminder of the high of expressionism, their evocative tone and big delivery the first real moment on the record of the music taking full control of your body and soul. A stunner.
'Real Love' swings into view next, and the tones hit the house side of the spectrum for the first true time on this record. The pounding bass line remains the key thread through out this one, with the drumming subtle yet grooving hard, with soft harmonic elements in the backdrop giving depth and purpose. Its the vocals that join this arrangement that carry the track to new realms, the voice weaving and dipping from its high end line, beautifully moving to the groove that pounds underneath. Its an intoxicating blend, and a mix you can get lost win very easy. 'Logical Progression' pops up next, and we get thrown right in once more. The swirling keys, bass sequences and drumming patterns do their magic during the intro, crafting this dense sea of sound and noise, with a sense of things to come. As the kicks come into being, the soft delicate key lines start to pop up above all the density of sound, their grace and tone offering a wonderful counter balance to the heavy machines that reside underneath. The track superbly places you right within itself, the listener contained within this world full of life and colour, the music picking up on all sorts as you await the next experience. 'Can You Feel The Beat' comes next, and there is a sense of yet another style to be explored. And lo and behold, we are greeted with this intense and evolving electro style beat, with the drums expertly placed and tinkered with to craft this rich and invigorating sound. On top, the repeating vocal loop speaks the titles name, whilst a dark acid tinged sequence pumps on right through the middle, with all sorts of little notes and sounds couple themselves with the beats on display. The music all cuts out for a minute, as the acid line is given time alone to build itself up once more, and this reconstruction of the tune works very much in its favour, as we are once more locked into proceedings so intently. 'Detroit B-Boy' arrives next, and we are greeted to siren-esq chordal rises, that is swiftly followed by the sweetest of breakbeat style beats. As the sirens build the mood, they quickly cut out and we are greeted by this gorgeous clean cut acid style sequence, that works its way right into the heart of the track. The tune moves through the lines with such intensity and fluidity, its movements between the lines one that will keep the mind and soul continually moving. To finalise things here, we have 'Techno Symphony', and it seems fitting to end on this one. The key work during the opening few lines is emotive, and this only gains more traction as the tune moves through the motions, its structure becoming more dense by the minute. The customary bass line then adds further weight and depth to proceedings, the tune now demonstrating a superb understanding between the low and high ends, as it moves and grooves through the varying sequences from this point. A fitting end to an album filled with so many incredible moments, moments that make you stand back and take it all in, revelling in the sights and sounds of a duo with the world at their feet.
Nexus 21 may have only existed for a mere twinkle in regards to the history of dance music, but their contribution to the UK scene, at the very least, cannot ever be underestimated. To consider that this record was released in 1989 says it all about the duo's vision back then, with so much on offer within this beautiful record to suggest how much these sounds would transpose themselves into the dance. A record that moves through so many motions and styles, never standing still in its quest to take in, understand and craft new sounds. The blueprints for the UK sound prop up constantly in this record, from the big old techno chords, the pulsing bass lines, the inventive use of early electro and breakbeat breaks, it has it all. Who knew a record like this one would generate so much, connect all the dots, and help build the foundations for a new generation. A golden piece of music, for sure.
Blue Chip reissued this record last year, and you can check it out, and purchase, here: