Ubik - System Overload (YozMaz, 2020)



A huge reissue of a timeless gem from one of the UK's most forward thinking and progressive techno producers.


The most revered of the old skool generation are often those who spread their wings out the furtherest in the pursuit of excellence. In many ways, it could be perceived as difficult to pigeon hole yourself during the electronica explosion that occurred during the 80s and 90s, where the numerous evolutions and experiences continually inspired many to pick up a drum machine and simply create. With such a spectrum to dip yourself into, it's not exactly surprising that a fair few from this generation dipped their toe into many styles and sounds, where having a dozen or so alisas was quite common as a means to fully express themselves via a diverse array of musical sounds. Now, as many new records become one with their inspirations, we take trips through the journeys made and the records released back then, a thread that runs through various names, labels and styles, to understand and piece together the stories of the legends of these iconic years in the rave. We can now easily look through a producer's eyes, falling down the rabbit hole of their most impressive creations, getting to understand them better and thus feel like we have learned many a thing through their own experimentations. It was a blessing then, for those who followed them, to continually enjoy their records through their various names, and it is a blessing now for us, as we gain enormously from all the micro variations that contributed so much to the sounds and the scene. In many ways, these kind of paths feed back into how producers look to further the scenes today, where over time variations occur that further the expansive sounds of dance music, with little concepts and ideals being fed into a constantly expanding world. Without these past roadmaps, its hard to imagine how willing producers today might be to get experimental, with the previous generations demonstrating how you can go so far if you stray a little from your path. Always rewarding, always forward looking, constantly regenerating.


Dave Campbell is certainly one of those names very much associated with the ideals of expressing yourself through as many names and musical mediums as possible. To dive back through his discography is like constantly switching between crossroads, where the ideals of early 90s British enthusiasm clashed with the sounds of the raves and the flood of American electronica, a constant series of musical streams feeding into a few minds for the benefit of thousands. From hard hitting techno, to acid house, jungle, d'n'b, bleep and hardcore, Campbell embraced the ideals of multiple musical personalities to great effect, with each name offering a new version of his interpretation of dance music. Whilst usually using techno as a base, each record was a evolution of the previous or its twin, the music consistently self-referencing in order to progress and enhance. As a result, there is a undeniably strong thread that links his records together, where the journey is fluid but always providing a new edge to proceedings with each new EP. His music always contained a edge to it, a out of the box approach to sound design that felt so compelling each listen, demostrating a willingness to not just replicate the sounds going around at the time, but looking to insert his own unique twist to proceedings. As a result, his tracks carry over this powerful identity to them, their characteristics and progressions always indicating that Mr Campbell was behind it all. If you fancy a journey through pure and proper 90s techno, then his discography is one you will never forget, but we have selected some personal highlights here, starting off with the killer 'Cyborg Society' record from 1991, under his Autonation name; the fast paced rhythmic gem that is '109°', released in 92' as Ubik; the awesome 'Dishwasher' EP, also released in 92', as Timenet; the timeless Phase & Rhythm' EP from 93', as Kibu; the IDM fuelled classic 'Progress', also from 93' as Hi-Ryze; and finally, the future jazz wonderment that is 'Resist/Double Zero', released in 97' under his Greenback name. Be it by himself or alongside collaborators, such as Tom Withers, Viv Beeton or Robyn Arlow, Campbell surely did carve out a little slice of the 90s for himself, a realm populated by progressive and supremely considered techno music, where the rhythms and flows excelled and the futuristic visions played out like the aligning stars. It is a worthy trip for any 90s dance music fan to take, so go on, don't be shy.


And so we arrive at the focus for this review, the digital reissue of his 1991 seminal EP 'System Overload'. Recorded under the Ubik alias, Campbell teamed up with Viv Beeton early on in his career, with Overload representing their third EP together. It was the formative years, but you can see the blueprint begin to form solidly here, the tasteful blend of 80s techno colliding with the British sensibilities of progressions and sound design. It all comes together quite magnificently on this record, a series of techno tinged classics that hold together as a piece of work so effectively. So, without further ado, lets take a dive.


Up first comes the biggie, 'We Jack The House'. From the off, the bass line pumps right through the middle, before the big old kick slices right through the centre. All around the beats, within the huge spaces on offer, we see metallic percussive elements begin to form and consolidate, as the melodies begin to strengthen. Before long, the keys and chords begin to build up in true old school house stylings, the sparse nature of the sequences allow for the various layers to combine so devastatingly alongside each other. The build ups and slow downs in the beat give the track this unreal flow, with the bass remaining as the one true consistent element, holding it all together, as the other features move away and rebound with ease and precision. We move into full on assault with the intro of rave style keys, before it descends into the beat doing all it can to whip up the listener into a frenzy. Real shit. Up next comes 'Float Beyond Desire', and we begin in a similar tonal atmosphere. The interlaid bass keys create the pulse, mingling with each other to maximum impact, before the kicks and cymbals swing right into view. The structure does its thing, before the vocal sample slows it down for a minute, before it all comes crashing back in with full effect. Its such an intoxicating sound, and in many ways a very forward thinking one, its like techno but not quite as you know it. There's all these little elements found within the track that never dominate, but merely work alongside each other to craft this ethereal feeling, but without the need for deep moody chords. A workout truly for the body and the mind. 'Crash Coarse' comes next, and the keys begin the track off. Before long, the beat work out does its thing, breaking down before releasing into this beautifully rhythmic and complex pattern, with all kind of key work responding on top. This one contains perhaps the most dense melodic work yet, with all manner of lines and chordal tones moving in and around that fucking beat. The breakdown arrives once more, before the structures shift once more, crafting yet another arrangement for us to get really lost within. Sheer beaty bliss.


Up next comes 'Rush Hour', and we are greeted by sparse percussive elements, as the kick moves into the picture. The beat evolves and morphs with each passing bar, grooving along as it melds itself to the pulse. The wicked stab moves into view, providing this singular melodic element that sways and weaves around the beat. The track moves more consistently, focusing its attention on doing as much as it can with the elements it began with, the only element looking to deviate significantly is the key line that weaves and ebbs within the beats. But here lies its beauty, its compelling singularity playing out so hypnotically, where our attention is grasped completely, the track could play on forever and it would never get boring. Up next comes 'Harmonize Me', and we begin once more with those solid as hell bass keys. The sequence moves down and around, as the light percussive elements join in on the party, creating this grand sense of anticipation. The kick inevitably follows, the beat acting very much in time with the wonderful key work that moves and flows through space and time. The sequences multiply, each one adding in a new layer of texture and feel, creating as a result a enriching and delightful narrative. This continues on through the track, never faltering in its quest for sonic brilliance. To wrap things up on this wonderful record, we have 'Crash Coarse Ambient', a reworking of the previous track of the same name. We begin in familiar territories, the absolutely merciless beat that carves right through us, but the newest addition remains the use of a solid chord that runs through the middle of the tune. It gives the track a new lease, not to mention the dense melodic workout that moves around with such ease on top of things. Its a greater ender to a record filled with all manner of brilliance, each cut offering another side to the story, be it through chopped up progressions, bass orientated harmonic epics, or mesmerising hooks and loops that grip us so intently, this is a masterwork.


Ubik certainly caused a storm back in the late 80s and early 90s, and its easy to see why. Here is a record from a series of releases that form such an important stepping stone for UK techno, the music contained with an honest reflection of the new atmosphere that a generation were immersing themselves in. Its no secret that the UK did much to incorporate the styles of techno and house into the scene and create some truly memorable and unique takes on the genres, and Ubik, along with Campbell in general, led the way in crafting some of the most iconic and enduring releases ever. This EP is pure evidence of that achievement. Pure brilliance.


Support the troops:


https://ubik23.bandcamp.com/album/system-overload-ep