Songs You Really Should Have Heard By Now #5

Photek – Ni Ten Ichi Ryu (1997)

While dubstep has largely replaced drum and bass (and 2-step garage, thank God) as the electronic dance music du jour by the first decade of the new millennium, the scene still commands a relatively dedicated fanbase, particularly in its home ground of the United Kingdom. It is however quite unlikely that we’ll see another surge of mainstream and critical attention, the likes of which we saw during the mid-to-late 90’s which culminated in the propping up of releases such as Timeless by Goldie and New Forms by Roni Size. Unfortunately drum and bass today has mostly been relegated to being mere incidental music for sports programmes and wildlife documentaries.

‘Ni Ten Ichi Ryu’ is far from being the best track to represent the genre, but for my money it’s the best damned D&B track ever created. The track begins with samples of what sound like taiko drums and snatches of traditional Japanese percussion instruments. It takes about a minute before you can determine where the downbeat actually takes place, but once things get under way it’s an intense bombardment of drums, snares, samurai grunts, the metal clang of swords and distant, sporadic sighs of the shakuhachi.

Photek (real name Rupert Parkes) has an uncanny ability to program some of the most complex drum patterns, but never ends up spazzing out like Aphex Twin or Squarepusher. Despite running at an excess of 170 bpm, the track remains organic and somewhat hollow throughout its six-minute length. There’s no discernible melody, but with so much going on at the same time there’s barely any space for traditional song structure. All this contributes to a cold, uneasy sense of foreboding, which translates pretty well to the accompanying black-and-white, feudal Japan music video.

Most drum and bass makes you want to get up and rave your ass off. ‘Ni Ten Ichi Ryu’ on the other hand makes you want to just sit down and pay attention. Arguably one of the smartest and most cerebral electronic music ever made, regardless of genre.

Listen to ‘Ni Ten Ichi Ryu’