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History begins here: 18 years after its release, John B’s ground-breaking debut album ‘Visions’ receives a long-overdue remastering and full deluxe reboot.
Rewind: ‘Visions’ landed in 1998 on New Identity Recordings, part of one of the most influential label portfolios in drum & bass history captained by DJ SS. Responsible for signing and developing some of the most long-standing, influential artists in the genre, SS’s legacy and footprint is still crucially relevant as Formation Records also celebrate 25 years of big bass business this year.
Aged with authority and authenticity: ‘Visions’ reminds us just how forward-thinking the Beta Records founder has always been. Strictly doing his own thing since he came into the game at 18; John penned ‘Visions’ as two distinct chapters, both parts grasping two of late 90s drum & bass’s most exciting sounds and pulling them into groundbreaking new directions.
Part one, ‘Organic’ saw John swerve the standard sample-smashing of the era to create warm, full bodied natural grooves from real musicians. In a stark twist of contrast, part two ‘Synthetic’ foretold both the techstep phenomenon and his own angular, precision electro edge that were to soundtrack our entrance into the new century. One side au natural, one side machine manufactured: both techniques and approaches still dominant in drum & bass today… ‘Visions’ by name, visionary by nature.
It also comes complete with total remake of his hugely successful Vangelis-inspired ‘Starburst’. Previously constructed on analogue synths, ‘Starburst 2016’ was re-created from the ground up with modern synths and contemporary production. While the scene continues to forage for antiquities, John shows us the other side of the sonic coin once again.
‘Starburst’ isn’t the only track to enjoy an update: every track you hear on the album has been remastered. The production, however, remains timeless: No one knew how well ‘Visions’ would sound 18 years later. No one knew how well it would document drum & bass’s infant years. Still sounding slick and bursting with creative ideas, the album tells the story of both an artist and a genre growing up, fizzing with directions and ambitions.
‘Organic’: A maze of mischievous jazz and funk experimentalism. A sharp sense of youthful melody and off-beat surprises await as we spring through the horn-heavy haze of tracks such as ‘Sax Therapy’, ‘Jazz Session’, the purring keys and slap bass of ‘Slamfunk (Moog Remix)’ and sunset soul of ‘Reflections’. The spacious, Orient-focused penultimate track ‘The Second Judgement’ teases for the darkness of what’s set to follow…
‘Synthetic’: While the first part showcased John’s funkier, soulful musicality, ‘Synthetic’ really established his pedigree as a premiership producer. Forecasting today’s highly technical, synthetic production style you can hear John pushing his machines to their limits, finding new sounds and techniques. The wriggling alien bass of ‘VCF’, the razor-sharp Detroitian electro iciness of ‘Electro Shock’, the iron-fist two-step and sci-fi breakdown of ‘Travelogue’. Not to mention the clear proto techstep dynamics of ‘Sight Beyond’ and ‘Secrets’. Several years ahead of their time, they play a role in one of the most gamechanging chapters in drum & bass.
No surprises, then, that ‘Visions’ found home in the selections of the most influential DJs at the time – Grooverider, SS, Adam F, Goldie, Photek. It’s here where John dug deep foundations for his fusionist, futurist signature: an amorphous sense of development and narrative, tightly balanced shades and contrasts, well-chiselled breaks and sharp synthesis.
Every genre has its small selection of pivotal albums that show clear signs of progression, influence and documentation and brand new benchmarks: ‘Visions’ is an album that lives up to its name in ways John never could have imagined at the time. The future is now…