Photek / Hidden Agenda / Wax Doctor: Natural Born Killa EP / On The Roof & The Flute Tune / The Spectrum & The Step / 2015 Remasters

Here we've got the latest round of Metalheadz back classics, specifically the label's eighth, ninth, and tenth releases courtesy of drum'n'bass pioneers Photek, Hidden Agenda, and Wax Doctor, respectively. All were first issued in the mid-‘90s, have been newly remastered for 2015, and sound as vital today as they did twenty years ago.

The three Natural Born Killa cuts present as compelling an argument as any for Rupert Parkes' Photek project in its early incarnation, and as one would expect the drum programming alone rewards one's attention. But there's more to recommend the release than drumwork, as the EP showcases contrasting moods and styles. “Consciousness” opens in sultry mode with a woman's hushed utterance (“intelligence brought to the surface of consciousness”) draped across a prototypically dazzling Photek pulse, all light-speed drum-and-cymbal clatter and bass throb. Slightly more representative of the artist's mid-‘90s style is “The Rain” in the way it augments a thrumming, in-the-pocket groove with funk guitar accents (lifted from Bobby Hutcherson's “Ummh”) and keyboard sprinkles. “Into The 90's,” by comparison, veers far off the Photek trail in rooting its groove in downtempo hip-hop—not the first style that comes to mind when the project is discussed.

As towering as Photek's music is, no one should regard the releases by Hidden Agenda (Gateshead, UK-based brothers Mark and Jason Goodings) and Wax Doctor (Paul Saunders) as secondary. Hidden Agenda's “On the Roof” impresses mightily in the way the siblings thread elements of jazz into the track's dreamily buoyant framework, and the integration of string washes and horn accents into the sophisticated arrangement elevates the material considerably; as distinctive is “The Flute Tune” in the way Hidden Agenda threads haunting flute phrases in amongst the moodscape's stutter-funk drum work. The two Wax Doctor tracks are stunners, too, with the first, “The Spectrum,” an endlessly inventive and panoramic workout whose gymnastic routine stretches out for an engrossing eight minutes, and the second, “The Step,” a muscular stop-start exercise in jungle-styled groovesmithing. There are moment when the reissues feel very much like products of their time—that ever-so-familiar "Amen" yelp surfaces in both “The Rain” and “On the Roof,” for example—but that in no way argues against the material.

September 2015