Special Request – ‘Soul Music’ (Houndstooth)

Taken figuratively, ‘Soul Music’, the title of Paul Woolford’s LP under his hardcore alias Special Request, can be interpreted to be an ironic musical joke. After all, none of the music Woolford delivers here has anything whatsoever in common with Soul in the archetypal sense as defined by Black American artists of the 1960’s and 70’s. Viewing the title literally however, it becomes an apt summation of the visceral pleasures served up across two discs here. Woolford, evidently a sincere lover of the hardcore continuum, presents this as his ‘Soul Music’, sounds that enliven and invigorate the body and mind in ways that contemporary music manages all too rarely. Recent times have seen other artists, notably Lee Gamble and Zomby, attempt to communicate nostalgia for the bygone era of the Amen Break and the Reese bassline, but few have delivered a love letter this compelling and for want of a better word, banging. However, lets make this clear: This isn’t some po-faced Jungle pastiche of an album, in fact some genre purists may balk at the liberties that Woolford takes with the form here. Rather this is a modern recontextulisation of what made it so great first time round and proof that these sounds still have a vital place in 2013.

Coming in the midst of a creative purple patch for the Leeds veteran, who’s ‘Untitled’ was one of the House music anthems of the summer, ‘Soul Music’ is a highly conceptual endeavour. Quoted regarding his intent to create ‘false memories’ of the Golden Age of Rave and Pirate Radio via this project, Woolford has dutifully crafted these tracks using a complex mix of FM transmitters, heavy duty EQ’ing and vintage hardware, although crucially what is most prevalent is the energy and attitude of the time period. Having always leant towards the ‘upfront’ side of the House and Techno spectrum through his playing style, selections and productions, Woolford is well equipped to deliver more than a few gunfinger moments here. Beginning with a potentially divisive sample of an MC telling some over zealous ravers to ‘get off the stage’, ‘Soundboy Killer’ plays on tropes that will be familiar to anyone who has spent an evening enslaved to the whims of an MC-DJ combo. Breaks crash into each other with carefree abandon, sirens whirr, gunshots buss and the bass becomes murkier as Woolford keeps the energy high throughout. ‘Ride VIP’ (distinguished from ‘Ride’ through the absence of sampled Lana Del Rey vocals) finds him on similarly playful form, employing cutting synth swells that recall ‘Experience’ era Prodigy. A ferocious barrage of amens follow, before giving way into a spontaneous slap bass riff on Bob James’ oft sampled classic ‘Nautilus’. That particular funky avenue is only explored briefly as the hyperactive Woolford takes it back with an earth moving Reese that would make Ray Keith proud. Literally bursting with ideas, the aforementioned tracks capture the sheer sweaty faced, aching jawed excitement that this music is capable of inducing.

Regardless of the brilliance of ‘Soundboy Killer’ and ‘Ride VIP’, as well as several other hyped up cuts on the album, a 12 track LP cannot subside on tearout insanity alone. Thankfully Woolford has more than just the one trick up his sleeve. Lead track ‘Forbidden’ opens by marrying a Hip-Hop inflected beat with another Reese, although a decidedly less riotous one at that. This breaks down to a treated string part which can’t help but evoke the likes of The Orb and Underworld at their most blissed out, which once reunited with the rhythm section brings the LP to an understated and considered start. ‘Undead’ meanwhile distinguishes itself with a cascading piano breakdown thats more than a little reminiscent of the legendary Foul Play Mix of Omni Trio’s ‘Renegade Snares’.  However, rather than blaspheming by simply imitating that anthem. Woolford has his pianos gradually melt from the heat generated by his increasingly scatty breaks.

Never allowing stasis to set in regardless of the tempo or mood, spontaneity is arguably ‘Soul Music”s most prevalent quality. The excellent ‘Capsules’ goes furthest with the Pirate Radio aesthetic by placing distant breaks under a shroud of white noise, a sonic experience that will undoubtedly be naggingly familiar to anyone who’s ever hopelessly fiddled with a car radio in search of illicit musical pleasures before. The dark old skool stomp is allowed to strut freely for a brief moment before gradually fading into the ether from whence it came, consigned to be buried underneath an interfering deluge of imagined commercial radio stations. Woolford uses this innate impulsiveness on ‘Body Armour’ to play a knife edge game of tension and release that takes Techno dynamics and tempos and communicates them with the most rugged drum sounds in his arsenal. Enterprising DJ’s from varying genres will no doubt find different and devastating ways of employing this bomb.

Certain moments do undeniably lag on this rather lengthy album, with ‘Cold Blooded’ sounding like not much more than a less effective version of the latterly discussed ‘Body Armour’, whilst ‘Descent”s frazzled keys carry the potential to irritate. Thankfully though, for the vast majority of ‘Soul Music’ Woolford’s stylistic gambles and attempts at production wizardry pay off. Genuinely capable of manipulating an Amen to almost Remarc like levels of craziness, and blessed with an outlook which sees him take that ability to the limit, Woolford delivers a selection of tracks that simultaneously pay homage to and update sounds that many, including most importantly himself, hold in a special place in their hearts.

Buyers of the digital and CD versions get to also wrap their ears around an entire second disc of music, with several earlier Special Request tracks bundled in with some choice remixes. Leading off the collection is the riotous reworking of Tessela’s already anthemic ‘Hackney Parrot’. Any other producer could be accused of arrogance, tackiness or both, by including a rewind IN the track, but here Woolford deservedly escapes any such accusations by improving on the original. That remix, the Lana Del Rey sampling ‘Ride’, the dizzying acid of ‘Mindwash’, the fearsome distorted drone of ‘Lolita’ and the chrome plated House groove of ‘Vapour’ are all worthwhile additions to the package, but what particularly intrigues is the remixes. The Teutonic pairing of Kassem Mosse and Mix Mup find the warmth at the heart of ‘Deflowered’ via a typically unorthodox deconstruction of the original groove which renders its nigh on 8 minute running time engrossing rather than unnecessary. Motor City legend Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir strips ‘Mindwash’ of its slapdash sensibility and somehow finds a sensual melodic techno cut underneath, whilst New York’s Anthony Naples brings the breaks to the fore in his washed out ‘Aftermath’ mix. Previously featured on the ‘Hardcore’ EP, Lee Gamble’s take on ‘Capsules’ serves to emphasise the sense of fuzzy distance in the original, removing the Junglist trappings and showing us the burnt out husk that’s left behind. Adding genuine value and quality to an already distinguished package, its no fallacy to speculate that ‘Soul Music’ could well come to be considered amongst many people’s albums of the year.

‘Soul Music’ is out now on triple vinyl, 2xCD/digital will be released on 21st October.

Christian Murphy