Shades of Rhythm Shades of Rhythm – Extacy Edition Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

SOR were a key part of “the British rave explosion” in the early 1990s.

Chris Power 2010

In 1989, during the ‘second summer of love’, raving in fields to the repetitive beats of acid house became, for many British youths, the weekend pastime of choice. By the following year most of the illegal raves had been stamped out, replaced by a growing number of commercial parties, and it was in this more controlled environment that hardcore – a bastardised collision of acid house styles – came into being. As a genre it covers a lot of ground: the frosty bleep sound of early Warp releases, Shut Up and Dance’s hip-house and ragga hybrid, the spare breakbeat rhythms that would soon accelerate into drum‘n’bass, and stark post-industrial techno from Germany and the Low Countries.

When asked to describe hardcore, however, most people would probably first think of something closer to the chart hits of Peterborough’s Shades of Rhythm: anthemic synthesized strings and arena-shaking basslines bumping along beneath breakbeats and platitudinous diva sound bites. From organising illegal parties in and around their native Peterborough in 1989, the SOR trio of Kevin Lancaster, Nick Slater and Rayan ‘Gee’ Hepburn went on to become a key part of what Simon Reynolds has called "the British rave explosion": the period between the spring and Christmas of 1991 when the UK singles chart was rammed with acts like N-Joi, Bizarre Inc, 2 Unlimited, Moby, K-Klass and Altern 8, Vicks VapoRub up each nostril and a glow stick in each fist.

ZTT’s expanded reissue of Shades of Rhythm’s self-titled 1991 album adds tracks from the Extacy EP, released later in 91, and various B sides and remixes. This sort of lavish reissue seems unusual for a rave act from the poppier end of a scene that often shifted product macro-style in 12-cassette blister packs, but although Shades of Rhythm – Extacy Edition doesn’t reveal a previously unrealised richness to their work, some tracks here provide more than just nostalgic pleasure for those 30- and 40-somethings who once called themselves the hardcore massive.

Rediscovering Sweet Sensation, The Scientist and The Sound of Eden gives the thrill of good pop songs partly forgotten. Standing out as more substantial achievements, however, are two tracks that pre-date SOR’s success as a chart act. Homicide and The Exorcist were both included on the pre-ZTT 1990 album Frequency (and later re-released by the label as a double A-side). With their restless, acid-fuelled energies lashed to stark breakbeats, they strongly evoke the rave culture they appeared from as well as resonating in several strands of electronic dance music that followed.

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