[EDIT: This article is a stump – like all incomplete trilogies. And though I have tried repetitively, I have not managed to conclude this series yet, and probably never will. See, the happy ending that was in the air with the expectation of a new Spor release -that never came- slowly and reluctantly faded into oblivon, and all that I could achieve now is the story of my tragedy as Jon Gooch suddenly decided he would not make that sound I so much desired again. Would George Lucas have done Star Wars if evil was to win in the end? I doubt it, so please don’t hold this decision against me.
However, if you’re new to Spor, I hope you’ll find a nice review of his earlier works and a good starting point for a journey through some of the most fascinating music ever made.]
Just a few weeks back, a simple black and white picture circulated round the internet, displaying a sleeping city with just one thing written in the clouds above it: Spor. Enough to cause serious uproar, as it originated from Spor’s more recent imprint, Feed Me, and stirred the hopes of thousands. A few days later, Spor announced his first release in a -in the eyes of many- too long time, and subsequently gave us Ziggurat and Push Me Pull You; the first sounding like a High Contrast remix of his 2009 hit Aztec, the other an easy listening dubstep track, replete with the strange, melancholic happiness of adolescence the likes of that ever-thickening thread that runs through the man’s oeuvre. Admittedly, the tracks are still superior to most music released (which doesn’t make things better though), and the wide attention they gained particularly from people, who are not entirely (or at all) familiar with the discography and history of Drum & Bass’ former superhero, is not surprising at all.
As to me, I was puzzled, and the old questions rose again from their unsteady slumber. I couldn’t understand the guy, but owing him a great deal of the best moments in my life so far, I felt obliged to at least try again and unfold this mystery. The result of my efforts is the following ‘guide’ (as I’d like to think of it) through the work of one of the undoubtedly greatest artists of the present, which tries to unite biography (where I followed -or opposed- John Osborne’s recent Feed Me-biography Look back in anger wherever possible) and musical outcome in a way, that hopefully both shines some light into the enigmatic jungle (in which apparently I’m not the only lost soul), and, for those less acquainted, serves as a rough tour through the fascinating music and mind of Mr Jon Gooch.
“It’s what he would call a question of allegiances, and he expects you to be pretty literal about them. Not only about himself and all the things he believes in, his present and his future, but his past as well.” – John Osborne
Jonathan Gooch, born on Wednesday, August 22, 1984, in Hertfordshire (somewhere north of London), describes his childhood on the whole as happy, admits the usual occasional social irregularity that often goes hand in hand with those among the elect, but gives no direct indication as to the somewhat aggressive tendencies especially in his earlier pieces – he contrarily even reports being the guy to catch and save the spider that everyone was trying to kill.
At some point he must have begun a pretty close relationship with computers; if he was indeed a gamer we can only suspect, but many aspects of his work make it seem so. Anyway he started out as graphic designer (and quite a good one as his engagement with among others Microsoft and Xbox suggest) and has ever since been drawn towards the visual side of things – not only is the whole appearance of Feed Me handcrafted, reportedly even the name Spor comes from dropping the final E of Spore in an effort to pimp the letter-balance when displayed as graffiti.
Following standard procedure, his first attempts with music software were somewhat accidental; however, with Fruity Loops he quickly encountered an intuitive and visually appealing program (as he describes it), and being introduced to Drum & Bass by a friend -with Hive and Dillinja named as his first encounters within the genre, but under the wide impression of Squarepusher, Ram Trilogy and of course Prodigy- the legend was on its way.
In 2004, DJ Damage’s label Damaged Mindz unleashed what marked their final release, Spor’s debut single Judderman / The Whisper, which already displays more or less all raw ingredients of what was later forged into timeless genre classics. Especially Judderman is exemplary for the always highly energetic, dirty and relentlessly grooving Gooch-interpretation of Neurofunk, and already the foundation of nearly all his work blazes through the still rough production: the bass. Yet not in the ordinary all-engulfing earth-quaking monster-bass style of many a track, but foremost melodically founded, with the drums a mere sparring partner to its rollercoaster-escapades. The framework for his bass-melodies can vaguely be traced to the blues-influenced language of the rock and prog-rock tracks that reputedly his parents exclusively fed their child with (whilst banning MTV for instance), but is an almost mandatory setting for the emotion expressed anyway.
In terms of the emotional and atmospheric constellation, Judderman also plays a rather prototypical role with its pathos-laden pad-melody and passionate scream rather than vocal (-Spor being probably the artist to implement the most screams of all-) that build up to the immense drop, but gently reoccur during the mid-section. Coming to drops and overall structure, it might be noted that few have shown similar interest and skill concerning the song as whole: Spor’s tracks evidently don’t live up solely to the loop, but foreground the whole composition as such; an integral and exciting feature, achieved by endless tweaking, countless breaks and a genuine taste for development within the musical material. This advantage, however, was paid for with losses particularly in clarity of sound, for which Spor -definitely not a fetishist in that manner- never actually seemed to care much. But concerning his song-wise approach (as opposed to sound-wise) it must be noted that his sonic creations never really suffered from that fact, as the drive and genuine sense adventure of his bass-rides always more than made up for it. Or, as John Osborne put it: ‘Spor went into battle with his axe swinging round his head – frail, and so full of fire. I had never seen anything like it. The old story of the knight in shining armour – except that his armour didn’t really shine very much.’
It was not long until he attracted the attention of Renegade Hardware, one of the more renowned suppliers of serious badass underground vibes, and 2005 saw his EP debut that provided some glances at the magnificent Spor to come. The Tactics EP starts off with Dreadnought, which combines mystic otherworldly atmosphere with assembly line machine aesthetics and depicts some of the first expressive bass-filterings that should later on become a trademark of his sound. The track also features some of those high bass sounds that first appeared on Judderman’s flip The Whisper; rather uncommon sounds that not only indicate the slumbering punk within young Master Gooch, but show his will to experiment and cross borders – a virtue, inherent to the majority of his earlier tracks, and a crucial characteristic that not few miss in the polished, yet almost shapeless newest outputs.
As second milestone on the Tactics EP we must take To the Death into account, which marks the beginning of Spor’s focussed elaboration of percussion and rhythm, as one can easily witness just after the drop. Also, it is the first track to feature one of those dark, überevil male vocal samples that -in opposition to Noisia and their tongue-in-cheek speech samples (just think of Moonway Renegade for that matter)- mostly lacked the irony that usually makes cool progress to nice. The subsequent Lose It with its intuition-gone-confession ‘I keep living like this I might lose it’-vocal runs in a similar vein and again exhibits Spor’s subtle melancholy; a delicate emotion that resurfaces once more in the following year’s Three Faces, a collab with Infiltrata on Renegade Hardware’s imprint Barcode, which furthermore shares the source of the vocal samples (Mobb Deep’s Just Step Prelude) and besides has all the qualities of an erupting volcano. ‘It’s like someone launching a battleship’ recollects Osborne and states that the tune made him realize ‘what a refined sort of butcher he [Spor] is.’
An early consolidation of Spor’s combined abilities is withal given in his Messiah remix, mashing epic atmospheres, subtle emotion, organic basses and gentle computer game sounds; more important however to the development of his genuine style appears to be his contribution to Mary Anne Hobbes’ Warrior Dubz compilation, the finest portrayal of an ancient übermonster thus far and -in Osborne’s words- truly ‘written in flames a mile high’: the mighty Hydra. I doubt that up to this point there has ever been a musical epic of her proportions (-Wagner didn’t have the basses-), and even though the composition is not completely flawless and the parts don’t always blend perfectly, Hydra is most likely the first giant step towards Spor’s battles with the low frequencies, the natal hour of the bass as fully organic being. ‘It’s pretty free of course, but it’s very harsh too’ says Osborne, and continues in admiration: ‘It’s almost as if he wanted to kill someone with it. […] It’s slightly horrifying. Horrifying and oddly exciting.’
Thus Spor became the bass in drum & bass.
Spor – Judderman (Damaged Mindz, 2004) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4iU8HAKYrU
Spor – Dreadnought (Renegade Hardware, 2005) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7uMytTmOVo
Spor – To the Death (Renegade Hardware, 2005) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJh45dxtSvI
Noisia & Mayhem – Moonway Renegade (RAM Records, 2006) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuUYcSAhe2U
Spor & Infiltrata – Three Faces (Barcode Recordings, 2006) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb-zBW5CTOo
Mobb Deep – Just Step Prelude (Loud Records, 1995) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bD1Nlhe1A0
Konflict – Messiah (Spor Remix, Renegade Hardware, 2005) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccRj1DBLvy0
Spor – Hydra (Planet Mu, 2006) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plRCvF1–DU
Don’t miss out on Part 2: http://www.facebook.com/Subsphere