4HERO / “4hero Classics Mixtape”
As far as most of us are concerned drum&bass is: “Say what? What’s that—a new kind of music or sump-in?”
Yeah—it’s new if you don’t know. If you do, well the answer is: just shake your head and back slowly away from the ignorance or maybe (depending on if the person is educable) you say: a style of music that started way back in the late eighties in North London. Goldie, Ron Size, Grooverider and most of all 4hero.
“Oh, 4hero—that’s two guys, right? So why they call themselves “four”-hero?”
‘Cause in the early days circa 1986 it was a four member crew: Mark Anthony (“Marc Mac”) Clair, Dennis (“Dego”) McFarlane, Iain Bardouille and Gus Lawrence. Their first major project was running “Strong Island FM” pirate radio station in the Camden area of North London during the late eighties.
The quartet is still together, it’s just that Iain and Gus take care of the behind the scene business running Reinforced, their record label, and stuff like that while Dego and Mac are the major producers/DJs who have become the public face of 4hero.
“So, what’s so deep about that?”
Legend has it that these cats produced the first drum&bass album, In Rough Territory (1991) way, way back in the game. Their second album, Parallel Universe (1995) was voted album of the year in NME’s dance category (NME is a major British music publication). And for sure they produced two major classic albums: Two Pages (1998) and Creating Patterns (2001). Their last release Play With The Changes (2007) is also considered a classic.
And check it, that’s not even mentioning “Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare,” that monster mindblower which is on Rough Territory but was initially released as a single. Nor is that taking into consideration their plethora of singles—check it, Reinforced Records has produced over 200 releases with 4hero producing or participating on a good number of those releases.
“So what they sound like?”
It’s not one sound. At one point you could have easily said that distinctive, frantic, hard electronic bap-bap-bap 100BMP of typical drum&bass but by the time of Two Pages they were adding strings and jazz and, wow, you just got to hear it. And then came Creating Patterns bringing the Soul sound. Plus, these cats really, really mixed acoustic instruments—I mean acoustic strings and acoustic bass and real drums—well, they mixed that with electronic stuff. Also, they became masters of remixing previously existing material and so, you see you can’t just put them in one bag or one sound because it’s not one thing nor is it a linear thing. Like if you lay all an artist’s records next to each other, you usually can see how one thing led to another. With these cats they’re liable to pop up anywhere.
These guys do all this incredible engineering plus they are musicians. They work the computers and the soundboards. They also play instruments the old fashioned way with their bodies and their breath. They are both scientists and artists.
“Oh, I see.”
No you don’t, ‘cause until you’ve heard a lot of it you ain’t really heard none of it.
“What you mean?”
I mean the secret of 4hero is their reach, how wide their flow is and until you hear a lot of their music you don’t really recognize they are as big as the planet, whatever kind of music humans are making they check and if they dig it, use it to reinvent and stretch their own music.
“Look, I got to go. So what one or two albums should I download?”
Start with Two Pages and Creating Patterns and then work forward/back from there. And two caveats as you split. Make sure you get the double-CD version of Two Pages and not the single-CD version, because as good as the single is, the double is the one that gives you the hardcore drum&bass as well as the experimental sounds with strings and jazz and all.
The second caveat is you also have to understand that these cats have dropped stuff under different names that they produced either as solo projects or as collaborations with others, or their own records just with a different name, and also they have a host of stuff they produced, and then they got all these remixes they did, and…
“Ok, Ok, that’s enough. I get the picture. They’re like a virus or something. They’re everywhere. That’s sick.”
Yeah, if you mean sick in a good way, like S-I-Q-U-E, sick.
“That’s cute. Peace out.”
Peace in the village, war in the world!
—Kalamu ya Salaam
4hero Mixtape Playlist
Just to be clear, the albums listed below are only the albums of original music issued under the 4hero name. There are bunches of others—including remix projects, mixtapes and compilations, as well as collaborations and albums listed under a number of different alias, e.g. Tek9 or on their subsidiary labels such as 2000Black. Next week I’ll bring you a mixtape featuring 4hero remixes—meanwhile, enjoy the original 4hero music.
4hero weren’t into drugs. In fact, ‘Mr Kirk’s Nightmare’ was anti drugs… E appeared to be a lovey, happy drug, but when harder drugs came in, the beats got harder, more angry. The drug that was in the scene dictated the rave. E and LSD were trippy. With coke, I saw the difference between the Rasta culture of smoking and chilling and taking a drug that makes you want to go out and shoot someone.01 “Mr. Kirk (Original Mix)” - CD Single
—Marc Mac, 4hero
Soul’s been creeping in for a long time. It’s a logical progression: ever since ‘Parallel Universe’, there’s been continuity between albums. We’ve always used those Coltrane chords.
—Marc Mac, 4hero
02 “Universal Love (4 Hero Remix)” - Parallel Universe
Which artists do you think influenced you?
Mizell Brothers, Public Enemy, BDP, Tribe Called Quest, J-Dilla... Steely Dan, George Duke, Scientist, King Tubby and a load of Brazilian music. Too many to mention but basically people who were consistent and able to push further. Songs with meaning and depth I was lucky enough to grow up hearing (underground and pop) songs about political stances and injustice instead of the shallow meaningless rubbish that surrounds us all nowadays.
From Two Pages
03 “Loveless” (Disc 1)
04 “Golden Age Of Life” (Disc 1)
05 “Planetaria” (Disc 1)
06 “Escape That” (Disc 1)
07 “Spirits In Transit” (Disc 1)
08 “The Action” (Disc 1)
09 “Star Chasers” (Disc 1)
10 “Wishful Thinking” (Disc 1)
11 “Universal Reprise” (Disc 1)
12 “Humans” (Disc 2)
13 “Pegasus” (Disc 2)
14 “Wormholes” (Disc 2)
15 “Dauntless” (Disc 2)
16 “Time” (Disc 2)
17 “Golden Solitude” (Disc 2)
18 “Another Day” (Disc 2)
19 “Hold It Down” (Disc 2)
Age creeps into it as well. When we were doing jungle and drum and bass, we were banging it all night long, sometimes playing until 10 in the morning. It was music for the dance floor, it always had that dance angle. I suppose we don’t need to make it now we’re not on the dance floor any more. I got married, I’ve got a kid; I’m chilling. It’s the grown-up side to 4hero.”
—Marc Mac, 4hero
From Creating Patterns
20 “Something Nothing”
21 “Ways of Thought”
22 “Twelve Tribes (with Mark Murphy)”
23 “Les Fleur”
What were some of the hardware and software elements (and instruments) used while making Play With The Changes?
It varies, there was a lot of organic instruments used. To give an example we had over 40 people playing a part in some way. Drums, electric bass, acoustic bass, various guitars, loads of percussion, analogue synthesizers, violins, violas, cellos and flutes. As for electronic equipment, the heart of the studio is a PC running Logic Audio and plenty of 3rd party plug-in's and virtual synths. I have loads of other outboard hardware, the two most important parts of the non-software studio is a 24 track Soundtrack mixing desk and a old school stereo valve compressor.
—Marc Mac, 4hero
From Play With The Changes
24 “Bed of Roses (feat. Jody Watley)”
25 “Awakening (feat. Ursula Rucker)”
26 “Morning Child (feat. Carina Anderson)”
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