Remastering. It seemed to be everywhere in the late 1990s, as hit releases from the 60s and 70s were “tarted up” and shoved onto CDs to the gorging masses, claiming to ‘reveal new detail’ not previously heard on those dusty old vinyl originals. More recently, remastering appears to have also become like the ‘Director’s Cut’ of well-known films – that the remastering is an opportunity to bring about the true intent of the artist, hidden all of these years, and possibly hindered by the technology of the day.
In the case of Squarepusher’s remastered debut album Feed me weird things (reissued on Warp Records as a 25th anniversary commemoration), other commentators have speculated that this remastering project is indeed to improve the overall production values of the album, and not just to bring in some bass reinforcements that are guaranteed to blow out your subwoofers.
After several listens to this re-release, any improvements to the production seem academic. To this listener, the very technology and recording context in which the original release was made is ultimately bound to the final artefact, particularly so in this landmark ‘drill and bass’ recording. The technological ‘state’ of the original release persists, aurally and existentially, despite any new digital manipulations – especially in the minds and ears of those with a well-worn copy of the 1996 version.
In many ways, the original album is a process driven record, regardless of how its shuddering bass drum beats and incessant high-hat accents might sound to the unsuspecting ear. Squarepusher AKA Tom Jenkinson is nothing if not prolific in his raw recording outputs, and Feed me weird things was originally compiled from a list of 50 tracks he had recorded in the two years prior to the album’s actual release. It is this prototyping, testing, manipulating, rejecting, layering and juxtaposing that is the vehicle for his writing, and while it can be argued that remastering is just another one of these processes, its purpose seems a little at odds with Squarepusher’s ethos at the time.
Ultimately, every re-release demands that at least one common question is answered, regardless of what goes on at the mixing desk – does the album stand the test of time? From the bass playing perspective – absolutely. Squarepusher’s oft-warbling, sometimes pulsating high register bass lines, reminiscent of prog jazz / jazz fusion players Eberhard Weber and Dave Holland, have had a significant impact on emergent genres over the past three decades, not least of which being the current British new jazz explosion. Groups such as Phronesis, Gogo Penguin and Mammal Hands have not only picked up the vibe, but have run with it and made it their own.
As for the ‘drill and bass’ construction, in many places it somehow straddles then and now – the drum manipulations that underpin standout tracks like Squarepusher Theme, Tundra and Theme from Ernest Borgnine remain compelling. However, the attraction of some tracks continues to be elusive, and to many will sound ‘difficult’ – too much hard work for not enough aural gain. Regardless of how this album is cast as a ‘clever satire’, poking fun at the all-pervasive drum and bass movement of the mid-nineties, clever musicianship and writing will always go much further, and for longer too. The satire will almost certainly be lost on those who’ve never committed time to listening to the broader drum and bass genre, and as a result this dulls the long-term effect of the music.
The addition of two tracks that appeared on the original 1996 Japanese release help to reinforce the purpose of the anniversary re-release (new look, new sounds, old but still new) – but overall I’m unsure whether this re-issue will attract many new listeners. Still, it’s a worthy addition to any contemporary / electronic music lover’s collection, and its unique aesthetic and rhythmic explorations guarantee it a place in electronic music history.