A Brief History of Bleep

It seems fitting that Nightmares on Wax are releasing their eighth studio album, Shape The Future, in 2018, as the year marks the 30th anniversary of bleep, the moody northern English take on techno with which NoW made their name and which was, arguably, the UK’s first homegrown take on electronic music.

The origins of bleep lie in Northern English breakdancing crews. Bradford’s Solar City Rockers crew was home to both George Evelyn, who would later form Nightmares on Wax with Kevin Harper, and Unique 3, who in 1988 recorded what is generally acknowledged as the first instance of bleep: “The Theme,” a record that nailed the acidic squirts, looming sub bass, and icy synth melodies that would later define the genre. One year later, “The Theme” would be joined in the shops by Nightmares on Wax’s debut single “Dextrous” (which the group would later re-work) and Forgemasters’ ominous “Track With No Name,” the first record on Sheffield indie label Warp.

Warp—now home to everyone from Aphex Twin to Flying Lotus—would make its name as a bleep label, with its iconic purple record sleeves a guarantee of steely Sheffield quality. In 1990, Warp released an astounding run of bleep records, from LFO’s hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck self-titled classic to Nightmares on Wax’s “Aftermath,” Sweet Exorcist’s “Testone,” and Tricky Disco’s eponymous hit, which bothered the higher reaches of the UK charts (annoying mainstream radio DJs considerably on the way).

In the same year, Birmingham’s Network Records (Warp’s only serious competitor for the bleep crown) put out two enduring bleep classics in the form of Nexus 21’s twinkling “Self Hypnosis” and Rhythmatic’s circuit-bending “Take Me Back,” while in the US a young Roger Sanchez gave the bleep sound a New York spin on Egotrip’s Dreamworld EP and Underground Solution’s “Luv Dancin’.” DJ Moneypenny (as Chapter 1) and Bobby Konders (as Freedom Authority) were among the other American producers to catch the bleep bug, with the former’s 1990 release “Unleash The Groove” even featuring a “Love in Sheffield” remix. Meanwhile, down in Miami, Ralph Falcon and Oscar Gaetan (a.k.a. Murk/Funky Green Dogs/Intruder/Liberty City) were clearly paying attention. The duo included Nightmares on Wax’s “Dextrous” on their brilliant 1998 mix CD The House Music Movement and you can hear echoes of bleep’s spacious, sweet-and-sour ambience in songs like Liberty City’s “Some Lovin’.”

In 1991, Warp released debut albums by both LFO (Frequencies) and Nightmares on Wax (A World of Science), but by 1992 bleep was definitively on the wane, as the release of Warp’s seminal Artificial Intelligence compilation saw the label move towards the kind of brainy techno that would be later known as IDM. By this point, Nightmares on Wax had also moved on, edging towards the downbeat hip-hop for which they are known today. But bleep was by no means dead. LFO would release two more albums, 1996’s Advance (including the brilliant “Tied Up”) and 2003’s Sheath (home to “Freak”), and the group’s Mark Bell would go on to work as a producer with everyone from Björk to Depeche Mode before his death in 2014.

In the UK, the influence of bleep could be heard in contemporary musical genres such as rave (e.g., Altern 8’s “Infiltrate 202”) and jungle (as on A Guy Called Gerald’s “28 Gun Bad Boy”), later filtering through to UK garage (Dem 2’s “Destiny”), dubstep (Benga & Coki’s “Night”), bassline (T2’s “Heartbroken”), grime (D Double E’s “Streetfighter Riddim” or Maniac, Maxsta, and Boothroyd’s “No Retreat”), and even footwork (DJ Taye x DJ Manny’s “The Matrixx”).

In many cases, the influence of bleep was more subliminal than direct, as Neil Landstrumm explained in a 2014 Resident Advisor history of bleep. “Every few years [bleep] seems to pop up,” he said. “Think of grime, sub-low, dubstep, garage, speed-garage, the new techno styles, new house… the ghosts of bleep are still in there, whether consciously or not. I doubt, for example, More Fire Crew had ever heard of bass and bleep, or many of the first wave of dubstep artists, but it’s there.”

Elsewhere, the influence of bleep has been more overt and none more so than in the work of Neil Landstrumm himself, who has released a number of records that consciously reference bleep’s Northern sound, including his 2017 EP A Death, A Mexican And A Mormon, from which “The Tomorrow People” is taken. Doncaster’s Mella D is another producer who has taken the influence of bleep into the modern world, notably with “Movement,” from his 2017 Warehouse Music 001 EP, a song that proves the enduring appeal of bleeps, bass, and thundering beats.