Tags like house, trance, techno and breakbeat weren't too important in the early days of the UK dance scene...the joy of discovery, the sense of wonder, the weirdness of trying new things with new technological tools: it's all there in abundance on the Chill Out Or Die series. And most of the albums have aged beautifully. Tech changes fast, but good ideas live forever.
Chill Out Or Die
country of origin:
Ambient techno/trance, environmental, space music, trip hop
- Chill Out Or Die (1993, Rising High)
- Chill Out Or Die II (1994, Rising High 2-CD)
- Chill Out Or Die III (1994, Rising High)
- Chill Out Or Die America (1995, Rising High)
Reviewed by Mike G
With its global line-up of talent and generally high quality control, the Chill Out Or Die series from the now long-gone Rising High Records played a major role in the rebirth of ambient music via dance and rave culture in the 1990's.
The rise of ambient dance music
Rising High was founded by British musician and producer Casper Pound. His label emerged at a time when UK rave and acid house had returned to underground clubs following brief mainstream exposure in the late 1980's via the mad goings-on at Manchester's Hacienda club. It was in this underground scene's creative ferment that Rising High was born in London, going on to become one of the the most successful and influential British dance music label of its era. The music on the Chill Out Or Die albums was actually an exception to the majority of the label's output which focused on club records, from gabba hardcore and hard techno to more accessible trance, techno and house.
A passionate and sometimes mercurial figure, Pound himself (who died in 2004 aged just 33) usually liked his music hard and fast, "music that fucks with your mind" as he once eloquently put it. In the face of this onslaught the jokey name given to his ambient compilation series makes perfect sense: a soothing balm for the storming, sometimes brutal, club tracks his label was releasing.
Tags like house, trance, techno and breakbeat weren't too important in the early days of the UK dance scene; there was room for everyone. This exciting anything-goes ethos spilled over into Rising High's ambient releases too, just as it did in North America during this period on labels like Instinct Ambient and Silent Records and also back home in the UK on Emit Records. The joy of discovery, the sense of wonder, the weirdness of trying new things with new technological tools: it's all there in abundance on the Chill Out Or Die series. And most of the albums have aged beautifully. Tech changes fast, but good ideas live forever.
Best of the series
Chill Our Or Die (1993) and Chill Out Or Die II (1994) are co-complied by Pound with journalist, composer and ambient DJ Mixmaster Morris aka Irresistible Force. Morris was - and still is today - an enthusiastic and highly visible champion for ambient and downtempo in the dance scene. Thanks in part to his deep knowledge and deft programming, these two volumes get the series off to a magnificent start.
On the first album there's beautiful-strangeness everywhere. Some tracks mirror the way club records build their harmonies with chugging arpeggios and fast repeated motifs - Irresistible Force's "Space Is The Place" and Dr Motte eerie 11-minute epic "Euphorythm" being two examples. Completely different is a piece from Barbarella (aka German trance king Sven Vath), a beatless piece of shimmering, sparkling, sunny loveliness riding on a loop of jazzy chord changes. Another highlight is Bedouin Ascent's "Treading The Earth" which at first sounds very Detroit techno with its complex hi-hat and snare drum patterns before taking a left turn with a beautiful, pristine melody played on what sounds like a harmonium.
The 2-CD set Chill Out Or Die II ably picks up where the first album left off. Chugging sequencer tracks like Casper Pound's own "Deepest Cut" are an enjoyable nod to the Berlin-school ambient pioneers. American James Bernard's dark yet lush "Ponder" layers Balinese gamelan sounds, Moroccan drums and haunting synth chords to stunning effect. Disc 2 assembles some of the prettiest, most uplifting and dreamy ambient tracks of the era courtesy of Influx, Paul Hazel and Deep Space Network's epic "Ten Waves".
Ditto on Chill Out Or Die III (1994), which also occasionally moves further beyond ambient techno, trance and old-school into new areas. MLO and Wagon Christ fashion an odd hybrid of hip-hop loops and eerie synth on "Wimborne", while the crystal clear ring of the hammer dulcimer drives the arpeggios on a meltingly lovely piece by Japanese band Tanzmuk.
After three excellent volumes the series stumbles with Chill Out Or Die IV (1995). Part of the problem is that it's stylistically too wide, a sprawling and incoherent double-CD mix of everything from minimal dub to bleepy, abrasive noise. But its biggest sin is that, experimental music or not, there's a rather big hole were the tunes and chords were supposed to be. Despite some notable exceptions - check the ambient trance epic "Hymn" by Dreamfish (aka Mixmaster Morris and Pete Namlook) - the album remains a non-essential release.
Despite a couple of dud tracks Chill Out Or Die America (1995) puts things on back on track creatively. It's also the final album of the series and was released by Rising High's short-lived North American sub-label. Beats dominate this time around, reflecting the changing currents and tastes in club-related chillout music at the time. All but two tracks are new ones, ranging from the shimmering textures and old-school sequencer loops of Irresistible Force's "Sunstroke" to Air Liquid's exquisitely spacey deep tech-house tune "If There Was No Gravity".
The Rising High legacy
Rising High Records eventually folded, for reasons probably best explained by those who were inside the company at the time. Many of the label's releases are today highly collectable and the foundations it laid for electronic music to come - especially club techno, trance and the various forms of ambient downtempo related to dance music - are there for all to hear. Listen and learn, but most important of all, enjoy.