by Mike G, May 2019
90’s British DJ-composer-producer Beaumont Hannant was many things: a prolific and innovative figure in ambient techno; an adventurer in trip hop, hip hop, ambient pop, electro, alt rock and underground house. Then came a sudden and puzzling retirement from public life. 20 years on, it’s high time for a rediscovery of his formidable but largely forgotten body of work, with some help via fresh interviews with his collaborators, friends and journalists.
I go through these phases where I dive into the older music and zero in on just a single artist, subgenre or label.
And so it was that I recently found myself immersed in Beaumont Hannant’s back-catalogue, most notably his sublime double-length album Texturology (1994), an ambient techno classic which startled me again with its power and – in 2019 – its freshness. I felt the urge to not only to talk up his music and put together a new mix, but also to better understand the arc of his recording and production career up to the late 90’s when his releasing suddenly stopped and he disappeared completely from public life – a footnote in dance music history, perhaps, but intriguing in its own way.
I know only a couple of books on music that make any attempt to cover his career at all. So I started by looking around online to see whether his work was remembered and still had a following. Except for the usual discography listings and the same old Wikipedia bio regurgitated over and over, there wasn’t much to find. There were some passionate, if puzzled, fan discussions on blogs and forums such as Discogs (“Beaumont, where art thou?”). There were uploads of tracks on Youtube and some reviews and mentions in scans of 90’s music zines. Online was published just one interview from late ’96 languishing in an obscure Web 1.0 archive, taken from the booklet that accompanied a dance music compilation album.
As for his catalogue, his Bjork remixes and his album as the duo Outcast, as well as his collaborations with singer Lida Husik, are all on Spotify and Apple Music and still available in some digital and physical music stores. But all of his solo albums and ep’s on the GPR label are long out of print, with just the odd track surviving on a few various artists comps.
And what of the man himself?
Even in this connected age where six degrees of separation has shrunk to about 0.1, I found no trace of him online including any social media profiles that I could positively identify were him. I found no record of any musical activity since some DJ gigs in Leeds in ’99. Neither did I receive a response to an email requesting an interview for this story, assuming that the email address I acquired is still current. Mind you, there is no big mystery here – he’s still around. From what I learned, the reasons for his low profile are one or more of the following: he likes his privacy, he still distrusts the music press (read on) and he doesn’t care for talking about the past. Whatever his reasons, all respect to him.
People inevitably want know “whatever happened to…”, which is natural enough. Yet the answer to where life took him after he stopped releasing really has nothing to do with the actual music.
More interesting to me was that Beaumont Hannant’s work is largely forgotten or under appreciated nowadays, yet he wrote and/or produced some phenomenal music. This is nuts, so I write in the hope that vintage electronica fans will take another look and a new generation might discover his work. There is even less awareness about the the second half of his short recording career. That chapter deserves a better telling. There was diversity, collaborations and new directions. Some of the music was very fine. There was also the demise of a certain record label, with very unfortunate legal ramifications for some of the artists including Hannant.
For this feature I interviewed singers Lida Husik and Peter Coyle, two of his collaborators from back in the day. I checked briefly with current DJ Mag Editor In Chief, Carl Loben who chronicled the early dance scene and interviewed Hannant in late ’96. I also spoke to a number of British journalists including Oli Warwick, as well as DJ’s, label managers and artists. Most people were happy to talk. A few people spoke off the record, or asked that their names not be published.
The birth of IDM and ambient techno
The best of Beaumont Hannant’s IDM and ambient techno – most which appeared between 1993-95 – remains among the very finest of the whole Artificial Intelligence era of British electronic music. This was British techno in its earliest form: the atmospheric, cerebral, Detroit-inspired sounds of labels like Warp Records and a quite enormous number of artists. Random name check: Black Dog, 7th Plain, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Speedy J and Global Communication.
The intelligent dance music (IDM) tag the music was saddled with was appalling, really. An instant signpost for snobbery. Dance music scribe Simon Reynolds says it was first coined in 1993 in an online mailing list that was mostly populated by fans of electronica savant Aphex Twin. But unlike the actually quite useful tag of electronic listening music (ELM) – coined around the same time – the IDM tag has stuck. Everyone seems to know what it means these days, so I’ll continue using it – reluctantly.
Independent label GPR (General Production Recordings) was where Hannant’s early recordings had their home. GPR released some of the era’s outstanding ambient tech and IDM including music by Hannant, Luke Slater (as The 7th Plain), The Black Dog, Plaid and The Sunkings. It was a short-lived venture that’s beloved by collectors and fans but far less so by some of the artists, as we shall see. It’s often overlooked in British techno and electronica histories in favour of more enduring labels like the Sheffield-based Warp Records. It was the latter which really crystallised the idea of listening techno with its two popular and highly influential Artificial Intelligence compilations from 1992 and 1994, the second of which included two contributions from Hannant (several years earlier, seeking a label for his first release, he had sent demos to both GPR and Warp – GPR got him first).
Oli Warwick’s excellent 2015 feature for Red Bull Music Academy, The Untold Story of London Techno 1989-1997, succinctly describes the early scene that Hannant came to be associated with:
“While house music took hold rapidly in the UK, an original techno sound germinated slowly. But, for a few years in the early ’90s, there was a hive of activity around a network of artists and labels in London that married haunting sci-fi romanticism in the Motor City tradition with a strange, angular funk that could not have come from anywhere else. Balanced neatly between club-centric sounds and home listening fare, this music presents a cohesive vision, even if – at times – the reality felt fractious or solitary for those involved.”
Looking back now, it’s pretty extraordinary just how open-minded audiences were to the innovations and mutations of early house and techno, at least in England. Rave’s open spirit made that possible.
The early club records coming out of Chicago and Detroit offered little in the way of obviously contemplative sounds, even though the spacey atmospherics of Detroit techno would prove crucial for early IDM. The focus was on the cathartic release of the dancefloor and the culture and communities that formed around them. It was in the UK starting around 1989 that more overtly ambient elements started to appear.
In the beginning there were two fairly distinct strands of ambient dance music.
One was problematically tagged ambient house and was birthed from the free-form DJing and releases of The Orb, The KLF and Mixmaster Morris. It sometimes had the simple beat structures of house slowed down, sometimes the stoned grooves of dub, sometimes no beats at all. It pulled in sounds and samples from Krautrock, jazz, art rock, prog rock, new age, soul and more.
The other strand was a form of British techno that came to be called IDM, as defined by The Black Dog’s e.p. Virtual (1989), and it was also cosmic and often sample-based. But it was rhythmically more complex, funkier and machine-like, and its otherworldly atmospherics and sci-fi themes were drawn more directly from Detroit. Some of it was eminently danceable, but even when the tempos were fast it seduced the mind as much as it moved the body.
Soon Britain’s music scene was a world where The Orb hilariously appeared on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops playing chess as their Top 10 ambient dub hit “Blue Room” warbled into living rooms around the country. Where Aphex Twin’s positively avant-garde ambient techno opus Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994) reached #11 on the mainstream UK album charts. These peaks of mainstream interest in ambient and chillout receded – for reasons already outlined in plenty of books and articles on dance music history – but many strains of electronic dance music in the world today still have their more contemplative atmospheric offshoots. 90’s dance music gave ambient sounds a glorious new lease of life, and they remain very much alive in the music’s descendants.
Forging a sound
Beaumont Hannant’s solo work from his first few years as a recording artist – including his YO3 alias – spans five albums, at least seven ep’s, various singles and remixes.
Beginning with the 4-track e.p. Tastes and Textures vol. 1 (1993), they were recorded with engineer and sometimes co-producer Richard Brown in his studio in Yorkshire, a partnership that spanned most of Hannant’s recording career. Brown would soon step up to a composing role as well, both with Hannant as Outcast and Husikesque, and under his solo alias Cherry Bomb. Hannant said years later: “I’ve learned everything from Richard. He has been my only influence, as it were, on the technical side.”
Being based well out of London, the pair were somewhat removed from the techno scene’s London epicentre as explored in Oli Warwick’s 2015 story, though Oli writes that most of the artists he interviewed felt as though they were operating on their own rather than as part of any movement. When I asked him about Hannant – who he was unable to interview for the story – he said he thinks the geographic factor gave flavour to his music and is also perhaps the reason why his legacy is not as well remembered.
“He’s always struck me as a unique character within the scene,” he says “You could sense a certain degree of otherness about his sound. He certainly built up a strong body of work in the 90’s which, by rights, should have been a springboard into the kind of artistic longevity many of his peers enjoyed…I think in that sense he has a bit of a cult following. People who are aware hold him in high regard. But the relative short time span of his career and isolation from the more active parts of the scene might have contributed to his somewhat overlooked nature.”
Hannant’s friend and fellow musician Tim Wright didn’t even identify with whole IDM thing at the time. “We met at Depth Charge [the York record store] where Beau was working,” he says. “Our friendship wasn’t based around music, perhaps strangely. I was largely unaware of his stuff for GPR, I didn’t tend to listen to much music in the IDM scene. I was much more concerned with what I was doing. But I was impressed by the quantity of material that he put out in a short time, and the connections he was making.” Under the alias Germ, Tim and his collaborator John Dalby went on to release two fascinating albums of abstract beats on GPR, Gone (1994) and Parrot (1995). They still sound playful and weird, an enduring reminder that there was cerebral techno being made in England at the time that sat beyond any recognised style.
However, the commonalities between Beaumont Hannant’s work and that of the London-based artists are obvious. Call it IDM and people will know exactly what you mean. His releases also embraced almost the entire creative span of what techno could be: from club bangers to beatless head music; from stark, industrial structures to otherworldly sonorous ambient grooves and uplifting harmonic glides. He gave his machines soul and, though perfectly capable of rocking dance floors with cuts like “Psi-Onyx” and “Scramble”, his music helped give techno a second life away from the big room, a home inside people’s imaginations, the kind of stuff that is now broadly tagged electronica.
Although he came to IDM a bit later than others, the best of his music in this style is still outstanding, even by the high creative standards of the period. Whether groovy robot funk (“Anokhi”) or deep, euphoric psychedelia (“Mind Colours”), it resonates down to every byte with – to borrow Lida Husik’s phrase – a really sharp musicality.
A sample review of Texturology from Select Magazine in June ’94:
“As ambient begins to lock itself into formula, he’s proving to be one of the few post-techno auteurs who understands the point of new electronics is not to sound like offcuts from the FX soundtrack to the The Man Who Fell To Earth…unlike the dreary Aphex imitators, he makes a definite emotional connection with the music’s various posts in Detroit, Dusseldorf and New York electro”.
And this from Mark Roland in ’94 in Melody Maker:
“All of Hannant’s records revel in harmony, the likes of which only Orbital come close to. Truly haunting moments emege again and again…he doesn’t have the customary bedroom studio, which most of his contemporaries seem to perpetually inhabit. His ideas pour straight out of his head onto tape in a 20-quid-an-hour recording studio. He works more like a composer, or an artist [painter], putting layer upon layer with an emphasis on tactile qualitoes, an approach he picked up from his art training.”
His musical background before he made his first record was certainly diverse. A native of the city of York, he was part of the UK’s early B-boy (breakdancing) movement. He started DJing in the mid 80’s and played electro, hip-hop and early Detroit techno. He was also a trained painter and art school student, an indie rock fan, and he managed York’s alt rock heroes Shed Seven for a time. As he said later on: “It happened that I was thrown into a studio with a sampler and keyboards. If there’d been a drum kit and a guitar it could’ve ended up different.”
Today, his music’s fans are often musicians and DJ’s themselves.
One of them is the Dublin-based Mick Chillage, who makes both IDM-infused electronica and deep landscaped ambient, working solo and as one half of the duo Autumn of Communion with Lee Norris aka Metamatics. Mick began making his own music in the mid 90’s.
“I was discovering an immense amount of electronica at the time” he says. “Warp, Fax, R&S Apollo, Rising High, GPR and so many more influential labels, soaking up all these incredible artists. But the emotive depth and musicality, his ability to mix different textures and genres alongside the obvious technical skills, made him stand out.” Mick mentions the CD version of Texturology (the vinyl version has a completely different tracklist), a name that gets dropped more than any other when I talk to people about Hannant’s music. “That will always have a huge place in my heart. It’s a classic example of music that transcends electronic genres. It has such a timeless quality and strong diversity. It’s one I can return to again and again.”
I asked Oli Warwick for his faves, who when he’s not writing about music is a Bristol-based DJ and composer under the alias BMO. While he thinks Hannant’s work is entirely emblematic of the progression in that era from dancefloor-oriented techno to the home listening fare, his favourites have quirks.
“’Water & Space’ is a wonderful beatless excursion, certainly not ambient in the purest sense, but not reliant on drums for energy,” he says. “The layers of processed voices add a unique human quality. That wasn’t always a concern within that era of machine romanticism.” The piece he plays most is an Outcast remix of “Neville Hill Depot” from 1995. “It’s a great club track, all swinging and skipping beat programming with the kind of machine funk producers like Stephen Brown are so good at. But the sound palette and narrative of the track…it’s epic…moving through distinct sections and making eight minutes fly by. It’s a glittering example of techno storytelling.”
Time for change
By the end of 1994, electronic dance music’s expansion from underground to mainstream in the UK, which began a few years earlier, had now gathered a full head of steam. This included IDM and the more atmospheric styles of techno, the music’s profile raised significantly by the success of Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series. Dance music’s following was growing exponentially and media interest was intense. The era of the British superclub and superstar DJ’s was at hand.
Beaumont Hannant had been slotted into the ‘rising star’ category and the more mainstream music publications wanted in. Influential DJ Andy Weatherall hyped him as “the great white hope of British techno” and tags like genius were getting thrown around. He didn’t like it, and fought the expectations – head on. He saw his work as flawed as anyone else. Neither was he a fan of techno purism (e.g. no vocals!), or the entire industry machine for that matter.
This contrariness extended to his DJ sets as well. “I find people are quite shocked by my musical approach,” he told journalist Mark Roland at the time. At a gig in Nottingham several 100 people turned up to hear him play, no doubt expecting IDM beats. What they got instead was 100% hip hop. “The place was full when I started and empty by the time I finished…I’m not worried about scaring people. It might damage my credibility, it might damage my sales. I don’t care.”
His restlessness clearly informed his fourth album Sculptured released on November ’94, notable for at least three reasons.
One, while still with a recognisable IDM sound, as an album it was intriguingly bent out of shape. It seemed to head in about four or five different directions at once. There were some collaborations with singers and rappers and it was by far his most diverse and eclectic release to date, a sign that changes were afoot.
Two, the American singer/songwriter Lida Husik sang on three tracks, the beginnings of a fruitful creative partnership that would span three albums and a string of e.p’s and singles.
And three, those sleeve notes. To his listeners he wrote:
“If you are familiar with my work this album may seem slightly odd or out of context but every now and then I feel the need to step away from the norm. I forsee the rest of my recording career being plagued by minor distractions which will eventually, I hope, lead to something better. I want you to all hear my failings and well as my successful compositions so you will have a true representation of my work.”
He then unloaded on “certain magazines, journalists, labels and others in the music industry” including the hype machine that was the British music press, a reflection of his often combative interviews around this time. He challenged journalists to give honest opinions and stop the “non committal bullshit” born of the cosy mutual back-scratching that drove the publicity machine:
“I used to be of fair temperament, but being part of the music industry has made me aggressive toward the lethargic nature of the business…to declare that talent is effort and work, or even that an artist is trying, seems to be too far hard a job. Within this album is the good the bad the crap and the indifferent. Let’s see which of you can distinguish the good from the bad. Or have you been telling stories so long you’ve forgotten how to communicate in an apt and straightforward manner?”
Alas, in those pre-social media days an artist could never win these kind of tiffs with the music media’s gatekeepers. Particularly an all-powerful weekly like Melody Maker.
In a December 17 review of Sculptured the paper typically had it both ways, simultaneously answering the artist’s call for some honest musical criticism and amplifying the moody bad boy narrative for laughs. Amid some fair and perceptive comments about the actual music, it devoted plenty of space to lampooning his recent statements and continued with the silly nicknames in an obvious attempt to provoke him further. It didn’t end well.
One person I spoke with, who was writing for various zines at the time and helping run club nights, knew Hannant from the DJ circuit.
“Beaumont was on a mission and the papers played him. But he didn’t seem himself. I knew an intelligent guy, a serious artist, but he had a sense of humour. I remember reading some of his comments and thinking, oh, that’s a bit harsh…some people on the scene just ignored him after that. Then later I see he’s working with Bjork and that American singer and I thought, brilliant. It was different to what people expected, but so what? I think he was doing what he wanted.”
Indeed, this unpleasant business with the press seems connected with a deeper need for change: working solo was driving him mad and he wanted and needed to collaborate more. Looking back a few years later in an interview with Carl Loben, he suggested that the life of a solo artist made him take himself too seriously. “At times, I tried to really get into what I was doing, analyse everything, and it just failed. You have to take a step back and start writing afresh. If you analyse everything you go up your own arse. Try to polish everything and you start to lose the plot. Working with someone else stops you going that bit too far.”
So more diversity and collaboration was the future, and there was plenty more music to come.
Collaborations: Lida Husik
Over the next few years Beaumont Hannant added strains of ambient pop, trip hop, indie rock, hip hop and house to his recorded repertoire, whether as creator, producer, remixer or all of the above. He also, let it not be forgotten, continued releasing his IDM-style techno on GPR.
The Lida Husik collaborations spanned a period of about four years and were literally a wish come true after Select Magazine asked him what singer he would most like to work with. Word got back to her, and soon the American singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was on a plane to England and working with Hannant and Richard Brown in their studio in Wakefield, Yorkshire.
I spoke with Lida on the phone from her current home in Portland, Oregon. The two were strangers, but when they met it quickly clicked. “We saw eye to eye on many things, politically and otherwise,” she says. While she wasn’t familiar at the time with his previous work or even the current UK dance scene, she had used samplers and synths to help create the trippy swirl and ambience of her earliest alt rock albums dating 1991-92.
“I was always interested in dance music. The black music of the 70’s like Funkadelic and Earth Wind & Fire. I also loved the confluence of new wave, punk and dance music that happened in the 80’s – Grace Jones, Lene Lovich, Adam Ant. But these guys knew all the new divisions of electronic sound and music styles in England and I really liked that my stuff was getting that treatment.”
In their first sessions together she sang on three tracks from his nominally solo album Sculptured (1994). This was followed by the five-track e.p Evening At The Grange (1994) and the albums Green Blue Fire (1996) and Faith In Space (1998). Lida says she was happy with how the releases were received in the States, but it seems elsewhere they were quite outrageously underrated.
They have also aged well. They’re eclectic and sometimes dark-edged records, an ambient-leaning melange of indie pop, rock, folk and electronica. Her elastic songwriting accommodates all kinds of tempos and treatments, from dreamy beatless swirls (“Dead Radio”, “Haunt Me”) to light breakbeats or stoned trip hop loops (“The Bird”) and occasionally straight 4/4 lines (“New Miss NYC”). The malleable quality of her singing is at one with the material, sometimes floating around a dreamy psychedelic swirl, at others as clear and crisp as a mountain lake. I can’t think of a better word than angelic for “Promenade” where the words dissolve into tumbling, multi-tracked vocal harmonies over a feathery bed of synths and keyboard lines.
She describes their sessions together for Evening At The Grange. “The process was very smooth, very easy. I’d lay down the basic tracks with them – guitar, bass, keyboards – then I took the mixes home to where I was staying and wrote the vocals over them. Then when the vocals were done they’d mix everything. I wasn’t there for the mixes. They treated everything and added percussive elements but they stayed pretty much very true to what we had done.”
Lida’s first impression of Beaumont? “Very serious. But as I got to know him I realised that the seriousness was just because he’s a thoughtful and caring person, has a razor-sharp intellect and a really sharp musicality. His work is very much like him. It has integrity. It’s deep and well thought-out. He’s a delightful human being and very funny, too.”
She also has high praise for engineer Richard Brown’s skills. “He has a really deft touch. He contributed a really seminal little note on the song ‘Promenade’, something so simple which just put it into the stratosphere.” Brown later stepped up to the the role of co-composer and player on Green Blue Fire, the album on which they all collaborated as the trio Husikeque when she returned to England for a month in 1996. “I love that album. It got praise in the press from Bjork at the time, who you know Beaumont had worked with. The division of labor just flowed. The two of them had worked together a lot and knew each other’s strengths. I don’t remember any arguments between them about how anything should sound. It was just a lovely experience for me.”
Then came the four-track Lida Husik e.p. Beaumont Hannant Remixes (1997). It features largely instrumental – and often unrecognisable – club and electronica reworkings of material from Fly Stereophonic (1997), an American album on which he was otherwise not involved. There is some stellar work here. His spacey deep house treatment of “The Slide” is a good example of the house production he was doing later in his recording career, cannily bringing some of the futuristic machine sounds of techno to house without losing the dreamy, soulful warmth. You can hear similar examples on two e.p’s he engineered that year for artist Notturno on Yorkshire-based underground house label Melt Records.
Faith In Space from 1998 was their last collaboration, this time with Hannant alone doing production, keyboards and drum programming. “I did that one in Los Angeles and sent the basic tracks on a DAT tape over to him in England to work on,” she says. As with their previous work together, his approach to her songs is sensitive and sympathetic, a deft ambient pop synthesis of her songwriting cast in a sparkling electronica mould, with occasional echoes of William Orbit’s work that year on Madonna’s Ray of Light.
Recently, Lida released her first solo album in 19 years, Motheroceanmorning (2018). It has some lovely folksy and country flavours with lots of warm, loose ensemble playing. “Well I can’t say it’s an ensemble because it was all me plus drums overdubbed by my producer Mike Coykendall. He wasn’t really set up in his studio to do sampling and electronic music, and I really needed to get those songs out. So I just used what was at hand. I never aim for a genre, I just make the tunes with what’s there.”
Collaborations: Peter Coyle, Outcast & Bjork
During this later period of his recording career Beaumont Hannant was working mostly under aliases on his many collaborations and remixes. Perhaps due to this lower personal profile, as well as having burned some bridges with the music industry, some music he cared about was underrated or – in the case his Mongrel Wireless project – couldn’t find label support.
Mongrel Wireless was a duo with singer Peter Coyle, formerly of 80’s UK new wave band The Lotus Eaters. Peter is still active today, now based in France. I contacted him about a sparse, fragile song by the duo that appeared out of nowhere on an obscure various artists comp for Output Records in 2006. Was this a return to recording for Hannant? No, it turns out. The song dates from a decade earlier.
“We started working together about 1995,” he explains. “He was cool and interesting and a lovely man. We recorded a full album of material but it never came out, as there was absolutely no interest in what we had done. I’m used to that, but I think it was particularly hard for Beau.” So there’s an entire Mongrel Wireless album somewhere, perhaps a DAT tape in a box or cupboard or on studio shelf, that’s never been heard.
However, Hannant’s collaboration with his longtime engineer Richard Brown as the duo Outcast did see the light of day, formed in 1995 along with their company Outcast Productions. The duo signed to respected indie label One Little Indian – home to Icelandic songstress Bjork and The Shamen among others – and over the next few years had their hands in all kinds of projects including singles, one full-length album and remix work for others.
Outcast wasn’t about any one style; their three remixes of Bjork’s hit single Hyperballad (1995), for example, couldn’t be more different. The “Subtle Abuse Mix” is a euphoric, hypnotic house number squarely aimed at the dancefloor. The “Over The Edge” version is a hideous slab of white noise and distortion that sounds like Throbbing Gristle. The ambient “Girls Blouse Mix” lays Bjork’s vocal on beatless drones and strings, with some subtle ripples of electric guitar. It’s very simple and very beautiful.
Bjork was one of the few mainstream pop artists at the time who understood and truly embraced the techno and electronic underground. She named Black Dog as her favourite band, loved the music Hannant was making with Lida Husik, and had Black Dog co-founders Ed Handley and Andy Turner in her touring band.
She told i-D Magazine in July ’96: “Why don’t people get into it ? I was born in 1965, and if you were born around that time and listening to all these noises in your life, you get into electronic music because there’s the most freedom there and it’s the most experimental. It’s nourishing, it’s where the risks are being taken, it’s happy, it’s life, it’s fucking living. I just think it’s gorgeous.”
Different again from the Bjork remixes is the lone Outcast album Out Of Tune (1996). It’s a lush, dark-edged, atmospheric trip hop record with a rotating line-up of three different female singers (plus, for some reason, two straight-up hip hop numbers with a guest MC). On closer listen, some songs are quite unlike any other UK trip hop that was around at the time such as Sneaker Pimps, Massive Attack and Portishead. That’s especially true of “After Hours”, the languid closing track on which guest Kristy Yates delivers a sleepy stream-of-consciousness vocal over a bed of gently bubbling bass and sad strings. A flawed but substantial album worth more than a casual listen, it was little appreciated at the time.
Out Of Tune also marked the end of Outcast’s one-album contact with One Little Indian. Following a few more remixes, and an incongruous acid techno track on the compilation Trance Europe Express 5 (1997), the duo was never heard from again.
More IDM & the fall of GPR
Although collaborations, remixes and production work accounted for most of Beaumont Hannant’s output from 1995-98, his still continued releasing his eclectic IDM-style techno under his own name on General Production Recordings, just at a slower rate. The Psi-Onyx (1995) remix e.p. features him and several others including Autechre reworking one of his signature tunes. The two volumes of Notions of Tonality from 1995 and 1996 respectively are four-track e.p’s with some fine, moody pieces of beautiful bleep and robot soul.
Then, in late ’96, the artists signed to GPR suffered a serious setback when the label ceased trading and closed down (though according to UK company records, the company was not formerly dissolved until 2003).
It was actually one of many independent dance and electronica labels in the UK, Europe and America that crashed in the late 90’s – or at least went into long hibernation. There were multiple reasons for the trend. As major labels got on board dance music they flooded the media, distribution and retail channels with the same kind of product, edging out the indies. Then there was the fact that some audiences had moved on, as dance and its various scenes continued to morph and mutate at dizzying speed. Distributors also exploited small labels, taking stock but not paying. Sometimes, it simply came down to being a badly run business and too many all-nighters in clubland, despite the good intentions.
However, GPR’s business practices were, shall we say, unusual. “We don’t have fond memories of our time with GPR,” Black Dog’s Andy Turner told Oli Warwick. “Wayne [Archbold, GPR owner] lost touch with us, as his model was not to pay his artists.”
But the real sting in the tail was artist contracts. DJ and producer Rich Clark, formerly of Melt Records and founder of York’s much-loved house night Freakin, told me: “From what I can remember Beaumont got caught up in a legal matter with the label. He carried on making music, he just didn’t release any.”
I was able to confirm that some of the young artists on GPR now found themselves in legal limbo following the label’s closure due to diabolical clauses in their contracts. Not only could they not take ownership of their existing sound recordings – a common enough situation in the business – but they were also unable to release new music with anyone else, at least under the names they had used with the label. In Hannant’s case, that meant his real name.
Astonishingly, for at least some of them that is still the situation more than 20 years later. While bigger names like Black Dog and Luke Slater’s 7th Plain later broke free from whatever tied them to GPR, others were not so fortunate. Stop for a minute and imagine how that would feel: a zombie record label that still owns your arse. Tim Wright describes his own multi-album deal as “disastrous” and was unable to continue using his Germ alias. “Archbold made life very difficult for everyone,” he says. Although he is still recording and performing today under aliases like Tubejerk and Mir 8, he remains unable to re-release his two Germ albums. “I would love to, but they’re still owned by GPR.”
In my three decades of interviewing artists, labels and writing about music, the GPR situation post-closure is one the most most bizarre I have encountered in the business. There is a whole separate story to be told here but the label’s owner, who has long since left the music business, did not respond to my request for an interview. For Beaumont Hannant, GPR’s refusal to free him after shutting down meant that releasing music under his own name was stopped dead in its tracks. Tantalisingly, there is an unreleased solo album from this period called Tones. Its existence is telegraphed on the sleeve notes of the e.p. Notions of Tonality vol. 2 but it was shelved when GPR folded. It’s unclear if the album was even completed. But we can get a sense of what it might have sounded like because one track from the e.p. was destined for that album and it’s a cracker. “Sprint” marries scraping, complex midtempo beats with dark, ghostly harmonies, showing his knack for blending seemingly disparate elements to create something unique and atmospheric, something greater than the sum of its parts.
As far as I can tell, Lida Husik’s Faith In Space album from 1998 was Beaumont Hannant’s last known credit in composition, production or audio engineering. If you want to call it a career swansong, it’s a beautiful one.
Nobody I spoke to knows for sure why he quit the music business and dropped out of public view so completely. But in light of the new revelations about GPR, the legal barriers left in the wake of the label’s demise were certainly a factor, and probably the main reason. It’s reasonable to conclude that, in the absence of a successful legal challenge to get released from his contract, the impasse effectively ended his recording career.
In his interview with Carl Loben from late ’96, Hannant also seemed to be rethinking his legacy. At first, he said, he was just glad that somebody was listening to his early solo material. Now he was happy with only a handful of those tracks and said some material should never have been released.
Some people just call time on the music industry and move on. A good number of gifted artists from the 90’s dance scene did just that, as the open spirit of rave faded and dance music became big business. Some kept doing music, or pursued creative work in other mediums. Others carved out a different life altogether. Fans too often forget that there are so many other lives to be lived that don’t need an audience.
Lida Husik says they’ve kept in touch sporadically via email over the years. “Last time I heard from him he was helping handicapped people. That’s completely the Beaumont I knew. He was happy and doing great.” Peter Coyle thinks he would never stop doing music. “I haven’t spoken to him for a while, but he was working and married and living happily somewhere in York.”
Clearly protective of his privacy, Beaumont Hannant’s public silence since the late 90’s remains absolute. The question of who legally owns his GPR sound recordings is a mystery, with the label long dead and his works never having been registered for licensing and royalty payments, GPR being notorious for not accounting properly to its artists. But…the sounds he and his collaborators gifted the world in the 90’s survive – in one form or another. All the Lida Husik releases and some of the Outcast material and remixes are still available. The GPR releases can be found 2nd hand on vinyl or CD in record stores and online marketplaces like Discogs. Then there are Youtube streams, and fans sharing rips of out-of-print releases online.
Seek, and ye shall find.
And, of course, there’s the companion mix that I put together for this story.
Words of thanks
I am grateful to the many people who took the time to talk to me or share information while researching this story. It’s always harder when you are unable to interview the story’s main subject, and while 20 years might not seem a long time, in dance music’s complex and fast-moving firmament details are often forgotten. Add to that the fact many of the music journals of record from the 90’s no longer exist and many of those have not been digitised and made public. In particular I would like to thank Lida Husik, Peter Coyle, Carl Loben, Oli Warwick, Tim Wright, Rich Clark and Mick Chillage. Shout outs also to the community at Discogs for meticulous management of the database.
Beaumont Hannant Discography
Discogs has a comprehensive record of Beaumont Hannant’s solo recordings, collaborations, remixes and productions.
Wolf’s Kompaktkiste is an older web 1.0 site but with a comprehensive discography that’s easier to read, as well as lots of high-res scans of the covers and artwork.
Welcome To The New Age Disco: The Untold Story of London Techno, 1989-1997 by Oli Warwick, Red Bull Music Academy, July 2015.
Interview by Carl Loben with Beaumont Hannant, done in late 1996 and taken from the booklet that accompanied the 2-CD compilation Trance Europe Express 5 (1997).
Warp Records’ Artificial Intelligence series 25 years on by Paul Gorman, Into The Gyre, Sept 2017.
Ambient House: The Story of Chill Out Music 1988-1995 by Matt Anniss, Red Bull Music Academy, Feb 2016.
Select Magazine archive 1990-2000, a fansite dedicated to the 90’s music magazine Select.
Muzik Magazine archive 1995-2003, a fairly comprehensive archive of the UK dance music zine founded by two ex-Melody Maker writers in 1995.