Ask most old skool Jungle/D&B enthusiasts to list their top 90s labels, and you can almost guarantee that Moving Shadow will be amongst the top 3. The Stevenage based label has earned its status as an bona fide cornerstone of the scene, and with good reason.
Moving Shadow was the brainchild of Rob Playford, and started life in the humble surroundings of his lounge back in 1990 before growing into one of D&B’s first global exports alongside the likes of Metalheadz and Good Looking records. Most of the early releases from the likes of Kaotic Chemistry, Cosmo & Dibs, and 2 Bad Mice are collaborations between Rob and various other people. During this time he built a reputation as one of the scene’s most accomplished engineers; A skill that would see him involved in some groundbreaking projects including engineering work for Goldie’s seminal ‘Timeless’ album. Even to this day, just how much of the success of Timeless was down to Rob’s input is a matter for much speculation and debate.
Shadow were bringing other innovative and creative producers into the labels roster at an early stage too. Blame emerged onto the scene with ‘Music Takes You’. A tune that caused quite a stir at the time due to an uncleared Seal sample which resulted in the original promos of the track being quickly pulled before being replaced by a Seal-free version for its official release. Hyper On Experience were a Suffolk based due whose tunes were an absolute carnival of synths, samples and drum-machines bordering on the manic. Cloud 9 brought a touch of class and dare I say, a bit of sexiness to the rough and rugged Hardcore sound. Omni Trio already had a rich musical background in post punk and industrial scenes which meant he brought a refreshing approach to his music as opposed to the usual Hip-Hop/Electro points of reference. Foul Play were originally a Northampton based trio with an ability to weave various elements into breakbeat symphonies of pure bliss. Each artist brought something unique to the label, and when in their stride, few others could match the pace.
Just 2-3 years after its inception, Moving Shadow already had around 30 releases under its belt and had confidently established itself as one of the main driving forces behind the future direction of the music. Whether it was first unveiling genre defining basslines like the reverse bass of ‘Dred Bass’ and the Reese of ‘Terrorist’, or the breezey atmospherics JMJ & Richie and Flytronix, or the unbearably tense industrial soundscapes of Dom & Roland and Tech Itch, or scouting the talents of Calyx and Teebee who would go on to pioneer the whole neurofunk sound… Moving Shadow would continue to shape the sound of D&B for the next decade.
Paradoxically however, Shadow’s roster of incredibly talented producers may have been the reason for the labels eventual demise. Some unpleasant internal wrangling resulted in over half the Moving Shadow staff including artists such as Deep Blue and Foul Play leaving in 1998 and setting up the Partisan label. The following years saw Shadow’s remaining big-hitters including Dom & Roland, Tech Itch, Calyx and E-Z Rollerz gradually dwindle away as they either left the music scene completely or left to pursue ventures of their own. Whether the inability to fill the big shoes left behind was down to lack of willing or down to lack of available talent is unclear, but the fire was slowly burning out.
Moving Shadow eventually ceased operation in 2007. But it’s enduring legacy has been indelibly marked on Drum & Bass; something which is symbolised by the instantly recognisable dancing man logo that became a stamp of approval for some of the most forward-thinking breakbeat music throughout the 90s.
I’ve wanted to put a tribute piece together for some time… something similar to the Suburban Base piece a couple of years ago. However, unlike the Suburban Base tribute where I played a track from every single release, I’ve opted this time to just pick some of my favourites from the Shadow catalogue and spread them across 3 mixes according to era/genre.
There were a number of reasons for this: There isn’t a SHADOW 13 for a start (unlucky I guess…). Then there are the rare-as-hen’s-teeth SHADOW 43 and 46 releases of which only a handful of test presses exist. I’m an OCD obsessive label completist, but even I’m yet to be convinced that either of those are worth the effort, or the deep pockets required. Something else I noticed whilst sorting the tunes into order was that the catalogue numbers don’t necessarily follow the order of release either. For example, SHADOW 023 (DJ Trax – Time Will Tell EP) was released in 1993, yet SHADOW 25 (Cosmo & Dibs – Xultation EP) was released in 1992. Another example is SHADOW 82 (Helicopter ’97) was released in 1997, yet SHADOW 099 (Technical Itch – The Dreamer) was released in 1996.
I guess most crucially though… I don’t particularly like every Shadow release. It’s only my own personal opinion of course, but some of the very early ones are just a little too rough around the edges, and some of the late 90’s releases are straying a little too far into pseudo-jazz territory for my taste.
Therefore gradually working my way through the catalogue picking my favourites was the way forward – I’m hoping the tracks I’ve selected will give a fair representation of what Shadow was all about at their height. So, without further ado, here goes with almost 4 hours worth of that fucking Voodoo Magic, man.