Stowaway Heroes – Shep Pettibone

One of the most important names of the 1980s is Shep Pettibone. You’ll know him from multiple remixes and production credits, but there’s a good chance that you don’t actually know anything about him. Me neither, frankly, so let’s start with something we can all agree on – the brilliance of his 1986 remix of Love Comes Quickly, by Pet Shop Boys:

The New York-based DJ would work with Pet Shop Boys a number of times between 1986 and 1988, working on ten tracks in total. But by 1986, Pettibone was already half a decade into his career, having cut his teeth on Afrika Bambaataa‘s Jazzy Sensation in 1981:

His CV for the late 1980s is impressive to say the least, including remixes and production work for Art of NoiseThe B-52sBee GeesBrosDavid BowieDepeche ModeDuran DuranDusty SpringfieldElton JohnErasure, FalcoGeorge MichaelJanet JacksonNew OrderRun DMCWhitney Houston and many others. But his most prolific collaborator seems to have been Madonna, who used his services no less than sixteen times between 1985 and 1993. Here’s Into the Groove:

His mixes were undeniably of their time, with huge drum fills and solos, and a lot of orchestral hits – so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that his remix work dried up somewhat in the 1980s. But if you’re looking for someone who heavily impacted the sound of a particular era, Shep Pettibone should be very high on your list.

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Leftfield – Rhythm and Stealth

Somehow, it was a very long four years between Leftfield‘s groundbreaking debut Leftism (1995) and the follow-up Rhythm and Stealth, released fifteen years ago this week. Given how active they have been since, this might seem surprising, but their style is so unusual, so unique, that every year counts.

Rhythm and Stealth opens with an entertaining quote about how it isn’t freestyle, because style isn’t free (it’s expensive) and then launches into the brilliant Dusted, with Roots Manuva. This second album contains many more collaborations than the first, and that largely serves it well.

This is an album which spawned relatively few singles, but somehow nearly every track seems like one. Phat Planet, for example, was not a single, but must have been everywhere on advertising or television, because it’s immediately familiar. Or perhaps it’s just incredibly good – the enormous driving bass is pretty unforgettable.

In terms of sound, this second album is noticeably harsher and darker than its predecessor, but there are shared elements too, as Chant of a Poor Man illustrates before the vocal comes in. And all the way through, there’s somehow this enormity to the sound, which truly sounds amazing.

It does have its weaker moments though – after those first few tracks, Double Flash feels a little bit empty, and El Cid, while better, is still not as aurally fascinating as some of its neighbours. It’s left to lead single Africa Shox to lift things back from the level of “good” to “amazing”, with the quite astonishing vocal performance from Africa Bambaataa.

From hereon in, it’s largely plain sailing. Dub Gussett is less explosive, but still strong, and almost reminiscent of some of the tracks from the first album. This mixes into the final single Swords, which is also underplayed, but hides an exceptional song, and also an extremely good video, although that isn’t included here.

6/8 War is fun too – this is a relatively rare time signature in dance music, and makes for a really unusual sounding track too, but one that works really well. And finally, Rino’s Prayer is yet again absolutely enormous, despite also being one of the quietest pieces on the album. It’s a great closing track for a quite exceptional release.

Not counting the odd compilation or live album, Rhythm and Stealth was the second of two Leftfield albums, and while I would definitely have welcomed a third a few years down the line, it just feels too late now. It would be futile to even consider which is better out of this and Leftism, but they had an enormous impact on the dance music scene throughout the 1990s, and then went onto other projects. But both are absolutely essential purchases for anybody who claims to like anything electronic.

You can still find Rhythm and Stealth from all over the place. Harder to track down but worth the effort is the double CD including Stealth Remixes.