Anyone who visited the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at the Tate Modern during the first half of this year will know that this music sounds truly great. Partly because the acclaimed German artist chose it to play on a loop in a conceptualised “listening space”, where the sound quality was so fine you wanted to live there, and partly because Colourbox were always as visionary as they were eclectic.
Their wilful mash-ups of soul, dub, electronica and hip-hop seemed all the stranger emanating from the then mostly “ethereal” label 4AD, and their freak international No.1 hit single Pump Up The Volume – a collaboration with AR Kane under the name MARRS – led to litigation regarding samples on top of disillusionment with the pressures of success. Yet in five years, brothers Martyn and Steven Young (together with Ian Robbins and vocalists Lorita Grahame and Debian Curry) had left a groundbreaking, gratifying legacy. Steven and Ian sadly passed away in recent years, so this compilation – released as a double album with gatefold sleeve featuring a new Tillmans photograph – arrives as a tribute to them, as well as a bona fide art artefact. As Tillmans says, they were “pioneers of experimental pop”, and “at the forefront of sampling, which in its digital form would become ubiquitous in the course of the 1980s”. For all their fascination with studio technique, these tracks flow with a light-footed ease, their catholic influences ranging freely over spacious, rock-steady grooves. Being an authentic fanboy, Tillmans has elected to omit one or two better-known numbers, like Tarantula (made famous by This Mortal Coil) and even their would-be World Cup Theme. However, their blend of high jinks and intensity glows on the likes of Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse, Just Give ’Em Whiskey and the 10-minute tease of Nation. The sampled voices get busy, but on The Moon Is Blue we’re reminded that Grahame’s singing was their main vocal weapon. The roots of modernism.