On this day in 1994, an album was released that encapsulated what was known back then as “the Bristol Sound”. Trip hop was in its infancy and I don’t know if the term had even been coined at that stage – even though the main players all hated it when it was – but it existed and it drew on elements from multiple genres, including hip hop, funk, dub and sprinkle of psychedelia.
When Dummy was released I honestly didn’t know what to think of it. I was 14 and already well into hip hop, so there was plenty of stuff within the record that intrigued me, like the scratching on Mysterons or the beats on Strangers and Glory Box. But for the most part I was unsure. I think it probably took another year or so for me to fully appreciate its importance; then as with most things like that, I got obsessed with it. This was pre-internet so all my knowledge came from the liner notes and Geoff Barrow’s interviews.
I remember finding out that the cover was a still from a short film that had been made, which Beth had starred in and the group had scored, which actually led to them getting their deal. I tried to get a copy for so long, but no one I knew back then had even heard of it, let alone knew where to find it. Dummy also got me interested in production more than any other album before that, as well as the instrumentation itself.
Because of that record I found a love for the cimbalom – admittedly a Schifrin sample but still – and the always eerie theremin. (Sidenote: I later found out it wasn’t a theremin at all, but in fact Utley using a synth to reach a similar effect). It was also when I fell in love with that haunted female vocal style that Beth Gibbons remains the queen of in my eyes/ears.
Because of aspects like that and the overriding sense of melancholy throughout the album, it was often described as being a sad record in reviews, but I never felt that was quite accurate. No matter what labels people attached to it, I think it’s fair to say that it is their lightest record. I don’t know if this is actually the case, but it always seemed to me that as their popularity grew and Dummy found itself being played at more and more middle class dinner parties, Barrows & Utley went darker and darker with the records that came after. I remember hearing the Roseland Ballroom album – which is still one of my favourite live albums – and there is a bit where the fucking audience start clapping along to Roads, which always made me cringe. Anyway Dummy is arguably one of the greatest and most important records of the 90’s, and will forever remain in my top albums of all time. Go and give it a listen if you haven’t for a while cos it really is just as remarkable as it was back then.