Balkans contemporary culture guide

Illbient & Beyond

Our goal behind our platform is to share, collaborate and craft the future of art and culture, but in order to explore the hidden paths that are yet to be discovered ahead of us we need to take roads and connections deeply behind, in the history of music itself, in the genres and albums that for many are only something that exists for no reason and meaning, other than being simply called “old music” that has outdated production and ways of thinking… But I strongly disagree, it’s in those hidden gems that the future started shaping and rediscovering them will be a blessing for those who appreciate the mixes and influences that are to be heard here.

As Likvidator my upcoming release is more influenced on the techno side, but I will always be an illbient artist first. And that is very hard to explain to people, the very meaning of illbient itself, because it holds a broader understanding and it always lurked in the underground – making it a thing that when mentioned, people get all kind of ideas but never had a strong standing on it.

Illbient is not a genre on its own, it is more of a term explaining the influences and themes behind the production and mindset of the creator itself and that can be characterized when overviewing it technically by hearing the sampling techniques from hip-hop and blending them with wide ambient soundscapes, followed by dissonant and off-kilter effects that come from the dub culture. There are really no rules in illbient, if it is – it will sound like it. Many artists create illbient music, and they don’t even know that it can be classified with this term.

The connections very much expanded from when the term originated (the combination of the hip-hop slang ill for meaning bad as in good, and ambient mixed with it), with artists from all kinds of backgrounds joining and creating music with this kind of style. Darkness doesn’t have to be a part of it, but naturally in most cases it is.

1. The Bug – Seduction and Betrayal

Tapping The Conversation
WordSound 1997

Tapping the Conversation as an album was my first introduction to The Bug and the meaning of illbient. For me this is one of the hardest hitting instrumental hip-hop albums of all ages, it’s so tense that you really can’t play it to anyone – it totally shines at home with good sound when given the appropriate attention to it.

Of course, with knowing this gem comes great responsibility, it’s an album that you play when you feel a specific way, but you’ll find soon that it’s the case with most of the illbient style.

The album itself is influenced by Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Conversation (1974), and its not that you must watch the film to experience The Bug’s auditory vision of it, but if you have or plan to watch it – you’ll understand that this is the perfect soundtrack for it. The tension behind the track Seduction & Betrayal for me was a great way to start this mixtape to introduce everyone and give a taste of what’s coming next.

2. DJ Spooky – Nihilismus Dub

Songs Of A Dead Dreamer
Asphodel 1996

DJ Spooky is considered as one of the founders of the illbient style. The album itself gives you a wide psychedelic influenced world that I believe set the standards for the dissonant and off-kilter part for this style. Nihilismus Dub is a wide and spacious soundscape followed by a repeating saxophone with various stereo travelling and a breakbeat hidden somewhere in the background behind the bassline. In other words, this is an amazing and trippy song, only hidden behind an album that is one of the greatest illbient releases of all times.

3. Scorn – Weakener

Logghi Barogghi
Earache 1996

Weakener is a track that hits you in the face with its direct and brutal breaks. Founded by Napalm Death members Mick Harris and Nic Bullen, it was Harris that further developed the sound and name of Scorn. With the Logghi Barogghi album, released for the infamous british hardcore music label Earache. Even though the inner story of the band is a bit controversial, this album stands strong in the dark hip-hop segment of this style even today. It’s repetitive rhythms with a very prefined distortion gives it a third place in this mixtape.

4. Qaballah Steppers ‎– Trust in Dub

Dub In Fusion
WordSound 1995

Qaballah Steppers with a specific track that always stayed in my mind. Heavy dub with muslim influenced samples themed about trust. Being vulnerable, trusting yourself, something about fear as well? A nice and honest one from one of illbients heavy oriental dubbers.

5. Scotty Hard – Smoke Damage

Crooklyn Dub Outernational Vol. 4
WordSound 2004

When researching illbient is it inevitable to come across WordSound’s Crooklyn Dub compilations. In the fourth volume, this track starts with this funky vibe that reminds me of Lalo Schifrin’s soundtrack for Dirty Harry. Not sonically, but it just sends me to the same world. A hip-hop influenced instrumental with spacious effects happening all around while the bass and breaks are constant and going strong.

6. Teargass & Plateglass – L’hôpital de Martyrs

Black Triage
Waxploitation 2007

I remember hearing this one for the first time. The breaks entering are so hardcore that I’d imagine if you put anything in front of them – they would destroy without a problem or skipping a beat. The aggressive breakbeat with this uncontrollable acidic synth is something that gives me the chills, and it succeeds to do that deeply into my stomach. A crazy one, intense and just proper illbient.

7. Spectre – Mayday / Nightstalker

The Illness
WordSound 1995

From one of the godfathers of illbient and head of the infamous WordSound illbient label, this is the first track from his first LP “The Illness”. This one for me is this strong and phat bass, with an military-style break that destroys the enemies in front. Also very heavy on the rhythm, it totally deserves the place here as one of the best hip-hop variations of the illbient style I’ve heard.

8. The Curse Of The Golden Vampire
– Anti-Matter

The Curse Of The Golden Vampire
Digital Hardcore Recordings (DHR) 1998

The Curse is basically Techno Animal (The Bug & JK Flesh) including Alec Empire. The gritty distortions that are key of most Techno Animal’s records are hearable here with few more stylistic signatures of Alec as well. Anti-Matter on the other hand is a track that enters with a loop that lures you into this dark world of breaks, audio effects and just hysteria that follows further. Basslines, massiveness, grittiness. Must-hear.

9. Likvidator – Intro/Grozomor

Likvidator (EP) 2016

The intro from my very own debut EP released back in 2016, heavily influenced industrial basis and unapologetic sounds that bash into your ears, followed by a sweet, yet kind of nostalgic pads in the background, a very emotional, angry – yet calm peace that with it’s machinery-like breaks evolves into this death of the machine.

10. JK Flesh – Nothing Is Free

Nothing Is Free
Downwards 2016

JK’s entry with Nothing Is Free is anything but apologetic, a short introduction only shares a glimpse of what comes next – and what comes next is something that most banger tracks made for that (banging) purpose can’t achieve. The same distinct prefined distortion found in the The Curse Of The Golden Vampire and most of the albums with Techno Animal is present all-around with dark scapes in the background that give this track a total killer vibe – in a good sense.

11. Badawi – Suspicions Dub

Bedouin Sound Clash
Reachout International Records 1996

On the half of the mixtape we bring Badawi into the picture. A producer with distinctive oriental style with amazing percussions, this illbient track in particular grooves for 4 and a half minutes into this eastern world of his making. Light vocals that are barely hearable appear throughout the playtime, making Suspicions Dub a mark in the more calm and hypnotizing side of illbient.

12. Shackleton – The Rope Tightens
(Badawi Remix)

Soundboy’s Gravestone Gets Desecrated by Vandals
Skull Disco 2008

Badawi’s remix of The Rope Tightens is an very interesting realization, and a connection I couldn’t believe when I found it out. The depths of Shackleton can rarely be touched with a remix, but Badawi succeeds to flow and create his own world with a 12 minute hypnotizing remake of a legendary deep dubstep song. Around half the playtime, if already felt properly, you will feel the magical skills of the arrangement and entries of new scapes that just add to this world and make it even more realistic and haunting than before. The same intelligent patience in arrangement behind Shackleton’s original tune is followed in Badawi’s remix, it may even have a more interesting and calm approach than the original itself, while retaining the same space and idea behind the track. Proper tune.

13. Muslimgauze – Mullah Said

Mullah Said
Staalplaat 1998

Muslimgauze has a very broad discography, but I believe the infamous Mullah Said is a proper introduction to the illbient thematics because of the very wide ambient sounds in the background alongside the beautiful percussions he achieves to gives us on top of everything. The song progresses very calmly and it’s surely more on the ambient side with local eastern vocals and sound effects appearing briefly as it comes to an end after twelve minutes of deep travelling in the East.

14. Muslimgauze – Under the Burka

Tandoori Dog
Staalplaat 1998

Tandoori Dog is a different story than Mullah Said, and I believe both albums should be included into a proper illbient introduction. This one has a strong rhythm point with the famous Muslimgauze eastern percussions flowing calmly throughout the track, with slight distorted bass and calming oriental melodies following. Reaching the end, Muslimgauze shows a glimpse of his more distorted side with a very confident bass distortion that helps end this beautiful and unique track.

15. Raime – If Anywhere Was Here He Would Know Where We Are

If Anywhere Was Here He Would Know Where We Are
Blackest Ever Black 2010

Raime along with Shackleton are my heroes in the deep dub segment. But it can not be ignored that in his early releases the illbient style presence is huge, and in this track in particular it’s very evident that the intelligence of calm progression has a strong connection with many aspects of the style. The dark vibe he creates and carries throughout, again followed by Eastern oriental percussions, is something every listener should allow to hypnotize them fully.

16. DJ Vadim – Call Me

U.S.S.R. Repertoire (The Theory Of Verticality)
Ninja Tune 1996

Getting back to something in the realms of normality, in the sense of a strong and direct hip-hop break followed with an ambience that is not dark at all, but sweet and mellow with some Vadim scratches and chims from time to time. The very basic hip-hop essence with a sense of illbient style on top, this one is in the mixtape specially for the listener to take a few breaths and calm down a bit.

17. Christoph De Babalon – Opium

If You’re Into It, I’m Out Of It
Digital Hardcore Recordings 1997

I’ve chosen the first of this spectacular dark album that shaped my understanding of what is darkness. Christoph de Babalon gives us a very haunting scape that I can put on hands with Lustmord’s Stalker, making the samples that travel through the sound image he created something eerie and unforgettable – something he achieves throughout the whole album, although the breaks and crazy sample cuts take over in most of the other tracks. A breakcore dark-ambient masterpiece.

18. Biosphere – Cloudwalker II

Origo Sound 1991

Haunting and peaceful. Melody of something unsure yet reaching its point without anything able to stop it. This is Cloudwalker II, a very melodic and important track to define the other side of ambient illbient.

19. DREAD – Pyro (Version)

In Dub
Ant-Zen 2017

DREAD is the alter-ego of Lustmord, premiering with the In Dub album in 2017. Lustmord and dub have been connected since a while back, and this dark ambient magician gives us a very wide and psychedelic, calm and deep experience with the track and whole album in general.

20. Techno Animal – Needle Park

Virgin 1995

Techno Animal is the result of producers The Bug and JK Flesh mashing their styles together in this beautiful, distorted and haunting result. Needle Park is a track featuring legend Jon Hassell on trumpet and Dave Cochrane on bass guitar, where they transform the emotions of something that the title of the track itself can give you a note for, into music surrounded by a world of darkness.

Andrijan Apostoloski

Founder of frekvencii and self-proclaimed professional non-professional gonzo journalist of techno. Imagine that.