Anyone who know me or knew me in the 90's, know that I was heavily into the music that was being produced on the UK underground scene.While America was still in its New Jack Swing era into hip hop r&b, I was full scale soul, acid jazz, downtempo, trip hop etc. Groups like Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai, Incognito were the most known as they were able to get their music released worldwide but there was a really strong scene and roster of artist and thanks to tastemakers like Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay etc who ran indie record labels including Talkin'Loud and the Acid Jazz label, many of these acts would get their music out. It was a magazine called Straight No Chaser that played the biggest role in me discovering a lot of the talent coming from the region. Somewhere in the mid 90's, I remember hearing about a genre of electronic music that was growing rapidly popular in the "hoods" of London. It was called jungle or drum and bass. When I took my first listen to this genre, I was NOT feeling it. I didn't hear anything happening musically. Super fast tempo and a bunch of drill noises like that of a mechanic shop. Seemed to be something for young rave kids tripping on acid or sucking nitric oxide from balloons. From there I wouldn't listen to any artist associated with this genre. It just wasn't soulful to me. That was until I heard the music of a production duo who's name was buzzing on the scene.
In late 1997, Gilles Peterson signed the production duo 4hero, comprised of DegoMcFarlane and Marc Mac, to his Talkin' Loud label and released the "Earth Pioneers". WHOA! I was hooked. Then I noticed why I was hooked. String arrangements, live instrumentation that reminded me of jazz fusion artist like Return To Forever or Weather Report. Futuristic yet nostalgic.This was also my introduction to the poetess Ursula Rucker. I couldn't wait to hear more. (Although they had two previous albums released on their own label Reinforced) On July 13th, 1998, their full length debut for Talkin Loud "Two Pages" hit the shelves stateside thru Mercury Records and my life would never be the same. I was so high on this album that I made the names "4hero" or "2Pages" my passwords for all of my accounts LOL. At this time, I was working in music retail and I pushed this album like crack. Selling it to a wide range of customers from the age groups 20-65. To me, this was what I'd been searching for for a longtime. That music that served as a bridge between the past and the present that would take us boldly into the future. The album included features from Ursula Rucker of TheRoots fame, Butterfly of Digable Planets, a host of UK singers, a heavy string section, the awesome double bass of Andy Hamill and serious drumming from Luke Parkhouse. The concept for "Two Pages" was to showcase both sides of their production. The live jazz soul influenced and their hardcore, futuristic electronic. This was done by having a two disc set but by the time the album was released in the states, it was consolidated into one disc with much of the music from the electronic side omitted. Nevertheless, the record eventually won at the MOBO Awards as well as a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize.
In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of this record, I caught up with one half of the duo, Marc Mac, who shed a little light and talks about the label signing, the making of the records amongst other things:
Duane: Prior to signing with Talkin' Loud and the Earth Pioneers EP, which set the tone for the Two Pages album, 4hero was known for electronic music (jungle / drum & bass, techno, hip hop etc). What inspired you to go into the jazz fusion influenced territory? Who were your influences?
Marc: I believe we started producing “Jazz Fusion” without knowing we were doing so. Both myself and Dego have always collected records from a young age so by time we started making music we not only had a good collection of music but also had a fair knowledge about the records in our collections. Unlike a lot of our peers in the electronic scene, when we sampled a breakbeat it was from a records we owned and knew, I would know if it was Harvey Mason, Pretty Purdie or Clyde Stubblefield on drums and we would have knowledge of the producers, arrangers and session players on the albums, I would pay close attention the 1970's recording process. Our favorite producers at that time were the Mizell Brother, Roy Ayers, Charles Stepney, Holland-Dozier-Holland and Leroy Hutson. We also listen to a lot of Hip Hop and I guess at that time Hip Hop was Jazz. Truth is the Two Pages sound started developing during our previous album “Parallel Universe” but we just didn’t have the budget to record the live instruments.
Duane: Talkin' Loud was known at that point for progressive soul and jazz (acid jazz whatever), was this a factor for you when you guys signed?
Marc: NO. We knew and liked the acts on Talkin’ Loud but that had no bearing, Paul Martin and Gilles approached us because they wanted Talkin Loud to move into Drum Bass/Jungle, they had know idea that we would deliver anything like “Two Pages”. The factor that influenced the signing was 2 cool A&R men that wasn’t gonna get on our nerves or tell us how to make music.
Duane: Although Two Pages initially came out as a double disc set in the UK with the 1st disc showing the live jazzy instrumentation and the 2nd disc electronic, it was eventually consolidated to one disc with many of the songs from the electronic side being omitted. Was there any backlash from your electronic fans?
Marc: I think most fans at that time (not many) had bought the 2 disc release, cats that didn’t know much about 4hero bought the single disc. I wasn’t happy about having a single disc, I mean after all the album was called “Two pages” for a reason it’s a bit like the iTunes thing where people buy one track from a concept album... it’s the future but not artistic. I guess some fans wanted to hear something more D&B, hard, Reinforced and we never wanted to loose those fans we just wanted them to evolve with us, disc 2 was about the evolution.
Duane: Word has it that you guys wanted Alice Coltrane on the record.
Marc: Wow how did you find that out? Yes true, I wanted her on “Golden Age”, can’t remember why it didn’t happen. Well did you know we wanted Dilla and Raphael on Creating Patterns? I also wanted Alice on “Conceptions”.
Duane: WOW! I didn't but I can see that. How was it having this record picked up by Mercury Records in the US, your first to be issued in the North America?
Marc: It kind of happened automatic, record company stuff. We actually wanted the record on Verve US but that didn’t work out. I honestly didn't think we had any fans at all in the US, apart from King Britt, Josh Wink, Kevin Saunderson and Mad Mike lol, they were some of the first people to acknowledge us.
Duane: What impact has this album had on you as a person and an artist?
Marc: Well it was the first album that we had the freedom financially to explore our non electronic based music. We were really young when we made that record. Our innocence and free spirit is deeply embedded in that record and every time I go back and listen to that record I want to make more music.
4hero went on to release two more albums and three remix and reworks albums since then. Collectively and individually they are known as the true pioneers on the UK's electronic scene and are seriously in demand for production and remixes having worked with the likes of Jill Scott, the legendary Mizell Brothers, jazz legends Terry Callier and Mark Murphy, The Foreign Exchange, J*Davey and many more. Both also have recorded separately. Marc Mac revisits his hip hop and breaks roots with his Visioneers projects and more. (Visit his bandcamp page). Dego has been hard at work with his 2000Black brand working with producers and musicians including Kaidi Tatham and Daz-I-Kue and has released music under his name as well as many aliases including SilhouetteBrown and. DKD. Check out his website
Let's reminisce with their video debut. The song that introduced me to them as well as Ursula Rucker and if you have never heard the album (side eye) or if you've misplaced your old copy, download it NOW!!!