Profile description of 90's mix tapes by Neil Robbins:
These mixtapes were made in the 1990's by Neil Robbins, an artist and DJ from Wigan, UK. I have looked after the tapes through the years and have been meaning to share them when I had the means to. Neil and I met through a mutual friend when I was 14 and he was about 24. He was just out of art school (Leeds) and living in a flat in central Manchester. I was at a boarding school called Oundle (the one where Throbbing Gristle got heckled by prefects singing Jerusalem... way before my time, but Jacob's Mouse visited and played in the Great Hall when I was there). Neil had designed and made all the furniture in his flat, the place was filled with interesting colour, texture, pattern, light, painting, drawing, a hammock, super 8, films and a projector, technics, a mixer with quite a good reverb and echo unit built in and more records than I'd ever seen before. I'd never seen or heard anything like it, but I instantly loved the place and Neil became a close friend and something of a guide to me. We were of very different ages and backgrounds, he being from working class Wigan and me from middle class schools and Gotham, a village in South Nottingham, but we shared a love of experimental music and art, and I was instinctively drawn to the kind of creative life he was living. I was into Sonic Youth and Big Black at the time we met, but I was raised on Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac... so I had a good grounding in music and I was getting into electronic music. Neil would usually paint or draw by night, but sometimes he'd get up early enough to go record shopping, then come back to the flat, make a really good coffee and a smoke, then if I was around I'd lie in the hammock and he'd mix all the records he'd just bought, whilst also listening to them for the first time. It was amazing to hear futurisitc electronic music on a great soundsystem in the environment he had created - on hearing Reflective records out of San Fransisco when it was new with the hologram label and album sleeve art, detroit techno, kraftwerk, chicago house, electro, wu tang, the emergence of drum and bass and all the experimental break beat and hip hop coming out of Mo Wax and then later the illbient scene in New York. Neil was into avant garde music. A mix of his might include Urban Tribe and Jacob's Optical Stariway mixed with Holst's Panets, and an interview about painting by Lucien Freud, or the regrets of an astronaut on a trip to the moon with a carl craig masterpiece in the background lending an aura of futurism and tension... Neil would make mix tapes to listen to whilst he was painting and drawing. His musical taste is eclectic so I discovered everything from juan atkins, gorecki, carl craig, photek, drexciya, transillusion, bonnie prince billy, tom waits, captain beefheart, arthur russell , vini reilly, arto lindsay, talk talk, ibrahim ferrer, dj spooky, reagenz, sonar circle, source direct, can, cocteau twins, joy division, all sorts of jazz and world music, modern classics and all the most futurisitc electronic music being made in the creatively exciting lead up to 2000, when sampling technology became kind of affordable. I learned the history of Factory records and the Hacienda from Neil who had been there in its heyday, before all the drug violence kicked in. If it came through Manchester then Neil listened, but he was also a resolute outsider. He seemed to be in some kind of psychic communion with detroit techno and had a correspondence with juan atkins or jeff mills at some point i think. He made music and art, cooked chilli, made films on super 8 cycling around abandoned estates in Manchester, filming the graffiti, or flying through the city at night. He was always drawing and painting, and working on a mix tape that was developed for a while before being layed down straight to tape live. He lived by night mostly, only venturing out by day to buy records or to sign on or do whatever other essential thing. He made some tapes as neil 'kid' robbins, that's the earliest one I have, then atx (alien text), then ennui, and now he dj's as vendel - doing mixes on NTS and djing live at White Hotel, Salford. I curated an event at Nottingham Contemporary art gallery with Vendel, Dj Stingray (Sherard Ingram) and DJ K-1 (Keith Tucker) djing a few years ago, after I went to Grand Rapids & Detroit to make performances at Dis Art Festival, a big group disability art exhibition. Whilst in Detroit I walked everywehre and got the occasional uber. We went to the old opera house which is now a car park, then stumbled on Cliff Bells - the best cocktail bar in the universe. We went downtown and visited the Motown Museum on foot from our air b & b place on Linwood St. That was incredible, then we walked up Grand Boulevard in the spring heat, steam rising from the streets, to Submerge where I had a very generous tour of the museum by John E Collins, then met a few of the UR crew, the record shop cat. Neil played too. A touchstone would be to say that he has endless respect for the craft and sublime other -worldliness of Jeff Mills. As atx in the mid-90's he made a particularly extraordinary run of mixtapes that were carefully planned and rehearsed before being performed live to tape. Each tape was a journey across 90 minutes, moving through different genres and inventing something new along the way. The mixes are so good that I often had no idea how many records were playing at once or where one track ended and another began, unless he was deliberately cutting beats around. Each atx tape includes overdubbed elements from films and interviews - Lucien Freud whispering about painting, Stanley Kubrick waxing philosophical etc, all with some of the most cutting edge techno and other electronic music playing. Rave had been around for a while, but Drum and Bass was a totally new offshoot and technological development then - I remember the first track I really loved was an Aquasky remix of 'Who Are You' by Larceny. That developed into a full-on obsession on my part. I collected stuff by 4 hero and all their aliases - mostly Jacobs Optical Stariway and Tek 9, anything on Reinforced records (Sonar Circle, Alpha Omega, Leon Mar etc), Metalheadz, Mo Wax, Certificate 18, anything by Source Direct, J Majik and Photek, Tech itch, V Recordings, Splash, Hardwax, anything on Juice by Guy Called Gerald, mostly from Selcatdisc (RIP) in Nottingham. I was too young to go clubbing, but I bought myself a pair of knackered old soundlabs to learn to play records for myself. Neil mixed tapes for me and I took the opportunity to visit Manchester whenever I could to listen to him DJ live, mostly as an audience of one (plus cats). I later went to Manchester University to study Philosophy but I didn't last a year. I hung around with Neil a lot and did a course in music production at Manchester Midi School. I then changed direction to studt=y art, winding up at Oxford. I worked at the metal pressings factory in Draycott where my dad wroked to raise money to buy a Yamaha A3000 sampler, a Roland Juno 6, a Korg synth and an Atari runnig cubase, and other equipment. I have inculded some of the music I made around then too. So, enjoy!
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