In January 1996, Matthew Herbert released three Eps that would stand as a personal manifesto for the future of dance music. Wishmountain’s "Radio" and Doctor Rockit’s "Ready To Rockit" showcased the prolific young Englishman’s odd techno and quirky electro sides. But it was "Part One", the first in a trilogy of house music release, that best pointed to the musical heights Herbert would climb in the coming decade.
Followed by "Part Two" and "Part Three", this trio of EPs was then collected together into Herbert’s debut album, "100 lbs". Now being re-released with additional tracks from the same era, the album puts his subsequent musical growth in context. "I look upon this album as naive and playful," Herbert says. "I’m definitely not embarrassed about it, I’ve just moved on."
He certainly has. In the decade since "100 lbs" Herbert has amassed a hugely impressive and inventive body of high-quality work under his own name as well as numerous alter egos. He has also produced and remixed artists as diverse as Bj√∂rk, REM, John Cale, Roisin Murphy, DIzzee Rascal, Yoko Ono and Serge Gainsbourg. But despite his modesty, these early tracks still sound fresh and full of promise.
"There’s a confidence to the vision which I hope still holds up," Herbert admits. "I had an idea of what house music should sound like in that period and I followed that through, with a combination of very dry acoustic sound and very clear electronic sounds."
In the mid 1990s, dominated by big beat and drum’n’bass, "100 lbs" gave house a cheeky and lively new spin. From nimble metallic sambas like "Rude" and "Deeper", via the booty-shaking basslines of "Thinking of You", Herbert helped make dance music sound warm, witty and intoxicating.
" With techno, breakbeat and the beginnings of jungle, there was a lot of very male, macho, aggressive music," Herbert recalls. " My work was meant to be an alternative to that. I was trying to do something a bit more homely, with more humility to it."
The re-release of "100 lbs" also comes with a bonus disc of B-sides, rarities and unreleased tracks, most of them more club-friendly than the main album. The supercharged acid squelches of "No More Borders", for example, resulted from Herbert’s only ever experiment with a Roland 303. All these tracks were composed between 1995 and 2000, when "100 lbs" helped launch Herbert’s international DJ career. "I found myself playing at German nightclubs at three o’clock in the morning, trying to find a way to make this music fit in," he recalls.
Ten years, multiple musical identities and dozens of releases later, "100 lbs" still sounds like a milestone in mid 1990s dance music. Herbert may have travelled many miles since these early works, but their youthful charms have not faded. So turn the record over and let’s disco.