So many great record labels seem to be turning 20 lately, from Compost, Catskills and BBE in 2016 and now Freerange: serving both as a constant reminder of how brilliant the mid-nineties were for music and an unnecessary explanation of where all these grey hairs came from. Although brand new, Freerange’s first 12″ of the year harks back to that magical nineties melting pot which bubbled up in the UK thanks to a surprising guest vocal from Stereo MC’s. Many across the pond may not be aware of this unique (and with hindsight, groundbreaking) duo; my reaction and that of all those I’ve mentioned this collaboration to was, “Wow – didn’t know they were still around!” Embracing hip hop, rave, house and alternative sensibilities, Stereo MCs were at the forefront of the genre-blending, yet but easily identifiable UK sound alongside the likes of Massive Attack, Black Grape and The Stone Roses. Their contribution empowered UK hip hop artists start to embrace their Britishness and stop approximating American accents, yet they’ve become somewhat of a footnote in the story of UK music, falling out of favor in the late 90s and never really finding a way back.
I’d be fascinated to know how this collaboration with German producer Adam Port came about, but I’m very glad it did. Simple drum machine patterns and warm bass provide an unfussy backdrop for bleak and beautiful spoken word punctuated with a haunting, melodic vocal hook. The A-side of the vinyl release is taken up by Adam’s own remix of the track, which takes the ‘Changes’ into moody late-night territory, building intensity over almost 9 minutes. Label founder Jimpster takes charge of the second remix, providing a typically arresting and percussive reworking; simply a deep-thinking dance-floor masterpiece. Equally relevant in post-Brexit Britain or Trump’s new America, ‘Changes’ paints a picture of a hollow, hypnotized culture, hard times and struggles, whilst offering up a little glimmer of hope for the future; goodness knows we all need it right now.