If 808 State were The Beatles of the early 90s techno explosion then Shades of Rhythm were surely the Rolling Stones.
Or maybe it's the other way around - 808, like Jagger and Richards have soldiered on for decades, whereas Shades lasted for just a short, explosive and highly influential time.
Their story starts in Peterborough 1988 with Lanx, Nick Slater and Rayan Gee meeting for secret jam sessions in a TV repair shop. When Rayan got a DJ residency at local club The Attic the trio began performing live, even before they'd chosen a name for themselves.
"In those days, we had aspirations of being as important to dance music as The Rolling Stones were to rock," remembers Rayan. "At the time there wasn't an established dance act in the UK, it was simply a question of charging into the charts (if you were lucky), and then adding your name to a long list of one-hit wonders. We wanted more for Shades Or Rhythm, we wanted to be respected both on stage and on vinyl…"
S/O/R's first release - the Just Feel It 12", which they'd recorded at Soundspot Studios in Bedfordshire - appeared on Stevie V.'s Beat Box Records. But they released its follow-up themselves - the massively influential Frequency which contained raw versions of bleep-electro-classics like Homicide and Exorcist. "We had no idea what people would think to our music," they later said, "we just loaded (my car) up with 1000 records and hit two towns, London and Manchester. First stop was Mash in Oxford Street. The guy behind the counter took one listen, looked up and said 'leave me 100 and save me another 100'…
ZTT signed Shades of Rhythm on the strength of Frequency, and began issuing a stream of classic dance singles from the band that completely side-stepped rave's cheesy, sample-driven novelty singles in favour of a unique disco/electro/techno collision. First up, Homicide/Exorcist (ZANG 13) in January 1991. Then in April Sweet Sensation (ZANG 18) and that August the #35 hit The Sound of Eden and Armageddon (ZANG 22).
By the end of that year S/O/R were at number 14 in the UK singles chart with the Extacy EP (ZANG 24), their debut album, Shades (ZTT 11, later reissued as The Album) had sold over 50,000 copies and they'd remixed the era-defining Set You Free by N-Trance. All these records were supported by live appearances at legendary 90s raves, like Technodrome and Fantazia which audiences often topping 10,000.
The band's next two singles went underground. Fear of the Future - a mesmerising dark acid set - was postponed and turned into the b-side of their next single Happy Feelings (ZANG 32). By far the most uplifting dance track ever recorded for ZTT, tragically, all copies had to be melted down on the day of release when an uncleared Ultra Magnetic MCs sample was discovered deep in the mix.
With Happy Feelings now buried in the vaults, Shades of Rhythm refreshed and restarted SOR Recordings as an imprint of ZTT. They pushed the rave feeling further into new territory with Sweet Revival (ZANG 40) and the soulful His Mix/Her Mix face-off of Getting Away (ZANG 41). Their time with the label was rounded off with a #35 chart placing for a remix pack of Sweet Sensation and The Sound of Eden, which featured X-Press 2, Chris Coco, Joey Negro and Ritchie Hawtin.
Shades also regularly appeared on some of the major dance compilations of the day, like Deep Heat, Total Science, Cream Live, Hard Fax, Essential Hardcore and ZTT's own Zance. And their two final ZTT releases only ever leaked out on DJ-only promo 12"s - both of which are now considered the rare groove of the era. The Techno EP (SAM 1221) that contains the band's swansong, Eternal Sun, and the totally mashed-up The Jungle EP.
S/O/R went on to record for a smattering of other labels, before moving into a new stage when Nick and Lanx splintered off to form the highly successful DrumAttic Twins. The pair now DJ and remix the world over and have a monthly residency at Herbal in Shoreditch, London.
Shades Of Rhythm
Shades Of Rhythm
Shades Of Rhythm