Get it while you can

Vanguard Street Art is an exhibition charting the development of street art in Bristol from the 1980s, when American hip-hop culture landed there, up to… well, I don’t know when, as I haven’t actually seen the show. What I have done is listen to the accompanying album, which I heard about via a review in the redoubtable Crack magazine. I was relying on the Bandcamp page I bought it from to provide me with a bit of information about the tracks on the compilation, but the album seems to have been taken down, so I guess it’s available solely from the merch page on the exhibition website now. Anyway, the music seems to stretch from the late 80s to the late 90s. Massive Attack’s debut release, the single ‘Any Love’ is on here, and so is a lot of stuff I haven’t heard of—although ‘Sword Lies Broken’, credited to Hundred Strong, features the underground legend Chester P. Hackenbush and London’s Task Force crew. The record offers a snapshot of soulful 90s indie beat-making, and an awful lot of enjoyable home-town pride. There are some very atmospheric, funky tunes on this release, owing as much to Bristol’s own trip-hop production traditions as they do to the unfiltered American source—which, by the time of the later tracks on here, was moving into new territories of slickness and hyper-bass that feel quite removed from the ruff ’n’ tuff head-nodders collected here. There is also a lot of engaging, boom-bap era rapping to be heard, which makes the listener almost nostalgic for the time and place it comes from, even if, like me, they’ve never spent more than a few hours in Bristol. Listening to all this earnest DIY stuff, dating from a time when DIY was a much harder proposition, I was reminded of the importance of local music scenes, with their networks of personal acquaintance and their very specific regional stylistic features. They are the wellspring that feeds commercial music, but as with the noughties Tyneside hip-hop of crews like Dialect/Killamari Records, most of it evades the exposure it so richly deserves, and will be forgotten by anyone who wasn’t there at the time. That for me makes this record, which seems to have been something of an afterthought for the organisers of the exhibition, an important document, a kind of archival trip, an experience akin to reading a W.G. Sebald novel. And also, even if it’s just because I’m a member of that trip-hop generation, it was just a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. Get it while you can.

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