Plug, Back On Time
Showing off drum 'n' bass's long-lost cheekiness and sense of freedom
From breaks to grime to glitch, there’s always a moment when every dance genre gets back to the primal intoxication of old-school jungle. Dubstep has initiated a new generation into the joys of the chopped beat, making this a good time for drum ‘n’ bass dabbler Luke Vibert to rediscover a cache of old DATs full of songs he recorded between 1995 and 1998 under his jungle guise, Plug.
Fiendishly prolific across multiple electronic genres, Vibert released the Plug album Drum ‘n’ Bass For Papa in 1996. It proved to be the bridge between jungle’s raucous jump-up strain and more abstract varieties typified by Squarepusher or Aphex Twin, which sometimes seemed custom-made to wind up fans. Plug’s music always had a lighter touch, though, and these newly-collected offcuts have all the zest of the ’96 album plus a freshness accrued over all the years when we’ve not heard d ‘n’ b sounding this playful.
There’s plenty of granular beat-work — Vibert can slice and dice a break with uncommon dexterity — but Back On Time‘s key element is the long-lost cheekiness and sense of freedom that animated jungle before the fun police arrived circa 1997 to declare drum ‘n’ bass a serious affair. The samples from an LSD documentary that close the track “Come On My Skeleton” are schoolboy-funny (“You may become aware of your anus and genitalia”) but it’s the track itself — glissando bells, heads-down analogue grind, distant wailing diva and an “Amen”-inspired rhythm of pure delight — that really captures the anything-goes excitement of the jungle-meets-electro moment.
Inevitably some of it has dated: The Speak and Spell machines saying “I love acid house” on “Mind Bending” just sound quaint now. But the scope and energy of this record will win over anyone who remembers that jungle’s prime purpose is to move the body, not the theoretical muscles. Like the previous Plug album, it features a picture of Vibert’s dad in a Chinese conjurer’s outfit on the cover. Frank Vibert, it turns out, was an amateur magician His son’s not bad, either.