EMP Genre Analysis Task: Trip-Hop

Trip-Hop can be said to have formed in the 90s with albums such as Massive Attack: Blue Lines (1991), Portishead: Dummy (1994) and Dj Shadow: In Flux (1993) being key releases in most aspects of defining the genre. Tracks existing prior to this period such as Siouxie and the Banshees: Tattoo exhibit a similar mood to Trip-Hop and there are many well-known artists who display anything from major to subtle Trip-Hop influences and elements such as Beck, Gorillaz, Nine Inch Nails, The Flaming Lips, Bjork, Deaftones, and many more.

For this task I’ve decided to attempt to explain that while Trip-Hop often has a few key components it can be highly experimental and seems to follow a mood or groove, more than a specific set of rules. I will do this by analyzing Massive Attack’s Safe from Harm from the Blue Lines album, and compare it to the title track (Blue Lines).

Safe from Harm falls straight into a looped groove played by the bass and drums, this is probably the most common feature of all Trip-Hop songs (more so the drums than the bass). Over the top of this groove exists both a 80’s Hip-Hop sampled element and R&B/Soul influenced female vocals (Possibly the next most common element shared by Trip-Hop tracks). Ambient pads and scratching also feature on the track, but more on the groove; instead of having a swung bass groove common in Funk or Jazz music it has its own unique groove created by the looped bass line moving much faster than the rest of the piece giving it forward momentum and a perpetual swing into the following loop. This is reinforced by the looped drums which hold the bass line to the rest of the more Hip-Hop/R&B elements of the track.

Compare this to Blue Lines which at first listen you can hear a similar shuffle feel created by the looped and layered drums. There are far more sonic elements to the loop this time and the bassline follows the kick – taking a back foot to the songs Hip-Hop elements, however you’ve got to remember that this is not what Hip-Hop was in the early 90’s rather it was appropriating American Hip-Hop to their own locale and blending it with other elements prevalent in Bristol at the time due to its cultural and socioeconomic make up in the early 90s.

The common theme is the mood conveyed by both songs both somber and sincere, melancholy and relaxed the type of music that would accompany a 5 hour drive down an empty lit freeway where each kilometer is indistinguishable from the last.

However it’s not quite as washy as that, Dj Shadow has been quoted as saying that he rarely has a musical loop in mind when writing and so I’m forced to step back once again and conclude that instead of the previous definition a new more encompassing description must be given.

Trip-Hop is carried forward by a loop, whether it be a drum break, bass line or a combination of both, which gives it a forward moving groove – a great element to appropriate to other music to create similar atmosphere.

Andreson, R.B. (n.d.) Groove in Trip-Hop Music. Retrieved from http://www.hf.uio.no/imv/english/research/projects/rhythm/dok/rbandersen.pdf

Massive Attack – Blue Lines (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.discogs.com/Massive-Attack-Blue-Lines/master/32618

Pemberton, A. (1994) June 1994: Trip Hop. Retrieved from http://www.mixmag.net/words/from-the-archives/classic-features/june-1994—trip-hop

Portishead – Dummy (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.discogs.com/Portishead-Dummy/master/5542


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