Clocking in as one of 2000's finest electronic albums, Photek's Solaris met with as much suprise as it did critical acclaim. Rupert Parkes takes stock of his junglistic success and tells Paul Gannaway why the future’s brighter than ever

By Paul Gannaway

We live in musically complacent times, for sure. The nineties threw up a barrage of innovative musical developments and styles and the result is a new era of 'cooking pot' music – artists aspire to blend a hint of house, a drop of jungle, a rasher of rock – all in one tune. When the musical historians look back on the late nineties and early noughties, they will probably regard it as a necessary evil, the end of tribalism in favour of immature multi-culturalism. As people find their way to new pastures guided by technology and the wealth of inspiration the current open-minded attitude inspires, it seems we are lacking in distinctly 'classic' music and that leaves us with a significant problem; where are the legendary musicians? The benchmarks for us to look back at and compare to, what will be, modern sounds. Tunes we'll hear on the radio and be able to tell our kids, "I remember buying that the day it came out" the way our folks can with Led Zeppelin, Captain Beefheart, John Coltrane, and such. Artists who may not always receive mass popular recognition in their era but who, with time, grow increasingly vital to the future of music... But of course, there are such artists today – and I have one of them on the end of the phone right now. Forgive me if I sound nervous, but I'm talking to Photek...

As it turns out Rupert Parkes is genial, informative and more than willing to speak his mind until I decide he's probably had enough. Given that this is the man who has recently released one of the classic albums of our time, Solaris, and was largely responsible for keeping jungle the most innovative musical form during its infancy, I’m excited by the chance to get opinions from a leader on what went wrong now that modern jungle is basically, as we both joke, ‘the new gabba’. It's like grilling Karl Marx over what went wrong with Communism:

"It's got less and less sincere over time. The best year was '96 – jungle was at the cutting edge of music. I think it just got to a point where you just had people banging out tracks to get a bit of cash and thinking short term y'know; 'we'll put out fifty tunes this year that just go "Neoow Neoow" [does impression of bad analogue b-line]. They thought they were cashing in but they just lost everybody's interest."

So is there a point in time when things did start to get dull for the increasingly dark jungle scene? When I put forward the idea that the emergence of the No-U-Turn crew as the innovators of the scene in '96 both created the most exciting period of jungle's development and also sounded the death-bell as well, Rupert doesn't hold back with his criticism of DJs for sticking to a sound that gets an unavoidable, if mindless, dance-floor reaction. "I think that the DJ and dubplate culture is the biggest thing to blame for the dip in quality control. DJs are only playing records that get an obvious response. So you may play a deep house set that people will sway and bob around to and it will change their lives – or you may hear an absolute full-on attack of warped noises that'll make people scream and bang their heads against the wall and then they'll never look back on it. Basically they wanted a release at that point and this is music that will have no effect further than that. If you're a DJ it looks like they loved it because they're going mad, but that doesn't mean the people are buying the music. They'd rather spend their money on good drugs and clothes and then just go wild".

Perhaps there is something ironic about criticising modern jungle for having nothing more than an immediate hedonistic appeal. After all, this is the music form that carried on the flame of good-time integration that rave inspired. But during the mid-nineties there was more experimentation in DJ sets, and that was part of the fun. DJs had to drop all manner of styles; from jazz to ragga to house to sci-fi – because, as with garage today, people from all different cultures were going out to hear what the different possibilities within the genre were. So is the innovator going to return to the style that made his name? "I've got a few jungle tunes that I'm going to be releasing on my label and that's keeping my foot in the door, because that's where I'm coming from and I want to keep contributing. But with the stuff I'm working on now, it's like anything's possible. I really feel like with Solaris I broke the invisible barrier that keeps a lot of artists constrained to one thing. I feel totally rejuvenated and full of enthusiasm to make more music."

Solaris is certainly a major achievement for an artist who admits that he had got to a point where his music had become too much like a science. Was the seminal U..F.O. a turning point? There was a lot of fuss made about the fact Rupert apparently took six months over the production. "I think that was when I was totally happy with how I was doing beats and I think that if I had carried on down that path I could've just been doing lab tests and mathematical theories instead of music. I don't want to labour away, I want to go back to the spirit of when I'd just worked out how my sampler worked. I want to have fun making music instead of it being a task. With Solaris if something sounded laboured on, I'd just scrap it immediately."

Still, Solaris is totally Photek. It's almost as if he's reverse-engineered the music from his previous style. The Photek atmosphere, a fusion of funk and melody that permeates the imagination like a great novel, shines like the tropical artwork that adorns the album's sleeve. It's not a million miles away from earlier releases like The Water Margin or T.Raenon: "I think that's right. A lot of people reacted like, 'Woah!', which was understandable but I don't think it's got that much of a different atmosphere to my other stuff. If you know me, it's obvious it's me. It's got my signature all over it but in an unfamiliar form."

There's no doubt that Rupert Parkes will be a crucial musician until the day the world runs out of electricity. Solaris has proved that he can branch out into any style with the same conviction and spirit that made him the most important figure in jungle. If you haven't got Solaris yet, you're missing out on an album that has set a new, almost impossibly high standard for others to try and better. And if you think there may be a chance that this is the best he can do, it's not a belief Parkes shares: "I've yet to make 90 percent of the best music I'll ever make. I've only just begun."
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