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In the early nineties, rave music was reaching it's pinnacle in popularity, and whilst many DJ's and rave acts have become more well known over the years by progressing their styles and adapting with trends (Fatboy Slim AKA Norman Cook for an example), some acts were firmly stuck in that era of youth music. I believe one such band was these guys, Altern8. I have made references in the past on previous reviews to an album I searched high and long for for over 5 years, finally acquiring it in 1997. This is that album, the one and only LP released buy the band in1992. Here are my retrospective thoughts on this unsung rave classic, Full On Mask Hysteria.
Hailing from Stafford, the young duo of Mark Archer and Chris Peat started a project they called Nexus 21 halfway through the rave era, which later evolved into a full time rave act with the moniker Altern8. They took influences from many other rave and electronica music artists of the time, in particular from the north american scene and German 80's techno wonders Kraftwerk. They made their mark with a now classic rave sound, using various Roland drum machines, heavy breakdowns, a two-drum breakbeat and even deeper bass to anything around at the time. Add into this samples from everyday items and famous noises (an air raid siren for one), their signature zaps and bleeps, and the odd catchy vocal, they made a sound that while not unique to the genre, became their own entity. Aside from the music, they also had a persona in the culture of the day that was instantly memorable. They would perform in hooded shell-jackets, used many vocal samples that referenced party-drug use, would show up at unofficial events un-announced, and of course made a bright yellow dust-mask stencilled with a 'A' their trademark, which they wore nearly every time they were seen. The titles of their tracks would often include the use of the number 8 too, making their material even more memorable.
--The Altern8-tive Me!--
As a teenager in the early nineties, I donned the shell suits and rave music was the ONLY music that existed for me, and I can recall two events that made me interested in this act so closely. Firstly, to see a rave act dressed as they did perform 'Activ-8' on Top of the Pops was a first for me, and second was having impromptu rave-dance competitions with my friends to their tunes. 'E-vapor-8' was the track of choice normally, and became embedded in my psyche ever since. All I had was a battered old cassette with their tracks on, and after they dis-banded, I found that I simply needed to own their only album. I only discovered they even recorded one 2 years after they finished, and so started to hunt down the album. Several years later, I found it on Ebay, and got my hands on it, and listened to it like I was 16 again. Ahh, Memories.
--Packaging and Price--
When I bought this album off E-bay 6 years ago, it cost me £28, such is it's rarity. Since then, Amazon have begun to stock it from various sellers who have deleted album stockpiles, and a new copy will cost nearly £50! A second hand copy from £25. It is downloadable for under £6 however. This was not an option I had years back, and anyway, I prefer having the physical item with such rare CD's. The sleeve design was a godsend when trying to track it down. All gold in colour, front and back, just with the trademark 'A' dust-mask on the front, it's a very unique design and instantly recognisable. A simple thin black typeface and darker shade of gold take care of the titling and track listing. The sleeve opens out quite large, with photographs and the due using the electronic instruments of their trade, and a timeline of their rise to success, which is actually rather interesting. Clear, basic but unique is the overall layout, and the CD images matches with the sleeve too, a gold CD.
1 = Move My Body Most of Altern 8's tracks follow a simple arrangement, and the first track of the album sets this up in a low key fashion. For an opening track, it's rather mild and a tad bland, maybe monotonous after a few listens, but it does have some nice points. A start of a fragmented machine groan with the repeated lyric 'Move my Body' running through the entire track, re-verb bicycle bells and a typical fazing techno synth are layered onto a plodding and low drum loop. The sample fragmentation of the lyrics and the high alert squeals are fun, as are the fast vinyl rewind sounds and while the drops are predictable, it's a good example of a simple rave track to start with, in a softer kind of way. [6/10]
2 = Infiltrate 202 If the previous track was walking down the garden path, then this is falling into a deep pothole! Things really start to get going with this, and rightly so. A hit in the clubs and raves, primarily because of its ridiculously heavy bass line. Mockingly presented as a live performance, the main rhythm is a very low synth, with an sporadic accompanying riff with a deep running bass backdrop. That's heavy enough, the extra bass signals hit on the bridge and chorus. These are really deep, 4 square bass I believe it's called. It's the bass frequency that makes cars vibrate in chavvy town centres. Sampled female lyrics are there too, a nice sing along vocal that other rave bands used too. Ratpack was one. During the track, the bass sometimes reaches a dominating rumble, very loud and low. I have never heard another track with such use of heavy bass, it even has a tongue-in-cheek warning at the beginning about it. 'Watch Ya bass bins I'm tellin' Ya!' [9/10]
3 = E-Vapor-8 This has got to be the track that made me so interested in Altern8. Again, we have catchy female vocals in the typical style of the genre, not so blatantly referencing the use of the drug Ecstasy, but this is merely an aside to the excellent drum and bass arrangement. The main angry bass synth line is the key to it all, and makes the quick drums, rhythmic bass, piano synth and subtle zap blips a really sound-full blend. Add to this the breaks and the bridges with tinny stretching and, again the mock live crowd cheers and an MC hyping up the band enthusiastically, it really pumps along and gets the hairs spiking and the goose's pimpleing! It flows so well is quite a DJ's dream track to get things moving. That's main riff is just outstandingly catchy and memorable. Excellent despite the drug references. [10/10]
4 = 8's Revenge Going a little more low key again, this track doesn't have the deep hits of Infiltrate 202 or the high's of E-Vapor-8, just with the most basic rave break-beat possible, with a few drum rolls, almost quiet acid winding twists and casual rumbling bass. The ingredients are there, but it seems so broken and doesn't seem to flow correctly. Parts drop in that are vastly different from the sequence that proceeded it, making a quite haphazard track that's difficult to listen too. Also, the repeated lyrics just become annoying because of the delivery of them. For me, the weakest track on the album. [2/10]
5 = Frequency Ouch, That hurt! After the ponderous '8's Revenge', 'Frequency' gets your attention again, with, like the title suggests, a very high pitched fazed whine which develops into the main riff. Surprising to the ear, Simple vocal samples add to the track, but mainly the beat is what makes it a good one for a dance too. The trademark zaps make a big mark here, riding along with a great uplifting thumping two-drum beat, and a bass line that follows the frequency riff at a lower pitch. This is a constant rolling track too, with very little breaks, and when there is the riff continues on. Fast and rough, but a fine head-banger, that drills right through the head without leaving a headache. [8/10]
6 = Real Time Status Coming back to a softer sound, (this album does that a lot), this track acts like an opus for Altern8, proof that they have an ear for the more subtle techno rave sounds as well as the barnstormers. A quite start of a synth riff, rolls into a nice multi-drum beat that's not to fast, but has a good consistency. A simple and basic track, but the parts as a whole make it very listen-able. Lots of electronic hi-hats and shakers are used, with a short stabbing bass line that's heavy in places but not a lot. I like it, very different for the preconceptions for the band certainly. [6/10]
7 = First of May Actually being true to the former track, this continues were 'Real Time Status' left off. More softer and composed than a full on dance classic, we have some pleasant piano riffs, light blips running with a complex bass rhythm. Drums are kept to a minimum here, just with a few break-beat here and there, mostly the tracks relies on the kick drum beat and the melodies. It's quite clever really, because at first it's easily dismissed as experimental dance rubbish, but listen again, it's rather good. It's a far cry from what is next however... [7/10]
8 = Hypnotic St-8 'Gonna take you higher and higher!' scream the opening lyric, and boy it does. Back to a quick and more complex beat, this was another crowd pleaser back in the day. The synth melody hits hard and fast too, loud and instantly noticeable. Certainly euphoric when it breaks up too, and fragments in synch with the beat. Then comes the breakdown, and woooo, spaced out man! It's a brilliant sound effect, hypnotic like the title says, synth twisting at it's best I feel, and it's proceeded by a very random water trickle sound. Odd, but very clever and flowing. A bit of stunted electric piano helps this along, as does the almost hidden but essential hi-hats and zaps. Uplifting and loads of fun, an urgent track. Nice! [9/10]
9 = Activ-8 This is the tune that helped make Altern8 hit the charts, and even though it's bordering on the more poppy side of rave, it's still a top track. A plodding break-beat underpins what the track is all about, and again like some of the previous tracks, it's the melody. Acid synth in a very catchy rhythm make this, and is the signature of the tune, along with the constant build-ups of hard techno. Leading to a drop that never comes, but does when you least expect it. Like E-Vapor-8, it flows so well, and has a wonderful amount of energy about it. Another aspect is the rather controversial child's voice lyric of "Top One, Nice One, Get Sorted!", another party drug reference, but it's quite disturbing heard from a young voice. That said, it's a part of a track that wouldn't be what it was without it. Arguably , Altern8's most well known track and their rubber stamp on the rave scene. [10/10]
10 = Brutal-8-E The darker side of the band is shown here. This is a very tricky track to describe, at least compared to the tracks up until now. Mellow chords start us off, with a snaring beat coming in, but the rhythmatic blip sequence, almost spellbinding, is the highlight that brings this to life. It's also a very vocal driven track, unlike most rave acts, which makes for a more interesting listen. To be honest, it gets a little boring, because once it sets up, it doesn't change much, or bring anything new into the mix. A solid and different effort, but not the best tune on the album. [5/10]
11 = A D-8 with Plezure Taking the gong for best title, this track also takes the prize for the best track on the album in my opinion. Not out and out rave is this, with a much faster house-type beat with plenty of hi-hats and quick snaps, but I love the whining chords that run through many parts. The track starts like this, with a backdrop of a thunderstorm effect and echoed vocal effects. Halfway through this real foot-tapper, a signature Altern8 riff comes in, and a bass melody that really beguiling. Some would moan about the slightly annoying party whistles constantly peeping in the background, but I like this, makes it feel a good energetic track and very well arranged. For me, this just has the edge on E-Vapor-8, and is my personal favourite. [10/10]
12 = Armageddon The sound of air raid sirens is always something that makes the ears prick up, and a looped siren effect starts this up with a repeated male vocal shouting the title. The bass line again provides the foundations, and follows on from AD-8 with a fast but more drum focused beat, incorporating scratch rewinds at frequent moments and a more low sound of kick drums. It's a beat which is okay, but a little irritating and too repetitive at times. Also, this is the first track on the album that makes heavy use of the common rave music effect of high pitched sped up vocals, sometimes known as the chipmunk sound. (Used in R & B a lot nowadays!) No clue what it's saying, and while it fits into the general flow of the track, with a desperate tone, it becomes grating a bit. Parts of 'Frequency's' high screams seem to have been re-used to, adapted into the different drum loop. Not a bad track by any means, but maybe not for all rave fans. [7/10]
13 = Give it to Baby The second track to relay on a big bass hit and line, and starts as it means to go on with a very simple low synth riff loop, and a more simpler beat-line with whoops into the fold. It goes into bridge sequences a lot to, with a good and break the bass up well. The speaker damaging parts come on the breakdowns, where a big bass thump with a zap hits into the track in a nice, head-banging arrangement. The ideas and loops in this track are good and heavy, but the track does loop itself after a few husky female lyrics have their say. However, the little breaks, tinny drum rim hits, and variations on the underlying bass keep things interesting. Heavy on the woofers is that bass riff though, and doesn't let up in between the many breaks. [8/10]
14 = Re-Indulge I always found this a little difficult to judge, because on a first listen, it sounds like a mish-mash of all the previous tracks, and to some extent that is a correct statement. A soft piano provides the main hook, and it's pleasant enough, a bass line that reflects the band but not as harsh as others, and a synth sample which doesn't really stand out much and a run of the mill drum and bass beat. To be honest, this sounds like a track that's played when the gig or rave ends and everybody's filing out of the doors. Short, rather quiet compared to the rest on the album, and not a fitting end to the album for me. Shame, because I would have liked a bigger track to finish on. [4/10]
All tracks Written and Produced by Mark Archer and Chris Peat
Additional Vocals by Various
Recorded and Engineered by Mike Bell
Published by Kool Kat Music (Virgin Music)
Released by Network Records/Pinnacle Recuts
Total Length - 75:00 minutes Approx
Was the years of hunting this down worth it then? Well, yes really. Many rave bands back in the 90's didn't even make a studio album, and as a result lots of good work was lost in the reams of tapes and vinyl. Altern8 certainly lived up to their name, and were something different, and always brought a little spice to a rave event. Their biggest tracks are always fondly remembered by my generation today, but some of the more obscure nuggets on this LP make it plain that they attempted stuff that wasn't made for the dance floor, and for the most part its very nice work. Their later releases before they split demonstrated some of this progression, the track 'Everybody' is the best example, using the big deep bass with more complex synth and drum loops. Maybe they would have made the change to the dance styles that were to follow, and I believe one half of the duo is still recording. For me though, Altern8 are the talisman for my personal rave music fascination back then, and will remain so with this album to support my happy memories. A fine example of rave music with a few twists, and even though it's not flawless throughout, six tracks are awesome and make it one of my proudest additions to by music collection.
Gr-8 rave act, Gr-8 album. Highly R-8-ed!
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug