Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles of the 90s

“You’re talking about things I haven’t done yet!” You and anybody else. Terminator is a record that gets ahead of itself, hurled back from some pure-war future to explode into 1992, a musical-fragmentation grenade whose rhythmic splinters change everything. The very word, timestretch, given to the ear-baffling sampling process Terminator inaugurated speaks of something new and uneasy in recordmaking. It sounds almost psychedelic, but there’s little or nothing lysergic about Terminator‘s militarization of the dancefloor.

The facts are as follows: this and its million hardcore brothers represented something fresh, unbearably exciting, incandescently inventive, something that burned across the first half of this decade and briefly knocked Britain reeling. For anyone who noticed, even Johnny-come-latelies like myself, hardcore was and is the nineties’ defining mythic moment, and I could with a clear conscience fill this list entirely with one hundred rave, jungle or drum and bass twelves, and be confident that it had earned its title ‘Greatest’. Why don’t I? Because, although hardcore at its unbelievable peak was everything Freaky Trigger would want a record to be – jaw-dislocatingly futuristic music which is also absolutely, giddily pop – that peak was passed long ago. The records remain, urgent and unarguable, but celebrating hardcore at the expense of all else would feel too much like a wake.

But here’s Terminator, anyway, at the list’s opening, as brutal as ever: its paranoid rhythmic slitherings, its freaked samples, its urgent chirrups, its sickened metalloid wheezings a slap in the face to any dancefloor utopia you might have wanted to name. But unlike the crasser darkness manifest in late 90s drum’n’bass, Terminator (and its fellows) is too alive to ever bring you down, too busy flexing on the power-surge of its own inventiveness and self-sufficiency. The bass pulses like a heart, scared and excited to the point of spasm, and over the top somebody mutters “Terminator is out there”. Damn right.