Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles of the 90s

The only thing I ever read about Jo was that she was 18 and lived in Brixton. I’ve made half-hearted enquiries since but to be honest I like her anonymous and unheralded: if I found out she ended up putting out Alex Reece-style jazz cuts it would be a heartbreaker. The two of her singles I’ve heard – this and the very similar “R-Type” – are maybe the rawest, most cometary jungle I know, an idea of inspired simplicity carried through to perfection. That idea was to use computer game sounds for hooks, primitive game sounds from the 8-bit era, liberally distorted and layered over nasty, rough-cut breaks.

Given that most jungle programmers learned about digital music on Amigas and Atari STs – and a lot of them still swear by those machines – Jo’s plundering of game music is actually a pretty neat nod to the music’s slender historical context. But more importantly it gives “Apollo 9” a sharp, mechanical texture that had been largely absent from jungle’s top end, with its reliance on ragga chat or slivers of melodic hook. “Apollo 9” was released in ’94 and sounds in a way a couple of years late, with relatively unsophisticated drum programming and some of the same crazed malicious glee the big rave hits had enjoyed. But that grinding texture, and the hostile drone of the bass, also look ahead to the industrial/jungle sounds that would become so predominant in the London scene later in the decade (and which would eventually alienate enough listeners to drive the music back into the underground as its producers craved, only with a hundredth of the creativity). Jo’s visionary records can hardly be blamed for the misanthropic excesses of techstep, though, and “Apollo 9” has way more life than anything Ed Rush, for example, ever put his hand to. Whether no DJ shared my excitement over her records, or whether the notoriously masculine dance scene simply never gave Jo the respect she deserved, I hope she still thinks of her tracks with intense pride. Only one musician in thousands creates sound this vital.