Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

If you remember one thing from my review, let it be this: DO NOT purchase the Speedy J album which has some impostor unremixed version of “Patterns” on, it is wretched. Having heard it I can offer no theories whatsoever as to how and why intelligent dance bore J managed to turn that flaccid piece of underwater scuttle-beat forgettability into this atom-smashing 12″, a drum’n’bass Frankenstein with knives for teeth which would have had Alec Empire drooling as surely as it would Shut Up And Dance.

But then more fool me, because I’d never have heard “Patterns (Remix)” if I’d known Speedy J was behind it. Alex picked it up on white label for 20p in the Music & Video Exchange, where it was concealed in a MARRS sleeve. We took it home and prepared for rubbish, and for the first thirty seconds – dusty Aphex-lite ambient creakings – we weren’t far wrong. Then in comes the breakbeat, and a dud purchase turns into a reasonable, scrappy but punchy jungle twelve – not bad for twenty pence, yeah, but not special either. I went to get a beer, Alex went to get some toast, fifteen seconds later we were looking at each other like a bomb had just gone off, as the record player shuddered with the loudest, crudest beats we’d ever heard. Oh, yes, anyone with a Mac and a grudge against society can produce ear-slaughtering breakbeats, but “Patterns” brand of cacophony is the most focussed and primitive going. It sounds amazingly cheap as well as nasty, like some psychotic kid’s first blood-soaked attempts at putting breaks together, and it rings with a terrifying single-mindedness, the beats falling tirelessly like hammer on anvil.

As I say, though, anyone can do the bad stuff. We were damn impressed by “Patterns”, but the best was yet to come. Amidst the tumult we thought we caught a whiff of strings, and suddenly the pummelling cut out in favour of a soaring, pulse-quickening piece of classical chordplay. But where most junglists tried to incorporate their strings into the mix somehow, Speedy J just leaves his stranded and aloof. When the beats come back in (and how), it’s as if a 19th Century high-Teutonic orchestra has been put into an arena with a murderous beat-wielding robot DJ, and some mad god has told them that to survive each must out-bombast the other. I’ll leave it to you to find out who wins. “Patterns”, like most of Aphex Twin’s good stuff, works because it’s Intelligent Dance Music that dares to get stupid. And its inclusion here is happily also a nod to what keeps collectors collecting – the hope that just sweeping your pan through the bargain basement might turn up not just gold, but some ore so far-out and radioactive it’s not even been named yet.