If you were living in Bristol in the 90s, trip-hop is most likely a familiar term in your musical vocabulary. However, those of us residing in the rest of the world probably weren’t exposed to this fantastic genre of music. Every now and then, you may hear your local music snob brag about their extensive Massive Attack vinyl collection, or see an argument about trip-hop influences in the comment section of Selena Gomez’s “The Heart Wants What it Wants” (I’m not even kidding), and wonder what the fuss is about. You may even ask yourself what the hell trip-hop is and where it came from. Lucky for you, I’ve got everything you need to know about one of music’s most wonderfully obscure and experimental genres.
Trip-hop is a mixture of so many genres that it’s difficult to define. The core elements of the genre mostly come from breakbeat hip-hop, funk, jazz, and electronica. It’s very much a electronic genre of music – not one typically laden with massive, pounding beats and ten layers of synth, but sprinkled with elegant ambience and a variety of moods. It tends to be incredibly experimental music that dips into almost any genre it can, all the while remaining ethereal and a ever-so hypnotic. If you like your downtempo, psychedelic, soulful jams, then trip-hop is definitely the genre for you to check out.
A Brief History
Like so many great musical genres, trip-hop was born in the UK, primarily England. Though North America turned out some incredible trip hop musicians like Supreme Beings of Leisure, Portishead, and DJ Shadow, a large portion of their fanbase were found in England. In fact, DJ Shadow’s debut album “Entroducing…..” sold twice as many copies in the UK than it did in Canada in 1996.
DJ Shadow was also semi-responsible for the coining of the term “trip-hop” when Mixmag used it to describe “In/Flux”, DJ Shadow’s 1994 single. Four years prior to the term first being officially used in print, Massive Attack released their first full length album Blue Lines, launching the genre into the mainstream. From there, Massive Attack would be the most prominent names in trip-hop, releasing their double platinum LP Mezzanine in 1998.
After some collaboration with Massive Attack, Adrian Thaws (AKA “Tricky”) went off to establish himself as a solo artist, and one of the most influential founders of trip-hop. His 1995 debut album, Maxinquaye, saw incredible commercial success in the UK, as well as hitting 36th on the charts here in Canada. Tricky’s brooding, menacing sound was incredibly unique at the time and brought in a whole new wave of fans to the genre.
Portishead is another noteable trip-hop band of the 90s as they incorporated a “film score” sound to their music. This unique blend of moods and themes resulted in both critical and commercial acclaim with their 1994 album Dummy, taking their place as one of the founding bands of this revolutionary genre.
After about a decade, trip hop didn’t exactly die out, but instead left traces of its sound in mainstream music. Artists such as Gorillaz, Lana Del Rey and Nine Inch Nails have produced songs drawing influence from the trip-hop greats of the 90s. Queens of the Stone Age even spent six hours in the studio collaborating with trip-hop icons U.N.K.L.E (DJ Shadow, James Lavelle, and Tim Goldsworthy) for a remix of “No One Knows”.
The genre still has a very dedicated following to this day, with notable new artists like London Grammar and FKA twigs producing fresh sounds. Tricky, DJ Shadow, and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow all continue to be active, releasing several albums within the past 5 years.