Optical & Ed Rush

The Essential… Ed Rush & Optical

Ben Settle and Matt Quinn’s no-nonsense diseased-sounding productions created the underground legacy that is the Virus record label in 1998, making them the first ‘buzz word’ producers in the post-jungle scene. They are globally respected, held in high regard by not only heavyweights like Ram Records but also top producers of other genres such as house and techno. Ed Rush & Optical’s funky but darkly demonic productions have been fundamental in DnB’s development. The forthcoming list doesn’t contain the 20 best Ed Rush & Optical tracks ever made. Now that Ed Rush & Optical’s productions have left their studio and taken on lives of their own, not even their creators are in a position to declare which is best. However, they, like you, and us, have personal favourites. And so, for Ed Rush & Optical fans around the world and also for the benefit of those who aren’t up to speed, this list is Kmag’s essential list.

20. Bloodmoney

Heavy metal and drum & bass have crossed over numerous times. The former scene loves the tempo and high-energy associated with DnB, the latter loves metal’s distorted guitar. Bloodmoney, from the Chameleon LP, was an uncompromising composition of hurtful drums and ear-piercing high-equalised electric axe. Music masochists would stand next to speaker cones and allow Bloodmoney to sear their eardrums at clubs. It certainly lived up to its name – we imagine there were a few health insurance claims stemming from this tinnitus monster.

19. Socom

Released on an EP with a weird and abstract cover, Socom partnered three other tunes, two of which were produced by just Optical and Trace. It was a solid package that had a cult following. Socom perhaps didn’t get the airplay it deserved back in the day – at the time Moving Fusion seemed to be dominating the circuit – but it still ranks as a beast of a record. The drums, in particular, feel just right, and the production is crisp and bold.

18. Cannibal Run

Cannibal Run, released on Trace’s 23 Degrees From Vertical LP, is vintage Ed Rush & Optical. It lacked the hook of other sell-out records needing a gimmick to grab the listener’s attention, preferring to keep the faith with straight-up drums and the basses. The distorted beats were abrasive and chunky, the bassline bombastic and the lead synth made fans pull funny faces. Altogether, this was a great record to dance to. And sadly, they don’t make them like this anymore.

17. Bullit

From the Original Doctor Shade album (which contained other great songs like Hacksaw and Heads Will Roll) the eponymous Bullit sampled a movie boasting one of the best car-chase scenes of all time starring Steve McQueen. Already masters of the original composition, here Ed Rush & Optical displayed a new ability – sampling a large chunk of music and bending original elements around it. Bullit did away with the darkness we’d come to expect from Virus, instead being uplifting. It had the power to catch the ear of those who ‘didn’t like drum & bass’ or hadn’t yet been exposed to it. And Bullit boasts the most dynamic drum loop Ed & Op ever produced.

16. G-Force Jesus

Taken from their recent Travel The Galaxy LP, G-Force Jesus not only showed that Ed Rush & Optical can ‘still do it’, but that they are somehow on top of their game after all these years. Their sound had become even more technical… G-Force Jesus could give the people goosebumps and smash dance floors simultaneously. The eerie choir textures inside are reminiscent of Ed & Op’s classic Shining remix. Its bassline is ripped straight from the Alien Girl textbook and its breakdown is something new – slowing down to 128 BPM, providing a glimpse into an alternate reality where Ed Rush & Optical are leading techno producers.

15. Watching Windows Remix

Ed Rush & Optical weren’t famed for their vocal work, but when Roni Size was blowing up with his Reprazent act and winning the Mercury Music Prize, the Virus pair were called in on a remix commission. The result was something exciting, where the lyrics took on a new, sinister role within the twisted Ed Rush & Optical mould. A very distinctive, big-ass bassline was the star of the show, padded with choking textures that could well have been at home within James Cameron’s Aliens sound-design palette.

14. Chubrub

Ed Rush & Optical’s most recent Travel The Galaxy album is stocked with grade-A material, and Chubrub marginally edges out the electrifying Space Monkey (that is cut from a similar off-beat cloth but arguably has less longevity due to its huge build-up-and-smash format). Chubrub is basically like Pacman on heroin. Unstable and piercing, its lead synth unstably careers all over the place. According to Urban Dictionary, a chubrub, in case you were wondering, is “what fat girls experience when their upper inner thighs rub together so much that they get chafed and rashes break out. It usually is accompanied by sweat and foul odours.”

13. Mindscan remix

The Mindscan remix is perhaps Ed Rush & Optical’s most technical record. The level of production here is frightening, not least because every part of it – the drums, basses and effects – sounds great to not only music producers but also to those who have no idea how music is produced. Perhaps this is because the original was made by Ram Trilogy who were the don beat-makers of the day, and Ed Rush & Optical wanted to prove a point. There is a lot of automation going on in the Mindscan remix… it must have been painstakingly put together.

12. We Want Your Soul remix

Adam Freeland was one of the first producers outside of drum & bass that hardcore drum & bass fans started to show respect to. Ed Rush & Optical command huge respect throughout the electronic-music industry, so it comes as no surprise that someone as cultured as Adam Freeland got them involved with this remix. The re-imagining of We Want Your Soul by Ed Rush & Optical is a wall of sound. Aggressive DJs like Andy C really abused London sound systems with it. Turn this one up loud and get busy on the bass controls.

11. Sick Note

Sick Note was the heaviest DnB tune of all time up until it was succeeded – as all DnB tracks are – by something more technologically advanced. In its day, this was the fix the rebellious youth needed. It was a big ‘fuck you’ to the world, an anthem of anarchy and raw, undirected malice. It was possessed with powerfully produced pads, textures and atmospheres that haunted the listener.

10. Kerbkrawler

A true drum & bass track, Kerbkrawler blew up the scene at a time when anthems were dropping left right and centre – Up All Night, Speedball, Planet Dust, Jungle Jungle, Body Rock, Casino Royale, Cybotron, Spaced Invaders remix. It held its own, sounding like a sped-up precursor to the minimal techno sound that dominates the dance-music industry today.

9. Lifespan

Of the first batch of Virus releases, Lifespan deserves the spotlight because it was made ‘live’. Optical had all of the elements of Lifespan running through a Mackie mixing desk and he brought them in and out to his taste during bouncing. Live elements in dance-music records are important because they give the listener something they can identify with, but they’re usually implemented during the creative process, not in the mix down. Ironically, a uniquely organic process was behind the machine-like boom bap of Lifespan.

8. Cutslo remix

Backing up the dread Alien Girl, Cutslo remix was more focused than other Ed Rush & Optical tracks that came before it, and was co-produced by Fierce. It was programmed with a disgusting, unholy intro of epic proportions. This made way for a leviathan bass line in a second build-up section that spiraled into a ‘tear-out’ Amen-drum drop. Cutslo is deservedly a fan favourite, capable of doing major damage on the dance floor.

7. Slip Thru

Wormhole was the album that kicked off Ed Rush & Optical’s Virus imprint, cementing their personal stamp into the DnB scene. It’s hugely respected and considered classic. While none of the records onboard have the individuality of an Alien Girl, they effortlessly seep into one another, creating an amorphously dark listening experience. Slip Thru is only the elephant’s tail to the metaphorical three blind men trying to understand the beast.

6. French Kiss Remix

Back in the days when you couldn’t get torrents and digital downloads and most DnB tracks weren’t released on CDs, certain tracks took on mythic status because of their unavailability. Only a select few had these rare gems, given to them personally by the creators. French Kiss remix was one such legend. Why didn’t it get released until many years later on a black label when DJs weren’t playing it any more? It was surely down to a copyright issue. Whatever, this was a distinct production that went down well in the rave and had dedicated fans throwing their hands in the air.

5. Pacman

Coming from the classic The Creeps LP, Pacman was certainly a benchmark. Its staccato punch and choppy rhythm was way off the wall and ahead of its time. A satisfying track to mix, Pacman was remixed by Ram Trilogy – one of the biggest drum & bass remixes ever. This highlight from The Creeps (that was stocked with quality backup such as an eponymous track, Reach Out, Check Out Time and so on) epitomises the Ed Rush & Optical style with its acidic offbeat synth.

4. Watermelon

The flipside to Sick Note, Watermelon was a little deeper, and possibly the peak of that particular style initiated by Shrink Wrap on V Recordings a few years previously. This track had the trademark Ed & Op atmospheres, overweight, shifting bass and clever arrangement. Just listen to the lead synth that vomits over the track about halfway through. DJ Craze – arguably the best scratch DJ to have ever touched turntables – used two copies of Watermelon during one of his DMC World Championship-winning performances. Who’d have thought that a watermelon could be so heavy?

3. The Shining (remix)

Ed Rush & Optical rank The Shining remix within the top three tracks they ever made. It’s probably their most moving masterpiece. Listen to it in the dark, preferably high, and its hair-raising choir and dreamlike textures will draw you into ‘the zone’. The drums, with an extra kick in there for added bounce, were clicky and grooving. The bassline? Gritty and rolling, automated to shift and evolve throughout. The inspired arrangement in The Shining remix rewarded the listener with wave after wave of pleasure. Made in London’s Soho during the late 90s, Ed Rush & Optical admit to having a blast making this anthem.

2. Alien Girl

Alien Girl is the biggest, baddest, nastiest Ed Rush & Optical track of them all. Its intro was the stuff nightmares are made of and constituted many a memorable chronic-smoking session throughout London in the late ’90s. The screaming ‘alien’ sound before the drop was apparently a sample of the bus door opening from The Simpsons. An Andy C favourite, Alien Girl was the metaphorical Nelson of the DnB world, pointing at lame records in its shadow and shouting ‘Haha!’.

1. Bacteria

Everyone can remember the first time they heard Bacteria. It’s the archetypal Ed Rush & Optical moment. To Ed Rush & Optical, they probably understand its charm, in that they put the thing together. But not being in on that process, the listener can only see the finished whole and be surprised and delighted with the complex piece of art in front of them. Bacteria’s key components: an old funk break; haunting atmospheres, textures and inharmonic stabs; and a bassline that was pure ecstasy for the drum & bass generation. The original 12″ release had the stickers on the wrong way round, so people often called this Gasmask instead (which is an incredible track in its own right). And, unsurprisingly, it’s been remixed and sampled from by the drum & bass greats of the modern era. But nothing can top the original, whose artwork perfectly captured the sickening feeling of the sound locked away inside.