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by Philip Sherburne

August 22, 2011

Senior Year, 1996: Suburban Trip-Hop Odyssey

by Philip Sherburne  |  August 22, 2011

Trip-hop was certainly not immune to urban pretensions: the graffiti strokes of DJ Krush's logo, faux-"hard" titles like DJ Cam's " Gangsta Sh*t." But really, was there ever a genre better suited for the suburbs than trip-hop's brand of soporific Barcalounge music? They called them "blunted" beats, but there weren't many Swishers being split and relicked around these joints; more like bong hits in the basement and endless (and, we should add, ill-advised, under said conditions) cruising in the Subaru.

So it's 1996, and our recent grad whiles away his days behind the counter at the local coffee shop, and spends his evenings sprawled on a picnic table in the park, brown-bagged beer and boom-box each within arm's reach. The lifestyle (and possibly the facial hair) is straight out of Richard Linklater's Slacker. But the soundtrack couldn't have been further from the alt rock staples of just five years earlier. (Poi Dog Pondering?!) By '96, armed with college radio and a dial-up modem, your humble layabout, restless in his tastes, had hit upon trip-hop's studied cool: the snatch of jazz, the alien synth, the hiss of vinyl, already nostalgic.

Part of the allure was the mystery. You had to buy this stuff in the import section, after all, and half the artists responsible had "DJ" before their names DJ Cam, DJ Krush, DJ Shadow which vaguely suggested a distant world of incomprehensible technologies and unimaginable nightclubs. Oh, and you could get laid to it, if you could land a date in the first place. (This was true for hip-hop fans of both sexes, which itself was a reason so many dudes flocked to it: leaving a Kruder & Dorfmeister CD on the bedside table was just a subtle way of suggesting that there were Trojans in the top drawer.)

We're still awaiting Noah Baumbach's rendition of our goateed naïf. (Noah! Call us! We've got a great script idea for you!) For now, relive those halcyon days of the late mid-'90s with our playlist of trip-hop's greatest hits, featuring Portishead, Lamb, Massive Attack, DJ Krush, Herbaliser, Morcheeba, Funki Porcini, Tosca, Tricky and more.

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