The monolith in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Undivided Attention: Digital – ‘S.O.S. Space Funk’

The monolith in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

The first sound is everything: a high-pitched stab, a flash of sonic lightning, an alarm. It’s more tone than note, more noise than music. And it’s the sound that makes Digital’s ‘S.O.S. Space Funk’ one of the greatest jungle tunes of all time.

That high-frequency sound seems to be engineered to grate, to create a sense of unease, of heightened anxiety. Anyone who went to jungle raves in the UK at the time – in 1995 – would have had that feeling. Sadly, aggro could be part and parcel of the experience: not so much teardrops on the dancefloor as teargas on the dancefloor.

But at 3:14 everything changes. The discombobulation, the danger, suddenly dissolves. By bringing in the sweetest of synthetic strings Digital envelops the high-pitched sound in a harmonic embrace. The abrasive noise that seemed to be tangential to the rest of the music suddenly makes complete harmonic sense. Now, it’s more note than tone, more music than noise.

It’s a moment of revelation. An amazing sleight of hand. So simple, so elegant. And it is even more profound because it mirrors the kind of revelation we experience in drug-induced or religious ecstasy: the perceived world – which you’d always felt you’d grasped and understood – is suddenly revealed in a new light; it is part of a greater harmony which beforehand you hadn’t known existed.

This is the essence of rave. To experience this music on a dancefloor, as part of a seething mass of people was to understand that seemingly disparate elements – no matter how foreign, no matter how diverse – could be brought together and harmoniously united.

Later, whenever I saw a new Digital tune in the racks, I’d rush to the listening deck in the hope that he’d reach these heights again. But it was too much to expect – of him or any other producer for that matter. Today’s comments on youtube reflect the disbelief that this tune could have been made in 1995, so other is its sound. It was unlike anything else at the time, unlike anything else that Digital ever did – and still stands out in the canon of classic jungle and drum & bass. A transmission from the Gods, an artefact from a more advanced world, a monolith thrown down to earth around which we scamper like the man-apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I wonder whether we were really worthy of it, then or now.

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