[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
Is it really fifteen years. Much as I and a lot of others don’t want to admit to this, that’s how long it has been since Haujobb altered the musical landscape with ‘Ninetynine’. This wasn’t a gentle, gradual re-shaping of things either; a more violent break from what had come before I can’t think of. Hints were offered on the record which Myer and Tehanu (of Forma Tadre) put out as NEWT in 1997 but no one had the vaguest inkling this was coming. For two years we’d been getting reports about the follow up to ‘Solutions For a Small Planet’, apparently the band were hard at work on it but there was no further information about it beyond a vague “in progress”. After the incredible shift in style we’d had with their remix album ‘Matrix’, the smugger ones amongst us projected a further push into drum ‘n’ bass. Having heard some of their side projects of that time I couldn’t agree. They’d ironed out the styles played with on ‘Solutions…’ via S’Apex, Dots & Dashes, Architect and Myer’s own solo singles. So where next, boys? Where next.
We got our answer in the spring when the single ‘Less’ appeared. Stripped back arrangements, lowered tempo and what was this? Someone named Vanessa was singing. Well I can tell you how much this one was played by the fans: it wasn’t. Amongst the old guard there were the beginnings of anger, they’d barely tolerated the breaks of ‘Solutions…’ and for many of them this proved the final straw. I began to hear a lot of grumbling, more than a few parties degenerated into two separate camps: those who embraced this change and the ones who had had enough. If this was just the opening chapter of the band’s new era then what would the rest of the book contain? There were, and are, quite a few who never even bothered to find out. You can still hear them even now, lamenting that things just wouldn’t stay in 1995 forever. On message boards, in emails and chat rooms the internet over the snide dismissals continue to this day.
If there is one thing which ‘Ninetynine’ taught me as a listener it was to never ever take Haujobb for granted. In the summer when it was at last in my hands, a friend of mine and I went back to my apartment to give it a spin. The look on both our faces by the time it was through did not resemble what they’d been an hour or so earlier. This was not the record so many had been anticipating, for one thing it didn’t even have the same name which has become a favorite theoretical topic for Haujobb fans: what ever did become of ‘Cut Copy Cycle’. Daniel and Dejan have never answered this riddle, I had hoped they’d shed some light for this piece but alas. Oh well, there’s a comment section below; hope springs eternal.
To return to a previous point about public perceptions and the credibility of blinded men: ‘Ninetynine’ just about did them in. In the history of backlashes against new and challenging artistic works, this pair place high on the list. Fan sites were shuttered, club playlists began omitting Haujobb, so-called friends of mine threw out their entire collection; there was no end to the ridicule, rejection and outright hostility directed at them for having dared to have done this. Bear in mind, the late 90s was where the seeds of the foul genre of “future pop” were sown. After years of toiling in the underground, bands suddenly realized that if they would only compromise their principles and address adolescent lyrical topics then they, too, could earn the adoration of the masses and feast on whatever scraps NIN had let fall from his table.
And so it began, the endless remixes and coattail riding theatrics of the day; but from within their sturdy fortress of magnificent atmospheres and icy terrain Haujobb said little. It’s all too easy to let ‘Ninetynine’ gather dust on your shelf, but don’t be tempted. As I’ve said before, this era taught me never to take them for granted and here’s why: in interviews of the time you can see that all the desertions surprised them, Daniel Myer estimated that the record cost them 3/4 of their fan base. He went on to state further “most were not willing to take these rhythmic adventures with us” and that’s quite true. Most weren’t. I’d play this and watch the expectations and expressions crumble, Haujobb hadn’t made a record but a movie. It sounded sparse coming out of the speakers but through headphones there was no end to what was going on.
The individual sound was king here, how much could be wrung out of it became the goal.
This was an experiment in dub, techno and jazz. Not the sort of things the crowd were prone to liking or even admit to owning but Haujobb went ahead and did it anyway. ‘Ninetynine’ was a record they made for themselves which they then doubled down on by giving it it’s own remix album. An outing which saw Dejan doing a pair of mixes on his own while Architect and S’Apex provided ones for Daniel. Many other luminaries of the time jumped at the chance to revise these already challenging tracks: For a Space, Red Sparrow and Photic Sonar to name a few but I’m sure many others flat out refused. Kind of par for the course, I suppose, no one wants it too innovative just enough to look the part. Those magazines won’t just sell themselves.
Most surprisingly, this period of the band’s history has become something of an apologist’s field day. Many who shunned them then now recant, the truly impressive ones, however, merely modify their stance with what I hear time and again these days: they should have done this under another name. But they didn’t, and bless them for that, they would not bend or break. Their recent album ‘New World March’ carried on in spirit with ‘Ninetynine’ and while it didn’t get as far out there it clearly shows that the will to do so remains. All we must do now is wait, you can rest assured it will come around again and when it does it won’t be anything anyone could ever have expected.