Formed in 1982 by brothers Martyn and Steve Young and later adding vocalist Lorita Grahame, Colourbox started life as an indie band. In a climate of post-punk experimentalism and early electronic adventures, they quickly traded in their guitars for samplers.
With a handful of singles and an EP under their belt, they dropped their shape-shifting self-titled debut album on 4AD in 1985. What made it so revolutionary was its sheer musical range.
The influence of innovators like Art of Noise and Cabaret Voltaire was much in evidence in the shiny drum programming and opulent sounding synths, but Colourbox were the first to integrate the dry, almost academic science of electronic music into the rootsy soundsystem vibes they were used to hearing across their native south London.
The heavy sub-basslines of dub, the melodic sweetness of lover’s rock, and the emotional expression of soul all found themselves in the melting pot, with sublime covers of U-Roy’s ‘Say You’ and The Supremes’ ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ appearing on the tracklisting. Thus a tradition was born and it was duly carried on by the likes of Renegade Soundwave and Depth Charge, Leftfield and Weatherall, jungle, drum ’n’ bass, dubstep and so on.
That in itself would be enough, but the scope of this album is even wider. There’s a solo piano piece (‘Sleepwalker’) and the raucous guitars and sci-fi and western samples of ‘Just Give ’em Whiskey’. There’s even a fist-bump to the 50s girl groups with ‘The Moon Is Blue’, sounding every bit like Trevor Horn and Phil Spector sharing a mixing desk.
All way ahead of its time, of course, and although Colourbox went on to attain cult success, it wasn’t until 1987’s collaboration with labelmates AR Kane as M/A/R/R/S and the Number One single ‘Pump Up The Volume’ that the world finally caught up with them.
Ironically, success saw a shitstorm of sampling writs descend on the pair and they all but disappeared overnight. The death of Steve Young in July of this year was barely reported coming as it did in a year of superstar deaths. While this album remains a well-kept secret, those in know will tell you it’s a monumental milestone in modern British music.