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Trip hop is a music genre also known as the Bristol sound or Bristol acid rap. The trip hop description was applied to the musical trend in the mid-1990s of downtempo electronic music that grew out of England’s hip hop and house scenes. It is often rejected as a term by those artists to whom it is applied. It has also been described as “Europe’s alternative of choice in the second half of the ’90s”, and a fusion “of Hip-Hop and Electronica until neither genre is recognizable.” It is thus categorized as a fairly experimental genre, and sometimes with elements of Dance.
James Lavelle, founding member of UNKLE and owner of the famous trip hop label Mo’Wax stated, “British hip hop lacks the lyrical skills of US counterparts, but British kids have got the musical side, ” and “They know about records. That’s the step forward. Now they can do their own style, they don’t have to copy anything.” An absence of vocals in trip hop (in its earliest days) lead it to find its own voice by replacing vocals with more abstract sounds and having less of a focus on imitating American hip hop.
Trip hop is known for its melancholy aesthetics. This is due to the fact that several acts were inspired by post punk bands; in the 90’s, Massive Attack and Tricky both covered Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure
In some instances, the trip hop sound relies on jazz samples, usually taken from old vinyl jazz records. This reliance on sampling has changed the way record labels deal with clearing samples for use in other people’s tracks. Trip hop tracks often sample Rhodes pianos, saxophones, trumpets, and flutes, and develops in parallel to hip hop, each inspiring the other. However, categorically, Trip hop differs from hip hop in theme and overall tone. Instead of gangsta rap (e.g. NWA) or conscious rap (e.g. KRS-One) with its hard-hitting lyrics, trip hop offers a more aural atmospherics with instrumental hip-hop, turntable scratching, and breakbeat rhythms. Regarded in some ways as a nineties update of fusion, trip hop transcends the hardcore rap styles and lyrics with atmospheric overtones to create a more mellow tempo that has less to do with black American urbanite attitude and more to do with a middle-class British impression of hip-hop. As Simon Reynolds put it, “trip hop is merely a form of gentrification”
Trip hop production is historically lo-fi, relying on analog recording equipment and instrumentation for an ambience. Portishead, for example, records their material to old tape from real instruments, and then sample their recordings, rather than recording their instruments directly to a track. They also tend to put their drums through considerable compression.
Later artists have taken inspiration from many other sources including world and orchestral influences, as well as, film scores. In fact, artists such as DJ Shadow or Portishead extensively used film soundtracks as an influence with its acoustic instruments and orchestral sounds designed to create a mental imagery of a cinematic experience and immerse the listener to a mood of aural reverie rather than a focused attention to social commentaries or lyrics of gangsta rap.