‘I write music with an exclamation point!’
The ‘Allstar Warehouse’ was Jam & Spoon’s meeting place, work place, the mecca where ideas resounded, were born. Where hard work and inspiration led to magic.
Everything has a story and so has the studio. It was originally set up by Jam el Mar for his own projects and became the centre of production for e.g. Dance 2 Trance (with Dag Lerner), remixes and other work. Of course it would also become the headquarters for Jam & Spoon, their ‘castle’ which would welcome many eminent visitors and collaborators.
It is situated in the Batschkapp theatre in Frankfurt (‘Batschkapp’ is local German slang for a type of summer hat or beret), a graffiti-clad building by a railway line, previously an old cinema now a concert venue. The building exterior artwork was painted by German graffiti artist ‘Bomber’, and hails to underscore the uniqueness of the theatre - a domain exuding originality and bohemian overtones, resurrected and converted by a consortium led by one Ralf Scheffler in 1976. Aside from running into financial difficulties in the 1980’s, the Batschkapp recovered (thanks to a benefit concert organized by the owner of the Stadthalle Offenbach and a subsequent development loan) and has survived thus for over 30 years. It’s a place that a lot of people love and praise in Frankfurt, hosting an unmistakable atmosphere, and a unique program of bands performing there all year round, ensuring its continued popularity.
And the Batschkapp is a place with extraordinarily good vibes.
It is up some narrow concrete stairs that we enter the studio, located in the old projection room of the building, a tight fit by all accounts, but what it lacks in space it makes up for in creativity. Entering through the 'pearly gates to the kingdom' (the graffiti clad door) you’d expect a high-tech laboratory-style array of equipment but what you get is a homely atmosphere - racks of synthesizer modules, keyboards, a couch, a huge mixing desk littered with toys, pictures, guitars… It’s the womb of Jam & Spoon and the definitive hub of production to this day.
Jam el Mar and Mark were a ‘team studio’ with no officially or clearly-defined roles as such, though Jam concentrated more on the music and as a studio guru, focused on getting the right sounds to match Mark’s ideas as well as his own. During their sessions it was full engagement with full focus and the two friends were most definitely on the same wavelength – an important feature of their success as a partnership, and as an outfit that was able to push the envelope via technical wizardry and the boundaries of set patterns. To go beyond the ‘comfort zone’, take risks and thus defy prediction.
The technology may have changed slightly over the years, but not by that much, and the philosophy remains the same. Jam maintains that it’s regular, every day equipment being employed – nothing special, but that in the right hands can produce exceptional results. Of course when he says ‘regular’ we refer to commercially available synthesizers, and some classic hardware too including: a Moog 3P modular system, a Roland System 700 + MPU101 modular system (the latter providing the kick drum in "Time to Burn"), the Clavia Nord Lead (used on ‘Storm’ and the bassline of Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Nobodies’ – Burn 36 mix), the Korg Wavestation, Access Virus, Roland D-50, Yamaha EX-5, various Emu synth modules and samplers (Jam el Mar used to use the Emu Emax alongside Akai S1000 samplers, and later progressed to the Emulator 4), the Oberheim Matrix 1000, and many more… (the classic and quirky Roland TR-808, TR-909 drum machines and fat, squelchy TB-303 ‘Bassline’ synthesizer, as well as the Sequential Circuits Studio 440 were perhaps used more in the 1990’s than they are now, but remain important to the history of Jam & Spoon’s production and sound).
The world class Lexicon 300 reverb was used for echo and hall effects, the Roland SRV2000 and Korg A1 also employed but it’s the Roland SBF-325 flanger that adds a magic character to these artificially created sound spaces, and warms up the sound nicely. For mastering Jam el Mar will most often turn to the classic Massenburg equalizer and compressor, the latter also used on vocals, such as Holly Johnson’s in the ‘Relax’ remix. It is an unquestionable fact that older and vintage synthesizers have their own sound and precision. The modular P3 and System 700 were used to create, for example, the thunderous kick drums or bleeps, atmospheric noises and other sound effects. Older samplers and effects boxes too have a character and presence that often cannot be mirrored in software.
I deliberately omitted one synthesizer in the list above because I feel it deserves and extra-special mention – the Oberheim Xpander. Even though it is a classic in itself, Jam el Mar was initially told that it was a bad idea he purchased this machine, as it was regarded as something rather non-descript and un-hip (for the production of dance music especially). This mockery was turned on its head however, when the Xpander allowed him to create the famous patch, first used on ‘Stella’, and became, with its characteristic opening and closing filter in effect, a trademark Jam & Spoon sound. The ‘discovery’ of the patch during programming was, as often happens, a lucky surprise but led to immediate inspiration.
Professional artists always strive for an identity of their own and for musicians it can be difficult to come up with a unique and defining sound, so ironically it is the formerly criticized Xpander that was one of Jam’s greatest gifts, providing the means to create a sound that can be immediately attributable to Jam & Spoon. Since then this patch became in its own way an irreplaceable tool, present on every long player and many remixes.
Even though for a number of years the Apple Mac running Logic has allowed Jam to use great plug-ins such as those authored by Native Instruments (e.g. Reaktor, Absynth and Battery) and Logic’s own instruments (the nifty ES-2 for example, accompanying the Nord on the Marilyn Manson bass sound), it is the hardware stalwarts that remain just as important in the grand scheme of the music creation. DSP hardware is enlisted, the likes of Apogee and Protools was, and is exploited – all unsurprisingly professional, industry standard hardware to achieve the cleanest sound possible.
With regards to software synthesizers, Jam el Mar’s attitude is that they can be impressive and have their own place and function in a project. Often designed to emulate a classic synth, and not always fully achieving this, they still contribute something of their own, and co-exist as a valid tool alongside their hardware cousins. With such a magnified variance of instruments, it can nevertheless be challenging these days to strive for an individual sound when the whole world has hundreds, even thousands of the same presets and sample libraries at their disposal, risking commonality through sounding the same. It is all too easy to fire up Garageband or Cubase, dial in some loops, ready-made riffs…and end up sounding derivative.
There is, as every artist knows however, enough room for individual tonality and originality with a bit of work and patience. Maybe in a sense our society has become a ‘disposable culture’ with fewer sculptors than before, preferring instead the ‘painting by numbers’ approach. Perhaps that is why music sounds so two-dimensional and bland nowadays? Who knows, but it’s food for thought.
Of course the duo used loops and audio sources too, but rather as a starting point that evolves into something sounding like Jam & Spoon, adding a bit of grunge or swing to the production. As an example, the track ‘Mirror Lover’ (from the last studio album ‘Tripomatic Fairytales 3003’) uses a loop from the ‘Metmorphosis’ sample CD by the acclaimed Eric Persing. The loop however was re-pitched, effected, filtered. In other words, sculpted.
It goes without saying that getting too technical about the Allstar Warehouse, the studio where these astounding albums and remixes were made, is perhaps not the intention here. Many would venture that it’s impossible to create anything in an environment that has been hot due to a closed space with little ventilation. That the building looks odd, that it can get loud, and so on. This short synopsis therefore points out that works of genius can be created in every kind of location. The place in question must have the right energies, the vibes for a sensitive and fertile spirit to tap into, the feeling of security and must invite inspiration. A place to shape and sculpt great things.
Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and leaves the memory with difficulty. Magical music never leaves the memory.’
Sir Thomas Beecham
Music is what Jam & Spoon are all about – their own identifiable and original compositions and interpretations. The intention here is to dip into some landmark moments, review them briefly. After much consideration, in order not to bore the reader to much, it made sense to touch only on the albums and certain landmark releases, which by no means detracts from the significant importance of their work as a whole. Because that…would need a link the size of the Smithsonian Institute!
Jam & Spoon approached remixing as an individual creative effort from scratch every time. Each assignment was treated as a new musical composition and often a daring set of ideas were tried out and employed, occasionally to the criticism of others, but more often than not, making it stand the test of time, and receiving praise.
Further reviews and notes will be added to those below. So to start the ball rolling (in chronological order):
The Age of Love (1992)
The (now well-known) riff component was used as the centrepiece but strengthened by extra sounds being added, giving it a new power whilst maintaining the identity. The wacky rising pitch-bend sound in two parts of the remix, delivering a cliff-hanging ‘what’s next?’ response, was typical of Mark’s occasionally eccentric ideas and creative input, sculpted and shaped by his partner-in-crime Jam. The 1997 React release added the amazing ‘Sign of the Time’ remix by the duo, adding another spice to the original flavour. An absolute classic.
Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 & 2002 (album, 1994)
The first volume (2001) encompasses a changing pulse of tracks, from the venerable ‘Stella’, through the trippy worlds of ‘Who Opened the Door to Nowhere’, the likes of the mind-bending ‘Earth Spirit’, the amazing ‘Path of Harmony’ to name but a few. ‘Right in the Night’ had some great remixes accompanying the main radio edit (and included an exceptional bonus ambient track called ‘Hispanos in Space)’). The main melodic hook to was based on Spanish classical composer Isaac Albéniz’s ‘Asturias (Leyenda)’ whilst the lyrics were written by Nosie Katzmann – an extremely talented and prolific composer/songwriter who would continue to work Jam & Spoon in later years, whilst at the same time enjoying success via other groups’ releases. ‘Find Me’ (based on ‘Odyssey to Anyoona’) is a velvety, gliding rendition that fits perfectly in the spirit of the album, it had some striking remixes attributed to it, namely the absolutely awesome ‘Fruhschicht’ mix by the masters themselves, located on the remix CD single.
Whilst the first volume entertained a more dancefloor-oriented approach, ‘Tripomatic Fairytales 2002’ on the other hand is diametrically opposite and serves as an ideal counterpoint to the energy discharge of 2001. An innovative, chillout experimental wonderland of musical themes, sounds and voices, uplifting at times but in an otherworldly, alternative way. It’s at home at the Café del Mar; a psychedelic twist of pure sonic elixir, it became a perfect soundtrack for any kind of moment. Mark’s favourite of the two and featuring a selection of guest singers (some recorded live, others to already pre-recorded backing tracks), it redefined the ‘chillout’ genre. Listen to it and get lost in the dreamy concoction of sounds – a definitive key to unlocking the door to your imagination. Songs like ‘Ancient Dream’ and ‘v. Angel. Is Calling’ are with their poignancy juxtaposed with the marvellous ‘LSD Nikon’ and ‘Secret Kind of Love’ (turn the volume up to hear the multitude of telephone nuances in ‘v. Angel. Is Calling’). Weird drones and sound nuggets are massaged aside by graceful melodies. In a world where anything closely resembling ‘ambient music’ is too often bordering on non-descript and having very little to say, ‘Tripomatic Fairytales 2002’ sets itself apart, and in so doing sets Jam & Spoon apart from the crowd.
This opus spanning two volumes, released in 1994, and accompanied by the extraordinarily beautiful and original artwork by German designer KM7 is a landmark in dance music history. Every track on each volume is part of a whole, Listen to them both without interruption, and revel in the sound textures and beats that haven’t aged by even a minute – a true sign of a classic piece of work. Pure bliss.
Relax (Frankie Goes To Hollywood, 1994)
A great remix of the classic 1980’s hit. This definitive track was a hard nut to crack at the outset as the first question really was ‘what to change?’ But as these things go, pretty much everything was altered in some way, only the choir sound remained, and even that didn’t survive in its original form. An element from Frankie’s ‘Two Tribes’ was also included and the whole remix took on its own shape, with the characteristic sound of the PPG and Oberheim Xpander synthesizers completing the tools required to make it a Jam & Spoon sound. The result pays an esteemed homage to Trevor Horn’s original and is a gem.
Disco 2001 (Tokyo Ghetto Pussy, album, 1995)
The album encompassed tracks of a more playful B-side nature, interspersed with a couple of mega-hits! Songs of note were many – ‘I Kiss your Lips’ and ‘To Another Galaxy’ were rave-based, sweet melodic tracks, with the commercially successful ‘Ev’rybody on the Floor (Pump It)’ doing the business on hundreds of compilation albums worldwide, particularly in Australia. My personal favourites (if I had to single out anything at all) are: ‘I Want You’, ‘Let Me Feel the Music’, ‘Hit Me Harder’ and ‘Disco 2001’. This is one album you’ll have on full volume in your car or at home and trust me - it will make you smile, drive faster, dance, forget about your problems for a moment…it will take you to a better place in yourself. And that artwork by KM7 again – a visual delight with pseudo-Japanese ‘Obi-strips’ packed with information and messages (such as ‘it’s going to rain lilac bubbles for me’), as well as an ‘interview with Spoon Lee’.
‘Disco 2001’ is about letting go, and is the best pill for giving you that boost when you most need it. Pop that pill!
Angel feat. Plavka / Can You Feel It (1995)
Silky smooth, with Plavka’s voice like velvet, the only way to describe ‘Angel’ is - astonishingly beautiful. A rollercoaster so energetic, yet plush it’s irresistible. The video was shot by video director Marcus Nispel in an old meat-packing district in New York, lending it a raw, austere feel, underscored with a rather grim story surrounding the fate of two blackmailers. The result was a perfect contrast of the visual story depicting a progressively deteriorating situation for the main protagonists, set against uplifting lyrics. And of course the cream on top was the B-side of immense power – the pounding techno-core ‘Can You Feel It’. A titan of a track, it maintains the peerless production quality and flows so well you don’t want it to end. This awesome release is another example of Jam & Spoon’s music standing the test of time. A vivid yet ethereal, irresistible masterpiece.
Great Mission (Hands on Yello, 1995)
The album concept for the Yello tribute was a fantastic idea. Without being too biased, even though the project itself is a superb listening experience, featuring the likes of Westbam, Moby, Carl Cox and Hardfloor, Jam & Spoon’s remix (and the additional ‘Haus’ mix) stands head and shoulders above the rest, and honours the original version like no other could. Not only that, but the identifiable Jam & Spoon sound, with its highly refined level of production and detail, pays homage to Yello who are also noted for their painstaking approach to their craft.
Stella 1999-1992 - How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1999)
This re-release featured the original version, remixes by Jam & Spoon themselves (including a Storm remix) as well as those by Nalin & Kane, Tall Paul, Eternal Basement, Saafi Brothers, Wackside and Westbam. The single release was accompanied by a video shot by Marcus Sternberg (renowned music video director who had previously worked on Nena’s ‘99 Red Balloons’ as well as Jam & Spoon’s own ‘Storm’ track). ‘Stella’, especially in its original form is music that bathes you in a warm, tropical aural sea. It is ready to be danced to, but equally importantly - listened to. A classic treasure.
Kaleidoscope (album, 1997)
A profound departure from club beats and instead blending acoustic instruments and electronics with ease, it’s at once exuberant, smooth, expressive, profound and very well-crafted. A lot of blood and sweat went into the making of this album, as both Jam el Mar and Mark thought long and hard about the statement they wanted to make with this, their second album. As usual, everything musically was considered very carefully. The dance music scene was changing fast, so the last thing they wanted was to settle on a concept that followed a trend – best to react to what’s going on and set one yourself!
A new direction then but tonally of the same calibre. Yet another epic journey replete with abundant presence and brilliance. Admire and swim in the delicate opening number ‘Garden of Eden’ (Peter Weihe providing the beautiful solo), the housey and sprightly Plavka-led ‘Guiding Light’, the tongue-in-cheek ‘So Called Techno Track’ (a small retaliation there!), the Ibiza-style genius of “El Baile’ (with Peter Weihe again as well as vocals by Carlos Sanchez). ‘Warm Dead Dog’ is a foot-tapping favourite (originally titled by Mark ‘Mild Dead Dog’ to sound ‘scary’) as is the multi-dimensional ‘Suspicious Minds’ – perfect for any chillout lounge. Luxuriate in the drum’n’bass inspired ‘You’ve Got to Get in To Get Out’ (with three tempos all running at the same time in the middle), the James Bond like ‘Flame’ and the classic pop of ‘Kaleidoscope Skies’ (a worldwide hit penned by Plavka). Peter Weihe provides guitars again for the final two tracks – ‘I Pull My Gun Once’ and the album concludes with the (seemingly) simple but symphonic chords and melody motif in ‘I Pull my Gun Twice’ (my neighbours never liked me anyway!). The latter, which concludes the album, is almost Wagner-like and I’m sure I’m not alone in imagining this being performed by an full symphonic orchestra.
Layers upon gorgeous layers in every song results in an aural Shangri-la oozing sophistication. ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a stylistic combination of opposite poles that sent the duo into new territory, and away from the faithless masses. A truly enveloping sonic feast. Enjoy!
Switching to Polydor/Zeitgeist after the split with Sony, it was time to think about how to re-organise their work, being aware that many tracks produced under the Jam & Spoon project didn’t necessarily blend with the main concept and philosophy of the group. So to put the ever-growing musical schizophrenia to rest, Storm was created to cater for those harder-edge club tracks and B-sides. Earlier examples of this duality were perhaps less evident but a case in point was ‘Follow Me!’ which was attached to ‘Right in the Night’. As a club DJ in Dorian Gray, ‘Follow Me!’ was perfect but for the simple reason that ‘Right in the Night’ had vocals it was excluded from any of his playlists. A simple solution, and one that would pay great dividends.
Essentially then being the vehicle for material typifying Mark’s DJ sets, it had a character quite different to traditional Jam & Spoon music. The first release in 1998 bearing the name ‘Storm’ was a razor-sharp knockout hit. It was unashamedly designed to hook you and make you move – and in that it succeeded. Later releases ‘Huri-Khan’, ‘Love is Here to Stay’ and the phenomenal ‘Time to Burn’ culminated in ‘Stormjunkie’ – the album in July 2000. From the opening first hit to the end it doesn’t let up demonstrates the duo’s acumen in creating dance music that shrewdly keeps you addicted.
As I recall at the time the Storm website (storm-storm.de) was pretty different too – interesting use of flash-animated images with a consummate message (not so good if you had a slow internet connection though!). Each interactive component was dynamic and related to a track on the album, with even a shoot-‘em-up game to play starring the tiger-head from the ‘Storm Animal’ single!
It’s as if it was yesterday... me receiving a pre-official release vinyl copy of ‘Time to Burn’ and it sending shivers down my spine, axing through anything soft around me at the time. It has the kind of drop that could rattle the foundations of any club. I knew it was going to be a hit, and it was. Another Storm favourite of mine “We Love” perhaps did not reach the giddy heights that were expected but nevertheless is greatly respected, and much played within the clubs. With a ragga style vocal by MC Kinky, it was dark, deep, hard-hitting and a masterpiece. Love it! The album ‘Stormjunkie’ did not let up on beats and riffs. The loops shake with life, and the sophisticated is yet again made to sound easy. The incredible ‘Rocket in da Space’, ‘Chaser’ and ‘The Return’ are examples of what the intention was – to thrill and move you in the most basic way, but sending you higher after you lose yourself. Masterful.
Tripomatic Fairytales 3003 (album, 2003)
A natural progression for Jam and Mark in many ways, this album was indeed a result of a 13 year partnership maturing into a captivating, multi-layered and exciting undertaking. Featuring a small army of talented and unique guest singers, each in their own way contributing their expression and vocals. Continued co-operation with Rea Garvey and Plavka was of course expected and I don’t think any fan would want less. Most songs were inspired by a musical idea, a melody, it’s a powerful yet gentle album - experimental in a whole new different way. An in-depth review would perhaps go some way to unrolling my listening experience, I truly believe the best will come when you involve yourself, so I’ll keep it short, whilst paying homage to this album.
The tone is unmistakeably set with the melancholic, jazzy guitar opener ‘Moment Gone’, played by Jam el Mar (returning to his guitar-playing to a high degree on this project), and vocals delivered smoothly by Plavka (who co-wrote). Next we have the majestic sounding synth-rock ‘Cynical Heart’ sung by Jim Kerr (the first single release from the album), to the stimulating, melodic and almost jarring ‘Mirror Lover’ (sung by Dolores O’Riordan of Cranberries fame), the album captures each song as a separate story to a homogenous whole, it boasts deft and subtle melodies intertwined with creative use of sonic landscapes, reverb, each moment as you listen touching you, caressing your imagination.
A fusion of electronic, rock, ambient, riding on a beautiful dynamic, Tripomatic 3003 doesn’t ask you to classify or to think - it asks you to feel. It delivers joy, melancholy, space, sentiment and strength, providing the listener with tools to their own inspiration and imagination. Each song has a life of its own – the charismatic ‘Set Me Free’, sung by Rea emotionally driving it home; (a huge hit in Europe and featured a special ambient version made for German film ‘Lautlos’ in collaboration with Gary Marlowe). Brooding and ethereal, it captured and perfectly communicated a certain desolation. The fantastic ‘None of This’ sung by Xavier Naidoo is another ‘repeater’ in my humble opinion (i.e. just one listen of this haunting track is never enough!) coming before the uplifting and soothing ‘So Sweet’, with the distinctive voice of Virginia Nascimento.
Next is the divine and addictive ‘Vata’ (sung by Shweta Shetty). ‘Blanche Le Mie Mani’ featuring Tricky is an anxious and insidious number with a light nod to the Trip Hop fraternity. ‘Butterfly Sign’ (also co-written by Plavka) on the other hand melts the heart and picks you up, like only Plavka knows how to. Midge Ure from Ultravox reminds us why we can’t tire of his voice in the synth-pop ballad ‘Something to Remind Me’ and the ‘Mary Jane’ with Mark Gardener breaks down all boundaries between trends electronic and rock music – and unites through its synergy of genres. Then comes the sublime, classy and grand ‘Why?’ with Rea firmly in the driving seat here with his voice perfectly embroidered in the sonic tapestry. The dark and brooding “Blue Moon Tidal” skewers through the listening space like a machete, swelling with imperial depth and clarity – the alluring and contrasting voice of Plavka the deliverance. The feast ends with the magnificent ‘Junoon’ (featuring Mike Romeo and Shweta Shetty). From the jaw-dropping intro (echoed in the outro), to the powerful, almost brutal drumming and those haunting vocals, it’s a fitting end to a classic instalment of Jam & Spoon history.
A diverse, chimerical work, a compendium of exotic and seductive pieces, Tripomatic Fairytales 3003 manages to fuse a pop sound with an avant-garde spice and fulfils this obligation perfectly in a way only a Jam & Spoon record can. A timeless album.
The Nobodies (Marilyn Manson, 2005)
Wow! What a piece of pure magic this little baby is! Taking the dulcet (after a fashion) tones of the controversial Manson and giving it pace, a massive bassline and breaks that unfold into old-school electro, with bleeps and bloops to complement the power of this truly remarkable remix. It grabs you from the very first second and doesn’t let go until the very end. Unpretentiously bold, fire-eating and I dare say as far as remixes go, probably their finest moment.
Remixes and Club Classics (album, 2006)
This comprehensive slice of their huge discography is a fine legacy dedicated to the memory of Mark Spoon. It must have been quite a challenge for Jam el Mar to sift through all those classics and choose only a handful. It is nevertheless a testament to their massive contribution to music with an unchallenged and unprecedented place in history. Mark would be proud and happy, and we can honour his spirit and strength in no better way than loading up this double long-player and taking a trip down memory lane. Updated artwork by Klaus Mai (KM7) is immediately identifiable and striking and I like the fact that he was commissioned for this project as he always enjoyed working with the duo, and his artwork certainly embellishes the music in a beautiful way.
Featuring the renowned Quincy Jones, Frankie and Manson remixes (amongst others) as well as their very own ‘Follow Me!’, ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Hispanos in Space’ it’s a compelling listen and though at times gentle, it’s never meek. An expansive and very well-balanced tribute then and a proper nod to finer days. Every track is a story, every sound and beat conclusive. It flows with you, teaches you what dance music was all about once upon a time…
More to come!
It is my firm belief that we are blessed many times throughout our lives. This website project, one that will grow with time, arose as a result of my 20-year-old passion for the music of Jam & Spoon – one such gift. They are peerless, their music and sonic imagery have been my companion over the years, creating the same warmth, respect and awe in me now as it did when first exposed to it two decades ago. The intention here is to summarise a journey of epic proportions in a few words and links. It is tempting to touch base with every song, remix and release made by the duo, but that would miss the point of this project which is to encourage listeners to recall, in their own way honour, and ultimately to explore their musical world further.
From ground-breaking remixes (often eclipsing the original) to their own single releases and eminent studio albums, Jam & Spoon, under various guises (Storm, Tokyo Ghetto Pussy and Big Room) set the bar high and served up a generation of fantastic music. More than a blessing then – a gift within a blessing is what Jam & Spoon are to the world, and so it’s time to give something back, celebrate them. Let’s begin the journey…
Jam & Spoon: a short biography
The beginning of the saga
The history of Jam & Spoon is the history of Trance music itself, whose roots hark back to the late 1980’s, early 1990’s; a time of exciting musical variance, development and innovation in dance music. Following the shifting post-rave era, Trance was establishing itself through the innovation and exploration of several artists at that time within a unique symbiosis between artists and their individuality. And the result of this cross-genre pollination? A sumptuous feast for both club-goers and the listening public.
These days, the word ‘Trance’ is banded about as a lot of different things, most of these expendable and derivative, and has, as Mark Spoon once succinctly said: ‘become like chewing gum’. Back then, dance music and its off-spring Trance was synonymous with fresh ideas, boldness and invention.
Frankfurt am Main in Germany, the epicentre and arguably the birthplace of the earliest forms of Trance music, was, in the early 1990’s, a cauldron of creative activity and it is from there, against this backdrop, that two pioneers, Jam el Mar (Rolf Ellmer) and Mark Spoon (Markus Löffel), emerged with their own unique sound and production, anchoring the hearts of many fans, as well as the PA systems of many clubs!
Hailing from Frankfurt and arriving from two very different perspectives, Jam el Mar (already enjoying success thanks to his ‘Dance 2 Trance’ project with DJ Dag Lerner) and Mark (also a DJ and A & R for Logic records) joined forces to create the Jam & Spoon project. Each already a pivotal component of the Frankfurt dance scene in his own way, they first met in 1990 through Norbert Janicke, an engineer for Logic Records’ studio. Norbert, after being asked by Mark if he ‘knew of a keyboard player’, suggested Rolf and this culminated in their first alliance in the studio. They worked on a track called ‘Cross Deadline (Push it Harder)’ which, by their own admission, did not turn out too well and was never officially released. However, this led to a continued working partnership and more remixes, most notably for artists such as Quincy Jones, Harold Faltermeyer, Dr.Alban (discovered by Mark in his role as A & R) and others. In the early years, Jam el Mar is credited separately for keyboards, key programming as well as mixing, arrangement and co-producer while Mark is credited as producer. No finer example is there than one of their very first remix works together – Dr.Alban’s ‘Hello Afrika’ in 1990. The initial short couple of years together cemented their working relationship and defined a common artistic goal. Thus from two halves was born a whole. Born was Jam & Spoon.
The Age of Love
And so came 1992. Having released the loop-oriented ‘Breaks Unit 1’ on Logic Records the year before (a perfect DJ toolkit album for the time), it was this year that would herald their foray into producing hugely successful remixes to a global audience. A track from two years hence titled ‘The Age of Love’ (produced by Bruno Sanchioni and Giuseppe Cherchia, with vocals by Karen Mulder) was released on the legendary React label. The title of Jam & Spoon’s remix of this track itself was an oracle for the good things to come a little later. Called the ‘Watch Out For Stella Mix’, it earned them the accolade of “remixer of the year” by Mixmag magazine, and became a huge success, way more than the original ever enjoyed - for good reason! Personally, I remember hearing it for the first time in the (now sadly defunct) all-night Tower Records music store in London at 2am, stopping dead to listen, and then hastily making my way to the counter to ask what it was! Hypnotic, haunting is what it was. And it sounded big. Remaining to this day one of the highest selling remixes of all time, it encapsulated a beautiful synergy of a simple musical riff with a spellbinding sound. A sound with a story to tell. A Jam & Spoon trademark.
Following the success of this remix, their next release of their own music as was ‘Stella – Tales from a Danceographic Ocean’ on the legendary R & S label. The title of this monumental project was a kind of play on words derived from prog-rock band Air’s 6th LP ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’. Not only did ‘Stella’ reverberate differently to everything else at the time, it is still regarded as a classic to this day. A sonic poem (as I call it), it’s soothing, alluring, punchy and almost operatic, albeit in an electronic way. It was remixed by several artists, including Moby and featured two more seminal tracks – ‘Keep On Movin’ ‘ and ‘My First Fantastic F.F’ (the latter reminiscent of the Twin Peaks theme, as used in Moby’s ‘Go!). As an aside, ‘Stella’ saw a much welcome re-release in 1999 under the name of ‘Stella 1999-1992 - How Stella Got Her Groove Back’. Like a good German car, it was built to last and remains exceptional and evergreen to this day. Jam & Spoon trademarks.
Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 & 2002
And then came 1994 and the venture/adventure of the first proper official studio album (a double album release actually): “Tripomatic Fairytales 2001” and “Tripomatic Fairytales 2002”. Who could have known, dared to predict, or known what to expect? Against an ever-changing, ever-evolving backdrop of the Frankfurt music scene, there was no reason to anticipate something derivative – and it wasn’t. Avoiding the straitjacket of the commercial dance scene, and supported by Sony Records’ Dancepool label, the result was exquisite and ahead of its time. Dividing its power into two segments, ‘Tripomatic Fairytales 2001’ delivered energy, melody and beats, while ‘2002’ pushed you back on the sofa and sent you in audio hyper-reality. The dynamic ‘Right in the Night’, a single release supporting the ‘2001’ volume stamped an indelible mark in charts around the world (including No.1 chart positions in Spain and Finland), having as its B-side ‘Follow Me! - one of the biggest, and most important trance anthems ever. This Thor’s Hammer made its mark in clubs, especially Dorian Gray, where Mark Spoon was resident DJ.
But why a two volume debut instead of a standard single album rolled out by most artists? The success of ‘Stella’ prompted Jam and Mark to shut themselves in the studio for two months as a result of which they had so much material that it befitted a mega first release! It also freed them from being pigeonholed in terms of style. ‘Tripomatic Fairytales’ is simply a special ticket for a memorable, at times peculiar, always distinctive ride you’ll love. Listen to it loud. A groundbreaking double-album, it’s an exuberant and allegorical trip through light and shade.
A trip charted by Jam & Spoon.
The years between Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 and 2002 and the next studio album were very prolific for the duo. ‘Find Me’ (Odyssey to Anyoona) was released. Plavka herself was by this time the ‘third member’ of Jam & Spoon, and her beautiful, silky voice became part of the group’s identity, as well as preserving its own individuality and magic. Following the success of ‘Right in the Night’, Plavka toured for Jam & Spoon promoting the songs, collecting gold and platinum discs with the duo on the way.
Relax & Tokyo Ghetto Pussy
Various remixes were being worked on and completed at this time too, most notably Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” – a challenging project of great importance to Jam who had cited Trevor Horn as an important figurehead, even influence in the area of production. The success of this remix joined those for The Pet Shop Boys, Enigma and Cosmic Baby. We’re now in 1995 and at a time when groups like Scooter (also from Germany) were trumpeting their own particular brand of cheeky commercialized techno, Jam and Mark (in their alter-egos as ‘Trancy Spacer and Spacy Trancer’) release their Tokyo Ghetto Pussy album titled “Disco 2001”. Incorporating a Japanese theme delivered by KM7’s wonderful artwork, it hosted a consignment of addictive club numbers, ranging from Hi-energy to an almost dark, Techno sound, with some House in between. Featuring several vocal tracks, several of these songs manifesting themselves as singles with some great remixes. Overall a girlie fun theme with serious music and serious production.
I’m not sure how they found time to sleep that year but 1995 also saw the release of one of my all-time favourites - “Angel”. Along with the excellent accompanying mixes, this was a deliciously fast-paced melodic song with endearing, positive lyrics (by Nosie Katzmann) delivered by the radiant Plavka. Another sensational release in this year was the “You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess – Great Mission” remix for the ‘Hands On Yello’ project – a range of artists each choosing their own favourite track by the Swiss group to re-interpret. Again several accomplished remixes are rolled out, this time for New Order, Dune, Queen and Simple Minds. Alongside Jam el Mar’s solo release (“The Race Must Go On”) and remixes of Virus –“Sun”, Virus – “Moon” and Graces (“Hand in Hand”), they are added to the ever-growing score of gems.
Kaleidoscope was the next studio album arriving in 1997. And what a release - at times extraordinarily, uplifting, beat-driven, eccentric and melodic in different incarnations. Dynamic and compelling. Perfect. Worthy of note is the astounding CD sleeve artwork; a peerless blend of a variety of papers with hand and computer crafted design, credited to Mati Klarwein. A montage of images, including that of the duo and Plavka, each depicting a representation of a song on the album. The inner jewel case picture shows Jam and Mark sitting against a backdrop of a red wall with circle designs and some women clad in white. This was actually a lucky artistic accident as the location of the shoot was the Der Spiegel magazine’s funky canteen, and the ladies invited to be included in the official shot were the workers there. How cool is that? Yet again a blend of two worlds, and an anomaly that harmonises into originality. Yet another Jam & Spoon trademark.
Scientists say that Time is a derivative of energy and a perfect example of a force being born out of a length time is a short 12 months later – 1998. I remember hearing an interview with Mark on London radio station Kiss FM where he was speaking about the upcoming Storm project prior to release, and when asked to sum it up, he said: “electronic, electronic, electronic”. And so it came to be. In this year, Jam and Mark pushed on to the unsuspecting public their first self-titled track under the Storm banner. Featuring an infectious filtered melody, it was unique, insistent and hypnotic. Just like Jam & Spoon then? You bet! it became a massive hit, and distinguished itself amongst its rivals at the time. Speaking of ‘time’ let’s mention the absolutely phenomenal “Time to Burn” as yet another (of several) extremely successful releases. Where the Jam & Spoon project is music for the soul, Storm is most certainly music for the body. A perfect corporeal counterpoint, Storm was all about sonic power. And it delivered it in great big heaps. Good for us, bad for the neighbours.
The years in between Kaleidoscope and the next studio album were filled with a variety of projects – more Storm, Tokyo Ghetto Pussy releases, single releases from the Kaleidoscope album and remixes for such renowned artists like Mike Oldfield’s ‘Far Above the Clouds’ (1999), Blank & Jones’ ‘Beyond Time’ (2000), Resistance D’s stunning ‘You Were There’(2001), and an extra-special mention for their remix of Giorgio Moroder’s ‘The Chase’. The latter was a thoroughly updated and stomping interpretation that, in terms of remixes, was bettered only by “The Age of Love” and (in 2005) their re-construction of Marilyn Manson’s “The Nobodies” (Burn 36 mix) - in my opinion their best remix ever. In addition to all of this, Jam and Mark released ‘Big Room:Drum Loc’ and ‘Loss of Consciousness’ under their Big Room alias. They were busy - all the better for us.
At 2001 we briefly step off the ‘time train’ to appreciate ‘Be.Angeled’. Jam & Spoon’s first release with Rea, frontman of group Reamonn and a staggering voice. A solid, beat-driven track delivering pure emotion, it was originally the title track for a film of the same name, starring Mark himself, in which the story revolved around a group of people and the Berlin Loveparade. Even though the film never garnered the commercial success it should, the song became hit of the year and went on to enjoy being treated with a host of remixes by artists such as Paul van Dyk. This song was also the commencement of an artistic co-operation between our two heroes and Rea Garvey.
Tripomatic Fairytales 3003
The last studio album, ‘Tripomatic Fairytales 3003’ marked 13 years of work together and produced its own challenges. With so many ways an artist can express themselves, the creative avenues are endless. Enter then another form of expression, this time incorporating a more acoustic palette of sounds. In a sense the philosophy behind the album is much like any other Jam & Spoon project in that a statement is made on their own terms, and may, according to some, fit into a genre but it has its own life, it breathes its own desire, and leaves its mark. This album, thanks to some suggestions made by Beate Geibel, and the efforts of Guido Schulz, incorporates a more significant human element and expands the vocal empire to encompass guest singers such as Xavier Naidoo, Jim Kerr, Midge Ure and others. Amalgamating these with eloquent use of guitars and acoustic percussion in a visionary blend of eclectic masterpieces, it is nothing less than a seductive sweep of darkness and light, of enveloping doses of passion in various musical masks. Throughout their colossal body of work, it is evident that their music is characterized by a high level of production, innovative sound structuring, emphatically lush sonic landscapes with dreamy, hypnotic and catchy melodies complemented where necessary by the silky of voice of Plavka, and the distinctive tones of Rea. This coupled with an originality seldom found in today’s musical forums, crystallizes into stuff of musical legend.
Remixes & Club Classics
This is celebrated in the last release, the weighty “Remixes & Club Classics” (2006) instigated by Jam el Mar, dedicated to the spirit of his friend Mark Spoon. A one-stop-shop for a taste of the best. It’s a compilation that honours as well as understands the importance of history, and reflects the contribution of a once-in-a-lifetime pioneering partnership. Like Jam says – listen to it loud, and I second that! Jam & Spoon have been the indelible soundtrack to my life for close to two decades now. The ‘everlasting friend’, every song and remix has its place and significance in the timeline, every note a heartbeat. It is with great sadness and a heavy heart to say that there can never be another Jam & Spoon instalment to enrich our world. Nevertheless, the work of Jam el Mar continues through production work, live shows and remixes. Plavka is still performing and singing. So is Rea. Nosie still writes and plays.
And this website will develop and grow to embody both the past and the present, in ever more increasing circles… and I hope you will stay with us on this journey!
A lot of effort and labour into making this website but it would not have been possible without the co-operation and hard work of others. I’d like to give a massive thanks to all those who helped in the realisation.
An extra special thanks to:
Misha, for your patience, engineering and ‘seeing’ the vision as well as the technical solutions…the best Webmaster I could have hoped for!
Richard, for all those hours consolidating the articles & interviews in German
Plavka, for your so very important support, if only you knew how much…
Klaus Mai, for your support and approval, as well as permission for artwork!
Henry Chmielnik, for the fabulous photos of the Batschkapp you did for me, commissioned for this project – I couldn’t better. A million times….thank you!
Stefan Sell, for your amazing and huge resource - essential for any collector.
Zak at Sony Music, for your unbelievable help and trust.
Everyone who put up with me for so long when I told you to ‘go a-WAY!!!’
I’d also like to thank the following publications and bodies:
New Musical Express, DJ, Raveline, Die Zeit, Keyboards, MTV, Musician’s Life, Sony Music, The Ministry of Sound, Warner Chappell & VIVA. Lavazza and Marlboro - for tools to keep me going throughout the long nights!
Most of all…
From the bottom of my heart I would thank Jam el Mar, Mark Spoon and Plavka for bringing your music into my life, changing it forever. And may it live on for generations to discover. To that end I hope this website can serve that mission well.
All images and videos used on this website are for non-commercial purposes and remain the property of the respective copyright holders. These include: Sony Music, Polydor Zeitgeist, Edition Allstar II, Edition Get Into Magic, MTV, VIVA, KM7 Design.
All written content remains the property of Hallowedsound (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
© All rights reserved
For an almost(!) full listing of Jam & Spoon releases, including remixes, there is no better resource than Stefan Sell’s massive online library, including editions and catalogue numbers. No-one could have done a better job, and it comprehensively itemises the colossal body of work, whilst for collectors (as was in my case) an important tool to hunt down those vinyl and CD releases.
For releases under Jam & Spoon go here
For releases under Storm go here
For releases under Tokyo Ghetto Pussy go here
For releases under Big Room go here
For Jam el Mar’s solo releases go here
For Mark Spoon’s solo releases go here