The Bays, Jazz Café, London

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The Independent Culture

It's hard to imagine today, but the rave scene once promised to galvanise a new counterculture.

It's hard to imagine today, but the rave scene once promised to galvanise a new counterculture. Now, instead of free parties and political protest, we have declining superclubs and anthems that rely on saucy aerobics videos to sell records. Surprising, then, that the same genre has thrown up a group as revolutionary as any anarchist punk outfit.

In a manifesto that the bassist Chris Taylor explains before each gig, The Bays refuse to release records, sell merchandise or even rehearse. While the music industry alienates the public through its copyright complaints, this improvisational four-piece have ripped up the rule book and headed for carefree pastures, albeit on a tenuous economic footing. And such single-mindedness comes despite the band-members' differing backgrounds. The trip-hop darling Simon Richmond made his name as Palm Skin Productions, while Jamie Odell had previously combined live instruments with house beats on his jazz-inflected Jimpster project. Meanwhile, the bassist Taylor and the drummer Andy Gangadeen had formed a respected rhythm section, the latter especially fêted for his work with Massive Attack, M People and the Spice Girls.

So, while other bands continued to enjoy their Christmas break, The Bays were out of the blocks early in the new year. Two weekend engagements in Camden were their first meeting for five weeks. What followed was an hour-and-three-quarters excursion across a whole gamut of dance music's recent history; one continuous piece that the group constantly broke down and built up again.

It was similar in feel to a particularly eclectic DJ playing a selection of obscure instrumentals. First, the electronic whizz kids built up ambient soundscapes, before Taylor and Gangadeen imposed a slow funk rhythm that brought to mind early Mo' Wax trip hop. This progressed into robotic electro, as Gangadeen made use of his electronic pads, before they moved on to the post-Orb trippy house sound of System 7, then harder breakbeats.

Wrapped up in their monitors and keyboards, the programmers could have been any anonymous electronic duo. Though physically imposing, Taylor took a back seat. That left the drummer as the group's visual focus and spiritual force. From the start, Gangadeen's nodding head was lost in the groove; oblivious to his frenetic arm movements.

With no visible signs of interaction, Gangadeen responded to the generic sounds and vocal samples released by the programmers, in the end leading them into a drum'n'bass frenzy more ferocious than anything by Roni Size's live band. It was all the more thrilling in the knowledge it could never be repeated in the same way. The Bays pushed the bounds of endurance, though that just means we need to get used to a very different way of doing things.