Sure, it doesn't get much crasser than this; two jovial, ageing D.J.s making a record of piledriving dancefloor unsubtlety. But then one of the best things about commercial dance culture has been the way the apparently thick line between underground auteurism and lucrative crossover success is so regularly compromised. Every new 'scene' seems to start out pure, then gets muddied up as the pop buyers, ordinary clubbers, and armchair ravers move in, and then eventually enters a fallow period of renewed purism when it gets adopted - usually in emasculated and de-popped form - by the more 'discerning', dilettantish music fan. The early purist stuff is usually fascinating and brilliant, of course, but the fertile, chart-friendly impure period is often more exciting because of the public context. Hence "Gunman" , one of UK Garage's first wild tumbles into the pop arena, mashing up the appropriate clubs and livening up the Top 40 to boot.
The original appeal of Speed Garage to me was the way it smoothed out and killed off the macho-mechanical punishment-beats of contemporary jungle, reintroducing a bit of gloss to London's music and at the same time rediscovering the roughneck theatricality, the brash street melodrama, which had made jungle such fun in the first place. The bad-boy chanting and gunshot percussion which spice up "Gunman" are the stuff of pure cliche, refreshed here by a spooky, mocking music-box melody, and powered up by a dumb, low-down spacehopper bassline. "Gunman" is crude, undeniable stuff, formulaic as hell but a formula that felt - feels - fresh, exciting and accessible.
A pop reading of Simon Reynolds' dance histories, themselves an iteration of the underground-overground balance fretted and debated over since, well, ever. (The first part of paragraph two is, I'm sure, bitten entirely from the great man). The third, post-chart 'renewed purism' phase posited here I think is a potential add-on, possibly unique to mid/late-90s drum'n'bass, and certainly not part of the cycle. You could argue of course that the critical take-up of low-selling Annie, Rachel etc. albums as the teenpop explosion dwindles is an example of this third phase, though!
Not much to say about this write-up, to be honest - it seems impossible to find a 7" mix of "Gunman" anywhere so whenever I've heard it recently over-extension has diluted its pop impact. In memory it's still excellent.