“The success of ‘Children’ is that its melodic basis brings together young and old. It is not listenable just in discotheques but at home as well… I expected some success, but nothing on this scale.”
This is what DJ and producer Roberto Concina, better known as Roberto Milani in Italy, and Robert Miles in the rest of the world, said in 1996 about his mega-hit ‘Children’ and he was bang right.
As the sad news reaches us today that Miles has died, in Ibiza, at the age of just 47, it does at least mean that, across the land, thousands of people will be putting ‘Children’ on their stereos and remembering just what a great track it is – but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
First, though: the music itself.
Amazingly, the initial version of ‘Children’ did not have the piano figure on it which was to be the key to the song’s success; it was originally released on a 4-track EP on an Italian label and completely ignored when it first came out.
However, the revised track was picked up at a dance music gathering in Miami and licensed to Platipus Records in the UK who, in turn, licensed it to Deconstruction Records, who then signed deals with other labels across Europe. Before long it had hit the number one spot in 12 countries.
I certainly remember it being utterly distinctive and unforgettable as soon as I heard it. Its beauty lay in the fact that it was very clearly a club record – the unmistakeable trance feel and four to the floor beats left you in no doubt about that – and yet, it was gloriously dreamy and almost ‘soft’ at the same time. The breathy synth pads, the balearic acoustic guitar part in the intro, the gently bubbling synths; these were all very delicate, like a pillow of sound.
And, of course, that piano riff. One listen and you knew it, it was just totally instant. And it was beautiful because it was so simple. I look back now and realise that the track has actually been a huge influence on the music I write; that simple, plaintive monophonic piano line which combines both impact and minimalism, it’s probably never been bettered.
And yet, there’s an even more interesting story lurking behind its composition.
In the early nineties, as rave culture in Italy grew, there was a worrying trend of deaths due to car accidents, as clubbers, who had been up all night drove home. The combination of dancing fatigue, drug use and alcohol meant that drivers were often falling asleep at the wheel, leading to tragic events. It was known as ‘strage del sabato sera’ – Saturday Night Slaughter’ – and by the middle of 1996, it was estimated that an astonishing 2,000 deaths had been caused by it.
Miles wanted to help try and bring an end to these events, and so he wrote ‘Children’.
While one inspiration for the track was seeing images of the child victims of the Yugoslavian civil war, he also wanted to write the track as a ‘calming’ piece of music to be the last record played at the end of the night, as a means to ‘counteract the fast-paced, repetitive tracks that preceded it’.
Miles’ work and the new practice of DJs in ending their sets with this style of music, and this track in particular, met with the approval of authorities and the parents of car crash victims, and undoubtedly helped dampen the spate of avoidable deaths of exhausted clubbers.
So there you have it: Robert Miles, writer of an anthem for the ages, and a nice guy to boot. May he rest in peace in the nightclub in the sky.