Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The month in bass

As I’ve said before, it’s been something of a vintage month for new material in the bass music sphere. Having been pretty overloaded for the last week or so, here’s a round up of some of the latest developments that have infiltrated my consciousness in the last few days.

Ms. Dynamite, Sticky & Geeneus

This week, a high quality wav download of Ms. Dynamite’s new(ish) tune with Sticky, ‘Bad Gyal’, has surfaced. And as if that wasn’t good enough, the download also includes their original collaboration, ‘Booo’, which is sounding even better a few years down the line. It’s rare to hear sub-bass as all-encompassing as this, even within reach of the none-more-deep climes of the dubstep world. Check it here.

Geeneus’ recent work with her is even better.
‘Get Low’ sent shockwaves through FWD>> when he dropped it a few weeks ago; Dynamite sounds more ferocious than ever, spitting in furious patois over Geeneus’ twisting house beat. There’s even a cowbell, in what seems like its first appearance since around 2005.


On their May show on Rinse, Dusk & Blackdown premiered a new Untold track, ‘Stop What You’re Doing’. One of the most aptly titled pieces of music I’ve heard in ages and an almost seamless follow up to recent Hessle Audio release ‘Anaconda’, with its slithering bass and spacious dancefloor-wrecking minimalism, the drop hard-jacks directly into the nervous system, seizing the attention even as it fizzes, fitfully jerking back and forth. In interviews he has described his primary influence as the polyrhythmic intricacy
of jungle, the way several layers of percussion overlap at once to create a disorienting, dizzying whirl; over the course of the last few months this influence has become increasingly evident in his own productions even as they become ever more distant from easy genre characterization.

Following on from recent 12”s on Hotflush and Hessle Audio his latest EP, Gonna Work Out Fine, will be released in the autumn on his own label, Hemlock. The tracklist looks like this:

Stop what you're doing

No one likes a smart-arse

Never went away
Don't know, don't care

Gonna work out fine

+ One more to be confirmed

The snippets of tracks from Gonna Work Out Fine, up on his MySpace, are suggestive of a drawing together of jungle’s perpetual motion with the tightly coiled, muscular aggression of grime and the restless forward propulsion of his earlier work; a taut, twitchy hybrid that fuses all these elements yet manages to sound like absolutely nothing else. Judging by the current trajectory of his increasingly prolific output, Untold – alongside his contemporaries on Hessle Audio and Hemlock – is rapidly drawing together, revitalizing and reinventing all the disparate strands of post-garage bass music. If his recent FACT mix and killer set at FWD>> are anything to go by, this new EP is going to be a monster.

Rinse Is 15!

Even for a relative newcomer to the scene, the importance of FWD>> and Rinse as bastions of innovation and exposure for forward-thinking new sounds is obvious and indisputable. Putting aside for a moment its massive impact upon the growth of the dubstep and grime scenes, the programming on Rinse (and Geeneus’ own productions) has nurtured and pre-empted the current emergence of funky into mainstream consciousness, which can only be a good thing. The feedback of its flow and more sensual elements back into the increasingly rigid canon of dubstep is producing some incredibly exciting music - from Rinse affiliates like Brackles and Oneman to artists like TRG,
who has been making recent forays into house tempo.

Anyway, to celebrate Rinse FM’s fifteenth birthday this month and by way of promotion for the incredible-looking FWD>> vs. Rinse party at Matter on Friday, they’ve been giving away an exclusive track a day for fifteen days.

First off there was the VIP mix of Geeneus’ genre-defining ‘Yellowtail’, which extends and ups the ante of the original mix with snaking African percussion flitting between its distinctive synth stabs. On top of that, Zinc manages to fit a sneaky double entendre into the title of the punishing ‘All Your Base’ and Scratcha DVA’s ‘Kill All A’ Dem VIP’ wields frankly terrifying, fuzzed out bass, spattered freely over a lurching half-step beat while a funeral march drones in the background. The robotic bass jabs and panic alarm motif of ‘Calous’ are classic Skream, even if the tune doesn’t quite sit up there with his most recent release on Tectonic, ‘Trapped In A Dark Bubble’.

In the end, it’s worth a look even just for the ‘Yellowtail VIP’,
which manages to pull off the difficult trick of being even better than the already staggering original.

Pearson Sound – PLSN/WAD (Hessle Audio)

Right now, David Kennedy is rivaling Skream in terms of sheer productivity – quite aside from the wealth of releases this year under his Ramadanman alias (tunes on Apple Pips, 2nd Drop, Soul Jazz, Aus Music and a whole host of remixes), PLSN/WAD is his second 12” under the Pearson Sound moniker this month, following on from his spacious Gambetta/So Far Ago on Soul Jazz. What is so impressive here is how rapidly his work as Pearson Sound has become so
distinguishable – emphasizing a looseness and playfulness less obvious in his productions as Ramadanman.

Right now, Hessle Audio can do no wrong – its four main contributors have steadily become major players in the dubstep scene since its inception, and every release has been absolutely essential; HES009 is no exception. 'PLSN' is not a million miles away from his recent collaboration with Appleblim, Justify, driven by rolling, brittle percussion and sheets of techy noise which gradually disintegrate to nothingness before the briefest of melodies surfaces. 'WAD' by contrast is an exploration into funky territory, pivoting around a chopped and sliced vocal motif, and seems to have been appearing in sets and mixes from pretty much everyone in the last few months.

FaltyDL – Love Is A Liability (Planet Mu)

Though FaltyDL’s debut album admittedly came out a while ago, I finally got round to getting hold of it last week and it’s worth more than the cursory mention I’m going to give to it here. It’s a fitting summer record - despite the typically British disappearance of anything so much as resembling summer weather in mid-July – his spacious garage beats are lent a wonderful warmth by the emergence of ethereal, constantly morphing melodies. On album highlight ‘To New York’ these fractal patterns coil around and between one another, shifting back and forth as if built entirely from half-remembered snippets of early Warp bleep-and-bass and the woozy ambience of Amber-era Autechre.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Pangaea - Memories

'I keep on wondering/What I'm gonna do without you...'

Even in a month that’s shaping up to have been one of the best this year for dubstep releases (since the start of July there have been essential new ones from Untold, Digital Mystikz, Joker, 2562 and two killer 12”s from Brackles, and this week the latest Hyperdub and Hessle Audio plates have surfaced) the long awaited white label release of Kevin McAuley’s ‘Memories’ stands out as a cut above the rest. It seems to have been around forever – on his MySpace player since the start of the year and a stalwart in sets from any DJ to manage to get hold of a copy – but ubiquity has done little to dull its impact. Finally managing to get hold of a copy on wax feels like a triumph; it’s a tune that deserves the warmth of vinyl, infused with a delicate longing and wistful nostalgia that extends far beyond the dancefloor.

Whilst Pangaea’s release earlier this year on Hotflush was of a more minimalist, experimental bent, ‘Memories’ is very much a spiritual follow up to last year’s sublime Hessle Audio release ‘You & I/Router’. His knack for taking a stripped down approach to production with the fewest possible elements yet wringing from them every last possible drop of energy and vitality has drawn somewhat misleading comparisons with Burial – yet skilful vocal editing aside, the difference could not be greater. Whilst Burial’s production is shadowy and fragile, so drenched in memory and invested emotion that even through a huge system his tracks come across as delicate and intangible, McAuley’s is tougher and more infinitely more danceable, as high-energy garage beats and sub-bass are woven inseparably to an ethereal repeated vocal melody. The effect is mesmeric, exploring the gradual build, peak, euphoria and final comedown of a night out as tension increases from the ghostly opening lines until a glorious string harmony entwines and loops to fade, leaving a warming afterglow in its dissociation. The second drop feels less of an upper; more the placidity of reaching the other side, as your mind gradually settles yet the music still exerts an irresistible pull on your body.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Zomby - One Foot Ahead Of The Other EP

Ramp Records has announced it will be releasing One Foot Ahead Of The Other, the latest EP from 'wonky'/aquacrunk/whatever-you-want-to-call-it-step pioneer Zomby. Since the release last year of his fantastic rave tribute Where Were U In '92 - an album Animal Collective subsequently revealed themselves to be fans of when they played it as interval music at their Koko gig in January – his self-titled EP on Hyperdub has already become something of a genre classic, garnering praise from areas of the press well outside the usual niche dance music circles.

One Foot Ahead Of The Other will be released sometime in August and the tracklist will run like this:

One Foot Ahead Of The Other
Helter Skelter
Pumpkinhead’s Revenge
Polka Dot
Expert Tuition
Bubble Bobble
Mescaline Cola
Firefly Finale

After Simon Reynold’s hotly debated ‘ketamine music’ article in the Guardian a few months ago, in which he drew an aesthetic connection between Zomby’s productions and K’s loosely dissociative effects – an aural connection I don’t agree with but was at least slightly understandable in the Hyperdub EP’s unquantised, ghostly breaks and aquatic, gloopy bass – the tracks that have thus far surfaced are less immediately classifiable as ‘w***y.’ A recent, rare interview gave a little more idea of his wide-ranging influences; he’s obviously a man with very varied music taste and if he’s listening to stuff on Paw Tracks, US indie and noise as well as the more self-evident UK dance this seems likely to have impacted far more on his music than any drug. That said, Animal Collective’s favourite of his remixes for them was made whilst spannered on psychotropics.

On his Rinse FM shows, Blackdown has recently been playing short mini-mixes of new Zomby tracks which, whilst displaying his distinctive hallmarks are increasingly vibrant and melody-led, washes of bright synth quite apart from the Hyperdub EP’s suffocating density and closer to the technicolour explosions of ‘Strange Fruit’ and ‘Rumours and Revelations’. The most recent of the new EP’s tracks to emerge, ‘Godzilla’ is more closely aligned to his dubstep contemporaries, ascending arpeggiated synths reminiscent of Skream’s ‘0800 Dub’ or Rustie’s remix of ‘Spliff Dub’. It’s the best thing he’s done in ages – August can’t come soon enough.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


Lower End Spasm are hosting a new mix from the reliably awesome Jackmaster, and tis a good 'un. Fitting with his penchant for mixing together seamlessly touches from all over the place with a healthy disregard for genre boundaries it features, amongst others, new stuff from Guido and Pearson Sound ('Wad', which is due for release on the next Hessle Audio 12"), Joy Orbison's anthemic 'Hyph Mngo' and Hyetal's simply gorgeous 'Pixel Rainbow Sequence'.

Check it:


I first encountered the music of Anja Plaschg about a month ago at Meltdown, in support of Patti Smith & Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. From my seat on the highest tier of the Royal Festival Hall, the figure that walked onstage was small, a featureless blur that settled in front of a piano, chest and face aglow from a laptop screen. The music that emerged was unexpected, and startling; layers of piano melody forming a delicate spider-silk web into which jarring stabs of percussion and found sound became hopelessly entangled. In stark contrast to such impersonal surroundings her skeletal torch songs drifted into the ear and lodged as though whispered from a distance of mere inches rather than fifty metres, almost uncomfortably intimate yet equally intangible. Their elusive, claustrophobic quality, making the environment close in upon the listener, could not be further from the direct in-your-face energy of the headliner, who immediately afterward took control of the stage with scathing, bilious spoken word.

Lovetune for Vacuum, Plaschg’s debut album as Soap&Skin is a distillation of these simple elements – piano, voice and the merest shadow of skittish electronics that rattle in the background like the clicking of crystalline mandibles – and is pretty unique in its vision. There are reference points, sure: the sparsest of Cat Power’s early piano dirges, Nico’s detached ice queen aura or Bjork at her most fey and frosty, even the crooned everything-and-nothings of Sigur Ros circa ( ) before they went off and did that overblown whalecore thing – but the songs of Soap&Skin are shot through with a kind of central European, black forest gothic that convincingly sets her apart from her closest contemporaries. So the subtle thrum and clank of kitchen sink electronics that pervade the understated drama of album opener ‘Glass’ sounds less like the background hum of modern life than the hammer-and-tongs industry of a medieval smithy. And when she tells of her youth, of ‘[killing] all the slugs that I bored with a bough in their spiracle,’ there is not a hint of nostalgia in her delivery, only a childish willingless to toy with her prey borne of curiosity and a hint of maliciousness. At only eighteen, she seems an old head on young shoulders.

Although Lovetune For Vacuum was released on Couch/PIAS in April it emerged with a minimum of fanfare – slightly odd given that the all-pervading nature of the internet tends to ensure that many releases reach ridiculously proportioned levels of hype by the time they’re physically available. Given the current glut of female singer/songwriters mostly treading the same old ground, it’s refreshing to find life in the medium yet. It’s certainly deserving of far more attention than it’s been given in the music press, mainstream or otherwise; Plaschg is a precocious talent and given the strength of her debut it’s likely that the future holds far more. She is playing a short UK tour in the autumn – apparently her last as a solo performer – I strongly advise you find your way to one of the dates.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Apple Pips

Unusually for a label that has often left fairly long waits between releases, in the last couple of weeks Appleblim’s label Apple Pips has put out not just one but two excellent new 12”s from opposite cutting edges of the UK bass scene.

Since the emergence of the Skull Disco and Hessle Audio labels respectively, Appleblim and Ramadanman have steadily put out a stream of quality releases, loosely falling under the umbrella of techno-influenced dubstep; ‘blim’s Dubstep Allstars Vol. 6 was a compelling document that tied together under a shared aesthetic a host of disparate producers from the UK and beyond. Hot on the heels of the release on Aus Music of ‘Sous Le Sable’, the first track from their studio sessions together, the most recent Apple Pips brings to light a second collaboration, which in contrast to the slow-burning house of their first release sees them return to usual dubstep tempo and an edgier, more restless mood. Wearing its techno influences more visibly, ‘Justify’ is underpinned throughout by a looped, cascading melody and brittle halfstep beat even as the second section buckles under a shower of metallic synth. Yet despite the obvious differences between the two tracks, there is a shared link in compositional style; both are extended mood pieces comprised of several sections linked thematically rather than overtly, and the complexity and skill of the duo’s production ensures they are as well suited to headphone listens as the dancefloor.

By way of contrast, Brackles’ eagerly awaited ‘Get A Job’ is as dancefloor-ready as they come. As a regular DJ in and around London, he has a ferocious reputation for rapid-fire mixing and high energy sets – despite playing the opening slot he pretty much tore the roof off when I saw him at the Apple Pips showcase in April – and both tracks here have been justifiably appearing in DJ sets and shows on Rinse for a few months. Which does little to dull their impact; both ‘Get A Job’ and ‘Lizards’ are synth-driven monsters, inextricably linked to the group of DJs and producers (along with people like Brackles’ brother Martin Kemp, Oneman and Geiom) who are currently pushing to fuse some of the more thoughtful and subtle aspects of dubstep to the tribal swing of funky and two-step, and in doing so drag it away from the increasingly testosterone-fuelled ‘wobble’ scene. In the same week that saw the release of Kemp’s ‘No Charisma’ and a second Brackles 12” on Planet Mu (‘LHC’, which might just be the best thing he’s ever done), the line between dubstep, funky and garage is becoming ever more blurred; and the music emergent from this cross pollination is more exciting to me than that of any other niche at the moment.

Untold at FWD», 12th July 2009

There’s something to be said for the continued existence and success of a space like FWD>> for the nurturing and airing of new and innovative sounds; detachment from the crowd-pleasing pressures of performing at a Friday or Saturday night rave encourages sets that do not merely skirt round the edges of subtlety and musicality but fully embrace the possibilities that come with a devoted and attentive audience. It’s often said that dulling one sensory input heightens that of all the others, yet I’ve always found the environment inside Plastic People unusual in that its pitch darkness seems not only to attenuate vision but also touch, taste, smell; yet the alienation engendered by almost total sensory deprivation is redeemed by the total immersion in sound such an environment offers. Away from these anchors to reality the experience is pleasurably dissociative, the constant motion of bodies in monochrome only occasionally disturbed by the sudden spark of a lighter held to the ceiling in triumph, everything suddenly lit for a fraction of a second in glorious technicolour before plunging back into darkness.

From the literal to the metaphorical; such a description would be as appropriate to encapsulate Untold’s set this evening, which plunges from the humid heights of Joy Orbison’s ‘Hyph Mngo’ straight into dizzying cyclical layers of percussion, brightened only by an occasional flash of woozy melody. The past twelve months have seen his profile skyrocket off the back of his stellar productions, which themselves have swiftly evolved from intriguing curios into some of the most essential in modern electronic music. Both his recent 12” releases on Hessle Audio (‘I Can’t Stop This Feeling’/‘Anaconda’) and Hotflush (‘Just For You’, backed with a tough-as-nails Roska refix) have seen him up the ante considerably, injecting his music with a renewed vigour that owes as much to the labyrinthine twists of Eskibeat as to previous touchstones, dark halfstep and stoned chords straight out of the Berlin school of techno. The propulsive, restless energy of tonight’s set conjures up the long-lost ghosts of hardcore and early jungle, a seam richly mined for nostalgia over the past few years but one which rarely sounds this contemporary, this now.

There are comparisons to be drawn with the emergent ‘wonky’ movement in effect, if not in execution; the aptly titled ‘Stop What You’re Doing’, recently premiered on Dusk & Blackdown’s Rinse show, shares a kindred what-the-fuck factor with some of Zomby’s most off-kilter moments, yet the stylistic contrast could not be starker. Both elicit a heightened sense of disorientation, but whilst in Zomby’s music this is achieved through loosely tied and staggering, unpredictable rhythms, in Untold’s productions it’s through tightly locked polyrhythmic interplay – this is the stuff of pinpoint accuracy. Once grafted to swooping basslines and shards of melodic shrapnel, at times the effect is closer to a kind of stripped down and muscular instrumental grime than to any notion of conventional dubstep.

Crucially though, when all is said and done, it remains both fiendishly addictive and frighteningly danceable – and when the sultry vocal from Geiom & Marita’s ‘Reminissin’ floats buoyant at the top of the mix for a minute or so before being sucked into a maelstrom of woodblock and snare, that’s all that really seems to matter.

Untold's MySpace:

All the sets from FWD on 12th July (including a pretty fantastic 45 minutes from Geeneus) are currently available to download from Rinse FM (