In the wake of dubstep’s diversification and general leaching into the wider realms of bass music, there has been some fascinating music released that could loosely be tucked under the genre label of ‘digital dancehall’. The most high profile was The Bug’s career best London Zoo album, released late last year. Whilst its slower and more contemplative moments with Roger Robinson and Ricky Ranking were closer to the dub soundscapes he’s recently explored as King Midas Sound, the majority of London Zoo was taken up by grinding, bass heavy beats graced by a host of local MCs. Aside from unleashing some terrifying mutant sounds on the world – Flow Dan’s ‘Skeng’ and ‘Jah War’ both showcase his talent for genuinely unsettling monologues – Kevin Martin pulled off with aplomb the difficult feat of merging dancehall’s thrust with the deep, meditative aura of early Digital Mystikz. ‘Fukkaz’ in particular was a highlight, seeing Spaceape take a step away from his more dystopian musings with Kode9 towards the broken and ruined present.
Utilising the same basic ideas, steel city producer and fast-paced party DJ Toddla T has released both his debut album Skanky Skanky and a Fabriclive mix CD this year. Both borrow liberally from more or less every UK bass scene, and while neither strives for the kind of depth and longevity The Bug injects into his material, both coalesce into a pretty unique mismatch of distinctly British cheekiness, wrecking electro synth and pounding ragga riddims.
Which is where Dylan Richards comes in. His Hear The Night Roar album as King Cannibal takes The Bug’s acerbic psychosocial laments and runs amok, melding the none-deeper sub-meltdown of ‘Skeng’ with metallic chainsaw edges to devastating effect. The beat structures on opener proper ‘Aragami Style’ and ‘Murder Us’, featuring a sultry turn from Berlin’s Jahcoozi, are pure dancehall fire - all thump, tighten and release. Yet on the whole Hear The Night Roar is about as much a directly dancefloor-aimed album as London Zoo; which is to say, not a whole lot. Its essence is too deep for the majority, too thoughtful despite its violent intent to have the kind of visceral body-motion impact of more straightforward rave fodder. King Cannibal’s subs instead bleed atmosphere into the void; ‘So… Embrace The Minimum’ takes a Rhythm & Sound inspired trip into Berlin territory, the ghost of a 4/4 beat flitting between monochrome synth brushstrokes, and the entire record is haunted by barely human voices rising in the mix like a too-close whisper in the ear.
It’s strangely psychedelic in effect, and bracing in equal measure – ‘Dirt’ goes far beyond even the furthest reaches explored by Kevin Martin, Daddy Freddy’s Mike Patton-esque gibbering and throat-wrenching screams closer to digital hardcore or mechanistic metal than any definition of dance music. Similarly, the electronic blastbeats of ‘Colder Still’ align him as an aesthetic contemporary of many modern metalheads. It’s appropriate that The Bug cut his teeth working with Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick in the farthest reaches where the heavier side of electronica and avant metal collide – both genres explore fascinations with extremity, with how far music can be pushed whilst still retaining some semblance of order and structure. King Cannibal takes a similar conceptual approach to out-and-out sonic warfare, and has managed to produce an album of physical and emotional extremes. Its energy neither entirely positive nor entirely negative, the subtler touches on Hear The Night Roar – a rippling melodic drone over the top of the percussive maelstrom of ‘A Shining Force’, the tribal machinations that open ‘Flower Of Flesh and Blood’ - have an ethereal, ghostly kind of beauty.
To cautiously extend the comparisons to The Bug that little bit further whilst still distancing the finer subtleties of Dylan Richards’ sound from that of Kevin Martin, as on London Zoo there are still moments on here that will destroy the dancefloor. Yet the amount of thought, variation and reserve that has bled into Hear The Night Roar’s very structure extends its appeal a far way beyond. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an electronic record that’s made me want to go back and listen to my old metal and hardcore albums, but I intend to have a root through my CD collection for some of the old gems this week.