I’ve never been one for buying drum ‘n’ bass – a large proportion of the genre doesn’t interest me, and such a large proportion of it seems to have the same kind of thuggish jump-up vibe that’s currently giving dubstep an (unjustified) reputation as macho, overtly masculine music. So it’s a surprise to me that one of the most exciting 12”s I’ve bought for a while has come from London duo Instra:mental. Admittedly extremely free in their attitude towards genre boundaries, the second plate on their own Nonplus+ records combines the sort of broken, dissected beats common in the techier end of dubstep with luminous synth lines and discreet, futurist bass bleeps.
In so much as a tune at about 170bpm can be defined as d’n’b, lead track ‘Watching You’ is a drum ‘n’ bass workout, but stripped back to its core elements it seems almost a shame to pigeonhole it there. Warming up with a glitchy, spacious beat, the only sign of any expected breakbeat energy is the occasional graceful pivot of snares at the high end – but these elements are downplayed to serve the track’s purpose. Instead, dancefloor driven beat chemistry is replaced with phosphorescent melodic cascades and dBridge’s vocal yearnings, heavily effected and awash in machine soul. It’s unmistakably a song, written for discrete listening as an individual piece, as opposed to a track that only peaks as part of a longer mix. As much as anything else, it’s absolutely gorgeous – the textures the duo manage to craft are so tangible, so sumptuous and fully fleshed it feels as though you could melt into them.
‘Tramma’ on the flip is an excursion into dubstep tempo territory, and driven by a rolling beat and a hypnotic hi-hat figure it shares much with the Detroit and Berlin-inspired end of that genre. In fact, its gradual addition and subtraction of textural layering has as much in common with Shed’s moonlight-bathed forays as with the perpetual motion experiments of Peverelist. Once again, it’s the subtleties that really matter here; consistent, churning low end and repetitive beat architecture is offset by washes of white noise, sudden flashes of airy melody and gritty, dystopian urban landscaping.
It’s the first time I’ve really listened to Instra:mental’s music properly, and has immediately led me to seek out as much of their other material as possible – they seem to be doing something pretty unique in blending elements of a whole host of influences into something that doesn’t sound less than the sum of its constituent parts. It’s the most rewarding kind of experimentation that immediately sounds perfectly integrated and remarkably complete. They’re due to release a new 12” on Appleblim’s Apple Pips label in the near future, and it seems unlikely it will be less than impressive.