Monday, 12 July 2010
Keeping it simple and straightforward this month; Short Circuitry’s been swimming through a boundless ocean of heady delights, and inevitably any attempt to whittle it down is going to end up grossly inadequate. Still, top marks have been going to tunes that defiantly refuse to pander to the sheer heat and humidity that’s reduced this wasted copper wiring to little more than a weakly sparking wreck. In particular, regular injections of Rhythm & Sound’s seminal With The Artists CD and the veritable dose of sonic frostbite that is the Moritz Von Oswald Trio’s Vertical Ascent have kept these drums rattling in some form of delicate equilibrium. Just about, anyway. Right, onward…
Digital Mystikz – Return II Space [DMZ]
It’s been said before, and it’ll doubtless be said countless times again in countless slightly offset permutations, but Digital Mystikz’s Mala is dubstep. Or, to qualify that statement further, he operates as the absolute epitome of a genre term that’s fast becoming slightly redundant, buckling under the pressure of its myriad mutations. One step further than that would be to state, quite simply, that his music – more than that of any other producer within this sphere – operates with an absolute purity of vision bordering on the obsessive. And to be fair, why shouldn’t it be so? Along with his fellow Mystikz, Coki and Loefah, he defined a genre, and almost everything that now lands under dubstep’s widening umbrella is in some way indebted to him.
So it’s unsurprising that the arrival of his fullest release yet, many miles down the line from where the DMZ label first began in 2004, is both long awaited and dogged by serious weight of anticipation. As with everything he releases though, quality control is absolute, honed through years of ultra-exclusive dubplate play on some of the world’s finest systems; on a basic level then Return II Space is ‘merely’ another set of all-encompassingly brilliant material to add to a catalogue that hardly suffers for a lack of it. These tracks capture the meditative communion of the FWD sound and expand outward. Viscous sub-bass both binds and separates the congregation, like the stuffy gusts of warm air that fill the space between tube commuters desperate to avoid each other’s gaze. On one hand then, as is so commonly associated with dubstep, his music speaks of urban alienation: the storms of dissonance that gather throughout ‘Mountain Dread March’ evoke the pitch individuality of a dance at Plastic People. But it also offers resolution, locked in the unsteady melody that rises to the surface during the latter’s final minutes, and encoded in the DNA of ‘Livin’ Different’s static positivity.
Well worth the wait then, and knowing the sheer volume of unreleased material Mala continues to sit on, there may well be another six years of anticipation before the next of its kind rears its head. Here’s hoping that’s not the case, but until then there’s enough locked in the furthest reaches of Return II Space to keep things heavy for the foreseeable future.
Various Artists – Workshop 10 [Workshop]
May saw the arrival of the tenth 12” on the Hardwax-affiliated Workshop imprint, home to deep cuts from the likes of Move D and the brilliant Kassem Mosse (more on him later), all unnamed to heighten the label’s chilly mystique. On the A-side two tracks from Lowtec delve into the kind of state your head might be after a night and day on the tiles at Panoramabar, the first chasing smokelike billows of melody that writhe around a steady four-to-the-floor pulse. It’s followed by a song for that evening’s twilight, which meanders in a gorgeous state of exhausted elation, seemingly happy to sit and contemplate the previous night’s excesses. On the flipside, Schweiz Rec brings jazzy explorations to the fore and Ron Deacon weaves fragments of found sound around a house backbone, but it’s really all about the A side on this little beauty.
A pause for thought: there’s something reliably lovely about buying music that’s untitled; it leaves room for it to breathe and absorb the listener’s own interpretation of theme and mood. Admittedly, the crypic or numeric names doled out by many a techno producer aren’t exactly screaming their intent to the world, but leaving something entirely unnamed is a bold and definitive statement at a time when it’s so easy to discover everything at the click of a mouse. Just try Googling ‘Untitled A1’ and see how you do: it ain’t happening.
Gunnar Wendel – '578' (Omar S Mixes) [FXHE]
And so now I’ve gotten to Kassem Mosse, here referred to by his real name, Gunnar Wendel. With an upcoming release on Nonplus, it seems he’s gaining a bit of a buzz – which is just fine with me, as his music’s marvelous, all grainy dubtech and nocturnal melancholy. For his own label FXHE, Detroit don Alex Omar Smith has reimagined one of my favourite techno tracks of the last few years, the spectrally beautiful ‘578’, in two competing forms. For my money the ‘Rude Boy Warm Mix’ is the keeper, leaving the original’s synth patter largely intact and upping the pace, and in doing so crafting a graceful slice of 4am deep house. Still, the slower Berlin mix on the flipside is hardly shabby either, and sees Smith rip the guts out of the track to leave only the tracest elements to spar behind its bewitching central theme. Lovely stuff.
LHF – EP1: Enter In Silence [Keysound]
Keysound boss and blogger of some repute Martin Clark describes London’s LHF collective better than I ever could: “like Sun Ra’s hijacked Rinse FM and is using it to communicate with the heavens”. The sheer wealth of ideas, influences and concepts packed into their debut EP is a little dizzying but thoroughly compelling. With any luck they’ll ‘do a Flying Lotus’ by the time of their album, and craft an entirely convincing and occasionally terrifying psychogeographical tryst round the hidden spaces of Greater London. I’m looking forward to the bit when they encounter a gang of muggers in a dark alley and scare them off with mystical magicks and glowing eyes.
Hyetal – Like Silver/Phoenix [Orca]
Hyetal is the jack in the Bristol deck (no prizes for guessing who takes the role of joker), constantly shapeshifting in his slightly less prominent role but providing some of the city’s most memorable recent releases. ‘Pixel Rainbow Sequence’ was a dazzling blaze of technicolour synthplay, curiously elegiac in tone, and his underrated The Last Time We Spoke 12” was one of my favourite things released last year. With this new 12” the prevailing wind really ought to begin shifting in Hyetal’s direction, as it’s hands down the best thing he’s put his name to yet. The shimmering waves of ‘Like Silver’ are good enough, but ‘Phoenix’ is utterly spectacular, an incandescent blaze of funk infused glory that leaves trails of superheated steam fizzing in its wake. It’s the soundtrack to a psychedelic session beneath the glowing vapours of the Aurora Borealis, and deserves to be played at the end of every rave from now until the end of time. It’s available to listen to in full here – get to know and fall in love.
George Fitzgerald – The Let Down EP [Hotflush]
George Fitzgerald could probably be summed up as the first post-Joy Orbison bass producer to work with the ‘Hyph Mngo’ man’s basic template and expand on it further; his The Let Down EP on Hotflush will doubtless draw many lazy comparisons from those less inclined to focus on the less overt details. Which is a shame really, as this is an even more impressive debut than ‘Hyph Mngo’ was a year ago. ‘The Let Down’ is a convulsing slab of dance energy, driven by a snarling beast of a bassline that prowls beneath the humid synths above, but ‘Weakness’ is what it’s all about. Hinged around a translucent vocal that rears out of the background before receding again, it takes the house/garage/techno/whatevs crossover to dizzying new spaces. They’re both available to peruse at his Soundcloud page.
Joe – Claptrap/Level Crossing [Hessle Audio]
Joe - Untitled/Digest [Apple Pips]
The mundanely named one Joe has finally returned to follow up last year’s blinding ‘Rut’ 12” with not one but two new EPs of material. And both are among the best to have emerged from the post-dubstep set this year. All of these tracks are pretty much entirely percussion, bar the odd patter of found sound and the occasional jazzy bursts of Rhodes that rebound off the traveling clatter of ‘Level Crossing’. And for such new tracks they all sound so lived in, so gritty, packed with miniscule details – the creaking of a door at the beginning of ‘Untitled’, tiny bursts of static hinting at forward motion – that belie the sheer minimalism of their construction. With both these 12”s Joe offers a masterclass in packing as much into music as possible whilst keeping the palette limited to the barest essentials. Just as convincingly innovative as the rest of the Hessle Audio stable then.
FaltyDL – Phrequaflex [Planet Mu]
Ital Tek – ‘Moment In Blue (FaltyDL Remix)’ [Planet Mu]
New York’s favourite (only?) IDM-informed two-step producer returns! And it’s about time, as his releases from last year showed no lack of awesome physical and emotional power. The first of two new EPs on Planet Mu, FaltyDL’s Phrequaflex takes as its starting point the jitterbug garage of his Love Is A Liability album. What’s amazing about this guy is his almost supernatural ability to keep The Funk – and I’m talking serious danceability here – in beats that are indecipherably complex, and packed with minute shifts and slippages that threaten to tear the music apart at any time. This release is no exception. Particular props to the razor sharp ‘Because You’ and the troubled soul of ‘My Friends Will Always Say’ though. On the same label, his remix of Ital Tek’s ‘Moment In Blue’ is a delicious four minutes of deep blue old-skool vibes.
Also rocking the Short Circuitry stereo:
Oriol – Night & Day [Planet Mu]
Planet Mu’s new signing Oriol explores the same wild jazzy house/boogie regions as fellow travelers Floating Points and Onra, but ramps up the Weather Reportage for his debut album. The results sound a little like Floating Points blasting round sunset Miami on a big-ass, fuck off chopper.
Kode9 – DJ Kicks [K7]
In which the Hyperdub boss squashes an accurate representation of his current DJ sets onto an eighty minute CD. Intense.
Roof Light – Kirkwood Gaps [Highpoint Lowlife]
Sadly, Thorsten Sideb0ard is winding down operations at Highpoint Lowlife HQ, but this is a reliably excellent bit of electronic gear from a consistently on-it label. Oceanic ambience, manic post/future-garage beats and spacey hip-hop all feature heavily, and the track titles are something to behold – ‘Marrying Maidens Fair Of Willow’, anyone?
Main photo: ‘Good Morning Hammersmith’, by Nico Hogg
Monday, 14 June 2010
Hotflush duo Mount Kimbie's stunning debut Crooks & Lovers is due out next month. It's a truly labyrinthine listen, flitting swiftly through mindstates and abruptly changing mood at seemingly arbitrary points. In advance of its release I caught up with the band's Dominic Maker to chat about its genesis, their influences and how their music comes together, in this interview for Drowned In Sound.
In the few hours since it's been published I've been given some food for thought by several comments, which I'm keen to expand on slightly here. It's largely to do with connection my article has drawn between the loop-heavy sound Mount Kimbie have put together on Crooks & Lovers and the current Wire-approved wave of US 'hypnagogic pop'. While I'm less than overly keen about its use as a genre signifier, it's seems to me that the idea of hypnagogia in music can be quite a useful tool to draw parallels between emergent sounds, despite their obvious differences. Hypnagogia being the bridge between waking and dream, that elusive period of time where the brain begins to draw unconscious associations between older and newer memories, and regularly brings forth inspiration that disappears as soon as the conscious brain attempts to track and record its logic.
During the interview the discussion point was techno: the way that a well-mixed techno set can lull the brain into a similar state of semi-consciousness as the lo-fi, New Age feel of artists like Sun Araw and Oneohtrix Point Never. Once again, it's a case of repetition with modification, and a certain amount of intuitive melodic or rhythmic development that seems to develop in a free-associative, rather than overtly conscious way. Mount Kimbie's sound on Crooks & Lovers is quite heavily loop-based, and follows a similar off-kilter sense of narrative, tapping into a similar middle ground.
The difference between the US crop and an band like Kimbie seems to be one of influence, and how it's channeled. Artists like Sun Araw, The Skaters or Emeralds keep hold of a distinctly American connection to a slacker-ish aesthetic that ties in with the films of someone like Van Sant; quiet, dreamlike US indie movies. Kimbie are part of a different lineage, connected with London and Berlin, and the evolution of the 'hardcore continuum' (itself a contested idea, hence the quotation marks), but mine parallel, sometimes meditative spaces. Of course, this line of thought exempts the obvious other influences that go into their music: Crooks & Lovers has similar ties to hip-hop and soul as James Blake's music, for example. But it might offer a way of extracting and considering one aspect of their sound.
Any comment's welcome, this is largely food for thought and any ideas, links or owt would be appreciated.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
There’s a lot of love for the Highpoint Lowlife label round this way – they've been responsible for releasing some of my favourite records of the last twelve months, including TVO's stunning The Starry Wisdom EP and Production Unit's lovely new Ghost Tracks. They’ve can also take credit for putting out 10-20’s unique and strikingly prolific body of work over the past year or so. In the wake of the release of his excellent and continually intriguing self-titled debut – ‘Arcadeagle’ in particular has barely left my stereo since it first arrived here – he has put together no less than four EPs as part of his Landforms series. In an appropriate feat of naming, or an even more impressive feat of suggestive projection, each has perfectly matched its title, from Island’s humid density to the turbid and peculiarly opaque depths of Lake. They’ve worked well as a series, each showcasing a different slant to his sound and pulling away from the comfortably coherent feel of the album to explore stranger, more abstract territories.
So after the chilly soundscaping of Mountain it’s a welcome surprise that the final installment in the series shows 10-20 at his most direct and rhythmically straightforward. Of course, anyone familiar with his previous work will be well aware that even at their most beat-driven his tracks tend towards entropy, gradually peeling away and cracking at the seams to reveal tiny glimpses of the chaos that lies just beneath. Isthmus opens, in pleasingly cyclical fashion, with ‘Halogen’s reprise of the hip-hop influenced beat from Island’s ‘Hallow’, but stripped clean of that track’s tropical melody it’s an altogether more menacing beast. Carried along by a razor-edged synthline, it hints at a darkness that’s never fully explored, leaving a peculiar sense of foreboding as each element fades to nothingness.
The manic industrial percussion and chorus of dissonant bleeps ‘n’ bass that ushers in ‘Athens’ journeys deeper still, before a resolution of sorts is found in closer ‘Zizek’. Submerged in a wash of static crackle it harks back to Lake’s desaturated gloom, once again neatly closing the circle as a reminder that all four EPs work as a whole as well as in segments. Revisiting all four in one listen, it becomes more apparent how well Landforms works as a companion piece to 10-20’s debut effort. Two great albums in a year, each by turns beautiful, beguiling and terrifyingly abrasive: not bad at all.
Wednesday, 2 June 2010
After another one of those hiatuses – in typical style, a case of life imitating art and hitting the wonky flex – Short Circuitry returns, and it’s hit the magic Bond number. As seems to have been the case an awful lot lately, it’s proving to be a consistently exciting time to be a follower of electronic music. There have been a whole raft of releases in recent weeks setting the bar high for the dancefloor, not to mention a couple of upcoming ones looking to kick down the walls of the mainstream entirely.
I refer of course to the three-headed London-based beast consisting of Mount Kimbie and James Blake. While there was originally a physical connection between the two – Blake played in an earlier live incarnation of the band, alongside the core Kimbie duo of Kai Campos and Dominic Maker – at this point the two have parted ways to focus on their own material. In both cases it’s swiftly paying dividends. A year ago, if you’d told me someone making music as defiantly off-the-wall as Blake’s would be gaining glowing coverage from all corners of the music press, or that the same Mount Kimbie who wrote the spectral lullaby ‘Maybes’ would be remixing Foals, my eyebrow would probably have hit the ceiling. That both have achieved that and more may be testament to a greater open-mindedness amongst ‘indie’ fans than before – or perhaps it’s simply that both are making music that’s too special to stay confined to a narrow spectrum of listeners.
Following on swiftly from my glowing review of Blake’s The Bells Sketch EP in the last Short Circuitry (and I quote: “[The entire EP is] slowed to half-tempo and delicately strung out, as if he’s physically inserted fingers into the music’s core and gently teased apart each fibre. The title track is simply gorgeous, guided by a pair of interlocking vocals buried so deeply that they lose all nominative sense and reach some subconscious level where pure sonics matter more than words”), his new EP on R&S, CMYK, manages the feat of going one better. In fact, I’d probably stretch to saying it’s the finest 12” release of 2010 thus far. Entirely different in tone, its four tracks – though perhaps ‘songs’ would be a more appropriate word – operate at double the tempo, lending a sense of urgency quite opposed to the languid pace of something like ‘Buzzard & Kestrel’.
Where Blake really astonishes, both in his original tracks and his Harmonimix reworks of existing songs, is his ability to take sounds we’ve heard a thousand times before and make them extraordinary. The title track lands at a crossroads between the two: it takes an immediately recognisable sample from Kelis’ ‘Caught Out There’ and flips the context entirely. Shrouding her voice in stringy synth and wordless cries serves to effortlessly subvert the song’s sentiment, exposing the vulnerability and sadness beneath the original’s defiant roar. It’s quite spectacular, surprisingly affecting and quite possibly the best thing he’s written to date. The proviso is only there as closer ‘Postpone’ could quite easily give ‘CMYK’ a run for its money, its delicately harmonised melody running softly beneath delicate wisps of gospel song. In between, ‘Footnotes’ crafts muffled robotic soul out of a striking few elements, and the slow, sensuous groove of ‘I’ll Stay’ nods towards his former bandmates in Mount Kimbie.
For all their similarities in approach – in particular a welcome shift away from genre-isms toward music that encompasses a huge range of influences, from soul and R’n’B through dubstep, garage and Artificial Intelligence-era Warp – there are real differences between Blake’s music and the material that Mount Kimbie have put out this far. At the time it came out the Maybes EP was a real curveball for the Hotflush label, marking the beginning of a period of earthshaking releases, among them Joy Orbison’s ubiquitous ‘Hyph Mngo’ and label head Scuba’s frequently astonishing Triangulation album. ‘Maybes’ itself remains a triumph of understatement, exploiting a shockingly minimal set of elements for maxiumum emotional resonance. It’s the closest a ‘dubstep’ artist has come to writing a lullaby, and explores the cocooning, maternal properties of bass that are so often left by the wayside.
Their debut full-length Crooks & Lovers is out later this month and does a neat job of both encapsulating the ideas contained within their earlier EPs and expanding them further. Over the course of its eleven tracks it becomes obvious that what Mount Kimbie share with Blake is a willingness to throw everything at their music, with a healthy disregard for what it ‘should’ sound like. Both its slightly lopsided, ‘wonky’ feel and its use of vocals are key here, bringing the music’s human properties to the fore in a way that makes their rising popularity among wider circles an understandable phenomenon. So in a slightly odd development, the fizz and pop of ‘Carbonated’ reminds me of Puretone’s ‘Addicted To Bass’ as digital voices chatter about “basslines”, and ‘Mayor’, with its pitchshifted vocals and soft organ backing, thrashes around like the electroshocked cousin of ‘Maybes’.
What James Blake has done with CMYK, and Mount Kimbie have done with Crooks & Lovers, is to take their ostensibly dubstep-related sounds further back towards the genre’s original spirit. The earliest releases from artists like Kode9 and Digital Mystikz in the first half of the noughties were recklessly and restlessly experimental, often cutting out many elements considered crucial to dance music. Several years later, these two newer artists have brought the genre around full-circle, exploring in wide circles around its framework and in doing so making something that is no longer ‘dubstep’ in the traditional sense, but maintains the same essence that made it such a vital force.
Actress – Splazsh [Honest Jon’s]
Darren Cunningham’s second Actress full-length comes first in this list by virtue of being one of the finest albums of 2010 thus far. Cunningham’s music has always successfully managed to tread the fine line between densely impenetrable and moodily evocative, and Splazsh is a further refinement of the sound he began to piece together with his excellent Hazyville debut. Everything here is more fully realised, and further ramps up the sense of skunked-out claustrophobia – ‘Lost’ is the best techno(ish) tune I’ve heard in a long time, oppressively dense until a downpitched female vocal lifts it higher, and ‘Get Ohn (Fairlight Mix)’ finds a bleak beauty among rattling percussion. More so even than his earlier music Splazsh feels inhabited by phantoms, from the coldwave darkness of ‘Maze’ to the Radiophonic fuzz of the fantastically titled ‘Supreme Cunnilingus’. The result is an album that’s coherent despite its sheer scale, and a poignant vision of modern British techno/house/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.
Late – Losing You EP [Immerse]
Sepalcure – Love Pressure EP [Hotflush]
Ever since Burial reanimated the form with a blast of dusty electricity, I’ve been trying to work out exactly why garage beats have the ability to sound so haunting. I mean, it’s difficult to imagine that tracks like ‘Archangel’ or ‘Near Dark’ would have achieved anywhere near the same hazy, spectral beauty if they’d been powered by four-to-the-floor house beats. After their general resurgence over the last couple of years, both in dancefloor contexts and the sort of spaced out zones that both Immerse Records’ Late and new Hotflush signing Sepalcure operate within, I’ve come to the gradual conclusion that it’s down to their skeletal nature. Stripped of excess flesh and possessed of tiny snags and slippages in rhythm, two-step beats are already ghost forms of rave musics past. Placed alongside tiny snatches of vocal and ambient crackle they constitute a resurrection of sorts, a memory of a memory of a memory seen through the backward telescope of time.
Late’s upcoming double-pack for Immerse Records is undoubtedly in debt to Burial, but also shows a certain dubby, Berlin-inspired spaciousness that aligns it closely with other artists on the label. Lead track ‘Losing You’ offers immediate beauty, but it’s the delicate keyboard figures that drift through ‘Under These Conditions’ and the ultra-percussive burst of ‘Bittersweet’ that hold most water; the latter sounds like a Hessle track drowning beneath a sea of deep blue synth.
Sepalcure’s Love Pressure EP is tougher and more muscular than Late’s vision, but also feels less in thrall to the past, albeit without ever heading towards ‘future garage’ territory. Instead it’s one of those compelling crossover beasts that Hotflush do so well, adding elements of techno, slo-mo house and, on the purple-ish ‘Down’, the new school of psyched-out hip-hop. Scuba’s label has been on an impressive run of form recently, and shows little sign of letting up with upcoming releases from the man himself – the wispy Autonomic d’n’b stylings of ‘Eclipse’ – and George Fitzgerald’s eagerly awaited Weakness 12”. Count Sepalcure in there as well, then.
Sigha – Shake EP [Hotflush Two]
Oh, and another gem from Paul Rose’s stable. Sigha is one of the label’s less well-recognised talents, operating in a grey zone that seems to be quite easily ignored. Which is a damn shame, as his previous releases were seriously underrated gems, especially the Berlin-infused spaces of the Rawww EP. Hopefully the Shake EP should go some way towards righting that balance: the title track’s pulsing house and the broken techno stylings of ‘Shapes’ are both among the best things he’s put to tape, and he throws an entirely different style into the mix with the electric blue ambience of closer ‘Light Swells (In A Distant Space)’.
Kush Arora – Voodoo Sessions EP [Kush Arora Productions]
Hackman – More Than Ever EP [Pattern]
First up: heavy, sped-up soca and dancehall stylings from Kush Arora. This one kinda crept onto the radar rather than screaming its presence be known, but Arora’s Orientalist modal melodies on ‘Humidifier’ are madly addictive, somehow managing to infuse a hyperspeed funky-styled beat with a strangely calming atmosphere. That ability places him alongside Hackman in pushing a slightly jazzy, broken-beat feel onto modern bass music. For what seems like his hundredth release this year (hey, these ears ain’t complaining) Hackman brings out both his most manic – the title track’s wild bounce – and most relaxed material yet: check out the meditative house of ‘Nobody Minds’ for a little evidence of the guy’s versatility. Considering he’s only really emerged in the last year, it looks like there’ll be far exciting material to come from that camp. In both cases, certain quarters are beginning to throw around the buzzword ‘tropical’ – just don’t go there.
Baobinga – Riddim Team EP [Steak House]
Bristolian boy Baobinga heads up the esteemed bassmusicblog, and alongside that undertaking has still found a fair amount of time to throw together some killer tracks in the last couple of years. Most recent is his upcoming 12” for Steak House, which moves further towards the funky/bashment crossover stuff that label heads Monkey Steak have been pushing recently. ‘Wine Up’ and ‘Raggipahop’ are both heavy as hell chunks of digi-dancehall, and Ghislain Poirier’s remix of ‘Criss Like HD’ adds abrasive electro-house synths into the mix to intense effect. Pretty unrelenting stuff, and lacking the same variety of styles as Monkey Steak’s excellent last release for the label, but it’s a heady dancefloor cocktail nonetheless.
Lorn – Nothing Else [Brainfeeder]
As the first full-length album on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, it seems initially surprising that Lorn is from nowhere near their typical stomping ground of Los Angeles. But then again, after a couple of listens, it becomes obvious that Lorn’s music lacks the playful sense of sleaze, that distinctly LA-ish combination of humidity and hormones that permeates the rest of the collective’s music. Instead Lorn’s view of the world is bleak and aggressive, perhaps more introspective even than the mind-charting expanses of FlyLo’s Cosmogramma opus. It’s by turns beautiful – the mournful violin melodies of ‘Army Of Fear’ send shivers down the spine – and earsplittingly harsh, but never a less than entirely immersive listen. There’s a lot to be unearthed on Nothing Else, even if it takes a few listens to fully absorb its intricacies.
Also on the Short Circuitry playlist this month…
Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? [Editions Mego]
Cult US synth-abusers put together their most immediate – and possibly best - album to date, all slow-building drones and epic kosmische workouts.
Ramadanman – Glut/Tempest [Hemlock]
David Kennedy’s new tunes for Hemlock are among the best he’s released, the lead track’s juke-inspired 808 clatter further refining his minimalist aesthetic and the swelling ‘Tempest’ an unexpectedly low-key synth workout.
Guido – Anidea [Punch Drunk]
Bristol’s Guido turns in an excellent album for the reliably great Punch Drunk label, fusing elements of US R’n’B, hip-hop and jazz to a dubstep framework, to electrifying effect.
Thursday, 29 April 2010
So this blog has been on a slightly self-enforced hiatus recently, especially in terms of original content. Quite aside from anything else, it's in the build up to the imminent arrival of something larger - stay tuned for updates on that one.
In the interim period, here are some things CB/OB's been feeling of late...
Guido's quite astounding upcoming Anidea album. Due for release in a couple of weeks on Punch Drunk, it's a vindication of the quality of his earlier releases and then some, effortlessly dragging in elements of jazz, post-Timbaland R'n'B, dubstep, Final Fantasy and more or less everything else. Oh, and a gorgeous vocal turn from Yolanda on a re-energised 'Way U Make Me Feel'.
Flying Lotus' deeply heady new opus Cosmogramma. Spjazz. Proper mind-trip stuff, this demands a pair of good headphones and comfortable seat to absorb. There's as much for the mind as for the body over the course of its length, as his famous aunt's devotional harp and blasts of moody sax drift through the mix, binding everything together in softly coherent ways.
Drowned In Bristol - as of this week I've started writing a regular Bristol focus column for Drowned In Sound, aiming to cover bits of the music scene here alongside one-offs, interviews and more specific chats with labels and particular artists. The first one is up now, and covers (amongst other things) Dubkasm, Subloaded, Joker, Addison Groove and Tectonic's first non-dubstep release.
"As I write, my ears are still ringing from a thorough purging at Subloaded & Teachings In Dub at the Trinity Centre on the 16th April. A launch party for Dubkasm’s rather lovely Transform I remix album (more about that one below…), the later portion of the evening was taken up by back-to-back sets from some of the city’s most respected dubstep practitioners. In true MBV style earplugs were handed out on the door, and the volume at the entrance was about as high as you’d usually find right down at the front of most clubs. Physically punishing stuff, and real justification for the description of bass frequencies as carrying ‘weight’ – but particular mention should definitely be made of Guido. His set alongside Headhunter showcased tracks from his excellent upcoming album Anidea, melding a melodic suss ripped straight from R’n’B to truly mindbending slabs of sub-bass. Oh, and in the case of ‘Mad Sax’, cheekily sleazy grooves that thrust with bawdy seventies excess."
Erykah Badu's delectable follow-up to the raw and surprisingly furious New Amerykah Pt. 1: 4th World War. Subtitled Return Of The Ankh, it sees her turn her gaze inward and examine the chemical rush of love in each and every form. And with beats from Madlib, Dilla and Sa-Ra Creative Partners (amongst others), it sounds glorious as well.
"So where 4th World War was harsh and overbearingly physical, its follow up drifts through the air like the invisible scent of pheromones. In terms of pure sonics, tracks like ‘Window Seat’ and ’20 Feet Tall’ glide softly where earlier counterparts like ‘Soldier’ exuded a placeless sense of foreboding. Paired with Badu’s heady delivery, early highlight ‘Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long’ is simply gorgeous, riding off a sumptuous soul vocal backline and an ambiguous address, perhaps to her new young un – “I can’t wait to see what you’ll be”. The Madlib-produced ‘Umm Hmm’ hits another peak, assembled into a seamless patchwork quilt of rising chimes and sixties kitsch."
Full review up at Muso's Guide.
Following on from Erykah in a similar vain, Pursuit Grooves' Fox Trot Mannerisms album for Tectonic showed an entirely different and hitherto unexplored side of the label, one where deep blue nocturnes meet deeply contemplative soul/hip-hop hybrids. Certainly a fair distance from Bristol, given that she's from New York, but there are some real similarities to draw with Bristol in attitude and atmosphere.
"The other aspect Fox Trot Mannerisms shares with its label’s UK counterparts is a sense of the urbane. Although ‘Tweezers’ could almost be described as pastoral, with its fuzz of distant clicks akin to the chirps of nighttime crickets, Pursuit Grooves’ music has a strong affinity with city life. It’s a balmy summer evening’s breeze through suburban streets, or a twilight headphone stroll through a dodgy area of town where the music acts as a barrier to the real world – or, in the case of the dubstep-tinted ‘Start Something’, vividly enhances the surrounding environment."
Full review up at Sonic Router.
Some lovely slo-mo house/garage crossover gems from Kowton on the Idle Hands imprint. They take quite a while to sink in, crawling past at unnervingly sedate pace, but offer real hypnotic gains.
"In the case of these two tracks from Kowton, what immediately strikes the listener is just how slow they are. We’re used to escalating tempos in nuum music; certain quarters aside, drum ‘n’ bass continues to peak well above the sensible limit, and at the wobbly ends of dubstep some artists are pushing for 150bpm. So it’s a refreshing change to hear a producer slow their music down to a snail’s pace. In this case, these two tracks are a culmination of what Kowton started with his bewitching ‘Stasis (G Mix)’, stretching the beats out to allow ample space for swing and crafting house tracks that flex like garage. ‘Basic Music Knowledge’ does exactly that, brooding darkly over nocturnal pulses of sub-bass and percussion that hesitates just enough to introduce palpable tension. ‘Hunger’ is even better, filled with a sense of twilight yearning appropriate to its title, and so cavernous in depth that it feels far slower than its already soporific pace."
Full review just up at Sonic Router.
Typically confounding new material from Actress, whose 12"s on Honest Jon's and Nonplus+ find him exploring territories between skunked-out psychedelia and chilly Drexciyan electro.
"Similarly, both of the tracks on his first release for Honest Jon’s wrap themselves tightly around the listener while hinting at wide-open spaces just beyond the music’s confines. It’s a delicate balancing act – ‘Paint, Straw and Bubbles’ is almost impenetrably austere, its hypnotic spiral patterns so abstract that listening feels more like a feat of voyeuristic pleasure than one of physical connection. This distance only serves to enhance its atmosphere of deep-seated unease. ‘Maze (Long Version)’ on the flip offers more immediate gains, as thick bass frequencies and sparse electronic percussion generate a beautifully languid piece of stoned techno that seems far shorter than its six-minute runtime."
Full review up at Sonic Router.
The final transmission from Torsten Profrock's enigmatic T++ project. It's a real shame to see it end, but he's bowed out on a high with his most fully realised set of tracks yet, bound together with a strong sense of theme thanks to the source material.
"Working with this kind of disintegrating matter couldn’t be more right for T++. His music has always both signified and amplified the processes of decay, deconstructing his influences – techno, jungle, two-step – down to their barest elements before reanimating them with a blast of electricity. His remix of Shackleton’s ‘Death Is Not Final,’ itself a dusty approximation of flesh falling from bones, creaked like the undead: hard and permanent as ancient granite but also fluid, shot through with jittery junglist breaks and irresistible forward momentum. The same is true of Wireless, where he resurrects the musicians who originally recorded these tracks – at this point, who knows whether they’re dead or alive? - and gives each a new and eerily eternal life."
Full review up at Sonic Router.
Plus new and upcoming material from Greg Gow, Ramadanman, Shackleton and Lorn, LV's new 38 EP (a concept piece based on the oh-so-familiar 38 bus route, no less), classics from Ornette Coleman and Alice Coltrane and, finally, Kyle Hall's rather excellent Hyperdub 12". Over and out, for the time being.
Sunday, 4 April 2010
So it’s good to hear that his recent flurry of one-offs has shown a continued restlessness in approach. His remix of Eprom’s ‘Never’ picks up somewhere near where Bravery’s ‘You Made Me Feel So Right’ left off, all angular rhythms and delicately sliced breakbeats. There’s more than a little Vibert/Squarepusher in his attitude to percussion, which manages to pull off the impressive trick of sounding both loosely sloppy and clinically precise at once. Despite sticking fairly closely to the source material’s sound palette, the effect of each track couldn’t be more different – the original a razor-sharp slice of funky-infused house, FaltyDL’s rephresh a dark and brooding asymmetric groove. His remix of The XX’s ‘Islands’, on the other hand, pares the rhythm back to its barest components, leaving the original vocal untouched over churning bass and interlocking layers of percussive noise.
Most impressive is his latest batch of new material. In my recent Short Circuitry piece for Muso’s Guide, I mentioned Adam Harper (of the rather excellent Rogue’s Foam blog) and his presenting the process of ‘wonkification’ as something separate from any specific genre. Just as new music from genre-defying artists like James Blake and Ikonika goes some way towards vindicating that idea, FaltyDL’s constant rewiring of established dance music forms feels like something very similar. Less recreation than reimagination, on the All In the Place EP, released on Rush Hour, he takes on a greater house influence than before and twists it into his own distinct shapes. And the results are pretty spectacular, the title track in particular offering an abstract but dancefloor-ready journey through melodic house territory that sounds like no-one but FaltyDL. Which has always been one very interesting aspect of his music – despite taking on a range of different styles, his process of writing generates music that sounds uniquely his: deconstructed but energetic, and with a cunning ear for musicality. On rolling garage track ‘St. Mark’s’ his beats display the same magnetic properties that were so obvious on the Bravery EP. Each percussive element constantly attempts to escape from the force field holding it to the others, generating a restless and unstable energy that threatens to collapse at any time. The fact that it never does serves to ratchet the energy almost to breaking point.
Wednesday, 31 March 2010
Contact, Love, Want, Have is a narrative arc in itself, describing a sonic shift that has mirrored a general trend within dubstep over the last 18 months or so.
And it’s a hugely impressive statement of intent: streamlined without being overly smooth, melodic without being overly sentimental and danceable without ever straying too far towards simplicity. Opener ‘Ikonoklast (Insert Coin)’ is a sketchlike introduction, but its title also gives some clue as to what lies within. Much as it’s become commonplace for people to mention the influence of videogame music on Ikonika and her contemporaries, given an opening gambit like ‘Insert Coin’ it bears repeating. As a child of the Eighties and early Nineties, at times the music contained within these 14 tracks evokes real nostalgia - from the Road Rash-style momentum of ‘They Are All Losing The War’ to upcoming single ‘Idiot’s stupidly addictive and lopsided synth hook.
Above all else though, the crucial aspect of Contact, Love, Want, Have - and the element that should endear it to listeners far beyond its parent genre - is its compositional sophistication. For all the rough‘n’ready edges it displays, underpinning each pleasantly retro sounding synth patch is a keen ear for melodic development and a tangible lightness of touch. It’s there in ‘Idiot’ where each song cycle introduces a new layer of harmony, building to a surprisingly delicate climax. It’s there during the one-two punch of ‘Yoshimitzu’ and ‘Fish’, the former’s gorgeous shuffle beat and choral backing acting as a restrained counterpart to the latter’s escalating urgency. And it’s there in the album’s sequencing, passing through several distinct phases before reaching a concluding quartet of destructively brilliant house tunes. Each offers a slightly different take on funky, as though viewed through a gradually turning kaleidoscope – sedate and thoughtful on ‘Heston’, building incrementally to the blistering rapid-fire drums of ‘Look (Final Boss Stage)’.
Full review written for Drowned In Sound.
Monday, 29 March 2010
I don't usually post my reviews from Sonic Router up here, but this record is so good it really does bear repeating. The music on Deep Teknologi's upcoming T. Williams EP is some of the most brutally functional and hypnotic funky to have emerged for ages. These ears are already seriously looking forward to whatever they do next.
As befits a nuum-generated music, funky seems to be undergoing a real creative expansion at the moment. It’s largely due to the magpie-like nature it shares with its closest cousins, reaching outward and grabbing any scrap of particularly shiny detritus to throw into the melting pot; from defiantly acoustic elements - traditional Middle Eastern melodies (Monkey Steak) and ritualistic drum-circle percussion (DVA) – to more typical electronic influences like first-wave Detroit (Roska) and Berlin (Cooly G, xxxy). Typically, the most interesting developments are happening at the bleeding edges, those regions that become increasingly difficult to define but ever harder to resist. The single most exciting aspect of these crossover points is that funky’s basic beat pattern remains an irresistibly danceable weapon, providing an unusually flexible backbone for experimentation. Recent tracks by Cooly G, DVA and this new release by Deep Teknologi’s T.Williams, pushes the sound in strange and often difficult directions, which taken separately from such an addictive dancefloor structure could well lose momentum. The best funky is aimed intensely and inseparably toward both body and mind in equal measure, crucially remaining tied to its origins as club music.
On the new T. Williams EP, Deep Teknologi place themselves firmly within that group of artists pushing the sound in unprecedented new directions. In terms of intent and pure sonics, these three tracks by co-founder T. Williams are probably closest to Cooly G’s recent Dub Organizer material – intrinsically related to house music in its purest form, but infused with London attitude. All share early grime’s sparseness – all synth stabs and trancelike repetition, 'Anthem' could be a cousin of Cooly’s ‘Narst,’ bristling with barely restrained aggression which is never released, simply building over the track’s length and leaving real tension in its wake.
Arriving immediately afterwards, ‘Flooring' makes a b-line for Berlin, underpinned by slowly rotating columns of white noise and static synth before tearing apart to reveal a beating heart hidden within. All three tracks are sparing in the extreme, each containing only what is necessary and nothing more. This could as easily have resulted in a set of decent and merely functional DJ tools, but proves far more effective, highlighting each individual element like a high-powered lens. ‘Afric’ is the best example of this: a simple organ figure pivoting above tightly locked percussion and bass, but brimming with such an excess of energy that it seems a wonder that there isn’t a set of musicians performing it live in front of you. Recalling Miles Davis and mnml (shhh) in equal measure, it’s one of the best dancefloor tunes I’ve heard in a long time, sending the mind out on a Sun Ra-style tangent towards the heart of the solar system.
Originally published at Sonic Router
Sunday, 28 March 2010
There’s something inherently reductive about the concept of genre. Ask any musician what they think of the latest term to describe their sound, and the answer will usually be preceded by a wince. It remains largely an academic concern – for many music writers, naming and constraining is a large part of what they do. It provides a rough conceptual map, a basis for understanding the nature of general trends as well as sudden, rapid shifts in sound. Discourse to indulge the inner geek, essentially.
Bass music provides ideal fodder for genre-junkies, with both dubplate culture and ongoing advances in technology ensuring that emergent sounds swiftly ripple outward from their epicentre. But it also poses a problem in terms of definition. UK bass producers are largely magpie-like in nature, grabbing good bits from wherever they can be sourced and creating dubious regions where one neatly defined style begins to bleed into others. As of 2010, the scene roughly centred around dubstep is in a greater state of flux than it’s ever been, pushing outward in as many different directions as you’d care to name. Still, there’s certainly a debate to be had as to whether quibbling over names is really of any consequence – after all, this is dance music – and the answer is typically tough to pin down.
Take late 2008 as a case in point: the irritatingly self-limiting term ‘wonky’ was briefly tossed around, before it was met by disdain and antipathy from the majority of artists it was used to define. Roughly speaking, the title fitted the slouched hip-hop influence and awkward structure, but wonky’s day began and ended with a brief flurry of records around the end of 2008. Admittedly, Zomby’s sketchy Hyperdub EP couldn’t have fitted the druggy genre name better, the viscous bass tar of ‘Kaliko’ and ‘Aquafresh’ offsetting rave nostalgia with an unhealthy dollop of strong cough syrup. Meanwhile, Rustie’s aptly-named ‘Zig-Zag’ swaggered onto the floor with a headful of cheap cider and cheaper amphetamines, and the pitchbent synths of Ikonika’s debut ‘Please’ swung unsteadily before collapsing. But less than a year later, an unprecedented lightness of touch in his later releases had proven Zomby’s contribution to be a relative one-off in that restless producer’s oeuvre, and Ikonika was filling her DJ sets with razor-edged house/garage hybrids.
Still, in spite of any debate over naming conventions, the development of new sounds within that sphere has continued to be hugely exciting to witness. In a post on his excellent Rogue’s Foam blog last June, sometime Wire contributor Adam Harper talked about the process of ‘wonkification’ as separate from any one type of music, and its ‘corrupting relationship to the more conventionalised genres that it sprang from’. The early part of this year has seen a raft of releases from upcoming (and, in some places, established) producers that lend real credibility to this notion. Fundamentally, they never become lost in a fug of self-indulgent experimentation – all of these producers are creating music that bristles with nervous energy, each one wired to the gills with mains electricity.
James Blake’s Harmonimix deconstructions of R’n’B and hip-hop are a particularly good example. Both subvert the original songs’ intent, hinting at something quite different while leaving the core elements of each track largely intact. Released in February on a limited white label, his remix of Lil Wayne’s ubiquitous ‘A Milli’ inverts Wayne’s boisterous swagger by placing his self-aggrandising vocal performance over a music box lullaby of gently trickling melodies. His take on Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bills Bills Bills’ is even better, his own dissonant harmonies over the original’s vocal performance turning the sweet ‘n’ sassy into something threatening and monstrous. In this case, Blake’s efforts entirely alter the underlying qualities of each track – Wayne’s sexual energy is neutered, and Destiny’s Child cease to be independent women and succumb to sinister androgyny. But, crucially, both remain fiendishly danceable, providing an entirely different take on dubstep’s darkened club energy.
Blake’s slo-mo soul often sounds like the product of an old-style singer trapped in a computerised body. His debut release for Untold’s Hemlock label last year felt like merely the tip of the iceberg, and a flurry of material this month suggests that was very much the case. As well as the Harmonimix 12”, two releases on Brainmath and Hessle further hone his earlier experiments into languid explorations of tension and emotion. The Bells Sketch EP on Hessle Audio is slowed to half-tempo and delicately strung out, as if he’s physically inserted fingers into the music’s core and gently teased apart each fibre. The title track is simply gorgeous, guided by a pair of interlocking vocals buried so deeply that they lose all nominative sense and reach some subconscious level where pure sonics matter more than words. His Brainmath release, a collaborative 10” with Airhead, operates in a similar space where voices are detuned until they lose all semblance of meaning. All of Blake’s music so far taps into that sweet melancholy that lies at the heart of great soul music, and in doing so reimagines how machines can express emotion. It’s undeniably music of now, but goes far further than almost all of his contemporaries in connecting to a pre-computer past.
Just as Blake’s music thrives off a central contradiction – analogue in tone and nature, but a true product of digital equipment – Ikonika creates tracks that are unashamedly digital, but with a raw and wildly anarchic edge. One of the first producers to begin Hyperdub’s transition from dark and dystopian pressure to wide-open song structures, she is due to release her debut album in April. Contact Love Want Have – a neat title reportedly pieced together with a group of fridge poetry magnets – successfully retains the rough ‘n’ ready feel of her earlier music and fuses it to the kind of house-influenced material she’s playing now. The result is an intriguing and addictive curio, both inextricably tied to ‘UK bass’ (in its loosest sense) and stubbornly individual.
Eschewing the kind of pathological attention to miniscule detail that can mar electronic musicians in a haze of computer programming, her music is direct and punky in attitude. Earlier tracks like the softly churning ‘Millie’ and ‘Sahara Michael’ brim with such an excess of ideas that the unpolished production only serves to enhance their considerable charms. Upcoming single ‘Idiot’ does real justice to the description of her synths as ‘singing’, hinging off a broken funky beat and a stupidly catchy but irregular bleep motif, and the gorgeous shuffle-beat of siren song ‘Yoshimitzu’ moves with all the grace and restraint of a Kurosawa classic. That her blurred melodies are tied to tighter percussion than ever before merely serves to emphasise that contrast, creating a kind of loose impressionism above beats and bass that lock to form a solid groove. Her forthcoming remix of Egyptrixx’s ‘The Only Way Up’ further smoothes out that contradiction to spectacular effect, creating a mini-epic that drowns in a swirling ocean of delay-drenched melody.
Next, a scene veteran: Jamie Teasdale cut his teeth as a member of early dubstep mentalists Vex’d, whose Degenerate album inadvertently spawned a host of aggressive (and increasingly generic) imitators. His later material – first as Jamie Vex’d, and now as Kuedo – took the scorched earth distortion of Vex’d and changed the emphasis, downplaying the harder edge for waterfalls of incandescent shimmer and crashing, arrhythmic bass. One name change later, his Dream Sequence EP on Planet Mu refines this sound to quite dazzling effect. What makes these four tracks so refreshingly addictive is Kuedo’s use of melody as a basic structural element, each one built from huge Lego-like blocks of colour that stack upon one another before suddenly toppling. Opener ‘Starfox’ clinches the prize for Short Circuitry’s favourite track of the year so far, hinging around a fairly simple verse-chorus structure that repeatedly explodes into arcs of electric blue. The other three tracks are no less vibrant, the sketch-like ‘Shutter Light Girl’ lasting for an all-too-short minute, and ‘Joy Construction’ loping along on a strangely voice-like hook. Sterling stuff.
Finally (and this is an end due to space considerations and concern for the reader, rather than a shortage of people to write about – this column could variously have included newish material from Clouds, Om Unit, Blue Daisy, Dorian Concept and FaltyDL, amongst many others), upcoming mutant Illum Sphere. His excellent Long Live The Plan EP has been on heavy rotation for the last couple of months, and out of the four artists covered here he probably reaches closest to the original definition of ‘wonky’. His beats are loose and slightly unquantised, falling just outside of the expected position to leave brief periods of hanging tension, and linking his music closely to US hip-hop producers like J-Dilla, FlyLo and Madlib. Constantly alternating between spacious and densely claustrophobic, tracks like ‘Never Lie Twice’ and ‘Chasing The Midnight Moth’ are sublime exercises in darkened atmosphere, and LA man Samiyam’s remix of ‘Psycho’ directly addresses the latent US-UK link.
As with all the above producers, Illum Sphere’s music is defined by creative use of synths, employing huge swathes of reverb and gauzy melody to carve out vast psychological spaces. Even as the use of wonky as a genre signifier has (thankfully) died, it’s refreshing to find so many artists employing similar tactics of deconstruction to recreate a host of influences from the ground up. In all cases the past is refracted through both the present and the imagined future, with results that are always intriguing and frequently breathtaking.
Monday, 22 March 2010
‘Footcrab’ has been doing the rounds for a while, and for all its gonzo charms, it’s quite an unusual track to have achieved its status as a mini-anthem – there’s barely anything there. But then that’s most of the fun - along with ‘Dumbshit’ on the flip, the key lies in its devastating simplicity: both tracks consist merely of the repetitive, syncopated kick of an 808, pounding like a headache under churning subs, wispy melody and a chopped vocal mantra. That’s it. Who said dance music had to be complicated? Along with Ikonika’s forthcoming Contact Love Want Have album, which for all its lush textural elements never reaches beyond drums, bass and a couple of synth melody lines, these tracks pare bass music to the bare essentials, and in doing so work against maximalist notions that good music requires complexity. Electronic music production can reach stupidly macho levels of technological one-upmanship, and in doing so runs the risk of losing the levels of raw energy required for club action. Both ‘Footcrab’ and ‘Dumbshit’ sound as though they could have been pieced together in five minutes – and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
Still, aspects of Williams’ music as Headhunter audibly creep into his Addison Groove guise. Both tracks still retain a smoky Berlin atmosphere, as stoned dub chords drift hazily in the background behind ‘Footcrab’s irresistible vocal chatter and ‘Dumbshit’ maintains a little of the techno-influenced momentum that marks his older dubstep productions. It’s less a matter of hidden depths – what you see (or hear) is very much what you get in this case – and more that the rougher, live-sounding edges disguise how cleverly put together both tracks are. It’ll be interesting to see how separate Williams keeps these two sides of his personality. Even on this debut release the bleeding edges where both cross over are apparent, just as Pearson Sound’s ‘PLSN’ bore more than a little resemblance to similar Ramadanman material. It would be exciting to hear this spontaneity go a little further.
Friday, 19 March 2010
Scuba's long-awaited new album Triangulation is due out on Monday, and it's as compelling as expected from the man who made 'Negative' and 'Aesaunic'. Along with Shackleton's Three EPs and Peverelist's Jarvik Mindstate, it essentially represents the pinnacle of the dubstep/techno interface - binding more obvious traits of the latter to a peculiarly UK-centric sense of nostalgia and warmth.
"Perhaps as a result of his time spent within Berghain’s monstrous halls, follow up Triangulation displays more immediate dancefloor heft, but also hides greater riches in its rarely explored dark corners. The most notable difference is the further prominence of his home city’s sonic hallmarks. Whilst in 2008 A Mutual Antipathy remained in thrall to London, in 2010 it’s as if Berlin has fully seeped into all the cracks of Scuba’s music, becoming as crucial to its current incarnation as the UK was to its last. A large portion of Triangulation is given over to heaving slabs of pristine dubby techno – this time the closest relatives of tracks like ‘On Deck’ and ‘Tracers’ are local legends like Marcel Dettmann and Shed, as opposed to Digital Mystikz or Loefah. This proves to be a welcome evolutionary development, the oceanic sub-bass of ‘You Got Me’ carving out wide-open spaces for the rest of his music to operate with greater pace and rhythmic consistency than before.
But all of this having been said, it’s the connection to dubstep that continues to define Scuba’s music. If it weren’t for the crackle and hum of London’s ghosts, these tracks would likely remain tied to a teutonic rigidity. Instead they positively effervesce with barely restrained energy and an infectious unwillingness to sit still for more than a few seconds at a time. Like his career-high recent single for Naked Lunch, ‘Negative’, many of Triangulation’s finest moments resurrect and electrify the skeletal shapes of two-step – both the phantom garage of ‘Latch’ and the woodblock beat of ‘Tracers’ rebuild its sexy swing for a new generation. Most startling are his excursions into half-tempo Autonomic drum‘n’bass - the glacial ‘So You Think You’re So Special’ initially comes across as little more than an interlude, but closer listens reveal it to be the human heart beating at the album’s core. At its centre a tantalisingly brief female vocal drifts in space, suspended between cascades of white noise and implied junglist percussion, rising and falling before simply fading away."
Full review written for Drowned In Sound.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
He’s curating Bloc’s Subloaded stage for the second year running this weekend, and I caught up with him last month as part of a preview for This Festival Feeling (see the article up here). There was a lot more in the end than just chat about Bloc, and a lot of it fits with similar things discussed on CB/OB, so it seemed appropriate to publish the full thing up here.
This is the second year you’ve been doing Bloc – how did you get involved with them?
I almost can’t quite remember exactly. The Bloc guys got in touch - I think there’d been a preliminary conversation that one of them had had with a friend of a friend about the idea of something along these lines. They basically got in touch and said ‘We’d like to do a Subloaded on the Friday night, pick a line up.’ The budget was proving to be a bit restrictive…
You brought quite a few people from Bristol right?
Yeah, there was definitely a heavy Bristol slant on it, what with Subloaded being a Bristol-based night. But basically they got in touch, we put it together and it just went really well. It was on the Friday, and it was one of the busier rooms throughout the evening. And then they got in touch afterwards and said ‘We’d definitely like to do something again with you this year’, but this time they kind of bumped it up a notch, put it on the Saturday and compared to last year’s budget, the budget’s ten, fifteen times what it was!
Yeah – compared to last year you’ve got some real heavyweights, you’ve got a few of the Berlin guys…
This time they said ‘pick your dream line up’ – and it’s not quite 100% what I would have wanted it to be, but it’s not far off.
That was actually one of my stock festival questions I was going to ask you – what would be your dream festival line-up! You’ve done pretty well – you’ve managed to get over people like Dettmann, Shed…
Rhythm & Sound is probably what I’m most excited about – well, Mark Ernestus. He’s a pretty hard person to coax out.
Well, they both are aren’t they?
Moritz [Von Oswald, Ernestus’ musical partner in Rhythm & Sound] has been a bit more open more recently. I’ve never met Mark, but I’ve met Moritz.
He played here for Venn Festival a few years ago.
I met him then; I met him before that as well. Unfortunately he suffered a stroke, and he’s still doing some things, but his priority is with the band. The timing of his stroke was quite unfortunate for the new project. But yeah, before I ‘discovered’ dubstep, if you like, Rhythm & Sound were about the most perfect thing. I love that sound.
It was the opposite for me actually – dubstep led me on to discover Rhythm & Sound and Basic Channel. I was reading a bit about Ernestus in Wire last month – apparently he does these really dubby sets, where he’ll play a whole song, take it off, and then play the next one from the very start.
That’s the traditional roots soundsystem method, where you would normally play the tune and then the dub straight after. People like Jah Shaka still do that – from the point where the needle hits the rim, right to the end, and then right back again! I’m not 100% sure what Mark will be playing, but I do know that when he DJs he plays a lot of dancehall instrumentals, and Tikiman will obviously be vocalling everything. In all honesty I’m not entirely sure what it’ll be like, but I know that he’s a collector of extraordinarily rare dancehall instrumentals, so I imagine that I won’t have heard something like half to three quarters of what he decides to play on the night!
You must be pretty excited about your line-up in general – as well as getting a lot of the guys from around here that you had last year, you’ve got a whole group of others as well.
Definitely, it’ll be a nice balance. Curating is never quite as easy as you’d hoped, because you’ve got difficulty with timings of things, sometimes people are doubling up on gigs… But I think the transition from set to set should be fluidly musical throughout the night, It’s not often you’ll see Rhythm & Sound and Joker in the same room, but at the same time I think it’ll work! And it’s interesting that you say that you got into Rhythm & Sound through dubstep – for me it was something that set the context for getting into this sort of sound. I’m very much about trying to bring together things that connect the peripheries into a kind of dubstep main room context. I think there’s a lot of room for things - there’s a deep, meditational end, which Rhythm & Sound connect with very directly – but there’s a much more upbeat ravey edge to it, through people like Joker. And then there are people like Martyn and Kode9, who I imagine will somehow ride between the two vibes.
Yeah, both have been playing a lot of the crossover stuff between funky, dubstep, garage, building it up into quite upbeat sets.
Martyn’s been doing that, yeah, and that should blend into what Shed and Dettmann do. To be honest, I am really pleased with the Subloaded lineup for Bloc this year. I do think that there’s always inevitably going to be people bouncing back and forth from room to room, to catch so-and-so, but I like to think that there will be some people who stick around for the majority of the evening, as there will be a bit of a journey vibe. That’s something I really like the idea of. It’s a little bit boring if you go to a rave and you hear the same style of music, within a genre even, from start to finish, non stop banger after banger.
Hearing the same song three or four times in a night by different DJs – it keeps it at a fairly level energy throughout the evening, rather than really progressing anywhere.
Yeah – we’ll see how it pans out, but I feel really positive about the whole thing and really pleased with how it’s worked out.
The whole line-up’s pretty bass heavy this time anyway – that was something I noticed, compared to last year which was quite house and techno oriented, there seems to have been a real influx of bass sounds into Bloc this year. Do you think that reflects the way that things have been going in the last year or so, the crossover between house, techno and dubstep that’s been going on?
I think that was already happening in different ways. In the last year, the funky scene has certainly come to the forefront to a certain degree – and that would be an obvious place for house to come in.
I suppose that’s what I was really referring to, the crossover with funky. With techno it was kind of already there.
Yeah, well you had Villalobos playing Mala and Shackleton years ago. I don’t know - I feel as though there’s always going to be good records that are just good records for the sake of good records. I know that you’ll hear big house tunes in funky sets, but I don’t know how much that happens the other way round. House is a very well established and well-produced genre, and there’s probably an element of snobbery towards the production of some funky stuff. But then there are open-minded people, people who don’t really care about those sorts of presumptions to the same extent. I don’t really know.
But I do think that in the last year there’s been a developing trend, if you like: this idea that at the core of a dubstep set, people like Kode9 and Martyn are quite happy to play what’s known as the ‘wonky’ side of things, and funky, and dubstep. I guess for me it’s interesting that these kind of links only really seem to thrive in the context of dubstep, even though they’re not strictly dubstep sets. That’s definitely something, and I think there’ll probably be more crossover between those kinds of things. It’s interesting, I’m just thinking as we talk about it now - at the weekend I just played Athens and Berlin. In Athens I was playing with Dorian Concept, and in Berlin it was with Slugabed and Blue Daisy. So in the eyes of many promoters it’s already something that can sit and exist in the same room. I guess I generally feel quite positive about that, it’s all about diversifying and progressing with sound. As long as it keeps things interesting…
It’s interesting that the dubstep scene seems to be the entity that has created that sort of binding, that it couldn’t really have existed without dubstep providing a background for it.
I don’t think it’s the case that it couldn’t have existed, but I just think it might not have had a home to thrive in. I think the reason is that dubstep’s always been something that’s scraped at the periphery of different subgenres. A lot of people will have come into the music from their own various angles – some people from techno backgrounds have gotten into it from a certain angle, or people who’ve come into it from garage, grime, drum ‘n’ bass, electronica, dub, roots, dancehall – and obviously anyone who does get in through those roots comes in through a tune that touches on both sides of what they’re interested in. That’s how a lot of people got into it, so for it to then bounce back out that way doesn’t surprise me much, that’s probably why it can do that. It’s something that incorporates various fringe subgenres anyway.
Well, it’s good to see it doing that, as opposed to just stagnating and becoming entirely jump-up, banger-type tunes.
Yeah, I suppose my feelings on that are fairly predictable. It’s complicated, because you could look at dub music and you could ask, ‘What’s really changed in twenty, thirty years? Has there been much change?’ It’s not something that’s really progressed at the same technological lightning speed that it developed at. I guess you could take hip-hop - although there are various trends that change things, it’s not like it’s broken into any new paradigm of thought in the last ten, fifteen years.
Then something like drum ‘n’ bass - again, apart from some of the Autonomic stuff, the last several years in drum ‘n’ bass have been kind of a samey blur, there’s not really been a huge amount of progression. I guess it’s really noticeable in something like drum ‘n’ bass, because it was such a powerfully developmental scene. With dubstep, it’s interesting that people are almost sidestepping the genre a little bit. I think people are a bit less precious about maintaining a thing for the sake of it, and are actually just more interested in good music and the progression of good music. That’s my very badly worded, loose philosophy on that one!
That’s certainly what got me interested in dubstep in the first place. I was too young, or too uninterested, to get into drum ‘n’ bass when it was very progressive, or doing some really interesting or exciting things. I got into dubstep more or less through Burial’s first album, Kode9’s Memories of the Future, Burial’s Untrue and your Underwater Dancehall – and immediately from there you could see that there were people looking to do something that wasn’t ‘just dubstep’, if you know what I mean, not just sticking to a rigid dogma. It never seemed like a scene that was particularly precious about the core of what it was ‘supposed’ to be.
Well, I think circumstances have changed quite a lot in the last five years or so in dubstep, but I still think that at the heart of what I think is the ‘good’ end of it is a basic desire to hear something new, and to be a bit freaked out by it. It’s long been the driving force for a lot of genres. That’s what pushes someone like Kode9, who’s always had a very restless approach to it - in so far as you’ll go and hear him play, then hear him play six months later, and six months later again, and every time it’s like a paradigm shift.
He’s very progressive in his outlook.
Yeah, and that doesn’t always necessarily imply that everything he does is therefore better than the last thing, but I think his drive behind that is maintaining a sense of awe in his presentation of the new.
With Tectonic you always seem to have remained at heart a dubstep label. What you’ve put out has always been what you would call ‘dubstep’. I remember reading in an interview you saying there was a certain kind of aesthetic to the label – certain tunes that were Tectonic tunes, and certain ones that weren’t. Is that something you’re still sticking with, amongst everything shifting around?
Yeah. Of the various headstates that music can put you into, there are different routes into the same headspace, almost… Though it’s funny you should say that, as I’m just about to put out the first non-dubstep release on Tectonic!
What are you putting out?
It’s a girl from New York called Pursuit Grooves. It’s dubstep-related, but it’s very beaty, groove rhythms, and she sings on it. It’s really nice, really good music, and a little bit different. It’s a tiptoe into the realm of dubstep but actually, as I’m thinking about it, it’s somewhere between hip-hop, funky and broken beat. [Note: It's since been announced that the EP will be entitled Foxtrot Mannerisms, and is due for release on April 5th]
I’m quite hypocritical sometimes, because as much as I’m saying that dubstep’s about progression, there have been certain things held [steady] with Tectonic. But then if you look over the course of our releases you can hear a sense of progression, development and experimentation. But I do think that the thing that ties it all together is something that exists in this certain headspace. It’s pretty difficult to describe, but ultimately it’s the headspace that I most enjoy! Somewhere between… something with a bit of a serious edge - not serious for beard-stroking’s sake, but for impact. Impact rhythms, without getting into tear-out territory. I like it to have impact without necessarily diluting itself in any way.
I imagine you can keep that going at Dubloaded as well – having a midweek night must be good for putting on something that people will want to listen to, rather than just something to go and shock out to on a Saturday night.
Yeah, well Tectonic is at the stage now where we’re doing albums, and there is a different approach to putting together an album. But the rest of the content is 12” singles, and they’re mastered, cut and designed to be heard on a soundsystem. It’s still physical experience music, and that’s where you’ll get the most out of it. But then obviously with albums there’s a little more room to play around.
Are you putting out any new albums on Tectonic any time soon?
Well, the last one was 2562’s Unbalance…
I was at the launch party for that actually.
Yeah, that was a good night. To answer your question, there are a few more things that will be coming out over the course of the year. The Pursuit Grooves thing is actually an EP – six tracks on vinyl, seven as a CD – so that’s somewhere in between. There’s a very big project coming up not too long after that, though I can’t really tell you about it as it’s not entirely sorted! But as well as that, in the pipeline we’re working with an artist called Jack Sparrow, who’s working towards an album for us.
He’s got a 12” [Terminal/Torment] coming out soon right?
It’s dropping this week, yeah.
And it’s about time I got back into the studio and started putting one together. Whether I’ll get it out this year or get it finished next year, I don’t know. I’ve spent the last year on a fairly quiet tip, I didn’t really do a lot - I did a couple of remixes, and that was more or less it really. I spent most of last year abandoning my PC and Fruity Loops, and getting to grips with Logic. I moved to Mac, and two days after I bought the bloody Mac my PC packed it and just wiped itself, took loads of shit out with it as well – a bit annoying. It threw me in at the deep end, and I’ve not gone back to Fruity since then.
How have you found Logic?
A bit slow to start with, a few big hurdles, but I’m really enjoying Logic. I really like it. I can hear a massive improvement in the production levels. It’s just a much easier platform for producing to a higher quality.
I remember someone who used Logic saying to me that he could tell the difference aurally between a track produced on Logic and a track produced on Ableton, Fruity, whatever, through the sound.
Fruity’s a weird one because people don’t tend to use the stock plugins. Logic has really good stock plugins, so that’s what you can hear a lot of the time. The tape delay is the biggest giveaway – once you’ve heard it, then you can hear it in peoples’ tracks. You know it’s there. I’ve just done a remix for this girl Emika, who’s releasing on Ninjatune, so that’ll be out sooner or later. And I’ve started getting together some tracks and I’m really pleased with them, they’re going down well.
Have you been playing them out?
Yeah. A few people have got them, and they’re getting played, so I just need to get back into the studio and make some more!
Just to get back on the whole festival tip for a minute, are there any other things going on at Bloc you’re particularly looking forward to? Are you planning to stick around all weekend?
I’ll be around all weekend. Predictably, I’ll stick my head in for the Friday night FWD vs. Rinse thing, and I’ll try and catch a bit of the Autonomic lot – Instra:mental, Breakage and dBridge. I can honestly say that last year I did a bunch of things from Glastonbury to European festivals, but the best weekend I had was at Bloc. I’m not just saying that for promotional reasons either – I made a point of booking the whole weekend off with my agent, and said ‘I don’t want to go anywhere else, I’ll be at Bloc for the weekend’. It almost doesn’t matter too much, I don’t want to know too much about the lineup. I know it’s Salt ‘N’ Pepa and various people, but I’m just up for the adventure.
And it’s a lot of fun to go to a festival at Butlins.
I really never thought I’d say it, but you’re right.
Are you much of a festival person generally?
Umm… (lengthy pause) no! Though I really enjoyed Glastonbury last year, that was good fun. I stayed for the weekend for that one as well. In the right circumstances and in the right situations it’s really good fun, but I must admit that I’m heavily sold on the luxury of having the amenities you do at Bloc – just being able to have a shower and a cup of tea whenever you want, and you don’t have to worry about queuing for the toilets. If you’re with the right group of people, the weather doesn’t fuck you up and you don’t burn yourself out too heavily on the first day, camping can be good fun. But it’s also quite exhausting.
Bloc is on this weekend at Butlins in Minehead, and it looks likely to be quite incredible. Pinch's Subloaded stage is on the Saturday night, and features Mark Ernestus & Tikiman, T++ (Live), Pinch b2b Distance, Appleblim b2b Peverelist, Kode9 b2b Martyn, Shed & Marcel Dettmann, Joker, Blazey and Mungo's Hi-Fi.
Dubloaded is happening at the Croft tomorrow, with Pinch himself, Pangaea and Kidkut. See you down the front...