Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Ikonika - Contact, Love, Want, Have [Hyperdub]

There's a sense of long-awaited resolution that comes with the news that Ikonika's debut album comes out next week, especially after my excitement at the announcement earlier this year. It helps of course that it's frequently brilliant, managing to preserve the lopsided 'what the fuck?'-factor of her early material and marry it with the kind of shimmering synths and broken percussion that's been making the more neon end of funky sound so electric recently.


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

Deep Teknologi - T. Williams EP [Local Action]

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

Short Circuitry 006

After a month or so's hiatus, the latest edition of CB.OB's Short Circuitry column has just been published at Muso's Guide, with a focus on the current crop of producers operating in the grey areas once called 'wonky'. Full transcript up here, though lacking added links and videos.


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

Addison Groove - Footcrab/Dumbshit [Swamp81]

Well, I for one certainly hadn’t been acquainted with juke before this little beast reared its head, and the concept remains pretty alien as it’s nightmarishly difficult to track down any real releases. It’s quite fitting then, given the catch-all nature of ‘dubstep’ at the moment, that the first real exposure a large chunk of the UK will have to juke is via the medium of a Bristol producer. Tony Williams, the man more commonly known as Headhunter, has been on a roll of form lately – since his debut album Nomad there have been collaborations with F, remixes from Modeselektor and a couple of killer limited 12”s on Tempa – but in true shapeshifting fashion, the best thing he’s yet come out with has been released under the Addison Groove pseudonym.

‘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 - Triangulation [Hotflush]

Bloc-related extended break over - normal service shall resume from this point onward.

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

Interview: Pinch

It's probably fair to say that most people reading this won't need any introduction to Pinch. Head of the Tectonic label and one of the Bristol scene's figureheads, he can take a large portion of the credit for establishing dubstep as one of the city's major musical forces, through his label and through the Subloaded and Dubloaded nights. It makes sense that the genre's settled with Bristol as something of a spiritual home - the city's rich musical history and famed soundsystem culture works within a similar ethos: all bass, space and restless progression.

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...

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Furesshu - Untitled/1983/Horizons [Project:Squared]

After the more overtly dubstep-related vibe of his contributions to the Echodub label, the debut 12” from Bristol-based producer and promoter of the rather excellent Seasonfive night Furesshu moves further down the techno axis. However, unlike previous Project:Squared conspirator Asusu, the A-side’s UK influences are almost totally downplayed in favour of dubby Berlin atmosphere and soft-eged tape hiss. ‘Untitled’ is a hypnotic eleven minutes of echo-drenched post-Basic Channel techno, focusing less on dancefloor immediacy than on slowly unfurling elements. Each individual component gradually finds its place across the track’s length, settling into a peculiar locked groove and exploring every possible permutation before fading.

‘1983’ resurrects the ghosts of garage a little more overtly, an implied flex skating across its surface in a similar manner to some of Sigha’s recent Rawww EP. In its austerity it comes close to some of the most abstract moments from A Made Up Sound’s recent Sun Touch 12”, stripped bare of obvious humanity save tiny vocal inflections that stack above a churning bottom end. ‘Horizons’ is a different creature again, a meandering wash of dystopian half-step that seems to strive for the most minimal possible approach. Consisting of little other than subs, insectoid clicks and a barely perceptible ambient drone that stretches to infinity, it’s relentlessly dark but impressive in depth. It may admittedly be the wrong time of year for Furesshu’s frosty chill, with the closing days of winter gradually fading, but his music remains convincing in its nocturnal gaze.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Airhead & James Blake - Pembroke/Lock In The Lion [Brainmath]

Can dubstep take partial responsibility for vitality of James Blake’s music? Pretty hard to say, as his successes to date (in particular his jawdropping remix of Untold’s ‘Stop What You’re Doing’ and the cheeky Harmonimix bootleg of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bills Bills Bills’) are unique enough to suggest that he would probably have still been making gorgeous slo-mo soul even if he’d grown up somewhere in the Outer Hebrides. As it is, we’ve got circumstance to thank for the fact that he’s London-based, and that the sounds of the emergent dubstep scene over the last few years – bass, space, and a headful of weed smoke – have so thoroughly permeated his music.

This Brainmath collaboration with Airhead – only his second ‘proper’ release, believe it or not – takes the smeared synths of his Hemlock debut and mashes them through a run-down analogue filter. Given that the cassette tape is making a comeback amongst hipster circles (God knows why – their romance comes falling back to earth with a bang once you accidentally leave the damn thing too close to something seriously magnetic), the fact that ‘Pembroke’s detuned melodies sound pretty close to your Walkman running out of batteries seems strangely appropriate. What’s even better is that it proves to be entirely a good thing, as sudden bursts of high-pitched vocal harmony offset its woozy stagger to perversely euphoric effect.

Both tracks tap into a little of what Blake’s music has previously only hinted at, that sweetly keening melancholy that lies at the heart of all great soul music. That he manages to generate that same deep emotional resonance with scarely a coherent lyric is all the more impressive – and the fact that both tracks are barely sketches, flickering around the three minute mark before slinking away quietly, suggests there are even better things to come. He’s certainly one of the most intriguing producers to have been adopted by the dubstep crowd, and a little like his sometime bandmates in Mount Kimbie his music offers a tantalising glimpse of that community’s potential for fostering unique one-offs.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Polar Bear - Peepers [Leaf]

Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear have always been appealingly resistant to easy pigeonholing. Yes, the most immediately ‘jazz’ of his many projects they may be, but there has always been an awful lot more going on under the surface. Take 2005’s Mercury-nominated Held On The Tips Of Fingers as an example. The first Polar Bear album to feature abstract beatmaker Leafcutter John, his subtle contributions carved out a physical space for the rest of the band to operate within, surrounding drums, sax and bass with a bewildering array of clicks, whistles and swift ultrasonic pulses. If reverb and delay provide a open spatial geography for music to operate within, tracks like ‘Beartown’ and ‘Fluffy (I Want You)’, with its haze of melody and motion, went one further and defined that world in detail.

While their self-titled follow-up expanded these horizons, stretching their sound outward to embrace a widescreen, cinematic approach, fourth album Peepers contracts that space inward to produce a different beast again. It may have something to do with Rochford’s decision to record the album in as close to the live setting as possible, performing mic’d up as a group, but its twelve tracks are the band’s most immediate and intimate yet. It couldn’t be better titled – everything on Peepers is wide-eyed and full of youthful exuberance, possessed of an infectious energy that leaches from the speakers as though the band themselves were playing inside. From the off, the low-slung groove of opener ‘Happy For You’ bursts outward in a whirl of colour, Leafcutter John’s diffuse guitar strums bringing it the closest Polar Bear have ever come to Acoustic Ladyland’s brazen rock energy. And as ever, at times Pete Wareham and Mark Lockhart’s sax conversation comes close to one-upmanship, phases of locked co-operation suddenly dropped for furiously traded one-liners.

Where Peepers really improves on their previous albums though is its fluidity, the band’s many years spent playing together suggesting an effortless ease with one another. The result feels more natural than anything they’ve yet recorded, the improvisation tighter and more intuitive than ever before. The lopsided shuffle of ‘Drunken Pharoah’ pits the arrogant swagger of Rochford’s percussion against threatening stabs from Wareham and Lockhart, generating an aura of coarse unpredictability appropriate to its name. And when they drop the pace during the soft melancholy of album highlight ‘The Love Didn’t Go Anywhere’, instead of aimlessly meandering they bring every detail into sharp relief in turn, as though placed under a slowly shifted lens.

What makes Polar Bear so hard to pin down as simply a jazz band is an elegant willingness to bring outside elements to the table. Both Rochford and Leafcutter John are restlessly inventive in their approach to rhythm, timbre and tempo across Peepers’ length, Rochford as comfortable with smoky 1920s grooves as with the martial stomp of the title track. On ‘A New Morning Will Come’ they experiment in drone, sax generating a backdrop of drifting ambience, and ‘Hope Every Day Is A Happy New Year’ (aside from having one of the best titles I’ve heard for ages) is infused with the delicate thrum of electronics just within earshot. In a RBMA interview with Kevin Martin of King Midas Sound last week, he spoke about how restrictive inbreeding within a sound leads to stagnation; what Polar Bear offer is musical cross-pollination, an open door approach to influences that informs everything they record. That this attitude is so fully explored on Peepers makes it their finest effort yet, a rough-cut gem that reveals different facets of itself from every angle.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Gonjasufi - A Sufi And A Killer [Warp]

Sometime FlyLo collaborator and man of mystery Gonjasufi releases his debut album on Warp, A Sufi And A Killer, next week. It's certainly not quite what initial impressions - advance listens to the largely electronic vibes of 'Ancestors' - suggested, switching manically between shrieking Mudhoney-fuzz and thoughtful Banhart desert-folk (and taking stops more or less everywhere else as well). But after several listens its several personalities begin to blur together, painting a picture of a contradictory but deeply intriguing character, and a record that becomes ever easier to get lost in.

"Ecks’ voice is a hugely versatile instrument, every bit as unique and distinctive as that of Bjork or Tom Waits, a dusty and dessicated thing as able to deliver softly lulling croon as mercurial howl. His default mode, if such a thing could be said to exist, is a vaguely unsettling, hoarse croak that falls somewhere between devotional chant and the mumbled nothings of insanity. He first lent the softer, honeyed end of his register to Flying Lotus’ ‘Testament’, elevating its status to the absolute highlight of the excellent Los Angeles album – a role he reprises here on the FlyLo-produced ‘Ancestors’. Cut from much the same cloth, Lotus’s production slouches along on a calmly psychedelic haze of plucked strings as Ecks summons the spirits of his distant past for inspiration and guidance. The overall effect is like the lucid plateau of a long trip, as strange and foreign elements rattling around just outside the limits of conscious perception lend an aura of tense unpredictability to proceedings. It’s a striking early highlight, and a zenith which later songs struggle to reach.

A Sufi And A Killer certainly isn’t the easiest album to fathom. The sheer volume of ideas packed into its hour long runtime is initially daunting, as are the transitions between each of its 19 tracks, which veer wildly from smooth and seamless to jarring. The sudden shift from the folksy stomp of ‘She Gone’ to the fuzzed out garage rock of ‘Suzie Q’ - itself a warped retake of The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ – seems to take particular delight in knocking the listener out of any false sense of security. Not that it’s ever particularly easy to become lulled into the kind of hypnotic state the album promises during its greatest moments - ‘Ancestors’, ‘Kobwebz’s slowly snaking guitar line, or the nonsense desert grooves of ‘Kowboyz&Indians’. There’s always another twist waiting just out of earshot.

So perhaps surprisingly, repeated listens reveal startling depth, a concentrated core of spirituality and self-exploration that becomes increasingly evident as the many awkward segues become familiar. Over its entire length, A Sufi And A Killer offers a fascinating glimpse of a character continually in transition, an appropriate creation given the personal contradictions he seems to display during interviews."


Full review written for Drowned In Sound

Monday, 1 March 2010

Mount Kimbie remix Foals, free download business

Title's pretty self-explanatory really. Slow, atmospheric stuff, though I'm not quite sold on the vocal yet. Courtesy of It's Getting Boring By The Sea.


Foals - Spanish Sahara (Mount Kimbie Remix) by BoringByTheSea

Mosca - BBQ Mix 01

Lots of love for Mosca's skewed house/garage/whateveryouwanttocallitstep hybrids round these parts -- along with the latest generation of producers to take influence from these muddied waters, he's putting out some killer dancefloor material.

So it's a pleasure to say that he's just whipped up a dynamite session for Polish club night BBQ, switching in inimitable style from brand new and unreleased slabs from the likes of Julio Bashmore and Joy Orbison to some far older bits -- Luck & Neat's 'A Little Bit Of Luck', anyone? Frankly, I'm terrified that it's been nearly eleven years since it first came out.

Download // Stream at Mixcloud


Antonio - Hyperfunk
Julio Bashmore - Batak Groove
Ray Okpara - Brainows (Dub)
Karizma - Darqness
Hoodie Ft. Chico - Dirty Maluku Style
Surgeon - La Real Pt 1
Busy Signal - Bakka Di House
Mosca - Gold Bricks, I See You
Loco Dice - Pimp Jackson Is Talking Now!!!
Breakage Ft Newham Generals - Hard (Martelo 2010 Rethink)
Mosca - Square One VIP
Dj Luck & Mc Neat - Little Bit Of Luck
Levon Vincent - Double Jointed Sex Freak Pt. 3
Tigerstyle - Ishq Nagi (Mosca Edit)
D Malice - Rhythmic
Joy Orbison – So Derobe