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The Month In Dubstep & Bass: June 2010

By ; June 28, 2010 at 12:10 AM 

REVIEWS: PAGE 1 | PAGE 2
INTERVIEW: ROOF LIGHT | IN THE MIX: ITAL TEK

Brokenchord

Bluestar EP

(Black Acre | ACRE019)
Styles: Dubstep, Ambient, IDM
Purchase on Boomkat

Lithuanian producer Brokenchord might not exactly belong in this column, but I feel that his music is as vital and generically flirtatious as anything else covered here, so why not? I think all credit is due to Mary Anne Hobbs for launching his proper career by playing the bewitching “Lowe” before she even knew who the artist was — a few weeks later and he had signed to Black Acre. That signing results in his first release, a four-track EP, and while it’s quite clearly the work of a newcomer, there are enough strong moments and tipping points on this EP to call it a solid debut. Brokenchord’s music is spiky and initially unfriendly; everything is coated in mucky distortion, but rather than a hazy sheen, it’s a prickliness that you can feel in painful detail, where every point is tangible. They swoon and bubble with exaggerated motion, and most ear-catching of all is the jangling guitar notes that trickle down the wet walls, falling from unseen player’s hands like delicate teardrops. “Lowe” remains the best thing he’s done, up to this point the track most indicative of his sound, as a clacking industrial riff is smelted into crushing sheets of steel, before emerging from the magma. By that time, those unmistakable guitar notes begin to overwhelm the song until it’s an almost unbearably pretty orchestra of tinkling bells — this is some Brian Eno shit right here. The other tracks might not have the same ‘holy shit’ factor but they’re wonderful nonetheless — opener “Bluestar” steps delicately as the most dance-leaning thing he’s produced, and “Run To The Light” builds on stark dub meditations to a glorious, crashing conclusion. The only real negative thing I can say about this EP is that the palette of sounds as it stands right now is rather limited — but with his use of guitar especially, it seems like there’s unseen potential for what new sounds could be forged; if we’re going to get into labels here, this is something like post-rock fused with bass music. Even when it seems like we’re running out of ideas here, there’s always a bigger fish. [AR]

ASC

Nothing Is Certain Sampler EP

(Nonplus Recordings | NONPLUS006)
Styles: Drum & Bass, Techno
Purchase on Boomkat

ASC aka James Clements gears up for his revelatory Nothing Is Certain LP, the first LP to be released on Instra:mental’s too-cool-to-live NonPlus label, with this 12-inch label sampler. Giving us our money’s worth, two of the single’s tracks won’t be on the album, meaning if you’re an ASC fanatic you’ll have to snatch this one up too. Beginning with the mechanic twitch of the single-exclusive “Phobos,” the track nicely shows off Clements’ uniquely scientific take on bass music, as the track twists and contorts at pure right angles, with just enough oil in the joints for only the slightest, strategically placed squeaks to occur. “Oort Cloud” is one of those little ambient pieces that ASC does so well, as clouds of delicate smoke are herded by snippets of organ that wash over like prematurely-breaking waves. A late-album standout on the LP proper, “Matter of Time” is a percussive beast that steps and flexes like a blackbelt, as brief breaths of what sounds like flute or other wind instruments provide some nice padding for the razor sharp edges. This is beat science at its most (again) scientific, but you’d be surprised at the amount of emotion hidden in these tracks. Now just wait until you hear the album. [AR]

Orson

“Madness” / “808 Dub”

(Version Recordings | VERSION002)
Styles: Dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

The reasonably new German (yes, that’s right) dubstep label Version finally gets to its second release, the first productions from long-running Berlin dubstep head Orson. It’s a little disconcerting that some of the most classic-sounding dubstep is coming out of Berlin instead of London, but hey, geography doesn’t really matter when this wonderful sound is wafting out of the speakers. “Madness” teases out a long organ intro that quickly gets up on its feet and begins a slow, deliberate march. Tumbling to life with a flurry of percussion, it carries a carefully-cultivated air of detachment that’s equal parts Mala and Peverelist, all held together by Orson’s crystal-clear precision; where those producers can sound like their tracks are on rickety wooden rails, the Berliner’s drums are state of the art mechanical wonders. “808 Dub” abuses its titular drum machine, as the plinks and plonks dance around a growling, wobbly centre, like a vintage Loefah production from way back when (2006 maybe?). It’s odd to hear a dubstep release so unashamedly retro, but it’s more likely a labour of love than a grievous hack job. [AR]

Altered Natives

“The Bitch” / “Crop Duster”

(3024 | 3024009)
Styles: Dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

Considering the barely-contained enthusiasm on Altered Natives’ excellent singles for Fresh Minute Music and the bustling, never-ending energy of his just-released LP Tenement Yard, maybe it’s about time he settled down for a few minutes. He does just that on his first single for Martyn’s 3024 imprint, tracks that are slightly more subdued and straightforward. It’s obvious that Martyn’s a fan of Danny Native, giving him a prominent feature on Fabric 50, and Native has returned the favour by giving out some of his best work to date. “The Bitch” is all about muted tropical vibes, the rambunctious melody struggling to hold itself in and keep itself in order; you can feel the restraint working against the groove here, the water boiling underneath the surface, and the tension makes for an almost unbearably anticipatory track. Buildup can be maddening, and it’ll drive you halfway up the wall here. “Crop Duster” burrows deeper into the soil but works in a similar vein, the bassy murmurs and clicks snowballing into something that sounds akin to your average tech house track dragged down into a swamp, where all the super-oiled joints are caked with mud and the rust and decay is audible. In other words, he can do slow just as well as he can do fast. [AR]

Donga & Blake

“Grown Ups” / “Detroitus”

(Well Rounded | WRND005)
Styles: House, Techno, Dubstep
Purchase link unavailable

Donga’s label Well Rounded is well known for its colourful and exaggerated house music (and is one of our favourite new labels), considering releases like the ultra smooth Bodies EP by Hackman and Deadboy’s fluidly anthemic “U Cheated” — but surprisingly enough label head Donga (aka Ultrasound)’s latest release for the label is a much techier, more austere affair. “Detroitus” rocks the dusty modern Detroit styles of Omar-S and protege Kyle Hall, reinforcing the grooves with that elastic UK bass, the snapback effect nicely doubling the militaristic stoicism of the percussion. “Grown Ups” takes that direction even further, the dust smoothed out and blown away by the synths as they softly coo in your ears like mechanical birds. Geiom shows up for a surprise remix of the unreleased “Small Hours,” appropriately flexing his more minimal style for a busy track whose percussive core splinters and branches out like shattered bits of some long-unrecognizable drum track, while elongated bass worms its curvy way through the track. It’s interesting to hear the UK House sound navigating international waters, moving so close to the border with techno without ever actually crossing over — though the anticipation surrounding it is perhaps the best thing about this EP. Even hesitance can be satisfying sometimes. [AR]

Pearson Sound

“Down With You” / “Higher”

(Darkestral Galacticos | DARKESTRALG001C)
Styles: Drum & Bass, Autonomic
Purchase on Boomkat

Given how much material David Kennedy has released as Ramadanman already this year, it’s a little bit surprising he hasn’t forgotten that he even has a Pearson Sound moniker. His “PLSN / WAD” 12″ on Hessle Audio was one of my favourite singles from last year, and this feels like a contender for 2010. “Down With You” opens with rattling percussion, the synth that pulses behind it slowly swelling to prominence before the vocal drops. It’s a less abstracted version of the vocal tracks on his Ramadanman EP and it’s all the better for it, being this perfect slice of slinky nocturnal tech-soul that drives the lonely streets behind tinted windows, looking out at the cold dark of an empty world. As usual, his drum programming is impeccable, the tricky rhythmic heart that beats underneath, but it’s that bruised vocal that puts it over the top. “Higher” is more introverted, although the shuffle of the drums hits harder, the vocal samples feel like some overheard conversation in a club, whispered words and laughter half-audible over the sound of jazz-tinged synths. As the song progresses, things turn darker. Something’s slipped into your drink, and slurred vocal samples come echoing across the dancefloor. Let’s hope we all make it home from this one. [SO]

Al Tourettes & Appleblim

“Lipsmacker” / “Mr. Swishy”

(Aus Music | AUS1028)
Styles: House, Garage
Purchase link unavailable

The latest from Will Saul’s always-intriguing Aus Music imprint is a collaboration between Bristol genre-hoppers Appleblim and Al Tourettes, and like the label’s last release with Ramadanman, Saul manages to squeeze surprisingly clean, no-frills tracks from the duo, nicely matching the label’s smooth, blocky aesthetic. These tracks channel that mercurial, impossibly clean UK house sound, where sampled vocals, percussion and other sounds blend and mutate a la microhouse without the pretension. “Lipsmacker” is all about this descending that asserts itself while floating unpredictably on the bubbly riverbed of sounds, a riverbed that flows with increased ferocity as the track gains steam, while “Mr. Swishy” feels like a continuation, losing the slight hints of darkness from the a-side and going full-on wonky. These tracks are bustling, grooving epics, and while they might not be the most distinctive or ground-breaking tracks, they’re driven with an assured confidence so infectious it’s hard not to get sucked into those little spaces that separate the ultra-clear sounds. The remixes are impeccable as ever, Deadboy putting his skeletal garage touch on “Lipsmacker,” wedging the grooves apart and adding his typically swooning progressions, but the real dark horse of the EP is by Scottish house producer and Prime Numbers member Linkwood, who creates a funky stormer out of “Mr. Swishy” that’s not so much deep as it is appallingly shallow, carving out the track from the inside and erecting these stark pillars of pure organic funk to prop the whole thing up. [AR]

SBTRKT & Sampha

“Break Off” / “Evening Glow”

(RAMP Recordings | RAMP033)
Styles: House, Dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

The quirky and unpredictable SBTRKT — whose sound is proving ever evasive of categorization, perhaps unsurprisingly due to his diverse pre-SBTRKT past — seems to have learned something from his last release, the uncharacteristically and bouncy collaboration with Sinden, launching that producer’s own label Grizzly last month. This release on RAMP Recordings is another collaboration, this time with relative newcomer Sampha, is a continuation of that sound. In fact, a track like “Break Off” doesn’t really sound at all like the SBTRKT I know, its flamboyant and cheeky horn riff sounding like something that could easily be signed to Defected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, and it’s backed with such bass-oriented power that it packs much more of a wallop than your typical house jam; perhaps the most noticeable (and controversial thing) is that vocal, alternately infuriating and anthemic, the quavering voice swimming against the current, climbing up the descending riff, until it reaches its hilariously flat plateau with the final syllable. Shit is wonky, and not in the hip-hop way. The b-side “Evening Glow” is the darker, dubbier fare SBTRKT usually pumps out, all glints and shards and other miniscule shapes, but underneath is a beautiful ambient wash, loaded with sub frequencies; the beatless dub version on the digital release sounds like an airplane trying to take off. [AR]

Joe

“Claptrap” / “Level Crossing”

(Hessle Audio | HES014)
Styles: Dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

Oh Hessle Audio, when is your reign of terror going to end? Setting the pace for a ridiculously fast release schedule, Hessle are already back with the second release from Joe, whose “Grimelight” single on the label last year set him with a reputation already mightily high. Thankfully, there’s no falling from heights here; Joe stays grounded where he is with these muscular and percussive marches. His two tunes here sound like computer marching bands. “Claptrap” snaps frantically like a foamy-mouthed Rottweiler, occasionally resolving in cymbal or kick hits; the track charts an uncertain path as it zig-zags subtly up and down. When the track breaks down into a single repeated drum hit — kind of like slowed-down blast beats — I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to laugh or cry in the face of this ridiculous music, but it’s overwhelming either way. And the second time around when it ends with that hilarious piano note — well, this guy is on some other planet entirely. “Level Crossing” makes a case for the mysterious producer’s sanity, turning the unstable excitement of “Claptrap” into a more predictable march, weapons and gear dangling and knocking against each other with a satisfying clink. That piano makes an appearance here, sounding like a demented player piano lost on the wrong film set, but it works, god damnit. More ridiculous beat science from Hessle, and I have complete faith that they’re not going to let anyone down anytime soon. [AR]

Mr. Mageeka

“Different Lekstrix” (L-Vis 1990 Remix)

(Numbers | NMBRS6)
Styles: Funky
Purchase on Boomkat

Numbers flex their hype muscle once again with a single so cutting-edge it almost hurts, mincing old-school house styles with nu-school funky; here’s the catch though, this track has been around for well over a year. Its existence culminating with a prominent feature on Kode9’s monumental DJ-Kicks released this month, its irresistibly stylish riff sounds like it lives purely in a state of pronounced, wonky motion. Spun, pulled and thwacked ad nauseum, all the percussion in the song is curiously elastic; when it all finally comes together for a killer riff, it sounds like a mechanical orchestra of clicking devices and boinging plastic: silly, humourous sounds presented in fearsome, uncompromising context. Numbers spoil us with a remix from Night Slugs head honcho L-Vis 1990, who favours a harder sound, toughening up the low-end and adding some distinct serrated edges to the riff. [AR]

Hypno

Over The Top EP

(Pattern | PTN003)
Styles: Funky, House
Purchase on Boomkat

The third release from Pattern (Mr. Kerridge don’t waste no time) takes us to Iceland for a frigid, minimal take on UK Funky, much different than the boldface gloss of Hackman’s EP. Hypno is all about the interaction between space, silence, and percussion — the way “Over The Top” starts with sparse percussion loops that double-up, multiply and divide until the track is claustrophobically packed especially. That track rushes-head on into a dubby breakdown before breaking out the rave riddims — Hypno’s music is restless and hyperactive, refusing to stay in one mood or mode for longer than about a minute. It’s not even consistent across the EP; “War Demons” appropriates a hissy 4/4 thump — nothing’s ‘UK’ funky about this track, except maybe the way the bass starts to swell before the pressure release about two minutes in. The track’s razor-sharp edges and crystal-clear sounds are so perfect that even the tasty-sounding Julio Bashmore remix doesn’t really improve on it all that much, opening up the track a little bit and making the bass even fatter during the midsection. Ending the EP in confusion is the bizarre “Doo Doo,” the spacey stop-start teasing more frustrating than it is enticing, although there’s a lot to be said for the tracky, lo-fi breakdown that steers the track into a sensual deep house jam. This is inventive stuff, and another name to add to the list of storming debuts in 2010. [AR]

Bowly

“Bleeps” / “Idee d’un Tropique”

(Berkane Sol | BRK015)
Styles: House, Dubstep
Purchase link unavailable

Bowly is a producer from Montreal specializing in tropical-tinged house music, a natural fit for the eclectic and colourful leanings of Geiom’s Berkane Sol imprint. As far as I can tell it’s his debut release, but he’s been repped by many prominent producers for a while now, and for good reason; his sound is definitely influenced by the current UK scene, but with a certain light-hearted and even flowery touch that’s all his own. “Bleeps” sounds drugged Night Slugs, an intoxicating synth riff nimbly dipping up and down with toppling bassweight, its movement careful and deliberate rather than frantic. “Idee d’un Tropique” travels a similar path but down an unpaved gravel road, the unstable and rocky surface conveyed in the flitting bongos and weighty click-clack percussion. The track occasionally grinds to a near-halt for a panoramic view of gorgeous cliffs, sun-beaten rock baking gloriously as heat lines float and twirl playfully like a charmed snake — this is the sound of a proper desert oasis. [AR]

REVIEWS: PAGE 1 | PAGE 2
INTERVIEW: ROOF LIGHT | IN THE MIX: ITAL TEK





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