Label Profile: Punch Drunk/Idle Hands


At almost twenty releases as of July 2010, the Punch Drunk discography is both impressive in its size while remaining completely digestible — exploring the entire back catalogue is entirely possible and indeed a rewarding journey. The Punch Drunk history is one that already feels like, well, history, with tracks that are not only classics themselves but constantly nod to the storied past of electronic music as well as remaining vigorously forward-thinking, looking ahead to the uncertain future. Idle Hands is a much younger label, with only three releases so far — but the diversity already present is unprecedented and with three releases set to release by the end of the year, it looks like the release schedule is about to speed up.

Picking and choosing from the Punch Drunk release is not only difficult — insert whatever ridiculous analogy you’d like to here, perhaps about picking a favourite child — but almost unfair considering how much these singles differ from each other. Rest assured that each and every single one of the Punch Drunk twelves is worth your money, and considering that the entire catalogue is available digitally on most reputable webstores, not even geography is a valid excuse to keep you from diving head first in. But here are the essentials anyway.

DRUNK1: Monkey Steak – “Lighthouse Dub” (Pinch Remix)

The label’s very first release reflects the dub reverence of its origins, as dusty horns sound off in the distance, obscured by barely audible sub rumbles. The dangling percussion loops hypnotically, the circular motions creating a dizzy atmosphere that eventually results in the percussion stumbling over itself majestically, already predicting the way so much of the label’s music would go to combine dub with outside influences in such a typically Bristol way. Backed with a remix from Tectonic labelhead Pinch that brings it much more into the dubstep sphere with pounding drums and snarling bass, it’s a fine way to start a label, simultaneously flaunting its classicist bent while placing it firmly in the now.

DRUNK4: Gatekeeper – “Let Go” / “Tense Past”

In a completely different direction comes Gatekeeper’s first and only release on the label, a rare event in any case. “Let Go” is a meditative number with halting death march drums, dramatic string flourishes and very familiar sound vocal samples — think Mala’s “Alicia” stripped to its skeleton. The b-side “Tense Past” keeps the strings but throws away everything else, bringing in surging bass riffs and restless cycling percussion that batters the track from all angles.

DRUNK8: RSD – “Jah Way” / “Speeka Box”

From the mighty Rob Smith’s RSD alias comes two slices of overdriven, hypercolour dub music that blends the hypnotic repetition of earlier dub with the restless drive of dubstep. “Jah Way” in particular is a track that synthesizes pure motivation, crashing drums and catchy riff echoing off of an electrically-charged bass riff that lurks underneath the track. It periodically emerges for brief periods to suck all the oxygen out, the feeling of lungs recoiling in an empty air chamber reflected by the suffocating swell of the low-end. “Speeka Box” works in a similar manner, taking a decayed dub track and laying subtle LFO wobbles underneath.

DRUNK10: Peverelist – “Clunk Click Every Trip” / “Gather”

This is it, quite likely one of the finest twelves of the last decade. “Clunk Click” awakens slowly like some mythical beast, as plasticky bits of neon percussion begin to form the vortex that drives the track from within. Peverelist layers the track in his instantly recognizable, inimitably subtle way, as the accents get trippier and the drums multiply as if at random. When it all sounds like it’s getting to be too much, all the elements building up and up toward some incomprehensible level of barometric pressure, this synth riff spews forth like steam bursting from a pipe, all of the pent up emotions and anticipatory energy let loose in a glorious stream of impossible iridescence. Under cover of the smooth, buttery organ, the percussive elements begin to make sense as their force turns angry, almost violent, as if vying to desperately re-assert their existence against the deafening hum. It’s the kind of monumental six minutes that moves beyond a mere ‘tune’ or ‘track,’ taking in every musical influence and emotional memory and combining them for a journey so achingly emotional it’s difficult to focus on anything else when the light is streaming at you from that wormhole to another universe. The b-side “Gather” is an ultra-reduced dub shuffle with an unforgettable bassline that sounds like it’s aiming to touch the ocean floor, its steep descent making itself felt whether you’re listening on a big system or just headphones.

DRUNK11: Guido – “Orchestral Lab” / “Way U Make Me Feel”

If the genius of a track like “Clunk Click Every Trip” lies in subtleties and subconscious narratives, the debut twelve from Guido is the opposite, all slinky synth horns and syrupy strings ladled on far too decadently. A complex bass riff performs acrobatics at the lowermost layers of the track, climbing up only to leap and glide back down, its dizzy motion counteracting the hyperactive synths and shimmering strings that circle like starved birds. Imagine if peacocks could fly and you’ll get an idea. When the bass riff drops out, the horns malfunction with a repeated staccato riff that sounds almost amateurish, but that’s where Guido’s charm lies; his music doesn’t sound real, all the better to paint his gorgeous fantasy world with. “Way U Make Me Feel” in its original instrumental form is somewhere between hip-hop and italo disco. Metronomic percussion and monotonous sub-bass beat primitively as the deliberate swooping strings of “Orchestral Lab” are refashioned into garish daggers, but even better is the sultry, moaning saxophone that bears down on the chorus. Yes, saxophone. Need I say more?

IDLE001: Peverelist – “On & On” / “Cm3 Skank”

The first transmission from Idle Hands was a shadowy release lacking proper titles or even an artist credit, though time and collective wisdom has revealed the creator of these genius tracks to be none other than… Peverelist. Who else could make music like this? “On and On” is a bit more elastically exuberant than your usual Pev production, lifelike percussion and mirrored synth splatters coasting on top of a nautical bass riff that steers the track into a windy channel where the stunning clarity is perversely transformed into a blitz of percussion. It’s one of the few Peverelist productions that doesn’t sound like it was dug up from some alien time capsule, modern and impeccably clean. “Cm3 Skank” is more typically Tom Ford, a simple kick drum beating away as what sounds like wind chimes fighting for space at the far ends of the track with spacey noises, horns, and what else, more drums. Starting your label off with a Peverelist release is impressive enough, but when you get the man to make tracks that sound like nothing else in his catalogue… well, your label must be something pretty damn special.

IDLE002: Akti2 & Dub Boy – “Bola (Remix)” / “Tigerflower”

“First up is Hanuman’s “Bola”, reworked by the underrated Atki2. It’s one of these tropical house variations on dubstep: the first thing that hits you is the metallic clatter of the drums, steel blades flashing in a carnival street. It’s baked-hot and breathless, this joyous, relentless pulse. But as great as the sound of that central beat is, it’s the little flourishes that really sell the track. Those soft, cloudy chords that drift in when the beat breaks down; that doleful little melody built up bleep by bleep, R2D2 spinning in the void; the strafing raygun synths. It’s a great track, but over on the flipside is Atki2 and Dub Boy’s “Tigerflower,” which is fucking phenomenal. It opens with this wonderful steel drum riff, Esso barrels lined up on an island shore. Then the handclaps drop and it comes on all whirling dervish, like a Bollywood street scene. It detours into skanking reggae before the bass hollows it out all dubwise and sinister just for a moment before the steel drums come ringing back in again and it’s dizzying and delightful and fucking perfect. It morphs in similar fashion for the rest of the track, this twisting, kaleidoscopic riff snaking through styles with abandon, picking up and discarding elements but never losing track of the groove. It’s sunstroke in the crowded streets, held up by the press of bodies around you; the sun is a glowing hole in the sky and the world is suffused with heat and light. Unbelievably infectious, it’s pure dancefloor euphoria and one of the best single tracks I’ve heard in a while.” [Sam Olson, from our January Dubstep Column]