Reviews of Illum Sphere, Ramadanman, Mount Kimbie, Deadboy, MJ Cole, SRC, Actress plus interviews w/ Illum Sphere and Starkey coming

The Month In Dubstep & Bass: April 2010

The Month in Dubstep & Bass - April 2010
Ramadanman EP on Hessle Audio

Well, it’s another month, and another round-up of amazing releases. We’ve got another three pages of reviews (and we tried to cut it down, we swear!), and that’s not even including the big artist LPs released this month: check our reviews of Ikonika’s Contact, Love, Want, Have, Starkey’s Ear Drums and Black Holes, and Vex’d Cloud Seed. After you’ve read those, don’t forget to check out the exclusive in-depth interview with a reunited Vex’d and our profile of Akkachar’s Rwina Records featuring an exclusive mix with new Terror Danjah, SRC, Eprom, and more. This month we’ve bestowed Record Of The Month on Mancunian upstart Illum Sphere, we’ve got an interview with him coming later this week. Now, if that wasn’t enough, we’ve got a fantastic extended interview with Starkey next week — feel spoiled yet? If you crave satisfaction, check the thirty or so reviews below. Don’t forget to check out the second and third pages with reviews of Ramadanman, Mount Kimbie, El-B, Actress, Geiom, Deadboy, and lots more! And as always, if you wish to contact us for any reason, get in touch with Andrew. No spam please. Seriously.

April’s edition of The Month In Dubstep & Bass was written by Andrew Ryce [AR] and Sam Olson [SO].




Illum Sphere

Titan EP

(3024 | 3024-008)
Styles: Dubstep? Techno?
Purchase link forthcoming

“On previous releases, Illum Sphere’s fallen more into the post-Dilla FlyLo camp (what are we calling this stuff these days anyway?). His two EPs on Fat City have been impressive, but this new three-track release on Martyn’s 3024 label sees him moving into slightly more dance-oriented waters, appropriating techno into his repertoire of subtly stomping tunes.” FULL REVIEW HERE. [AR/SO]

Read our interview with Illum Sphere.


Goin’ Out EP

(Rwina Records | RWINA007)
Styles: Grime, Dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

Rwina Records keep going from strength to strength with this four-tracker from chiptune grime up’n’comer SRC. If you haven’t already done so, check out label head Akkachar’s fantastic mix for this very site, which contains a whole bunch of great upcoming and unreleased stuff, one of these tracks among them. It feels like we’ve beenhyping up these grimy dudes a lot recently, but this one is just another reason that’s not all just hype. SRC’s tracks are powered by these lurid melodies, threaded through fat neon tubing that shines so bright you can almost hear the hum of the high-frequency radiation. In the Blade Runner dystopia that must be just around the corner by now, this is the soundtrack to the glow of corporate promises luring you out into the filth and the acid rain. His sounds are blatantly synthetic, with beats that buckle and contort the factory assembly lines as they roll off them and melodies that smell of cheap chemicals, the unholy purple of generic budget cough syrup. “Facepalm” shudders into life on juddering chords, stabbing blindly at the air with its electrified neon sword before getting wrapped up in a synthline that sounds like a guitar solo played by plastic mannequins, warped and acidic like it’ll melt holes in you. “Goin Out” cops some hip-hop swagger in the intro, bringing in a gang of robots to sing his praises before this fat synthline drops that’d make Joker purple with envy, Yoshi yelping in time with the beat like some demented Super Mario Bros. fetish club. It feels like an anthem that’s been through a gauntlet of filters until it’s some twisted remix of itself several generations down the line. “Sort of a Start” bubbles contoured 8-bit melodies through an icy cool beat with an irresistible elastic bounce (not to mention the familiar bounce of a certain italian plumber) and “Where’s the Remote” stretches out G-funk keyboard lines into a late-night street cruiser, gliding through bad neighbourhoods of neon-lit crack dens behind tinted windows. There’s a lot of this kind of thing springing up in the wake of guys like Joker and a resurgent Terror Danjah, but SRC’s grasp of melody and particularly ersatz aesthetic definitely makes him worth paying attention to, and his remarkably well-defined style already sticks out in whatever mixes and sets he ends up in; score another for Rwina. [SO/AR]


LV & Quarta330

“Hylo” / “Suzuran”

(Hyperdub | HDB034)
Styles: Dubstep, Chiptune
Purchase on Boomkat

Now this is a collaboration. Given that they’re both Hyperdub artists, maybe it’s not as much as a shock as I’d like to think it is, but really: bassquaker extraordinaire LV with quirky Japanese chiptune producer Quarta330? Sign me up! Their collab works wonders for the both of them; LV’s sparse, low-end-centered sound is suddenly loaded with melodies and high-end chirps, and Quarta’s bleepier tendencies are grounded and given some much-deserved sub love. “Hylo” is the original track here, all sleek with pitch-black sheen and dark-blue tinges as LV lays down a surprisingly nimble top-heavy beat and Quarta emotes 8bit all over it; it’s hard to fully describe how satisfying this combination is, you just have to hear it for yourself. On the backside they’ve remixed fellow Japanese chiptune artist Dong’s “Suzuran,” dismantling it and putting it back together in the vein of “Hylo.” I haven’t heard the original but I can’t imagine it sounded anything like this, as the wispy feyness of typical chiptune is done away with completely and replaced by something darkly funky, as cutesy vocals flow through the track’s bent pipes like an alternate-dimension refix of previous Hyperdub release “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” They’ve got over fifty releases now (when did that happen?!), yet Hyperdub remains totally unique, looking down on everyone else like a benevolent demi-God emperor. I don’t understand quite how they do it, and it’s a narrative that might be getting a little old now: Hyperdub signees forge bold new sound. But when you’ve got an artist roster diverse enough to include both of these artists, I guess miraculous things are bound to happen; apparently the two met after a Hyperdub gig and made these tracks the next day. Oh, so it’s effortless too? Geez. [AR]  

Ramadanman & Midland

“Your Words Matter”

(Aus Music | AUS1027)
Styles: Garage, House
Purchase on Boomkat

This guy really does get around, doesn’t he? Collaborating under his usual name with newcomer Midland for Will Saul’s Aus imprint, he contrasts his weirdstep Hessle Audio EP with some much more straightforward tracks. “Your Words Matter” is a destroyer plain and simple, an irresistibly bobbing beat built out of his reliably great percussion sounds. The duo drizzle on a lovely piano riff, which is the point where I begin to wonder whether I’m listening to Ramadanman or some overambitious hotel-themed house compilation — until the vocals come in and it’s immediately clear who’s building this beat. The vocals are chopped up as finely as any Todd Edwards track, riding the beat so gracefully that they practically slide right off into the sky at the end of each phrase as the piano begins to corner them and poke them off their axis until they simply vanish. The track enters full-on banger mode for a minute-and-a-half of piano & pad madness, until everything starts to trickle out, leaving a barebones skeleton of muted percussion and kicks that sounds much more like the Ramadanman that I know. “More Than You Know” begins with those same trickling percussion sounds featured so tantalizingly on his Hessle EP, rotating in and out of earshot until more tenable sounds come in to the save day; or at least that’s what you think, until the beat starts to disintegrate and hops, skips, and jumps all over the sidewalk. It’s much dubbier than the A-side, restructuring Ramadanman’s usually taut stony face for a roller stretched out over eight glorious minutes. It’s hard to say what Midland’s contribution is here, because these sound like Ramadanman tunes down to their core, but if he’s involved with this then he’s got to have something special about him — and we can check that out on his upcoming EP for Phonica later this year. [AR]


“6A.M. El Gordos”

(Brain Math | MATH08)
Styles: Garage (future?), Dubstep, Rave
Purchase on Boomkat

Brainmath does another of its mysterious, ultra-hip, vinyl only one-trackers, this time from the ever-unpredictable Brackles. As always, it’s an absolute banger, in a more explicitly house style than his usual ‘future garage.’ Syrupy keys envelop the track with their circular, abrupt riffs as the track chugs on with its aggressive percussion. The most fascinating aspect of the track is in its sub frequencies, where a conventional bassline is forgone in favour of massive kick drums that elongate on impact and hit all the deeper for it; and when the track hits its magnificent key change halfway through, chaos erupts in a storm of pure bliss, as the track feeds off of it seemingly endless momentum before settling back down into the waters where it began its journey, thumping on for a few more minutes of heaven. Not content with mere excellence, Brackles slips in a little g-funk synth riff before the track simply peters out, finally giving into the exhaustion after the massive blow-out — It is 6 AM after all. [AR] 


The Projects EP

(Fortified Audio | ELIM002)
Styles: Dubstep, Garage, Techno
Purchase on Boomkat

From Texas, of all places, newcomer VVV drops an utterly gorgeous four-tracker on Fortified Audio. I had these tracks on in a mix of recent stuff and every time one came on, it leaped out at me and drew me into its slow, nocturnal embrace. It runs on these immaculately swung garage beats that glide beneath the misted surface of the tracks. The overall effect is of R&B refracted through a city of mirrors, voices in the air like fog. I’m a sucker for this sound, this latenight dream-time radio that plays through empty streets. Everything seems to play at you through a haze, the world around you on the verge of dissolving into morning light. It’s hard to pick a favourite track, because it’s so easy to get lost in here, turned around so you lose track of where you came in. Yet there are so many gorgeous moments on display that it’s impossible to catalogue them all, like when the bass notes crackle through “Project Z,” bowing the track under their weight only to be released in these lush, exhaled samples. Or how “Back to Life” has these bubbles of melody under the surface, miniaturised like something Mount Kimbie would cook up their lab, but somehow making the whole track glow. “Project X” plays moody and noctural, strings sweeping underneath a worn soul record as it wobbles on the turntable. The words slur at the edges, the meaning lost behind blurred syllables but somehow it feels more real than if everything was crystal clear. And closing track “Project Y” creeps out from behind a decaying sample, the bassline slinking through the night. Here the words are nothing more than left-behind echoes, traces of a final conversation lost in the darkness. It’s so evocative, it’ll make you pull your coat tighter around yourself against the cold. It really is magical stuff, a bold and beautiful debut that puts this unknown Texan firmly on my radar. [SO] 


2020 EP

(Brain Math | MATH07)
Styles: Dubstep, Techno, Drexciya
Purchase on Boomkat

SBTRKT follows up his underground Brainmath single-tracker epic “Laika” with this lavish doublepack of lush and starry-eyed dubstep and techno gems. Taking the austere minimalism of his Young Turks release and adding a thin veneer of decay and worn-out string melodies, SBTRKT manages to create something that sounds ineffably new but that could have been dug out of some old dusty crate from twenty years ago (okay, maybe without the 2step rhythms). “2020” centres around introspective chords and warm, soothing strings while “Jamlock” ups the ante for a surprisingly aggressive Drexcyian pastiche, its pseudo-acid 4/4 thump sending the release spinning out of control: wasn’t this supposed to be dubstep? Things get even weirder with the submerged banger “One Week Over,” sounding almost like Actress but buried even more deeply with fossilized and acrid layers of old, stale emotions and thoughts, basslines rolling back in forth like molten geysers trapped restless under sheets of sedimentary rock. “Pause For Thought” doubles back on the A-side’s vibes, laying an off-kilter beat over uneasy strings as snippets of vocals ride on top of the choppy percussion. It’s one of the biggest in the incredibly solid Brainmath discography, and undoubtedly SBTRKT’s most complete, confident statement as of yet. This isn’t just dubstep — it’s something else entirely, that lofty plateau of sonic freedom that few producers are ever able to even approach. [AR] 


Airmiles EP

(Planet Mu | ZIQ268)
Styles: Grime
Purchase on Boomkat

To say the title track on Swindle’s new Planet Mu EP “Airmiles” is a shock is like saying that the electric chair would give you a bit of a buzz. It opens with dramatic chords, the beat bubbling underneath in frantic patterns. There are some brief flutters of fractured p-funk synth before this absolutely fucking enormous synth line comes bursting out, collapses down a flight of stairs and revs up to do it all again, this time with the beat jackhammering underneath. It’s like having a defibrillator applied to your chest. Then he cools it off a little bit; the beat still thumps but the synthlines are pitched-up and woozy before that massive, juddering beast comes back in and obliterates everything. He finds time in the middle to bring back those delicate, drifting chords he opened with, the percussion back to a simmer but this time you know what’s coming and when it does return resistance is futile and you will be assimilated. Truly one of the biggest tracks of the year. You’d think following that up would be hard, but “Daredevil” wrings out lurid synthlines over this roiling, gut-wrenching bassline that’ll curdle your insides. He even drops what sounds like a funky Bootsy bass solo into the middle. If George Clinton hears this, he is going to flip out. “Coffee” continues in the same funkadelic vein, but forsakes pure bassweight science for a more limber psychedelic flex that has enough smouldering sensuality that it could knock Mother Earth up for the fourth time. Things are closed out with “Molly,” which mangles the template, wrenching the melody into an off-kilter whirl, and sounds like the sort of thing James Blake might do if he was abducted by the Parliament mothership. It caps off an absolutely fantastic release and an awesome showcase for Swindle’s talent. Alongside likeminded producers Terror Danjah, Royal T, Rude Kid and SRC, Swindle is smack in the middle of one of the most exciting scenes going today and this EP is another stellar example of what ‘grime’ means these days. [SO]

Altered Natives

Believe In Me EP

(Fresh Minute Music | FRESH007)
Styles: House, Broken House, Garage, Funky
Purchase on Boomkat

Altered Natives feels like the anti-Roska to me; where Roska’s drums are super clean, tightly programmed and ruthlessly repetitive, Danny Native’s are dirty, realistic, and usually sound like they’re about to pop right off the rhythm track, crackling with all the glowing ferocity of a full-bore woodfire. His “Rass Out” release on Fresh Minute Music last year was one of the year’s freshest-sounding tracks, given a huge spot in Martyn’s Fabric 50 mix, its addictive percussive workouts infused with boundless energy. He follows it up on the same label with the sprawling “Believe In Me,” marrying the metallic clank of his drums with his unique bass melodies and deep house chords. It’s the kind of tune that air drumming was made for; go ahead, try and resist, it’ll do something to you. Sacha Williamson lays a delicious vocal over it, taking full advantage of the song’s eight minutes to play with the structure and melody, bending and reshaping it with her tongue as if it were a piece of gum in her mouth, and the track never quite rises or falls, keeping a consistent blissful groove over its entirety, like the best disco tracks from years past Zed Bias gives the loose-feeling track some backbone with his rigid Club Dub, reining in the hyperactive spaz for a more measured Funky style; honestly, it’s not nearly as exciting as the original but it is what it is, a solid rework. The fireworks return for b-side “Raaatid Einstein,” a jerky elastic number with mammoth riffs, wooden percussion and a cheeky organ that somehow manages to ride the harsh right angles of the groove as smoothly as anything — it almost makes “Believe In Me” sound sedate. “Rass Out” is not an easy record to follow-up, but Altered Natives has done a better job than anyone else possibly could have. [AR] 

MJ Cole

Riddim EP

(Prolific Recordings | PROPH119)
Styles: Garage, Funky, House
Purchase on Boomkat

It’s no surprise that guys like MJ Cole, Todd Edwards and El-B are getting back in the saddle, with their steely-eyed descendents currently making all kinds of names for themselves with their updates on UK garage. This new four-tracker on Prolific Records from Matthew J Coleman himself is the latest shot across the bows from the old guard. “Riddim” is one of those words I don’t tend to use if I can help it, but with four of them on hand here, I don’t have a lot of choice. “Volcano Riddim” opens things out all stormy and dramatic, an orchestra playing host to a war drum beat. Synthesizer blurts come in and do their best to paint things bright, but it’s the specter of those drums beating in the distance that owns this track. It’s intense, attention-grabbing stuff and the best thing on offer here. But that doesn’t mean the rest is just filling space. On the contrary, “Thekla Riddim” plays it nice and choppy, smearing electro riffs all over the beat as it churns the dancefloor into muck. It’s pure heat, but before you get too overwhelmed “Flux Riddim” cools it down with more orchestral flourishes, weaving ornate trails in the air until a gleeful cry signals the arrival of the beat. The strings drop down to provide guttural accents, and the drums hit hard. It’s a really nice groove, but it’s the dipping and diving orchestra in the wings that really makes the track. To close things out, “Phoenix Riddim” coasts in on the back of space age synths, before getting down to some tropical-flavoured dancefloor business, with these humid breakdowns that’ll make you sweat. It builds to this wild-eyed peak, stretching the moment out with these tweaked synthlines that eventually slump back to reality. On this evidence, he’s still got it. [SO]


“Basic Music Knowledge” / “Hunger”

(Idle Hands | IDLE003)
Styles: House, Dubstep, Bassssssss
Purchase on Boomkat

Idle Hands may be a young label, but they’ve already got a lot to live up to. Leading off with a release from a mystery Bristolian who clunked and clicked his way through a great 12″, they followed it up with “Bola / Tigerflower” the B-side of which is still my favourite track released so far this year. So now it’s Kowton’s turn, another guy in the seemingly endless supply of talented dudes from Bristol, and he’s onto another winner. “Basic Music Knowledge” opens with low down pulse and pocket-sizes drones, before settling into a slinky groove driven by a clipped vocal sample and these glowing bluesy keyboard notes. It seems to draw equally from the effortless swing of UK garage and the aquatic techno of Theo Parrish. Once its found its groove, it settles in, sprawling out for almost seven minutes, rolling on this undercurrent of nocturnal menace, moments of crackle and drone sliding under the surface. “Hunger” sees him ratchet up the sense of unease, ditching the garage elements for queasy technoid shuffle. The percussion rattles and hums and even the melody has metallic edges, flashing steel glimpsed through the mechanical tread. This is deep, dark stuff and while it’s miles from the hyperreal carnival brightness of “Tigerflower,” it’s just as vivid and impressive. Idle Hands have done it again. The only question that remains is to do with what they’re putting into the water supply in Bristol. [SO]


If you’re a producer or label and have tracks you would like to submit for consideration for the column, e-mail Andrew Ryce.