Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rumble in the jungle: Drum n bass watch

We predicted here in the end of year round up that 2012 would see the return of drum n bass to the consciousness of dance music. While it hasn’t quite been the second coming yet, there has been plenty of murmurings and rumblings from the genre in several media outlets. Now all we need is that one killer album to open the floodgates. While we wait, a quick roundup of some of the recent activity.

One of the coups of the year may have been FACT magazine promoting and streaming Photek’s “Modus operandi” set from the recent Hidden Depths of Hospital Records night held at XOYO in London at the end of July.

While the streaming of Photek’s set does not appear to be archived yet, a promotional mix for the event can be found here:

The FACT website subsequently ran an extensive feature on Photek and the recording of the 1997 Classic album with an excerpt from a classic interview from back in the day.

As well as some promotion for the new single “Levitation” which was one of the new and exclusive tracks from Photek’s otherwise disappointing "DJ Kicks" mix on !K7 from earlier this year. The above interviews promise a new album, but from all the recent singles it is unlikely to be drum n bass, although Photek’s productions still transmit enough character and quality to suggest it may still be a classic.

Over at RA there have been several features and reviews to also stoke the fires a little bit.

Those following the RA Exchange podcast series will have heard RA editor Todd L. Burns talk up the qualities of New Zealand “drum n bass” producer FIS  (Olly Peryman) in the mid-year round-up. However, here, DnB is used rather loosely, with Todd himself confessing that the genre association is more by default since he encountered FIS through DnB channels, but the music often bears little resemblance. FIS received a fascinating Breaking Through feature earlier in the year. Sound wise, the names Burial, Actress and Shackleton are thrown around, whereas I would also tend to add in Emptyset and Frak as well: a fierce, heavy metallic sound dominates rather than the lither sculptural creations of Actress, for example, but still, it’s not DnB as we know it.

Keeping the New Zealand connection via the Samurai Red Seal label was the recent album “Out of sync” by prolific and diverse producer James Clements aka ASC who we recently bigged up for his ambient album “Decayed society” with Sam KDC. The album is another master class of sound design, but as well as pure ambient noise, Clements throws into the mix a menagerie of beat styles, from IDM, to techno and of course some skittery 21st Century drum n bass.

Also getting a feature article was producer Thomas Green aka Rockwell who has just signed a deal with Shogun Audio to release his debut album. Rockwell has already demonstrated some serious production ability on his earlier singles including his much celebrated “Aria EP” which combines classic drum n bass tropes with more leftfield IDM. What takes it to the next level is a rich sense of progression within the same track away from the ordinary: spidery production becomes heavy kicks, while sinister moods become dormant aggression.

As Rockwell says himself in the interview: “I obsess over micro-genres in music outside of drum & bass and that's where I get my influences from.” This has been something of a critical dogma for the reshaping of DnB in general, as it has been the rules and regulations governing the sound and its presentation that have limited it for several years. Andrew Ryce even lays this idea down straight in the opening gambit of the article

“It's understandable if you don't view drum & bass as the most forward-thinking or experimental dance music genre anymore. It's become an insular scene largely dominated by the same big names who held sway 10 or even 15 years ago, governed by formula and convention.”

However, whether Rockwell’s upcoming album due for 2013 release will be the crossover DnB is waiting for remains to be seen. He himself confesses “The album's not really sounding very drum & bass right now. I've probably got about three downbeat housey things. I've got a lot of stuff which is about 85 BPM, Eskmo sort of vibes but with bass line. I'm going to be working with a lot of vocalists and there's going to be a lot of song structures in there as well.” Much like FIS, perhaps it is the distortion of the periphery that will allow space for changes to occur at the core.

Young producer Stray aka Jonathon Fogel also had a Playing Favourites feature dedicated to him. Music wise, Stray has had two 12” s this year, the first on the acclaimed Critical Recordings and the most recent on Heath Looney’s Warm Communications.

Review wise, there has been little else. Fracture’s “Get Busy” with Dawn Day Night and its kooky zombie video received a great score and a lot of attention. It seems to make more sense the more it goes on, with the cry “Get busy” inculcating as it is applicable to the frenetic programming.

One album that didn’t get a review at RA at least was "Fabriclive 63" mixed by Digital Soundboy System, a rough and ready mix of drum n bass, dubstep and reggae-influenced styles.

Arguably the man who delivered one of the best Fabric mixes and a drum n bass one at that was Marcus Kaye aka Marcus Intalex who has been getting a lot of attention everywhere lately for his house project Trevino, but sadly not as much for his drum n bass which is perhaps indicative of the obstacles still facing. Nonetheless, Intalex’s Trevino Eps have enjoyed some excellent critical reviews and appear in the type of critics charts that you would trust, as opposed to the generic DJ charts you can find around.

Incidentally, this is not Intalex’s first foray into house of course. This leads us back to the beginning and Hospital Recordings and Intalex’s fantastic cut “Taking over me” with S.T. Files from 2000.


One thing I forgot to add in when posting yesterday was also to flag the excellent Resident Advisor Exchange with drum n bass legend Doc Scott (Scott McIlroy). Scott comes across as refreshingly honest and positive and his tales of the early days and what it was really like cutting dubs make it an essential listen for anyone who wants to get a bit closer to the history.

One of Doc Scott’s first releases was this tasty nugget of hardcore on the Absolute 2 Records label.

A year later he was still toying with hardcore sounds while gradually bringing the breaks to the fore on his first release for Reinforced.

After a short production hiatus, but intensive DJing, McIlroy returned in 1994 on Metalheadz firmly entrenched in the drum n bass scene where he would go on to become one of the greats.

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