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Low End Movements

Article
Rob Eves
big oily ass

I continue to be increasingly excited with the state of 85/ 170bpm music, possibly now the most I've ever been in fact, and if you happen to come across this feature regularly you'll know that's saying something.

As this is the first Low End Movements of 2013, perhaps a good time to reflect briefly; In the 6 months or thereabouts that this feature has been running, more and more I'm becoming inclined towards music possessed of one quality above all else- longevity. An ongoing clean up of my digital music library has been part of the reason why. It's so easy to discover new music these days that it's easy to get carried away as a consumer of it. The result? Literally deleting music that you've parted with good money for from a hard drive because you know you'll never listen to it again, in fact in some cases because you'd prefer not to ever listen to it again. Luckily I'm enough of an obsessive compulsive to add catalogue numbers to much of my digital library so I only had to type in "PLAYAZ" to sort a big part of that problem. Anyway I digress…

The point in all this is to reaffirm that it's always quality over quantity that matters. No matter how vast or eclectic your music collection is, it means nothing if none of it still sounds as good as the day you bought it. This month though, we've been blessed with both quality and quantity on the releases front, strength in depth. Not bad considering it's still early in the year, traditionally a slow time for new music. To finalise this month's Low End Movements selections then was quite a process and in the end, I've gone with the ones that I'm sure I'll still be listening to and hopefully playing in a year's time. And I don't just mean the experimental minimal stuff that doesn't actually have a name and isn't really drum & bass, I mean actual proper, archetypal, unashamed and unadulterated breaks, bass and pads- as it was, is now, and always shall be. Plus er, also some experimental minimal stuff that isn't really drum & bass.

Bungle- Aura/ Astral Travel (Out now on Soul:r)

It's fair to say that Bungle's return to Marcus Intalex's Soul:r has been met with plenty of hype. The label boss himself described it as "the best Soul:r 12" in a long time" in the press notes, and for once a piece of self-promotion hyperbole proves to not be complete bullshit. Indeed as a 12", i.e. as a balanced pair of tunes that are both of coherent and complementary style but still varied as pieces of music, this is I feel as strong an effort as anyone in the "liquid" camp has produced for quite some time, up there with the likes of Tokyo Prose's first Samurai 12"s and many of Calibre's recent best efforts, although time will tell us for sure.

On first listen, you'd be forgiven for not even realising that "Astral Travel" has even dropped until about half-way through; instead of discernibly attaching its tension-release dynamic around a bassline it just builds and builds, adding layers of atmosphere and increasing in energy in waves to an almost unbearable point. Suddenly, the tension is released and the cycle begins again. It's a lesson in how to make drum & bass that's euphoric but not cheesy, which is always such a hard balance to get right. On the other half, "Aura" takes a similar approach in terms of its atmospheric elements but swaps the straight two-step for a more stripped-back kick driven beat and rather uniquely, ride cymbals clanging away in a manner that's so nuanced and dynamic you'd swear they had been recorded live. Who knows in fact, maybe they have? The horns and subtly pitch-bending synths add to the overall (ahem) organic and authentic feel and combined with the warmth and depth of the bassline, "Aura" is as flawlessly crisp and clean a production as you'll find coming out of just about anywhere outside of a major label-backed studio.

In a recent interview, Marcus discussed his recent dabblings into house and techno as Trevino but ultimately professed his love of drum & bass- "when it's done right there is no better club music." Of course as we know, more often than not it isn't, but "Astral Travel" and "Aura" are certainly both drum & bass done right, my hat off to you both Bungle and Mr. Intalex for a welcome reminder of the potentials of this tempo as a means of creating pure energy and excitement, something it can still do with class from time to time.

Commix- Fallen (Metalheadz free giveaway)

Commix are back… well sort of. Thanks to the 99% pointless medium of social network, freebies get about quickly these days and are an increasingly attractive proposition as a means of getting stuff out there, usually by those most desperate of souls begging for a frankly unwarranted number of extra "likes" for their pages in return for a bit of under produced vault action which has remained unsigned for a few years, with good reason. Coupled with Commix's near two-year silence on the drum & bass releases front (barring last year's "Dusted" compiling some of their vault tunes from circa '03-'08,) and general uncertainty on their future following the departure of Guy, you'll forgive me then for having initially listened to "Fallen" with more hope than expectation.

In fact, it's a bit of a blinder. Lush pad work and clean-as-you-like drums, super simple but warm bass- it doesn't sound a lot to describe it but it's all pulled together in a way that's understated and mature, and like all of their best work, it's one that despite obvious appeal as a dance floor cut should also have plenty of longevity in the process. Commix's sole surviving member George has been making techno as Endian for the last couple of years, and there's plenty of the stripped-bare and funky Detroit influence present here.

Who knows whether we can expect to hear much more output from George at this tempo with the Endian project appearing the priority of late and current trends being what they are but for the time being, "Fallen" deserves to be cherished as a welcome reminder of the prowesses of one of the most vital sets of producers that drum & bass in the current era has been blessed with. Grab a copy below.

Various Artists- Alpha Cutari I, II & III EPs (Out now on Alphacut Records)

Wow, wow, wow.

As far removed from the clean and modern sounds of Bungle and Commix as you can get- spacey, dense and trippy ambient meets autonomic drum & bass as well as techno and dubstep in the latest series of EPs to be launched by Leipzig's Alphacut Records. United in an uncompromising lo-fi, minimal and analogue aesthetic that techno from this part of the world is so revered for, this is intoxicatingly deep music that either you'll miss the point of, or find yourself entirely engrossed and lost in. I'd put myself firmly in that latter category.

The first of the trio comes courtesy of another resident, Felix K. Like the output that his own Hidden Hawaii imprint is known for, it's moody, at times ridiculously sparse and requires multiple listens to properly appreciate. In fact that's the trademark of all three of the series' opening releases- remember that longevity factor I mentioned at the start of this article? This is it right here. When you listen to music that's defined not by how many elements it contains but rather the significant space between a few, well thought-out ideas, it makes for a unique listener experience each time. The human brain has a natural tendency to try and fill in the gaps and break the tension with its own thoughts; whether this process results in manifestations that possess more aural or visual qualities or simply just inspires deep meditative thought, the experience transcends just listening to the music itself.

Accordingly given its title, Koto's "Filmscape" EP is drenched in rich pad and chords that give it that certain cinematic quality, especially on the second half with "Emersion" and "Endgame" conjuring for example the dystopian cityscapes of a particular Ridley Scott picture, clean and optimistically bright on the outside but gritty and murkier the further into it you go. Completing the set, Sub's "Alpha" is the closest any of the releases get to the realms of club music, and only then because it's a bit more bass driven than the rest, and only also if you consider the music appropriate for the very start and ends of a night when the dance floor is deserted and mood is the order of the day as equally worthy of the title "club music" as that which is played during the peak hands-in-the-air hours.

Available in strictly limited quantity and on vinyl only, (and beautifully marbled coloured vinyl at that) you must go and buy at least one of these records, if not the full set, not only because they're liable to sell out and end up being worth silly money on the second hand market, but more importantly because more music like this needs to be released and that won't happen any other way. Alternatively if you're a producer that makes anything like this or you know where I can find more of them, my deets are at the bottom of the page.

Stray- When It Rains (Out now on Blu Mar Ten Music)

A lot of producers claim to just "make music at 170 bpm" but crucially, even when the experimental spirit to defy the usual restraints of the tempo is there sometimes it's the "music" bit that's lacking. Stray has often mentioned his jazz influences and they've been eminent in productions past of his such as "Pushed", and "When It Rains" is a more than welcome return to that blueprint. It's a little bit more simple as a piece of music though; where "Pushed" featured melodic key lines that meandered around and in between each other, "When It Rains" runs along to a more-or-less static chord progression and the focus is instead shifted to a muffled vocal melody, deliberately distorted making its words nigh-inaudible, inviting you to try and peer in closer.

I had the pleasure of being able to have a chat with Stray this week about the release among other things, and you'll be able to read a few of his own thoughts on his music if you check back to this site in the coming days.

Beastie Respond- Fictitious Nostalgia Sampler (Out February 18th on Teal Recordings)

A name that's been on the lips and in the record bags of those in the know for a while now but perhaps one that could be unfamiliar to some, Copenhagen's Beastie Respond looks set to make his mark entering at the deep end with a full length LP dropping in the not too distant. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of album samplers and prefer to wait for a full package to surface before I cast judgement but I've been aware of these three tunes for a little while now and consistently been battering them.

This has been a tough one to write about however, because what it is that makes all three of these tracks so outstandingly good is something that I really just can't put my finger on. At times, such as on "Wait For Me" featuring the vocals of Alia Fresco, Beastie inspires pensive reflection and then the next minute the straight-up drum machine funk of "Jetliner" has your head nodding furiously and doing your best synthesiser impression singing along to the riff by the end of it, and probably for the rest of the week as well. And yet despite the obvious debt to electro and pop music of an earlier era, it just feels completely original.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the sampler though, curiously, is its brevity. With both b-sides clocking in at under 5 minutes, no hook or idea is extended too far beyond its means which gives it a veritable "just one more go" listenability, boding well for the album as a whole in hopefully avoiding just being a collection of DJ-friendly loops, a trap which sadly of course the vast majority of albums at this tempo fall into. Of course, the real hope is that the album gains attention from advocates of all bpms and styles as it so richly will deserve to if the strength of it's sampler is anything to go by.

Synkro- Acceptance EP (Out now on Apollo Records)

Since the 2012 relaunch of R&S' sister label Apollo the imprint's ethos has been straight forward enough- simply to put out good electronic music regardless of tempo. Who better then to kick start the label's 2013 discography than all round bass musician extraordinaire Synkro? Though channelling his sound through a wide number of different styles and bpms, increasingly, Synkro seems to be breaking down the apparent boundaries between the sounds of "bass" music and contemporary electronica, taking more and more influence from the kind of clean modern ambient such as that which the likes of Ulrich Schnauss and Mark McGuire are known for. The acoustic guitar of Indigo colab "Mutual Divide" a particularly good example of these influences shining through. Meanwhile the pitched vocals and implied 4/4 of "Don't Want" sound like they could be the work of fellow Mancunian Holy Other, but with optimism the overriding motif in place of dread. The title track sees him in 85/ 170bpm territory with excellent results as usual, but the personal highlight is centrepiece "Recognition", a nigh-perfect slice of euphoric ambient.

At 8 tracks this is definitely Synkro's most ambitious solo release to date and perhaps also his most musically rounded. It's no understatement to say that he's starting to sit out on his own as an artist, taking inspiration from all over and fitting readily into no current niches or trends easily, and the unique sound he's gradually developed is thoroughly deserving of the wider attention that's ever increasingly coming from outside of the traditional realms of the UK bass music "scene."

Naibu- Fall EP (Out now on Horizons Music)

Following up from 2011's sublime "Habitat" album and a string of strong releases with Horizons towards the end of last year, another excellent offering from Paris' premier exponent of breaks and bass, Naibu. Six tracks, in the increasingly popular mini LP format, which admittedly probably doesn't represent much in the way of new ground for Naibu's sound but then again given how distinct his music is why should they have to? While it's always nice when producers are constantly pushing and evolving their sonic palette, it's equally worthy of Naibu to keep the alterations subtle and simply maximise the output of his unique sound of which he commands mastery. The combination of dubby stabs, glitchy percussion and (I think) hip hop vocal of "Until" is the personal favourite; it's definitely the most understated and subtle of the release. Meanwhile the breathy vocals of Key add a good touch of melancholic soul to "Just Like You" and "Playing With Fire," each summing up nicely the thoroughly musical vibe of the release, and indeed of Naibu's current sound, overall.

Coupled with the artwork, there's a seasonal feel to "Fall," capturing that bitter-sweet note of nostalgia that's appropriate for say the end of Summer and the start of Autumn, but perhaps also a mood that's appropriate for midwinter, bleak but with the slightest touch of optimism as the days finally start to get a bit longer and a hopeful sense of expectancy begins to set in once more.

Agree with my selections? Anything I've missed this month? Get in touch via djxinvision@hotmail.com or hit me on Twitter, @invisiondnb.