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Low End Movements

Article
Rob Eves
low end movements feb 2012

What's in the LEM bag of goodies this time around? On top of the usual assortment of fast breakbeats, the pick of February and March's releases have us slowing things down for a few numbers.

Welcome back for another edition of LEM, aka the Narratives Music, ASC and Felix K appreciation society. After last month's breakbeat bonanza, February has felt a bit quieter on the new releases front as far as drum & bass is concerned- that's not to say of course that there haven't still been plenty of great releases but more that it's felt a bit easier to be up to date with it all and I am certainly more than happy and sated by my recent purchases; maybe I've just been looking in the right places (or not looking hard enough?! As usual my contact info is below if you think there are any glaring omissions!)

Anyway, what better time then to delve more into music of other styles and tempos? Before I consider myself a fan of drum & bass, I consider myself a fan of music in general, and when I'm not writing for Organic and listening through the week's new 170 BPM releases and the email inbox material, usually I'm trying to expand and refine my musical palette in other directions. This month, on top of a steady and healthy diet of alternative rock, hip hop and attempting to listen to Prince's entire discography, I've been particularly grabbed by the quality of electronic music I've heard from outside of the 170 bubble. So for this month's "Low End Movements" then, something ever so slightly different- alongside the usual few very choice 170 cuts, a small selection of some other bits and bobs that I'm feeling.

Overlook/ Blocks & Escher- Three Shards/ Embers (Out now on Narratives Music)

Once again a mention for Narratives Music as once again they've put out a release as good as anything out there at the moment when it comes to rough, classic sounding, yet emotional drum & bass. I can think of plenty of bigger labels that at one time could have contended but for the most part, at the moment they should all be closely taking note. Anyway, out with the old and in with the new, as they say.

Representing the first tune to appear on Narratives solely courtesy from a "third party" artist outside the label's ownership, Overlook's "Three Shards" is essentially a 2013 transposition of Photek's finest moment (in my opinion), "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu," and a very good one at that. Opening with sparse yet full bodied, analogue sounding synths, not dissimilarly to Escher's "Rugged" from Narratives 003, the tension soon gives way to pacey, energetic drum work and from there it just relentlessly shifts and evolves, constantly moving from one motif to the next, giving it an air of franticness but all tied securely together by the constant and dominating kick drum pattern. A word that so often pops up in discussions of Overlook's music is maturity, and the legitimately old school feel of "Three Shards" is yet another demonstration of his nous as a producer that reaches well beyond his relatively young age.

On the flip, Blocks and Escher's "Embers" is a nice juxtaposition, working more off the back of mood than of tension-release dynamics. It's the sort of tune that I imagine was written on one of those lethargic, slightly depressing Sundays where nothing feels that urgent, and this isn't intended as a criticism, but that's the best way I can think to describe the vague, rainy-day kind of vibe going on. Of course it's the typically Narratives warm, emotional quality that gives this tune it's coherence with the A-side and as ever makes this an incredibly balanced feeling 12" and one that can be happily listened to from start to finish in its own right without feeling anything short of satisfying.

In some ways, this is a landmark release for the label. What evidently started as simply a platform for Blocks and Escher's own music now has the potential to represent something more by opening its doors to a wide stable of artists, and I for one am excited to see who else appears on Narratives in the near future, if they do decide to go down that route.

Objekt/ Cosmin TRG- Shuttered/ Auster (Out now on Bleep Green)

The first thing I have to admit is that before I heard these tracks following a few personal tips, I didn't really know much about Objekt or Cosmin TRG. Here's what I do know now: they are both based in Berlin, and on the strength of their latest release they both make very good music.

"Shuttered" revolves around lean, stripped back two-step beat with all of the swing and groove of garage but created out of a far less attention seeking palette of sounds. "Auster" meanwhile, sounds the more typically Berlin, driven by a 303 lead line interspersed with some low-in-the-mix dub chords, but again it's to a more subtle and dark effect than might be usually expected of these production clichés. The emphasis on both tracks is placed firmly on the low end, and this contributes in no small part to what I love overall about this release- its overall sonic aesthetic. It's polished, clean and minimal- you can easily count the different elements in each tune on your hands- yet at the same time, there's discernible warmth and depth to these productions and they're serious growers as a result. Hooray for dance music with longevity.

Various Artists - Auxcast Volume One (Out now on Auxiliary)

It's no secret that we at Organic are all big fans of ASC and his label Auxiliary, so naturally a 10-track various artists compilation from the label is something to get fairly excited about. "Auxcast Volume One," as the name would suggest, is a collection of tracks previously featured on ASC's excellent Auxcast mix series, and represents the work of a broad mix of established Auxiliary stalwarts and newbies to the label alike. No surprises then to see names such as Sam KDC, Synth Sense, Method One and the label boss himself chipping in with typically solid efforts, but plenty of the strongest numbers come from the relative outsiders. The unusual and unquantised time signature of Fis' "Two Swords" for example helps to create something quirky even by his standards, while a personal favourite is the appropriately titled opener "Calmness" from techno upstarts and drum & bass dabblers AnD, which along with Bering Strait's "Background" contends for the most melodic piece on here.

While this is not an album that will be redefining anything soon (and nor does it aim to be), tune for tune it's still a strong and crucially, varied body of work that does serve to broaden the horizons a bit more for the Auxiliary sound. For fans of the label and the podcast series already this is obviously buy-on-sight stuff, but "Auxcast Volume One" should equally serve as a great introduction for anyone previously unaware of the imprint and it's musical output, or for that matter of this style of music generally that we here affectionately termed 170 BPM emotive electronica. Buy a copy and then make your 4/4 snob mates listen to it- just be sure not to mention the words "drum" or "bass" when you do.

Submerse - Algorithms And Ghosts EP (Out March 15th on Project Mooncircle)

Along with the likes of Stumbleine, Synkro, Sina and Sorrow and maybe some other producers whose names also begin with "S," UK born but Japan based producer Submerse is one of the few within the "future" garage niche that I'm aware of to use the faux pas production techniques typical of the genre (read: pitched vocals) to any sort of genuinely creative and emotional effect, rather than just as a token bit of "influence" from Burial. Last year's "Tears" EP for Project Mooncircle was a firm favourite and it's follow up, "Algorithms And Ghosts," though slightly more narrow in terms of scope and exploration of different tempos, is a similarly rich, vibrant and downright enjoyable listen.

Opener "Truth" is an incredibly deceptive piece of music- the simplistic trap beats-and-bass intro and drop are as unimaginative and predictable as anything in current bass music you're likely to hear, then from out of nowhere a blissful cacophony of melody and colour springs up, almost as if the intro had been a deliberate joke. It serves as a reference point which reaffirms the heights that Submerse's sound can reach when juxtaposed against less vivid and interesting music, and perhaps not accidentally. Certainly the overall effect of the tune, and the EP is better off for it.

Submerse cites his new home city Tokyo as having had a big influence on him at the time of writing the EP, and elsewhere, the sense of contrast, inspired by the neon hues of an urban landscape set against Tokyo's more traditional features- "shrines/ temples that really take you away from the high rise buildings"- really seems to be reflected in the music. "Dim Lights and Meteorites," which features Sorrow, is pleasantly reminiscent of some of the best moments on Flying Lotus' last album, and you can rarely have too much of such a good thing as that, while the lullaby tinkling of "Here's Looking At You" sonically captures that rare emotional paradox of nostalgic reminiscence coupled with an underlying note of loss and sadness, like when something very good comes to its inevitable end.

A wonderfully unique release and a timely one given the need for more joyous music to match the changing of the seasons that March brings with it, and also as ever, bonus points for lovely artwork.

Dadub - You Are Eternity (Out now on Stroboscopic Artefacts)

Cataclysmic, apocalyptic, dystopian… these are just a few of the words I was inspired to jot down during my first deep listening session of Italian duo Dadub's debut album "You Are Eternity," a 75 minute aural voyage of discovery, largely through the realms of dub inspired industrial techno and dark ambient but as a whole, ultimately creating a sonic environment that transcends such trivialities as genre. Not for the faint-hearted, this is music that envelops and swallows you, that inspires thought reaching down to the very depths of your psyche.

Flowing seamlessly from one movement to the next (think along the lines of Dan HabarNam or Synth Sense's excellent LPs from last year), it doesn't really do justice to the entire listening experience to break "You Are Eternity" down track-by-track, so to ensure you can't go and just Youtube various bits of it, I refer to none of its many highlights by name. Early sections are defined by a discernible sense of looming unease; the beats move at their own pace with no regard to ease the tension anytime soon, and the dystopian mood is established through the sparse but calculated use of spoken word samples which match the aesthetic perfectly in both tone and content. It's clear that the aim of these tracks is to set a foundation and inspire the right listener mindset for the development of the album into it's even more gripping, perhaps even challenging, second half; This becomes clear when all is unleashed through a tune about half way through that literally sounds like music for the end of the world. An intense section of furious and relentless noise and rhythm follows, and suddenly all is quiet, the final chapters diminuendoing in a way that in relative terms, is almost euphoric as bass becomes a more sporadic commodity and glimpses of vaguely melodic atmosphere creep back in.

Though this is of course a truism for all good albums, "You Are Eternity" deserves only to be heard from start to finish in one sitting, ideally in this case with minimal distractions and an extremely capable headphone or speaker setup. Let it suck you in and see where the journey takes you.

Paradox - Scorpius/ Crate Logic (Out now on Samurai Music)

Within any given musical niche or "scene", there is always a need for forward progress, experimentation, breaking of rules and taking risks. Have a think for a second- why must this be so? Fundamentally, this process derives from there being something on some level wrong with whatever represents the current sounds of that niche- typically, that the natural inward focus of any given scene and the tendencies of the majority of producers to emulate rather than innovate has led to saturation and homogeneity. Clearly, it's difficult to deny that drum & bass and jungle, collectively in their archetypal senses, have long, long since passed that saturation point, and as a result are by most corners of music opinion no longer considered truly vital forms of music, certainly as they were in the 90s heyday, even if 170 BPM music as a whole has started to buck that trend slightly in the last few years.

Why do I bother to tell you what you probably already knew? Because it is in light of this context that the appearance of Paradox, one of the 90s movement's lesser heralded key figures on one of current drum & bass' most popular and fashionable labels and one in no small part bearing some responsibility for the current upturns of the genre, Samurai Music, is truly striking. Unlike the majority of his 90s peers who remain active in the scene today, the music that Paradox is making now is fundamentally the same music that he was making then- meticulously chopped-up funk breaks played fast over the top of samples and synths, and it's a tried and tested formula he's stuck with for 147 releases so far. No deviation, no compromise, no hopping on the back of trends just for the sake of it- you could, and many will, see it as an unwillingness to adapt and push limits, or you could see it as a sign of Paradox's complete and absolute confidence and belief in his sound and a never ceasing desire to master it even further. I'm going to go with the latter.

Ok so access to modern studio techniques and nearly 20 years of experience means that it sounds a tad more polished than the early Reinforced plates but at it's core, this is late 90s jungle being released and more importantly, being considered relevant in 2013- the first vinyl pressing sold out in no time and is already silly money on discogs, and as I type this, "Scorpius" and "Crate Logic" are sitting squarely at 1 and 2 atop at least one well-known digital music merchant's bestsellers. Is the success of this single (along with that of Narratives Music and their similar 90s leanings) about to trigger a widespread resurgence of jungle and inspire armies of young producers to swap their cracked copies of Logic for samplers and raid the Music and Video Exchange for old funk records? Absolutely no chance, and that's exactly the point. As fundamentally underground aural art forms, drum & bass and jungle have never relied on being trendy; in fact they thrive on not being trendy- look at the anger when Rudimental for example managed to climb to the top of the UK charts on the back of a drum & bass beat- how very dare they! For better or worse, it's this militantly uncompromising attitude that has kept drum & bass alive through bad years and good, that has kept some of the very best producers sticking to their guns in a bid to master their sound rather than updating it every 6 months, and it's singles like "Scorpius"/"Crate Logic" that keep us all in touch with the genre's roots, or for people like me who are only relatively recent converts, encourage us to explore those roots further, which has never failed to be an inspiring and affirming venture.

At a time when Photek has become liable to drop prog house in a set, Goldie is arguably better at being a pop culture icon than he is at playing two records at the same speed and Doc Scott is trapped in his basement still trying to decide if the beat he's made sounds better at 170 or 120 beats per minute, it's nice to see at least one artist still bearing the torch containing the spirit of the 90s proudly aloft; As the saying goes, in order to know where you are going you must first know where you are coming from. While we continue to welcome with excitement and indeed immerse ourselves in the evolution of 170bpm bass music, here's hoping that we never lose sight or faith in it's roots.

Agree with my selections? Anything I've missed this month, or anything to tell me about for next? Get in touch via djxinvision@hotmail.com or @invisiondnb on Twitter.