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Low End Movements

Article
Rob Eves

Here we go, a bumper edition of Low End Movements as 2013 well and truly gets its arse in gear! More bangers than a butchers - keep up if you can.

Easy! So it's back to work after the long weekend, but never fear because as ever there's plenty of great new music out and about to get excited for. Sitting comfortably? Then let's dive straight in.

Ruffhouse - Strangers/ The Domino Effect (Out now on Ingredients Records)

Pessimist, Vega and Cooper return to the LEM fold with another couple of stellar slices of hard-edged Bristollian badness and a further refinement of the Ruffhouse sound, one that's become instantly recognisable, but never appearing formulaic. Of the four 12"s that they've released so far, this, their third for Ingredients, is perhaps the strongest and my personal favourite even though it's among their most club-friendly material, which would normally put me off a bit given that I'm a massive anorak.

On the A-side, "Strangers" finds the trio in their most familiar two-step stomper territory- huge kick, rolling sub line and lots of huge slabs of dense atmospherics crashing down at timely intervals. Nothing that sounds too groundbreaking on paper, because like most of Ruffhouse's music, it isn't- it's just "that" stripped-back sub-driven sound done incredibly well, so well in fact that it's the level of production quality that makes their music their own when there are certainly other producers taking a similar approach to 170 BPM music.

This is underlined by the B-side, "The Domino Effect," which to describe with in limited words would lead you to mistakenly come away with the incorrect impression that it's not a hugely dissimilar tune to the A- the phrases "stripped-back" and "sub" come to mind once more- but within the Ruffhouse framework the two are worlds apart. Where the bass in "Strangers" is more constant, here it bobs along fitting neatly in between kick and snare; where the rhythm on the A is driven almost solely by the kick with percussion filling out calculated pauses in the tune's progression, "The Domino Effect" makes ample use of hats and tams, and the kick keeps in perfect tandem with the snare, giving the tune a more energetic and funky feel rather than a weighty one. As I'm sure I've said before about Ruffhouse's music, it's a sound that relies on nuance and meticulous attention to detail to pull off and to give the tunes real punch and an authentic feel rather than just ending up as flat, lifeless drum & bass by numbers, the likes of which is sadly out there in insufferable volume as it is.

ASC- Flood Tide Rising/ Outflow/ Dream Of The Future (Out April 15th on Space Cadets)

Organic favourite label + Organic favourite producer = LEM no-brainer. As it happens though, ASC's latest single for Space Cadets also features one of his and the label's standout tunes in "Outflow", a breathtakingly minimal soundscape of dub chord pads, droning atmospherics and just enough widely-spaced sub and percussion for it to maintain a rhythmic quality without detracting from its ambience. As under 4-minute pieces of electronic music go, it's nigh on perfect; despite the sparseness, not a single moment feels dull or wasted, and for anyone who believes that electronic music can be seen as art in terms of inspiring thought and feelings greater than the sum of its parts as we at Organic do, this is vital listening.

Meanwhile, "Flood Tide Rising" represents the first forays of Space Cadets into sub 170 BPM territories, a venture for the imprint that was perhaps always inevitable given the open-mindedness of their release policy. ASC is becoming increasingly prolific as a techno artist, (indeed he's put a stellar techno 12" out this month via his new "Diode" imprint), but compared to most of his recent output in these lower-tempo realms which are relatively archetypal and clean-cut in their approaches, there's a bit more experimentalism at work here. "Flood Tide" is technically a 140 BPM piece, but no way has it got anything to do with dubstep, in fact it doesn't really "step" at all, maybe at a push you could say that it "bounces" along, but like "Outflow" it's better listened to as ambient music and allowed simply to wash over you. In a release which renders genres as fairly useless concepts however, it's "Dream Of The Future" that most defies conventions, built around a stuttering beat where it can be tricky to know what the first beat of a bar even is, yet alone to locate the corresponding parts relative to more traditional drum patterns which are liable to feel predictable and even lifeless by immediate comparison. Consistent with what we've come to expect of Space Cadets it finds its natural environment as a personal headphone listen, that is once you adjust to the slight awkwardness of not knowing when to nod your head and realise that in fact the best is not to nod at all.

Perhaps the only criticism (and it isn't really a fair criticism) is that these tunes feel to be somewhat underselling themselves making up a 12" rather than preluding or forming a part of a long player, such is the sense of escapism achieved that you'll readily be drawn in. Probably though, this just reflects the extent to which the single has just given me a burning desire to hear even more from ASC and Space Cadets in this vein. Either way, at the end of the 15 minute listen more often than not I find myself heading straight back to the start for just one more quick interstellar voyage.

Djrum - Seven Lies (Out April 29th on Second Drop Records)

Treading sonic territory somewhere between downtempo, dub, breakbeat and classic 90s house and garage, Djrum's debut album "Seven Lies" rather uniquely manages to be as much an exercise genre defiance as it is an exercise in nostalgia. In the simplest terms possible, this is a sublimely chilled, deep and boundlessly rich album, and it currently stands out as one of my favourite long players of the year so far, not just within electronic music, and indeed you'd be forgiven for not even thinking to apply the word "electronic" to it anyway.

"Seven Lies" is characterised by its cinematic feel yet achingly warm and homely feel, and alongside the diverse and dusty feeling palette of samples and breakbeats, Djrum is another big proponent of the chopped vocal thing à la Dilla and Burial, which has of course become one of the great clichés of modern electronic music, but he does it in a way that's almost on a par with these modern originators of the technique in terms of how tastefully and carefully it's done. Rather than messing with the pitches too much or just whacking an a' cappella over the 8 bars leading to a drop, Djrum's uses vocals almost as instruments, splicing up phrases in a way that takes just enough meaning out of the words to allow them to fade from the foreground, but at the same time allowing the songs to feel full to the brim with real human character. Opener "Obsession" is a great example of the technique in action- over the top of a jazzy two-step beat, the loop of "same girl/ same girl" is fundamentally a meaningless pair of words without any wider lyrical context for it to sit in, and yet you feel there's something that Djrum's trying to say.

Album centrepiece "Arcana (Do I Need You)" works similarly. Here, though the vocal phrasing is more complete, the meaning remains vague. Musically, the tune plays out straightforwardly at first, seeming to build up towards a relatively dancefloor-friendly drop, but at the crucial moment instead it pauses and allows a beautiful arrangement of strings and smooth 90s rave-esque chords to unfold, holding the bassline back for a comfortable further minute. "DAM" meanwhile somehow manages to squeeze a grime sample into its coda, without disturbing its mellow feel. The section nicely sums up the album as a whole; largely thanks to its expansive sample sources, "Seven Lies" is a real goodie bag of different sonic characteristics and emotions, and as often and readily as it surprises in terms of subverting the norms and avoiding the trends of current UK dance music, it never fails to be anything but a gorgeous listen. Highly, highly recommended.

Although there are a couple of tracks floating about in mixes online including his own RA mix below, no official audio for this one as yet so you'll just have to take our word for it!

Felix K - Dark Future/ Ugners (Out now on Blueberry Musik)

I admit it, I'm a Felix K fanboy. I love it when a producer manages to make their sound recognisable and distinctive while still managing to create musical arrangements that stand apart from each other in terms of moods and grooves created from their familiar palette of sonic motifs. The latest pair of wax-only Felix K tunes are another fine display of the Berlin producer's nous and attention to detail within his own little unique lo-fi niche.

"Dark Future" is a good example of a tune that is at once both easily attributable to Felix whilst fundamentally detracting from much of his recent (and very hectic) output. The noisy "snares" and bouncy b-line foster an aesthetic not dissimilar to that of "Escapism Part 1" from his recent excellent EP for Alphacut, but "Dark Future" possesses more of an oddly melodic quality which you'd be forgiven for overlooking the first couple of listens amidst the harshness, in contrast to "Escapism" whose pervading aura is one of ambience. "Ugners" with its scuttling break work also takes a couple of spins to get to grips with, but once you hear past its more frantic elements, it opens up as a listen to reveal some softer and warmer qualities through sparse synth work. In honesty, I always find Felix K's music tough to write about which is probably a good sign- truth be told, given its underlying simplicity it's tricky to know exactly how or why his music works, it just does. And it's this sometimes challenging aspect of his production that keeps me coming back to it time and again and gaining more from each subsequent revisit.

Worth noting too that there are a mere 100 copies of "Dark Future" and "Ugners" in existence with no digital release- it's always nice to see labels take the old school approach from time to time, and a nice bit of additional sentimental value to the investment for those of us who've grabbed a copy. If you've been weighing it up but are yet to do so, there are a still a few available at time of writing so don't sleep.

Justice & Metro - Oxymoron (Out April 22nd on Modern Urban Jazz)

April seems to be looking a good month for the long players. Here's another excellent one courtesy of the Mjazz camp in the form of Justice & Metro's latest full length, "Oxymoron," and it's certainly no sophomore slump. Those already inducted into the cult of Modern Urban Jazz will know it as one of the premier imprints when it comes to off-kilter and even occasionally downright quirky beats and bass, an ethos that each of the 14 tracks of "Oxymoron" remain entirely true to without ever feeling forced or even pretentious about it.

This is a record for lovers of groove and of melody rather than drops and basslines. Though it's all at 170 BPM (or thereabouts), there's hardly a "typical" drum & bass beat pattern in sight. Rather, putting the "modern" in "Modern Urban Jazz," funky and unpredictable drum machine work holds down the majority of the rhythms, while the "jazz" is provided through deliciously raw and lo fi synth work. Hidden away near the end of the album, "The Bear" contains some of the strongest work in this latter regard, built around dub techno pads reminiscent of DeepChord and evolving into a wonderfully sonorous piece, largely thanks to the somewhat catchy chord progression. This catchiness is something of a curiosity amidst the LP as a whole however- personal highlight "The Lovin" for example is equally melody driven, but it comes across as a far more vague piece of music, capturing that certain "je ne sais quoi" that can only be (completely unsatisfactorily) described as a vibe. To approximate it another way, I write this having recently arrived in from a late night stroll with only the LP for company, and amongst the raw grit and experimentalism of the LP elsewhere, "The Lovin" most perfectly seemed to fit the tone of a rainy suburban Saturday evening- beautiful, but in a way that's hard to grasp and more than slightly tinged with melancholy.

Soundcloud clips are all well and good, but Mjazz have also made a nice little video preview for the "Oxymoron" LP, which you can check out at your leisure here: http://vimeo.com/60744222

War, Overlook & Mateba - Rift (Free giveaway)

It's quite easy to (ahem) overlook free tune giveaways- often they represent producer's second-rate work that's only seeing daylight because it's remained unsigned for good reason, and sometimes annoying in exchange for trivial social media based things. Arma, aka War, Overlook & Mateba's "Rift" however (which fortunately doesn't fall into the latter category else I almost certainly wouldn't have bothered to listen to it- take note social media whores!) is a veritable gem, and assuming that this has done the rounds behind the scenes I can't for the life of me understand why this hasn't been picked up. Certainly there are plenty of labels that spring to mind that could have made a fitting home and gained a strong addition to their catalogues, but then again I'm not the boss of a successful label, I'm just some hack who writes about music in their spare time so what do I know? Anyway, if it's a label's loss then it's our gain. (Edit- as it turns out, it would have seen a release but the original .wav and the project file were lost. Not only am I a hack it would seem but a hack who doesn't do his research.)

It's not hard to find tunes cast in the same lean, beats, bass and pads mould as "Rift", but it is hard to find them done this well and so aptly strike a balance between being deep and exhilarating, where your head's nodding but at the same time, your eyes are closed, focussed. Much of that is owed to the noisy, bitcrushy atmospherics that share some qualities with the ambient music of Tim Hecker, but are used in a more restrained and less expansive way, rushing in to up the tension-based ante when needed then dissipating instantly. The bass hits hard, but it stays low. And despite weighing in at over 8 minutes in length, it feels substantially shorter; the energy kept up throughout in a way that avoids feeling like you're just listening to a loop, even though the drums are fairly subdued in their variations. When drum & bass gets it right, it gets it so right.

dBridge & Instra:mental - White Snares (Out now on Nonplus)

I admit I'm a little biased, but to my ears at least, "White Snares" stands apart from the rest of the "Think And Change" various artists LP, and not just for its tempo. Don't get me wrong, the LP is a great assortment of fairly banger-ish techno and house from a selection of names who are attracting vast attention for all the right reasons lately and one that I'd recommend to unreservedly to anyone with an interest in those genres, but as good as it is as club and Boiler Room friendly material I don't feel that any of it touches dBridge and Instra:mental's contribution in terms of sheer emotion, subtlety and elegance.

As much of a huge fan as I am of Alex Green and Damon Drama aka Boddika and Jon Convex's takes on 4/4 music, I still feel that all their best work has resulted from when they've been working together at 170. In recent-ish years they can be accredited with having created many of the Autonomic era's finest and most influential productions; "Watching You", "Photograph" and "No Future" all spring to mind, as well as dBridge colabs "Acacia Avenue" and "Translucent", and therefore it's safe to say that the return to these pastures is a more than welcome one. Of course the word "return" is perhaps inaccurate, as there's no way of telling whether "White Snares" represents new work or a salvaged cut from the extensive Autonomic era vault, but it's something to celebrate that they've allowed it to surface if the latter is the case.

The track's title would appear lazy but actually it's perfectly fitting- if it's possible for a drum machine to sound beautiful in its polished cleanliness, then this is it. I could probably just listen to those drums on loop for 5 minutes and come away perfectly satisfied. Silvery pad work, a gorgeously harmonious low end and a sentimentally charged vocal sample, subtly positioned in the mix tie everything together to create a hazy yet wondrously rich piece of music, one that attaches nostalgia to itself from the first listen and would make a perfect soundtrack to some romantic yet dark film that hasn't been made yet or failing that, just any of the most poignant moments of life in the modern world. For what it's worth, "White Snares" is my favourite 170bpm tune of 2013 so far.

No official audio about for this one at the moment, but it is out now so previews will be available via your favourite music vendor.

Agree with my selections this month? Anything I've missed, or anything that I should be checking out for next? Get in touch via djxinvision@hotmail.com or hit me at @invisiondnb on Twitter.