Another month, another fine set of releases for all us emotive electronica obsessives to get our claws into. Sorting the best from the rest, it's LEM time.
Easy! Yep, we're back once again, ass and all.
As a side focus to this month's crop of Low End Movements selections, you may or may not be aware that we're hosting a little knees up (/booty shake) this weekend, bringing a lineup of some of our current favourite producers and DJs to Dalston's club Hysteria (full event info below). Aside from a mutual appreciation of bum humour, I think it's fair to say that we at Organic and the artists we associate with all share a pretty passionate belief that electronic music, and specifically 85/ 170 BPM electronica, can be an art form, not just music for raving to. As such then, don't expect the usual cookie-cutter selection of bangers and rollers on the night, but rather a number of hand-picked artist's original takes on how best to soundtrack a club environment, and indeed an opportunity to appreciate some outside-the-box music on a serious system. This month's LEM picks might reflect a decent but entirely unexhaustive approximation of the sort of thing you're liable to hear, at least if you're down early doors to catch yours truly on the warm up tip.
Let's get stuck in!
Indigo - HORO009 (Out now on Samurai Music)
The latest outing for Samurai's vinyl-only Horo imprint as they continue to push boundaries and challenge perceptions of the capabilities of 170 BPM bass music. Up to this point, Manchester producer Liam Blackburn aka Indigo's output has touched upon a few different sylistic corners, but here the entire breadth of his production prowesses are on show and thus it constitutes perhaps his most complete solo release to date, rivalled only by 2012's "Celesial" EP for the legendary label Apollo.
At the more sensitive and overtly emotional end of the Indigo spectrum, "Reaching The Source" comprises a stunning cacophony of synthesised string lines that soar over the top of a polished, Instra:mental esque percussive beat. There are guest vocal credits, but make no mistake this isn't a watered-down pop and bass affair; rather, Poppy Roberts' wordless falsettos are pushed right back in the mix, serving to provide an extra, tangibly more human dimension to an already sumptuous top end. Closing track "Talia" is equally atmospheric in its presentation though more closely resembles ambient music by substituting crescendoing song structure for deliberately excessive repetition. This affords it an overaching sense of vagueness, and while glittery pad elements that would perfectly soundtrack night time snowfall maintain a subtle presence throughout, the beauty of the piece ultimately lies in its eeriness and tension.
EP standout "Tethys" is a grittier beast, and despite creating a juxtaposition in styles when set against the tracks that sandwich it, the familiar palette of tribal tones and deep bass still grants sufficient semblance for it to effectively bridge the two. Not that it's healthy to get tied down in such discussions, but technically speaking, "Tethys" doesn't readily fall into any current electronic genre category given its unusual 90-odd BPM tempo. Obviously this is a good thing, but then again, it's not the first time we've seen this sort of framework utilised by a Samurai Horo release - you may remember Fis' "Duckdive" EP and its similar approach to rhythm; half-step patterns that though in some ways similar, ultimately have nothing to do with drum & bass. "Fis-Indigo" step we'll call it for now- you heard it here first. Low End Movements- nothing but cutting edge pigeon-holing.
Synth Sense - Symbol #9 (Out now on Auxiliary)
Another fantastic set of releases reaches its ninth milestone, but alas for Auxiliary's much-loved "Symbol" series, this is the final piece of the puzzle - "sad times", as the overused saying goes. If you're late to the party, over the last two years the series has gifted us some of the more abstract electronic music of that time frame- certainly as far as the 85/ 170 BPM material goes- and that these tunes have become in their own way influential upon a little corner of the current electronica landscape, without adhering to traditional formulae or complying to current trends says good things about where we're at for those of us who think of electronic music not just as a medium for crafting DJ tools.
One of the hallmarks of "Symbol" has been its song titling structure, with each piece labelled only according to its number in the series. Of course, this is nothing that unusual a scheme for the dance underground (see Felix K below), but combined with the plain artwork motifs limited to just colours, numbers and the basic shapes of the Auxiliary logo, this fosters a blank-slate mindset for the listener to forge their own independent interpretations. As such, it doesn't feel wholly appropriate for me to go into a great deal of depth about Synth Sense's tunes themselves, (especially not when Organic bossman Alexander had a chat with them recently as they explained some of the ideas behind the tracks themselves here: http://organicbeats.co.uk/features/article/synth-sense-symbol-9), but rest assured "Symbol #9" represents not just an invaluable addition to the series but also a perfect closing note, such is its expansiveness and ambition. It could be seen as ironic that in a series where the human voice as an instrument has been notable by its absence, the spoken-word sample of "Symbol #9.2" renders it among the most powerful pieces of music that Synth Sense have produced so far, but then again it's telling of the experimental nature of the Symbol series on the whole that it should so readily be prepared to buck one of its own trends.
Pattern - Draft / Draft (AnD Remix) (Out May 13th on Alignment Records)
As one label series comes to a close, another begins promisingly. Here's something a little bit different from Alignment Records as they launch their new Re:Alignment imprint with a couple of slices of moody Manchester depth. A part of the country that's been associated with some gloomy music since the days of Factory Records and the Smiths, perhaps it's no surprise then that it's also served as the residential backdrop to names accredited with some of the bleaker and more pensive productions in current UK electronica, such as Biome, Holy Other and Organic favourites Synkro and of course Indigo, and you can safely add new name Pattern and B-side remixers AnD to that list.
At the more minimal end of the 170 BPM scale, "Draft" sits somewhere in between the bass-heavy tribal and more ambient autonomic 170 BPM niches. It's deceptive in its simplicity, rolling along healthily enough in its early progressions, but its best moments wait to make themselves heard in the form of deft pad arrangements that open up towards the second half of the tune. There's a certain raw, slightly unpolished feel to it, which incidentally fits nicely alongside the minimalist ethos of the release's artwork, but more importantly also works to the tune's advantage by adding to its sense of warmth. It's a real joy to hear when newer names such as Pattern manage to nail this fine art, giving their music an extra edge that the work of more experienced producers can sometimes lack if with that experience comes the desire to create more polished final products.
The remix on the flip comes from AnD, a pair of producers whose 170 BPM dabbling you'll be familiar with if you picked up a copy of Auxiliary's "Auxcast Volume One" CD a couple of months back, or if you pay much attention to what goes on in techno, for which they're better known. Here they're in the latter and more familiar territory, hiding most of "Draft's" original elements amidst a sub-driven 4/4 stomper. It's fairly relentless but the little glimmers of melodic content that occasionally peer through the mix from the original make it a more forgiving listen compared to AnD's other material at this tempo (at least that I'm familiar with), easing you into the groove gently rather than smashing you full on in the face. A nicely balanced 12" then to begin another label project whose future we can look forward to with plenty of excitement.
Felix K - Flowers Of Destruction (Out May 4th on Hidden Hawaii Ltd.)
You'd have thought I was getting bored of Felix K by now… Sorry no chance, not when he goes and backs up a quality string of releases with (in my humble-ish opinion) one of 2013's standout electronic LPs.
It reminds me a lot of (Sandwell District member and Ostgut Ton signee) Function's debut full-length from earlier this year, in terms of its equally vast sonic scope, sculpted largely from a linear, perhaps even narrow palette of sounds. As with Function's "Incubation", this affords "Flowers Of Destruction" a coherent feel and means that even its heaviest moments like "Flower Of Destruction #6" sit naturally alongside the ambient interludes that sandwich it. As each chapter leads smoothly to the next, demanding the full start to finish listen, it's a true long player in that regard.
I was fortunate enough to be able to have a few words with the man himself recently as he shed some light on some of the ideas and concepts behind "Flowers Of Destruction" and told us a bit more about the inner workings of his Hidden Hawaii imprint. Have a read here if you fancy: http://organicbeats.co.uk/features/interview/felix-k-flowers-destruction
Nebula - The Dream Begins EP (Out now on Scientific Wax)
Yet more plastic-only goodness, this one courtesy of Equinox's Scientific Wax imprint. Like Hidden Hawaii and fellow Organic favourites Modern Urban Jazz, who incidentally also place a high premium on the importance of the physical product, Scientific Wax command a fiercely loyal cult fan base while managing to keep their activities generally on the low, giving the label as a brand that rare and unique air of mystique, a well-kept but treasured secret amongst those in the know. I have to be honest, until very recently I was guilting of just not really "getting" their music, but it's safe to say I'm right on board now.
As is typical of the SW artist stable, it's true that Nebula's approach to drum & bass isn't particularly original, and it's whether you find fault with this or not that will likely define your appreciation of his music. The '90s reference points are obvious, leaning on the chopped breaks + atmosphere + sub formula that Source Direct were the first to master, but what "The Dream Begins" EP lacks in originality it makes up for in warmth, nuance and that impossible-to-define quality that one might unsatisfactorily describe as "soul". That clichéd term would be especially clumsy if applied here however, as to say that something is "soulful" could imply a heavy reliance on melodic and/or vocal elements in its execution. In fact, this music is all about the creation of atmosphere, and it's a dark, heavy and bleak atmosphere at that. Familiar drum breaks get smashed and chopped beyond all recognition while warped and evolving pads keep uncertainty discernibly looming, and where more human elements do appear, their usual purpose is to add to the otherworldly feel; dread-filled speech samples and funk break cries pitched so that they sound almost animalistic.
At times things can become challenging- the second half of the title track for instance sounds the product of a first-time acid user being let loose on an MPC, a veritable percussion-based prang out. This isn't music that's in the classic sense "enjoyable" to listen to, and nor I imagine is it designed to be, but there's something very thrilling about almost having to grit your teeth to a tune. Indeed it's rare that music should have such an effect on a listener.
Without a shadow of doubt, every available copy will get snapped up sooner or later, and unless you want to end up paying silly money on the second hand market it would be wise to grab yours now if Nebula's blend of nervousness and nostalgia at all piques your interest.
ASC - Sonic Assault EP (Out now on Halo Cyan Records)
A more familiar face to round off this month's selections- ASC makes a lot of music… You'd be forgiven for overlooking it from time to time if it wasn't all so consistently good. His newest EP (at time of writing!) for LA label Halocyan contains four of his most accessible recent cuts, and by little coincidence also some of his most elegantly simplistic and fluid.
In typical ASC style it's all incredibly musical, memorable for the melodic and harmonic arrangements rather than the drums or bass- no wonder then that James Clements is less than fond of those terms as a simplified means of labelling his output. But that's not to say that the tunes are slackers in these departments either. "Karma" is possessed of plenty of grit alongside its airiness, with its stuttering half-step rhythm and mechanically precise break work, while EP closer "Sympathy" maintains a frankly huge and soundsystem-friendly low end. Crucially for each though, these elements aren't the exclusive or even the central focus of listener attention, and allow ample space for harmonious, silvery pad lines space to transcend to the fore. Even so, it's fitting that "Sympathy" codas with a beatless reprisal of its major-key synth hook, the final motif of the EP thus being one defined by mood and impressing almost forcibly upon the listener what ASC's music is really all about.
Agree with my selections this month? Anything I've missed, or anything that I should be checking out for next? Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me via @invisiondnb on Twitter.
And a quick reminder that I'll be warming up for lots of better DJs this Saturday as Organic takes over Hysteria, Dalston:
SAM KDC [Auxiliary]
JOE SEVEN [Exit Records]
EMPIRE [Space Cadets]
Club/ Venue Hysteria Dalston
Address 578 Kingsland Road, Dalston, London, E8 4AH
Time 2100 - 0200
Tickets available at: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/55763