Blocks & Escher's Narratives Music has just reached catalogue number 004 just over a year after it's debut release. Probably a good time to reflect on the labels success, don't you think?
There are artists and labels who seem to have more kudos now than when they were most prolific. There are people who talk very highly of Source Direct, Photek, No U-Turn and the like who i'm pretty sure weren't that interested at the time or up until fairly recently. Things have a funny way of coming into fashion well after their time, with the masses talking fondly of music they had previously dismissed. It happened with Instra:mental too, I remember being told when we booked them back in early 2009 that "that kind of stuff doesn't belong in the clubs" only to be told 18 months later how bloody great they are by the same people... It's disapointing, people can be disapointing. But every so often something comes up on everyone's radar, something we can all agree is different and has it's own place in the spectrum of drum & bass.
Last January Blocks & Escher launched Narratives Music with a pretty straight forward brief - "an outlet for their own work alongside collaborations and remixes; the emphasis is on releasing music which encapsulates the atmosphere, emotion and excitement that made them fall in love with the genre in the 1990’s." I must admit at this point I did have a fair amount of scepticism. An artist led label for their own output, influenced by what some describe as the golden age of drum & bass? It all sounded a bit cliched to me, and artist ran labels are often a bit of a mess in all honesty. I am happy to say my initial concerns were completely unfounded.
The debut release "Sagan"/ "Broken" was probably one of the best releases of 2012 and managed to encapsulate the nostalgia of the 90's without being overly retrospective. Described as "an absolutely brilliant release" by techno empressario Laurent Garnier and "gully" by dBrdidge, "Sagan" realized memories of No U-Turn, Moving Shadow and Metalheadz at the dizzy heights of 1997 while maintaining the sheen of new music still in context of what is going on in modern drum and bass. While "Sagan" was the harder edge, "Broken" was the more reflective, altogether more tribal and even triumphant. Building pads and strings brought to life a neon lit super highway set somewhere in the not so far away future, transporting you to a technological hive civilization. Enough imagery, what is important is that the release did everything that it promised.
Following like the next chapter in a journey, Narratives 002 saw Blocks & Escher's "Shiver" open where "Broken" had left off. A throbbing bass warble laying the bed to more pads and hollow wind sounds. Auxiliary's ASC completed the 12" with his techno flavoured 170 BPM rework of "Heartshaped". In common with Narratives 001, the format was becoming clear- a relatively dynamic A side backed with a more ambient AA. Even when music is so pronounced, maybe because the heavily marketted media world we now live in, things do seem to need to be qualified for most of us. There needs to be legitimacy, a seal of approval or association before people commit themselves to a brand or identity. Narratives didn't seem to need this. Despite the high profile praise the label did recieve early on, the music and ideology did seem to almost self certificate itself. It seemed almost more clear to me possibly due to my original caution towards the labels brief.
"The first year was really about laying down a foundation or a statement of intent. Thankfully we go into our second year with a growing support and audience which encourages us that we are doing something, however small, right. We still feel very strongly that drum & bass can still be a credible music style aswell as an electronic dance genre. It seems lately that the music has often become "deep and experimental" or simply "dancefloor", i think that kind of exclusivity has sucked alot of life from DJ sets, labels and the scene in general. I think people want more and generally deserve more. I hope Narratives can do it's own little bit to help and reinvigorate this music." - Blocks
The third installment from Narratives saw Escher, the label's less vocal silent partner move into the spotlight with a solo effort which is arguably the least media friendly release in the catalogue. "Rugged" boasted unrelenting breaks, sweeping mentasms, Dillinja-esque bass distortions and an altogether 90's approach to drum & bass. Paradoxically the track acted almost as a call to arms for die hard break revivalists. It's counterpart "Late Snare" was the tour de force for me personally. Sitting somewhere between Instra:mental's output on Darkestral and early outings on Valve, "Late Snare" absolutely screamed future retro. filtered breaks, loud and proud claps, gliding bass and unapologetic synth bass.
Now at release 004, Blocks & Escher have relieved themselved of the A side in favour of relative newcomer Overlook's "Three Shards". A maybe more contemporary take on similar influences to that of "Rugged", "Three Shards" has been an Organic favorite, finding its way onto our own podcast as well as making alot of noise on dance floors across drum & bass. The track employs the use of space and considered structure to take it out of the realms of nostalgia and further into reinterpretation of common origins, sitting "Three Shards" firmly in the present rather than the past.
"They are both friends whose music we were feeling and wanted to be part of what we were doing. So in that sense, it was completely natural. We loved the tracks by ASC and Overlook, they really grabbed us so we get as excited about putting them out as our own tunes." - Blocks (On ASC and Overlook)
Blocks & Escher pick up the baton on the reverse with "Embers". Continueing the theme of a relatively softer AA side, "Embers" is the son of "Broken", taking us full cycle stylistically connecting the current catalogue chronologically while also creating a new context outside of the numbering system.
It's easy to try to disect music, try to find a bigger picture, a sense of scale even. Sometimes there is nothing to be found, the music is one dimensional and only has a very basic function. Occassionally though, there is more to discover, a truth behind the beats, personal connections and at best a sense of movement, collective consciousness and togetherness. Roll on Narratives 005...