Some Stuff We Liked in 2011 (Part 1 of 2)
Egyptrixx, Bible Eyes (Night Slugs)
L-Vis 1990, Neon Dreams (PMR)
Night Slugs was founded in 2010 by two London-based aspiring DJs, Alex Sushon (aka Bok Bok) and James Connolly (aka L-Vis 1990), and just over a year later its headline artists had already released two LPs, the label had put out a greatest-hits compilation, and all of the 10 or so artists on it could count themselves as part of the cutting edge of dance music. Indeed, and this may sound somewhat cynical, their signature sound is basically played-out and passť by now: get innovating, boys.
As for what that sound actually is: While Canadian producer Egyptrixx relies on sirens and handclaps and L-Vis on vocals sung in the universal language of house, the basic formula of their sound is neither's own, but of the label's: giddily bouncing synth melodies, tones that appear gold and purple to synaesthetes (this review is going downhill fast) and rhythms that may well owe more to synth-pop than house music as such. In any case, again, it's music that is difficult to classify. So let's not! Personal preferences aside, British dance music would be a fair bit duller were it not for Night Slugs' parties and wide international roster of nostalgic decadents.
Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx, We're New Here (XL)
This remix album by The XX member and occasional UK bass producer Jamie xx became a weird testament of sorts for Gil Scott-Heron, who died in May, some three months after its release. The source material is Heron's 2010 album I'm New Here, which was already a haphazard and oddly short effort, under half an hour long and musically mostly the work of producer Richard Russell. Still, it was an endearing record, a portrait of a legendary singer, political icon and poet worn down by drugs and protracted illnesses, its dryness and occasionally harsh sound pairing well with the context. Here Jamie xx takes those songs, some studio out-takes and earlier Heron recordings; matches them to some dubstep- and garage-influenced beats, seemingly without any coherent train of thought for the album; and that's about it.
It's a remix album, but one that feels purposeless: sometimes you hear Heron talking with seemingly no contribution from Jamie xx, sometimes there's an IDM kind of thing going on without any vocals for minutes. And that confused narrative gives the record much of its appeal: It's loose, disorientating, without any statement, but there are so many great moments on it that in the end the listen turns out to be quite rewarding. The absurdity of the whole project is only underlined by the remix of "I'll Take Care of You" being covered by Drake & Rihanna as "Take Care," the title track of the former's latest album. Purists might picture Heron already rolling viciously in his grave, but there's also the sense that Heron's raspy vocals on the original song are actually so strong and affecting, that even after being restructured and put into different contexts quite a few times, they refuse to be cannibalised. Perhaps that is also the main strength of Jamie xx's remix project: he's dealing with some very firm material, yet still manipulates it bravely for his own purposes, oblique as they may be.
Jackmaster, Fabriclive 57 (Fabric)
Since the demise of garage, British dance music has seemed overtly serious and somewhat undanceable, either because it has all the subtlety and sensuality of being hit in the face with a brick (grime, certain subgenres of drum & bass), or because its rhythms are aimed solely at ketamine users (dubstep). However, the new generation is showing itself much more inclined to have fun. Grime has found a new appreciation for melody through the work of Elijah & Skilliam's Butterz label and the all-out pop crossover of pioneers Roll Deep; while the dark atmosphere of "classic" dubstep has been largely sidelined by the absorption of the deranged sound of American producers such as Skrillex into the pop mainstream.
Glasgow's Numbers has been one of the most visible labels in the last year or two in the UK Bass scene, putting out a number of important releases by artists such as Mosca, Deadboy and Rustie. The label's boss Jackmaster doesn't produce, but his mix for Fabric shows where this new wave of producers draws much of its influence from: hyper-energetic '80s Detroit techno and Chicago house, subtlety-free '90s party rap; but not to forget Aphex Twin or Radiohead, likely to have been as foundational for any modern electronic music producer as any classic house record. All unnecessary intellectualisation and contextualisation aside, Fabriclive 57 is by some distance the most fun I had listening to a DJ mix the whole year.
Pearson Sound / Ramadanman, Fabriclive 56 (Fabric)
This one feels a bit more like a promotional mix for Pearson Sound's (it's just one person; Ramadanman is another alias of his) Hessle Audio label, as it contains a number of his own promotions, but it also shows off the more eclectic side of UK bass well. The focus is largely on juke-influenced British producers, including Pearson Sound himself. The discovery of juke/footwork seems to have been quite a revelation for dance music producers in Britain in the past two years, with just about everyone including its hyper-fast beats and odd patterns into their music, and many carving a whole niche for themselves in different mutations of the Chicago house-based genre: as an example, Jamie Vex'd, previously known mainly as a producer of loud and grim doomsday dubstep, made a whole album, under the moniker Kuedo, of juke beats and horrendous Tangerine Dream-esque synth cheese. Ramadanman's approach here is definitely fresher, and just the variety of different rhythms blended together so well makes it worth several listens.
Check back on January 28 for a second round of recommendations, including picks from handsome screamo historian Anderson "cf" Cook; Metal Hell co-writer het; hip-hop enthusiasts/practitioners lil raphandz and/or Randy Black; and me, I promise I will finally get off my ass and write a thing about music. Thanks for reading! -GD