By Greg Salter
Over the last few years, we’ve had a number of compilations from the labels that have brought us the most forward-thinking artists in beat and bass-driven electronic music. Back in October 2009 came 5: Five Years Of Hyperdub, a collection of new and old cuts that felt like something of a victory lap for a label that had emerged from the very beginnings of dubstep and, in the process, brought us Burial, Kode 9 and Joker. More recently have come compilations from labels that have since pushed electronic music beyond any particular genre – see Hessle Audio’s bass-focused 116 And Rising as well as Back And 4th, a collection of tracks from Paul Rose’s Hotflush label.
R&S records, however, was releasing forward-looking electronic music way before dubstep was even a twinkle in UKG and jungle’s eyes. Formed in the 1980s by Renaat Vandepapeliere and Sabine Maes (the initials of their first names gave the label its title) and initially based in Ghent, it initially focused on techno and released a number of important records by the likes of Aphex Twin, Orbital and Juan Atkins. After a hiatus between 2001 and 2006, and a relocation to London, R&S has since undergone a transformation, releasing singles by the likes of Blawan, Pariah, Untold and, of course, James Blake.
And it is really in the last 18 to 24 months, as electronic artists have increasingly trawled dance music’s history for inspiration, that the first disc of this collection, IOTDXI, draws upon. There are a few particularly strong singles here – Lone’s ‘Coreshine Voodoo’, a track that sounds like Boards Of Canada overdosing on Detroit techno; Pariah’s ‘Safehouses’, the rough, ambient curveball closer to his EP of the same name; and James Blake’s still phenomenal Kelis-sampling ‘CMYK’ as well as the fractured piano-and-space composition ‘I Only Know (What I Know Now)’.
In amongst these are other, more overlooked leftfield turns – Cloud Boat and Vondelpark marrying the textures of bass music to guitars, for example, or there’s Blawan massive drums-and-acid ‘Bohla’ that sounds, well, like nothing else. You get the sense that R&S, rather than seeking out artists that are taking the more obvious routes, straight down the centre, prefer to pick up on acts taking sidesteps into the empty territories between genres of electronic music.
The second disc – a selection of new tracks, many from artists already featured on the first disc – bears this out. It’s certainly a mixed bag, and finds a number of the acts continuing to pilfer from the past in order to go forward. Where to is not always clear – Lone continues to pay homage to rave on ‘Cobra’ but you sense that he’s still in the transitional phase that this year’s Echolocations hinted at. However, others continue to shine – Untold’s ‘U-29’ is floor-shakingly apocalyptic, (you’re torn between dancing and running for your life). while Blawan’s ‘Shader’ is brutalist, mechanical DnB, trapmpling over the melodies that are buried somewhere underneath. Pariah, on new track ‘Left Unsaid’, makes a case for himself as being perhaps the most promising new artists on here – it thuds and lurches around pitch-shifted vocals, threatening to break into techno one minute, or disappear under feedback the next. An LP in 2012 would be most welcome.
Overall then IOTDXI suggests that R&S could well be continuing their run of high quality singles into 2012. As a compilation, it’s a disorientating, dense and frequently fragmentary listen – but seeing as those three words could also be applied to London-based electronic music in late 2011, it seems entirely fitting.