A brief introduction is in order: with the UK’s dance scene in rude health and its influence currently being felt way beyond our shores, you have on your screen the first installment of Short Circuitry, a monthly column that intends to shed some light on a snapshot of some of the most exciting developments in electronic music over the preceding four weeks or so (in this case mostly from late June and July).
So it’s summer again – or at least it’s supposed to be. Given that I was summarily drenched last night on the way to a gig, arriving at the venue suitably bedraggled, and found that the ceiling at work had leaked this morning, I think it might be about time for a raincheck on this whole seasonal business. It’s with appropriate timing then that Hotflush duo Mount Kimbie have released their second EP this month, capturing as it does that ambiguity of mood that comes with this month’s dense, humid atmospheric pressure. Their first, ‘Maybes’, garnered a serious amount of attention well beyond the niche press usually associated with Hotflush releases, so the new one ‘Sketch On Glass’ comes with a hefty weight of anticipation behind it. Thankfully, it’s better. Far better, in fact – in the title track they have a slab of pristine electronica which successfully blends bass heavy breakdowns with mind-altering fragments of melodic shrapnel. What really captures about Mount Kimbie though is their insistence in remaining impossible to pigeonhole. Their music is evocative of, but never apes, a whole host of genre-spanning influences, often within the same track – ‘Serged’ moves from chiming ambience through a sparse halfstep breakdown overlaid with heavily vocodered vocals reminiscent of Mogwai’s post-Rock Action output. It’s a unique release, and an absolute essential; Kimbie are destined for big things.
Mike Paradinas’ enormously influential and consistently excellent Planet Mu label was never hesitant to align itself with the nascent dubstep scene, before and during its period of growth and emergence onto the horizon of mainstream consciousness, releasing some of the earliest tracks from Tectonic head honcho Pinch and maintaining strong connections with, amongst others, Vex’d and Boxcutter. Throughout the last year or so as its dynamic has almost invariably splintered in any number of different directions, Mu’s release schedule has acted as something of a barometer of the scene’s creative health; away from the smaller circulation of more specialist vinyl-only labels they’ve provided a wider platform with which to expose artists less well known outside of the Bristol-London axis, from Gemmy’s purple reflections on ‘Supligen’ to Ital Tek’s circuit-frying computer meltdowns.
The summer has seen them head off on a future garage trip, with new material from London Rinse FM associates Brackles and Floating Points and the debut album from New Yorker FaltyDL, Love Is A Liability. In an intriguing twist, given that it first emerged from the death throes of UK garage, the re-dissociation of dubstep’s rigid halfstep template has been less revolution and more evolution, a battle against the descent into comically ridiculous caricature-step and sterile minimalism. The music emerging out of the other end is even better for having passed through such a filter, packed with the sort of percussive and melodic intricacies that leave it poised on that tight threshold between control and chaos.
Luckily for us all, the Large Hadron Collider at Cern didn’t trigger an Earth-destroying black hole when it was switched on earlier this year, but Brackles’ ‘LHC’ is a pitch-perfect auditory approximation of the chaos that would have ensued if it had, razor-edged spiraling motif and unruly snare pattern gathering speed over a maelstrom of vacuuming bass. The airy two-step of Floating Points’ ‘K&G Beat’ is even better; picking up after the cataclysm recedes, its extended opening section hangs weightlessly somewhere between outer and inner space for a minute or so before its awkward beat jacks into the central nervous system, setting the synapses alight in rippling firework patterns.
FaltyDL’s Love Is A Liability is a fitting summer album, despite the uniquely British disappearance of anything so much as resembling summer weather by August – Drew Lustman’s spacious garage beats are lent a wonderful warmth by the emergence of ethereal, shapeshifting melody lines that encircle tightly each track’s rhythmic chassis. On album highlight ‘To New York’ these fractal patterns coil around and between one another, shifting back and forth as if pieced together from half-remembered snippets of early Warp bleep-and-bass and the hazy ambience of Amber-era Autechre.
Dance music’s ability to capture the memory of a specific place and time (and even attitude) was thoroughly explored on Zomby’s rave tribute’$ Where Were U In ’92?’ – even his name is that of a body reanimated and given new life with a blast of voodoo electrickery. Yet whilst last year’s ‘Hyperdub EP’ was fractured and disjointed, a Frankenstein’s monster of unquantised beat science and noxious, chemical motifs, this month’s ‘One Foot Ahead Of The Other EP’ shares a common aura with FaltyDL’s tunes, as previously ungainly rhythmic figures take a back seat to a propulsive post-garage shuffle. It’s compelling stuff, a total reimagination of his earlier work yet still brimming with Zomby hallmarks – from the mashed stumble of ‘Helter Skelter’ to the 8-bit flourishes that rear up in EP highlight ‘Polka Dot’ – and the finest thing he’s yet put his name to. It’s also the first of his releases to come out on CD – do your ears a favour and track it down.
The richer percussive freedom opening up within its confines has also had the knock-on effect of weakening the barriers between dubstep and house, most keenly felt in the tribal stomp of the ever-rising wave of UK funky. Martin Kemp (no, not that one), whose debut release ‘No Charisma’ appeared on his brother Brackles’ label Blunted Robots in early July, has just compiled a mix for the reliably excellent Sonic Router blog in which genre lines are dissolved entirely. What is left is a particularly potent recombinant strain of Africanised bass music that flits effortlessly from four-to-the-floor kick propulsion to a kinky two-step flow, all the while buzzing and bristling with nervous energy. It can be downloaded from Sonic Router here.
This month’s 12” on Berkane Sol pulls off the same trick; whilst Geiom & Spamchop’s ‘Cave Rave’ is an (admittedly fantastic) straight slab of skittish Orientalist dubstep, ‘Sirius Star’ on the flipside takes a house template and inverts it, wringing every last drop of vitality from restless percussive patterns.
Meanwhile, Hessle Audio head Ramadanman has been making his own peculiarly genreless music under the Pearson Sound pseudonym; his latest 12”, ‘PLSN’ b/w ‘WAD’ dropped on Hessle this month. The enigmatic track titles act as an indicator for the placelessness of the music within, which touches on techno and deconstructed vocal house whilst sounding like neither; both, ‘WAD’ in particular is primed for the dancefloor, but both are equally if not more compelling on a good set of headphones in a dark room, the tense build and release of icy sheets of industrial noise sending ripples down your spine.
Nowhere is the London house crossover connection more apparent than in the schedule for Rinse FM; mainman Geeneus has been making some serious ripples in the genre of late, in recent sets even dropping some crunchy tech-house and Proxy’s ultra-distorted ‘Raven’ – albeit given a twist of London soundbwoy rudeness from MC Tippa. But it’s Geeneus’ own productions which continue to shine – in celebration of Rinse’s fifteenth birthday last month they have been giving away a host of free tracks from close collaborators (via their website, http://www.rinse.fm/), the VIP mix of his own genre defining ‘Yellowtail’ being a particular standout. Taking the original’s minimalist template and stretching it until it breaks, the VIP writhes with snaking African drums and distinctive drawn-out synth slurs. It’s devastating, but still a slow builder when placed alongside his latest work with Ms. Dynamite. ‘Crackish’ is an exhilarating, adrenalised soundclash of call-and-response vocal trade-offs; Dynamite sounds off with more righteous anger than ever before in furious patois, vibing off a rhythm driven by a tightly syncopated cowbell motif of the like not heard since Soulwax’s cheeky ‘NY Lipps’. It sent shockwaves through Plastic People when Geeneus dropped it at FWD>> a few weeks ago, and rightly so. Hopefully it’ll see release sometime this century, but given the way things usually work out I wouldn’t hold your breath just yet.
Away from this straight-to-dancefloor material, Warp’s prolific beat scientist Chris Clark this month released his latest opus, Totem’s Flare. Last year’s Turning Dragon was an incendiary slice of acidic techno, and its more downbeat companion released the year before, Body Riddle, gains the accolade of being one of my favourite albums ever released on Warp, so the new one has a lot to live up to. It does and it doesn’t; there are a couple of lapses into a fairly straightforward style that doesn’t quite live up to the thrill of experiencing Clark at his most gut-wrenchingly impenetrable.
Nonetheless, if on Turning Dragon Clark played the role of King Minos, watching with perverse glee as his hapless prisoners were sent one by one into his ever shifting labyrinth to be devoured by the monster within, there are points during Totem’s Flare where he takes up the mantle of Theseus, striding boldly into its dark heart to experience the minotaur’s fury first hand. ‘Suns Of Temper’ drunkenly assaults the senses with incoherently aimed kicks and punches, and the aptly named ‘Totem Crackerjack’ does a good job of mimicking the sound of the inside of an acid casualty’s head: breakneck tempo shifts, schizophrenic breakdowns and serious acid bass pressure all add to a sensation of being absolutely wrecked. Still, to these ears Clark still remains best at his most intangible, during the drift of opener ‘Outside Plume’, reminiscent of Body Riddle’s high water mark ‘Matthew Unburdened’, or the eerie spoken/sung refrain of ‘Growl’s Garden’.