19 July 2005
THE DEGENERATION GAME
So after much anticipation the Vex'd album has finally arrived in the shops, clothed in a grainy cover image taken from Murnau's "Faust" and entitled "Degenerate" (a fitting description of the play's anti-hero? What's the big obsession with Faust? Or is it all about Jamie being "a bit of sucker for gothic armageddon type shit"? Hmmm...must find out more about this....). Whatever, the apocalyptic undertones are well matched with the music contained within. Even though I believe that he and Rollie served their apprenticeship in the calmer waters of the Breaks scene, I sense a different lineage in the sound that they've arrived at now. Even though they're presently accepted as part of the Grime/Dubstep axis, I think it's too limiting to bracket them there, but it's the only scene that's FWD-thinking enough to contain them. True, the warbley sub-bass riffs and steppy riddims fit nicely into the DJ sets of people like Quiet Storm, N-Type, Distance and Search & Destroy, but there's a level of deviant, almost gleeful maliciousness about their sound that sets their tracks apart. There's none of the maternal-bass-warmth of pure Dubstep (plus their bass frequencies squeeze your scalp, not your throat) and the production levels are too high to be true Grime. I guess the nearest comparisons would be Plasticman's "Death By Stereo" or "Industrial Graft" - those relentless hit-you-over-the-head distorto-beats and filthy, overdriven riffs pummelling your senses into submission. I could make cool comparisons to first-wave Industrial noisemongers like Throbbing Gristle and SPK, the rigorous clatter of Cabaret Voltaire's mid-80s output or less fashionable references to the late '80s Industrial Techno-Rock of Ministry, Die Krupps or Front Line Assembly, or even the caustic electro-noise Of Pan Sonic. Maybe hints of Aphex Twin's more extreme workouts circa "Digeridoo"/"Xylem Tube" EPs too. There's minute facets of all these in Vex'd, though they probably don't know it - or care. I'm really curious to know what ideas and influences drove them to this level of abrasive obnoxiousness. Actually, I'm supposed to be putting some questions together for an e-mail interview but haven't quite worked out where to start. Really I'd like to do the 'traditional' interview thing sat round a table with a couple of beers and the tape recorder running and see what spills out in conversation. I did have a little chat with Jamie at Subloaded II but it was too loud to hear each other properly! Anyway, back to the album...
Opening proceedings in fine style is the V.I.P. mix of "Pop Pop", the reputation-clinching track first released on Subtext last year. When writing about this release in January I made the comment that "with just a little more added melodic/harmonic interest this could easily win-over those yearning for a return to electronica that bypasses the pulverised post-drill'n'bass rhythmic abstraction that has dominated for maybe a little too long" and Vex'd seem to have obliged, bringing in some bleepy little melodic phrases near the start to entice unwary souls, before quickly slamming the door behind them and beating them senseless with the audio equivalent of baseball bats on "Thunder". Similarly, the amazing drumless bass-throb of "Cold" is accompanied by soaring soundtracky strings that recall the elegant sweeping lavishness of B12 and Global Communication. But generally it's ambient/environmental textures rather than melodies that Vex'd have chosen to focus on to build a cohesive album that works as a listening experience as well as a physical one. In particular the all-too-brief interlude piece "Destruction" seems alive with new possibilities for dark ambient exploration. If I had to level a complaint at this record it'd be that there should've been more ambient/abstract mood zones dotted throughout. One of the reasons I'm hoping that more dubstep artists will get an opportunity to develop album projects is because I think they'd be well-suited to expanding on more textural atmospheres and really pick-up where things left off before the electronica elite became infatuated with breakbeat science and virtuostic programming skills. It's time to refocus on something a bit deeper emotionally and bring back some much needed sense of space. Let the music breath again instead of tying it in complicated knots. Although the emphasis is still on rhythmic pressure right now, "Degenerate" hints at whole new vistas of sound - the subliminal auras that lurk behind the beats.
Degenerate to regenerate. The future is here - go buy this album.
Hard copy available at Warpmart.
By the way, Vex'd have just started their own blog! Not much there yet obviously, but I find it fascinating that more and more artists/labels from the underground community are choosing to use blogs as their primary outlet of communication with the world, preferring the direct, easily updated approach of the blogger interface over the often over-complicated navigation of the 'well designed' website. Plus it helps the cause of validating the blog as a genuine and 'serious' form of publishing.
Artists becoming bloggers....hrrmm, how long before that starts to work in the opposite direction?