I know I've been seriously lax with the record reviews, but will try to redress the problem this month. Maybe. First it's time for a quick trawl through the current crop of releases coming out of my home town. Of course, I'm in an impossible position because I'm friendly with the people running the labels and socialize with several of the artists featured, so it's not like I can say anything bad about them, is it? Just take everything I say with a pinch of salt, then go check out the audio clips at the vinyl emporium of your choice and draw your own conclusions...
Peverelist - Erstwhile Rhythm/The Grind (Punch Drunk)
I feel like I've already reviewed these trax in furtive snatches since the end of last year. What more can I say? Apparently, when the 12" finally rolled out of the pressing plant, Hard Wax in Berlin ordered a massive batch - fuel-injecting Bristolian minimalism straight into the main vein of the Techno heartland. Incidentally, I hear that the Skull Disco roadshow was a big hit when Appleblim and Shackleton descended on the German kapitol last month. Appleblim got to meet the Rhythm & Sound crew in person and much mutual back-slapping ensued. 'The Grind', along with Appleblim's forthcoming 'Vansan' clearly points the way towards a reconciliation with minimal techno's streamlined pulse and dubbed-out hypno-chords. I don't claim by any stretch that this is the be-all and end-all for underground innovation, but I do have a certain emotional investment in this approach, and it's great that a small pocket of UK-based minimal exploration is happening right on my doorstep, as showcased when Appleblim and Peverelist went back-to-back at Dubloaded last week. Doppelganger and I arrived just as they were spinning 'Space Break' by T++ (aka Monolake's Torsten Pröfrock), which kinda speaks volumes. Mind you, I'm not suggesting that they're trying to set themselves apart as some kind of alternate stream - 'Blim dropped a couple of wicked cuts from the forthcoming Skreamisms 3 EP - but, y'know, it gives me something to write about...
Joker - Kapsize EP ('earwax)
Spotted at Dubloaded gulping down a bottle of lager, so we can assume that 'adolescent genius' Joker has finally turned 18 years of age. And what a great way to celebrate entering manhood, with his debut four-track EP on Tectonic sub-label 'earwax. A quick search of this blog reveals the earliest mention of Joker was 18 months ago. He was pretty amazing back then, so obviously expectations were high for this (even though Plastician gets first dibs on all his best stuff, by all accounts). Now I'm the first to admit that I've not really been following the Grime for some time, but if everything was as good as this I'd still be buying all those over-priced white labels! 'Stuck In The System' is a perfect opening gambit, exhibiting the grimy penchant for quasi-orchestral maneuvers and taking it into the stratosphere with a beautifully arranged (dare I say composed?!) mini road-symphony incorporating a veritable pit of string and brass timbres, underpinned by a rude octave bass that nonchalantly swerves across note and metre with a jagged confidence that belies Joker's tender years and quiet nature. Then my personal favourite, 'Grimy Princess', a sublime concoction of viscous textural layers, phat synth bass and mutant electro flavas - 808 snares and rimshots set to stun. On the flip, 'The Bop' lowers the temperature slightly with a more lo-slung arrangement of buzzing bass riff and spidery square wave melody cycles. Not bad, by anyone's standards, but I bet Joker can write tunes like this in his sleep. The set concludes in fine style with the juddering hyper-electroid stutter groove of 'JV Anderson', a maze of tight edits, filter breakdowns and hard-rollin' riffery that leaves me stunned with admiration. This is just the beginning for Joker...world domination is surely inevitable.
V/A - Substratum EP (Immerse)
Rising from the ashes (or should that be still burning embers?) of the Noir club, the Immerse imprint is dedicated to releasing anything that comes under the banner of 'breakbeat and subculture', though with a heavy bias towards dubstep, so far. The first release played it safely with a nice collaboration between Benga & Walsh, followed by a detour into d'n'b drumfunkery courtesy of Andy Skopes (and, for the record, I thought the a-side 'Otis Drumfunk' was pretty neat). Now comes the most daring and ambitious release to date - an EP in two separate parts, showcasing some of the newer talent to emerge from the dubstep scene, slanted towards Bristol, but also featuring Spanish duo 23hz & Numaestro, who's 'Galleon Dub' opens proceedings sounding not unlike a stripped-back homage to the dark, pioneering work of Benny Ill/Horsepower Productions, with eerie crooning Indian voices swimming over a restless groove awash with ominous waves of dub-distortion. Side 2 is given over to that mercenary label-hopper Atki2, and 'Douceur' is one of his more straight-ahead halfstep offerings, swimming with playful wobble bass gymnastics, eastern atmospherics of uncertain origin, flickers of spanish guitar and distant reverb detonations. The hyper-edited sound of Grim Dubs Vol.5 seems like a distant memory now. (By the way, we managed to sneak over to Goatlab to check out part of Atki2's mammoth head-to-head with Dub Boy last week, too. Despite being more of a breakcore and gabba night, their grime/dubstep/dancehall clash attracted an enthusiastic little crowd, although I suspect Atki2's material might've been a bit too cerebral for a party of that nature. We'd been hoping to check out Dan Gusset's set as well, but he'd already played by that point. Oh well, we'll catch him one day).
Moving on to part two, 'Sitar Dub' is the work of Diem, who I'm not familiar with personally, but I've been hearing the track played out locally on dub for months. It features the same "strictly yard music" sample as Kion's 'Yard Music', but there the similarity ends. The main focus is the interplay between a resonant synth line and a plucked sitar sample, with a massive, heavily echoed electronic clap holding down the groove, and thick layers of sub and wobble bass pressure beneath. Last but by no means least comes 'Thunder' by Forsaken (aka Pete Bubonic). It must be nearly a year since Pete first handed me this one on cd-r, and I played it at Dubloaded last April, then on Gutterbreakz FM the following month, so you can probably guess I'm rather keen on it. If I recall (and I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong), this was one of Pete's earliest attempts at exploring the emptier, more atmospheric end of dubstep (his background is more breakbeat, d'n'b and techstep, with a strong allegiance to grime) and he sort of nailed it at first attempt, with an unfathomable palette of textural elements flowing between ethereal calm and gritty violence. The unpredictable placing of the snare makes it notoriously tricky to mix with, but I like a challenge. It's a true original - I've still yet to hear anything else quite like it, and nice to see it finally enshrined on wax. Big up all concerned!
Moving Ninja - Formations EP (Tectonic)
Yes, I know this isn't Bristol music, but it's the latest release on Pinch's Tectonic imprint, and besides Bristol-based labels are the only ones in the world to date that have sanctioned vinyl releases by this brilliant Australian artist, so he's family as far as I'm concerned. I'm no stranger to these tracks either, as Ninja's Paul Jebanasam personally sent me them, along with a whole bunch of other tunes, on cd-r over a year ago - 'Uranium' featured on Gutterbreakz FM exactly 12 months ago. I swear, that cd-r is like the best unreleased album project you can imagine. Thankfully, Pinch was similarly impressed enough to commission a second Ninja EP, and I applaud his choice of material. 'Blackout' emerges from an angry buzz of pylon static before stealthily thrusting forward with a writhing, morphic riff , blistering swathes of drone-matter and multi-layered percussion, all bolted together with an ultra hard, techy halfstep beat. 'THX' edges out into more abstract territory, whilst 'Kemancheh' dwells in some improbably ancient ethnic twilight world, propelled by a slurred metallic bass note and ritualistic percussion loops. Finally, the real jewel in the crown is 'Uranium', a stunningly evocative ambient vista that conjures a powerful sense of the vastness of Jebanasam's native environment, with the mournful pad melody adding an extra dimension of strong emotional impact. A truly outstanding piece of music and a damn fine record all round.