08 May 2008

2562 - AERIAL (Tectonic CD)

Cast your eye over a map of Europe and you'll see many places that have, at some time or other, been hot-beds of creativity in the ongoing evolution of this thing we call 'dance music'. But there's only a handful of places that can claim to have had a fairly steady influence on the course of events. Two of those places are Bristol and Berlin, both of which are currently going though reneaissance periods once more.

Having been a major centre of innovation for Trip-Hop and Drum 'n Bass, Bristol currently enjoys the status of Dubstep's 'second city' (though some might argue it's already become the premier source of Fwd>> propulsion). Meanwhile, Berlin has been a focal point for all things Techno since at least 1992 (remember those legendary Tresor compilations?)with it's main avenue of innovation coming from the Dub Techno stylings of Basic Channel and their followers in the ever-expanding Hardwax galaxy. But to the best of my knowledge, neither city has had any major influence on the other...until recently.

Dubstep, born from the asphalt jungle of South London, is the perfect point of contact - it's clinically electronic riddims allied with dub-infused bassweight provides the necessary space for the Bristolian skunk-fuelled head-knodding fraternity, whilst at the same time suggesting fresh directions for the Berliner's ongoing mission to find the perfect blend between Techno and Dub Reggae. Dubstep suggests a new way forward for both cities and as a consequence they have finally, almost imperceptibly begun talking to each other.

Now, go back to that map of Europe you were looking at earlier, and draw a straight line between Bristol and Berlin. Almost dead-centre between the two you'll find Den Haag in The Netherlands. Though not as infamous as it's neighbour Rotterdam (the city that gave us Gabber), Den Haag is currently the home of Dave Huismans, aka 2562, a man of highly refined tastes and armed with formidable production skills . Being so perfectly positioned in alignment geographically speaking, yet with the necessary distance to imbue a sense of objective balance, it's entirely fitting that Huismans is the first producer to successfully distill the finest elements of the Bristol and Berlin sounds within an album format. It also seems entirely fitting that Huismans' music is being released on the Bristol imprint Tectonic, headed by Pinch, a man who originally emerged from the city's ubiquitous D'n'B scene but subsequently became a passionate advocate of both Basic Channel and the nascent Dubstep sound.

But "Aerial" does not display it's influences in perfect harmony or symmetry. This is very much a dubstep album, it's internal clock synchronised to Bristol's heartbeat, both in terms of the beats-per-minute and also in it's sense of timing. Nearly all tracks clock in around the five minute mark and are tightly arranged into concise blocks of information, as opposed to Berlin's predisposition to expansive linearity and micro-tonal increments of track development . Rhythmically too, the album adopts the hair-trigger patterns, staggered syncopations and pure sub-sonics typical of Bristol's leading figures (Gatekeeper, Headhunter, Pinch, etc). The only instance of orthodox wobble-skank tactics appears on "Moog Dub", which is one of Huisman's earlier productions, having been in circulation on dubplate for over a year. By contrast, opening track "Redux" sounds like the truncated twin of Appleblim and Peverelist's "Circling". It features a similar cloying wash of nebulous dub-matter and is a perfect exercise in subtraction; the arrangements hollowed out until only the barest, most spectral elements remain. That's where the Berlin influence is most sharply felt, connecting with the textural language of dub techno, perhaps most intensely felt on "Greyscale", with it's iridescent echo-chamber dynamics and grainy layer of pink noise anchored to a steady kick/hi-hat pulse, yet still unsettled and unsettling, scarred by jagged sonic interjections and knocked out of phase by daring rhythmic counterpoint.

Huismans never allows his music to lapse into stoned, meditative repetition. His recent 12" releases, "Techno Dread", "Kameleon" and "Channel Two", are all present on this album and show 2562 at his most hyper-sensitized, taking the 'echo-chord' template of dub techno and twisting it into every conceivable shape, upending the usual instrumental hierarchy of dubstep, allowing the bassline to take a more subtle, sensual role whilst the chords swerve across the beat in a constant state of fascinating flux, simultaneously reinvigorating dubstep with harmonic thrust and techno with rhythmic ingenuity. And there's no reason why these tracks can't be classed as Techno simply because of their tempo - listen back to mid-90's Basic Channel and Chain Reaction and the bpms are operating nearer to 140 than 120. You could easily mix 2562 with early Maurisio or Monolake. The difference is that Huismans has extrapolated the elements of dubstep that make 140bpm feel comfortably groovy again.

Having said that, the final track on the album eases off the tempo dramatically, dropping down to dub techno's current 120bpm pace whilst maintaining dubstep's restless, uneasy rhythm patterns. Perhaps this track is intended to show the other side of the equation, another possible route for fruitful inter-generic discourse, but for me the effect is too stark, the groove too displaced for dancefloor consumption. But as a shadowy downtempo chin-stroker it works just fine, and this is the perfect place to try something like that, so it's hardly cause for complaint. All told, Dave Huismans has delivered an album that may well become an influential landmark. Don't sleep on this one.

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