Since we spoke to Local Action‘s main man Tom Lea back in March, the label has put out albums from its lynch-pins Slackk and DJ Q, dropped debut singles from Shriekin’ and Finn and stepped into the realm of full-on, legit house parties. As they approach year’s end, they’ve upped the ante once more with a truly superb cassette from another newcomer, Yamaneko. The London-based producer first came to our attention with a mix for Subcity Radio in early March. Just a few weeks later Tom Lea opened his Truancy Volume with “Seabrooke Rise”, a track from the album Pixel Wave Embrace. In the intervening months, Mumdance has weaved a few of Yamaneko’s tracks into his never less than excellent Rinse FM show, whetting appetites and building (in this case, deserved) hype around the producer. It was appropriate, then, that Mumdance should play host to the “Pixel Healing Spa”, a 30-minute journey through the type of new-age bliss that inspired Pixel Wave Embrace. (Even more fitting was that the show was broadcast from RBMA Tokyo, in a country whose culture has had a palpable influence on Yamaneko’s ideas.)
What of the album, then? It’s a thing of beauty. It opens with the unguent flow of “Fragrance Transmission”, the thick, globular tones of which feel like bubbles drifting upward from the ocean floor. Delicate notes float around these structured patterns, offsetting their regimented indolence and sinister melody. Opening the album this way it’s clear that it will be as unsettling as it is welcoming. Yamaneko plays with convention, defying the ordinary and opting for the unexpected. The tropes of instrumental grime loom heavy over the release, yet it’s far from formulaic. Gunshots abound, as on the aquatic “Greeen Hillz” and the cacophonous “Slew Wave”, which is perforated by the sound of human breath as much as automatic fire. “Yonkoma” and “Accela Rush” bypass grime completely, moving instead towards uptempo techno beats, albeit on quite a granular level. The former shuffles along with a glint in its eye, while the latter opens with dancing aquatic bells before jumping into a zone of distorted acid. You find yourself immersed in its darkness before you quite realise what’s going on. “Is this on shuffle?” you might wonder. “Have we switched on something else?” The album drifts so effortlessly into this entirely new sphere that you wonder where it might go next.
Standout “Primrose Island”, which premiered on Juno Plus, returns to the album’s sonic trope, adding in subtle laser drops and grime synth modes to the track’s hauntingly lovely melody. The aforementioned “Seabrooke Rise” is the only track that raises cause for complaint. Assured and accomplished as it is, it outstays its welcome and suffers from a lack of development. The repetition of its two main phrases could be contracted somewhat, or indeed developed outward. That said, Pixel Wave Embrace barely lasts 40 minutes, so this is little more than a petty grievance. While “Calotype Process” is the most straightforward ‘grime’ track here, the album’s final passage sees it enter full-on healing spa mode. “~” does away with rigid bar lines in favour of weighted pauses, while “Noises In The Wave Wires Like The Kissing Of The Sea”, which features Rimplton, seems to lament frantic late nights on the dance floor, opting for the lethargic freedom of the night bus. The album comes to a close with “Adrift”, a thoroughly blissful conflation of grime hiss and gentle electronica. Flip the tape over, set these rolling bells against the taut flex of the opening transmission and there’s a sense of a coiled spring devolving to a straight wire before dissolving into thin air. Mumdance coined the term weightless for that sweet spot between energetic beats and ambient wash, and it seems that, even at 130bpm, “Adrift” is utterly weightless. If you do flip the tape over as we’ve suggested, you’ll find it hard to press stop. This album is one that bears repeating, with all its mischief, melancholy and heart coming together to form one of the essential releases of the year.
Yamaneko – Pixel Wave Embrace is out now on Local Action Records.
Words by Aidan Hanratty, 28 November 2014. Leave a comment
Following Sharp Veins’ spectacular ambient instalment, we’re excited to bring you the latest edition of Functions Of The Now from an artist we’ve had in our sights for a mix since before the series even began. Hot on the heels of his Hydraulics EP – perhaps his most well realised release to date – Bloom has provided us with a companion piece that contextualises his future-facing, mechanical take on grime. The mix is comprised of almost industrial re-imaginings of classic grime tropes and barely offers a moment’s respite as it barrels through FOTN alumni Jacques Gaspard Biberkopf, Miss Modular, Sharp Veins and Gage – in particular watch out for the latter’s highly sought-out dubplate with Kevin Jz Prodigy – as well as rising stars like Janus’ club agitator Lotic and recent Truancy Volume mixers Victoria Kim. Needless to say, it’s one of our favourites in the series to date and we’re sure you’ll see why.
Bloom’s story began back in 2012, a time at which the now-established scene that has risen up around present-day mainstays like Boxed and Local Action was in its nascent stages. Figures like Butterz had heroically re-established grime as club music and it was only going to take a couple of well placed charges for the dam to burst and the breadth of classic grime experimentation to flood on to dancefloors again. One such charge came in the form of Logos‘ Kowloon EP, a spacious meditation on Wiley’s infamous devil mixes, but the other was much more explosive: Bloom’s Quartz EP for Mr Mitch’s Gobstopper Records.
The key ingredients are undoubtedly familiar to anybody with their ear to the ground in 2014 – slinky square waves, grime pulses, smashing glass, negative space – but even surrounded by today’s competitors (and in some cases imitators) “Quartz” still stands out for its pitch-perfect precision. Between then and Hydraulics Bloom resurfaced only twice, first fine-tuning the aesthetic of his debut for Visionist’s always excellent Lost Codes label and then once again on his new-found home Crazylegs, where he reconfigured the shuffling UK house of Toyc’s “Keyframe” into an utterly deadly, doom-laden grime banger. A lot has changed in those two years, with eski tropes so ubiquitous it’s hard to move for square waves: ever canny though, Bloom appears to have used his year-long absence to move light years ahead of the pack again.
Peel back Hydraulics and you’ll find something resembling the skeleton of grime: agitated, asymmetric rhythms; pregnant pauses; hefty, gabber-esque kicks. It’s what augments these elements that is so radically different though. Pulling out the loping, almost mechanical aspects of conventional instrumentals, Bloom constructs something more akin to the sonics of some infernal, futuristic machine. It’s no coincidence that the excellent video for “Dark Light” finds its closest cousin in Conrad Shawcross’ recent exhibition The ADA Project, in which artists including Beatrice Dillon and Holly Herndon composed music to match the choreography of a mechanical arm. That’s not to say Hydraulics is not club ready, however. The real beauty of the EP is the tightrope it successfully walks between disorienting sound design on one hand and soundsystem heft on the other.
Since our last instalment there’s been an avalanche of solid releases, and it’s to our shame that we can’t include them all here. Some highlights though: first up the essential debut mixtape from West London MC K9, Mad In The Cut. Worth grabbing for his amazing vocal of classic Youngstar beat “The Shotta Riddim” alone, the tape also features production from FOTN favourites Dark0, Visionist and Mssingno, all of which K9 rides in his inimitable, gnarled style. If you’re quick you might still be able to grab copies of two essential experimental transmissions. The first comes courtesy of Mumdance and Logos, the inaugural release on their new Different Circles label: you can read our review here. The second only tangentially touches on the aesthetic we’ve been tracing in this series, but is one of our favourites of the year nonetheless: Yamaneko’s Pixel Wave Embrace tape, an album that takes grime’s melodic sensibilities and masterfully weaves Hiroshi Yoshimura-style 80s ambient out of them. We’ll have extended thoughts on that on Truants tomorrow. Next up Rabit preps for his Tri Angle Records debut with the extremely potent Sun Dragon EP on Parris’ Soundman Chronicles label. The club-ready tracks are powerful but we’re particularly enamoured with the ethereal interlude “Send“. Elsewhere the dazzling debut from Leif producer Taskforce is well worth investigating – you can hear Nguzunguzu’s remix of “Domain System Awareness” opening Bloom’s mix, a quasi-industrial take on DJ Mondie’s classic “Pull Up Dat” riddim. Finally, newcomer DJ New Jersey Drone does the business for one of our favourite crews Track Meet on his Energy EP, splicing grime DNA with hi-NRG, hi-bpm clattering drum traxx complete with Rabit and Murlo remixes.
We caught up with Bloom over email for a quick chat about the route to Hydraulics and his plans for the future.
TT: Hey Bloom, how’re things? “Yeah, good thanks.”
Although you’ve been around for a few years now, information about you is a bit thin on the ground. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself for the initiated? “Well I’m from Belfast and still live here. Been making music for a few years now.”
Coming from a place so far removed from the OG scenes that influenced this new sound, what was your route into grime? “It’s hard to say, the early influence would have come from being introduced to Rinse a few years back i think. If it wasn’t for the Internet I wouldn’t be making this music – I liked what I heard on Rinse, it was a welcome change from mainly listening to house and techno here in Belfast. Me and a few friends began running a night which did pretty well – we had people like Terror Danjah, Brackles, Gemmy etc. over.”
Now that this kind of music is coming to the fore slightly more is there more representation in Ireland? I know there’s Shriekin’ and Glacial Sound over there, have you managed to get together any kind of scene on the ground there? “There isn’t much more to be honest, there’s Major Grave from Dublin who should be mentioned more. We just started a new night recently in Belfast to support this stuff and we did a couple of Crazylegs parties last month in Belfast and Dublin. I’d be up for making more things happen in the future and building on something.”
Hydraulics is probably your most out there release yet, what was the thought process behind it? In many ways it eschews a lot of the grime tropes that defined your first releases, was this a conscious decision? Andy Crazylegs described it to me as “pure sound design”, would you consider what you’re doing now “grime” or has it transformed into something else entirely? “I’d still call it grime – I get what you’re saying though, it’s a bit weirder and less accessible than my older tracks. It may not sound the same as older grime but to me it’s definitely built on that foundation – I just didn’t want to regurgitate older sounds and samples. I set out to create a mechanical coldness throughout the EP and I think that does transform it into something different. That just happens when you try to put your own twist on something.”
It’s funny because even in the two years since “Quartz” the landscape has changed so considerably: back then weird grime instrumentals were a total oddity while today they seem to be the defining feature of underground UK dance music. Is there ever the urge to throw yourself more completely into the scene that’s grown or are you more comfortable checking in once a year with another curveball? “I don’t feel the need to release more, its just a natural thing really. I’m always working away, trying new things out – when it feels right I’ll put out more.”
How did hooking up with Crazylegs come about? They’ve been on fire this year, I think in many ways Gage’s “Telo” was a “Quartz” for 2014. “Yeah the last few releases have been big – the next few are mad too. Just wait and see. I did a remix for Andy last year, we’d been chatting since I first came over to play one of the parties and it led naturally from there really. I see what you mean about Telo – it has that immediate shock value. I love that.”
Similarly to Telo you’ve had some strong reactions – most notably Alex Macpherson’s “I never want to hear this undanceable bollocks in a club”. Do you relish this divisiveness? “Haha yeah that was funny – it’s his own opinion, he’s allowed it. Not everyone is gonna like my music. I don’t particularly relish it when it creates that reaction, I just make what I enjoy making. I have no control over anything else.”
What can you tell us about the mix you put together for us? “The mix is a selection of dubs and releases from some of my favourite producers – a couple of tracks off the new EP also. I just wanted to represent what I’m playing in the club at the moment. No frills.”
Going forward, what can we expect from you? Will we have to wait until 2015 for the next Bloom drop? “I’m not sure, we’ll see how things pan out. I’m not in a rush to put out anything else just yet. I’m looking forward to making more stuff, maybe get into some collabs and remixes.”
Before we leave things, any shout outs you’d like to make? “Yeah big shout out to Andy for putting the record out, alot of effort and attention to detail was put in. Also a massive shout to Hayden Martin for the Dark Light video – it’s pretty special.”
Taskforce – Domain System Awareness (Nguzunguzu remix)
Dreams – Deadzone
Logos – Glass (test tone mix)
Jacques Gaspard Biberkopf – Public Love
Gang Fatale x Charly Black – Parched (MM rmx)
Victoria Kim – Apgu Freeway
Bloom – The Menagerie
Gage & Kevin Jz Prodigy – Bad Bitch
Dreams – Skanner
Loom – Grade
_______V – MilaJ edit
Sharp Veins – Bald Eagle Swimming
Gage – Shoot Em Up
Lotic – Trade
Too Much v3
Bloom – Cold Grip
Celestial Trax x Chemist – Shallow
Celestial Trax – Illuminate
K9 – Krudstar
Artwork: Joe Jackson
Introductions to Curtis Cross have become infrequent and unnecessary in recent times. But if need be, Black Milk is a producer and MC from Detroit who, in light of a growing economy of critics and fans who credit the real and raw in their hip-hop fandom, remains drastically undersung in either capacity. Considering his contributions towards and collaborations with acts like Slum Village and even Danny Brown during the latter’s still-formative prosperity, he seems the rightful incumbent for the title of Detroit’s underground king. Black has operated on either side of the boards since the inception of his musical project, and while his production credits intimate that he was at one point the common thread through a handful of outstanding local groups (as with post-Dilla era Slum Village producing with Fat Ray and Young R.J. as B.R. Gunna, or later with Random Axe with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson), he has more recently become adept at succeeding singularly. It’s widely acknowledged that he’s upped his vocal deftness as of late, particularly with his fourth solo LP Album Of The Year, and with his latest If There’s A Hell Bellow. It’s even easier to forget that his astonishingly cohesive, stuffed bars are still supported by foiling production from the same man.
His sound is rapped in an uninhibited rawness. That said, despite what he may have done or gone through aside from rapping—in-between putting out six solo albums and getting involved in a plethora of local mixtapes and volumes since 2005—Black doesn’t emit any kind of blue collar persona through his lyrics. Freddie Gibbs, for instance (whose touted Piñata is commensurate with Hell Below on a general sonic level) blurs that line with his music. Even when his production talents had cut across his artistic status earlier in his discography, it seems that Black Milk has historically been focused on presenting work that evinces his ability to string together articulate, non-rap-shit rhymes, telling singular stories. For some of his previous material, he had taken up an autobiographical stance to communicate what he has seen, rather than what he has done as an externality of inner-city forces. In a somewhat contrasting manner, Hell Below is a vivid, personal memoir of perseverance, in which punching a clock means giving up and sustaining a rap career —no matter what the costs—is a coveted success.
Black’s honed storytelling prowess is palpable from the get go. Opener “Everyday Was”, strongly-chorused thanks to Mel, is emblematic of the darkly lit album’s concept at large: Opportunities can be sculpted out of the most perilous of situations. The rapper tells Passion of the Weiss that the album was built on a symbiosis of already made beats and subsequent writing, and “What It’s Worth” is a good example of how his production might have informed his lyrics; “Try to find out what it’s worth,” implores an assumed manipulated sample, a line that Gibbs may have taken down a different path. After “Hell Below”, the ostensible intermission, Black Milk lets the electronic heritage of his hometown shine through with “Detroit’s New Dance Show”, evoking gold cables and the Belleville Three in equal measure. If that’s any sign to go by, with this album we are presented with the full breadth of the rapper/producer’s repertoire. Even though they don’t come from the album artist himself, there are moments of mean-mugging adversary (or recounts of those types of moments) sprinkled throughout: Cool moments like couplets from AB’s verse on “Leave The Bones Behind”—”I often make a blunt and think of punks that I blast on/ Tryna hold mics like Fidel Castro/ On the block with Barack Obamas/ Lookin’ like Osama hidin’ llamas,”—as well as Bun B’s stone cold offering on “Gold Piece.”
If There’s A Hell Below released October 28 on Computer Ugly.
The work of Katie Gately is astonishing to behold. Without wishing to resort to hyperbole, there is simply no other artist exploring sound in a manner even close to the exploratory bravery of this LA-based producer. Since we first heard her self-titled release for Public Information last year it’s been one to which we’ve returned again and again, finding new details on every listen. Her Pipes cassette for Blue Tapes was equally intriguing, and she’s followed both releases with something totally unexpected – a split 12″ release on what is ostensibly an “indie” label.
“Pivot” is a 14-minute opus that fills one side of Fat Cat’s 23rd split 12″ release, the penultimate edition in a long-running series (the first, featuring Third Eye Foundation and V/Vm, was released in 1998). Gately has spoken loudly of her interest in pop music, and “Pivot” plays not just with the ideas of sound art and electronic music, it seeks to revise the idea of pop itself. Built from a series of movements, it could be classed as anything from a classical suite to a mini pop-opera. It was born out of a long period of genesis, so grueling that Gately developed tendonitis from the many machinations and manipulations that the project entailed. It opens with a series of harmonised vocals that sound like childlike cooing, growing steadily to an explosive thrum. These sounds are peppered with the sound of digitised vocals and percussive tics, an abstract opening in which Gately lays out her sonic palette. “Hungry halo,” she sings, as layered vocals grow through satisfying chord resolutions.
There’s a point about three minutes in when a drifting vocal line hints at a true beginning, moving beyond introductory notes and ideas. At the eight-minute mark there’s a bass drum stomp that evokes pomp and ceremony, nationalistic pride or Wicker Man-esque ritual. We’d be lying if we said we could make out every lyric, but the emotion and exuberance make up for the lack of clarity. Rolling sax lines follow haunting vocal lines, effected and distorted as they are, while a lone channel of Gately’s “natural” human voice sings of winter. Speaking to 20 Jazz Funk Greats (for whom she recently crafted a stunning and epic podcast), she explained a moment of realisation she had during the making of this piece, and how she would treat her vocals as she would any other instrumentation: “It won’t be realistic or match classical conventions – but that’s OK – I’m trying to make monster worlds, so they should sound different.” There is truly a monster world to be found in “Pivot” – not necessarily scary, but alien and unfamiliar. It is this unfamiliarity is what truly sets her apart from any contemporaries.
On the other side are four tracks from Melbourne-based New Zealander Tlaotlon, who recently popped up on 1080p. Just as Gately redefines pop, so Tlaotlon reimagines the very idea of “dance” music. “Myriade” starts with blasts of sound that sound like car horns, heavy kick drums and clanking effects. Cascading synth patterns fall from above, crashing percussion melds together for an other-worldly few minutes. “Ascensis” jacks into life with straight-up 4/4 beats, yet manages to drift entirely in another direction, a feeling lingering of two discrete tracks hovering over each other to confuse and confound listeners. “Odys” is haunting, a noisy yet beautiful piece that balances digitised sonics with tribal drums. “Siade”, finally, kicks forth in defiant 3/4, beautiful unregimented trance riffs dancing around the almost militaristic drum patterns. The four tracks here are bizarrely unrelated except in scope and approach, obtuse aural differences standing in place of coherence. A world away from Katie Gately’s distinct, self-contained universe, Tlaotlon’s side nonetheless displays a talent for taking the familiar and repurposing it in truly unexpected fashion. This record is not one in which to find peace or comfort; instead, it’s for anyone wishing to step outside the staid normality of the everyday.
Katie Gately / TLAOTLON – Split Series #23 is out now on Fat Cat Records. Buy here.
Words by Aidan Hanratty, 21 November 2014. Leave a comment
For Seven Plays, each week one of our contributors will keep a personal music diary for seven days, then hands the feature over to another Truant at the end of the week. The idea is to keep sharing great music with our readers, but with a more individual touch than our more objective posts and reviews. Our latest installment comes courtesy of Koyejo Oloko, journeying through punk, psychedelia, proto grime and more.
Tuesday : Bad Brains – Re-ignition (SST Records)
“‘Good morning Vietnam. Hey, this is not a test. This is rock and roll.’ When looking back at my choices for the feature this classic line by the late Robin Williams kept ringing off in my head. My commentary is of no comparison to Williams’ Oscar-nominated performance but, to me, these songs are. My selections were inspired by a lengthy conversation I was having with selector extraordinaire, Emmet Keane of Creation. Talking graphics, Jodorowsky and H.R Giger, Winston Smith and Dead Kennedys – I was reminded of my naive introduction to the band and punk as a whole in 1999 – riding around as Kareem Campbell, subliminally hypnotised by Eastbay Ray’s guitar licks and Jello Biafra’s madly animated voice. His brilliantly damning lyrics in “Police Truck” went straight over my nine-year-old head, I was too busy finding all the hidden videotapes, but the song always stuck with me. Conspiracists claim that the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack sonically groomed many young and impressionable children for imminent takeover of Nu Metal and they could be right. However, through Mos Def’s eye-opening “Rock n Roll” off Black on Both Sides, released later that same year, I discovered Bad Brains. He gave me confirmation that this heavy music I was into at the time wasn’t just noise like my old man claimed because a) he name-checked them and b) other black people made it – thereby making it okay for me to listen to it. Funny how your mind works at that age.”
Wednesday : A.R Kane – Lolita (4AD)
“After a long night spent listening to unrelenting hardcore music – I need this : ‘Lolita is a gorgeous haze that slowly enfolds the body, turning your nerves to frost. A lullaby split apart at the seams by a column of noise, a crystal spire veering up into the heavens’ – what a description from Simon Reynolds! My usual choice would have been Dreaming of You by A Guy Called Gerald but this time I turned to this band, A.R Kane, who I discovered through deeper investigation into Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. I love this song so much because it says everything I want to but can’t.”