Review: Bok Bok – Southside EP

“Ripe Banana,” Bok Bok’s 2009 atomic bomb of a production, was a musical revelation for me – ever since I first heard the track it’s been difficult to talk about Bok Bok (aka Alex Sushon) without turning the conversation into a game of superlatives. He’s at the helm of one of today’s best labels (Night Slugs, for the uninitiated), producing some of today’s freshest tunes, and hosting a quality show on Rinse.FM, while also finding time to design the most stylized album covers around. This is all highly subjective, of course, but not many can deny the impact of Night Slugs – and Bok Bok in particular – on the continuing evolution of dance music over the past year and a half. Sushon is a trailblazer through and through, brazenly innovating new permutations of grime, dubstep, and house while countless producers watch from the sidelines, slack-jawed and envious. With all this in mind, the five tracks comprising Southside had a lot to live up to. The anxiety associated with the first listen (“What if it falls short of my expectations?” or even worse, “What if it isn’t any good?”) turns into pure ecstasy straight away, though, as if induced by a morphine drip. This opiate reference, as it turns out, serves as a useful metaphor for the entirety of the EP.  Southside doesn’t just sound like an alternate reality but genuinely feels like one, in a way that can only be described as hallucinatory. Fans will instantly feel at home with Bok Bok’s trademark production techniques, but there’s also something unfamiliar about the sonic spaces on the release, something omnipresent and intangible but somehow already-known.

Opening track “Charisma Theme” establishes this tone right off the bat with a cloud of resonating, deep-space chimes that slowly dissipates as clamorous percussion elements and synth pads rise from below. A cold and lean acid bassline comes in after a couple minutes, complemented by perfectly-layered 909 snares and claps and foreboding radar blips. Subtle filter work and changes in drum sequencing build up pressure, but warm, buoyant pads cut the tension and create a nice ebb and flow that keeps the seven minute track from becoming monotonous. The second track “Hyperpass” is a downright sinister production, opening with menacing drums and a pitched-down-beyond-recognition vocal sample set against the oppressive sound of a rainstorm. Dark, imposing synth work recalls the productions of fellow Night Slug Jam City, with nearly every sound emitting metallic overtones that contribute to a creeping, itching sense of paranoia as the track progresses. Around the 4-minute mark, the erratic synth sounds channel their collective energy into a wall of heavily-detuned, apocalyptic chords that elevate the track from “brilliant” to “oh my god.” On a release full of winners, “Hyperpass” takes home the blue ribbon in my eyes. Next up is “Reminder,” a highly repetitive and fairly simplistic track, but we all know that Sushon is at the head of his class when it comes to this kind of production style. A skeleton of Chicago hi-hats and dry snares serves more as a metronome than a fully-fledged beat, while two predictable synth loops (comprising exactly 5 notes combined) account for the track’s entire melodic content. Everything about “Reminder” should become grating after the first minute, but Bok Bok’s innate creative genius manages to keep it interesting throughout. Each synth patch sounds carefully constructed from the ground up to achieve this unique aesthetic, so the track doesn’t sound unfinished or roughshod in any way.

After listening to Southside a few times through, I realized how spot-on the placement of “Reminder” is in the track order. It gives the perfect amount of time to catch your breath between “Hyperpass” and “Silo Pass,” the triumphant heavyweight that we’ve been drooling over since Kingdom included it in his high-profile XLR8R podcast back in March. The track opens with unintelligible vocal chattering and atmospherics reminiscent of ambient jungle noises, set to a steady rhythm of intensely non-human percussive sounds. This rather disorienting combination sounds primitive (almost prehistoric) but futuristic at the same time, like it would be right at home on the Predator soundtrack as Arnold prepares for the final showdown. Sushon’s immaculate programming skills are out in full force on this one, as the track boasts the most interesting percussion samples and varied rhythmic work found on the release. Half- and double-time rhythms intertwine to create layers of unexpected syncopation that add an immense amount of depth to the track. Meanwhile, signature Bok Bok synths stomp around without any notion of subtlety or restraint. Expect to hear this track everywhere this summer, because it’s massive! Closing out the EP in an equally rude fashion is devastatingly heavy half-stepper “Look (Dub).” Bok Bok fans will already know this one from his remix of Lil Scrappy’s “Look at Me,” which was featured on Brodinski’s Best of Everything Vol. 2. You may also recognize a majority of the drum programming and synth work from his scorching remix of Girl Unit’s “IRL.” Regardless of how many times this track has been on the operating table, it shines in its current state. A brash, grime-infused bass line asserts itself on top of frantically-paced percussion tracks, while eerie, buzzing synth pads writhe around above everything and make the whole affair infinitely more unsettling. Overall, I don’t think it would be possible to overstate how stunning and absolutely essential this entire release is, so be sure to cop it when it comes out on May 30th!

BOK BOK – Charisma Theme (NS010 preview) by BokBok

BOK BOK – Hyperpass (NS010 preview) by BokBok

BOK BOK Reminder (NS010 preview) by BokBok

BOK BOK – Silo Pass (NS010 preview) by BokBok

BOK BOK – Look (NS010 preview) by BokBok

Bok Bok – Southside (Night Slugs) out May 30th.

Sam Billetdeaux