Review: SertOne – The View From Above

If you’d told me about a hot young Irish hip-hop producer a decade ago, I’d probably have laughed at you. I can definitely remember laughing when I heard wannabe rappers on radio using American accents and then talking in their normal Dublin accents in interviews in about 2002. But times have changed. Liverpool-based Portadown native SertOne has been gathering fans and plaudits in equal measure this year with his synth-heavy instrumental hip-hop beats. I featured some remixes of his in Sunday’s Best some months back, and he’s also been featured on Ying Yang: The Golden Age of Hip Hop, a woozy retread of classic rap put together by a clutch of forward-thinking, yesteryear-inspired producers. New track Off The Burn will feature on the UK and Ireland edition of Finest Ego alongside Mr Beatnick and Om Unit, out later this week, but it’s his original productions I’m talking about here.

His seven-track EP “The View From Above” was released in February on Melted Music, but its success in Ireland is warranting a repress with some new artwork ahead of a follow-up release. While the EP definitely has the SertOne sound all over it, there are moments throughout that make you check your head and wonder if you really just heard that. Take for example the melody half-way through “Riviera Part 1 + 2”. The track kicks off with a buzz of synths and bleeps, with an Just Blaze-esque beat kicking the proceedings up a notch. Then some two-and-a-half minutes in we’re gifted a simple ascending/descending four-bar phrase. It’s repeated, then he makes the bold move of splitting the phrase across the next eight bars, before stopping everything with the sound of someone catching a hairball in their throat. Then it’s back again. It’s what the phrase “simple but effective” was invented for. And after about eight listens right now I can hear the faintest of Boards of Canada-esque chords hovering in the background.

Don’t let that description fool you into thinking he’s only good at imitating artists that have gone before. Standout track “Past, Present and Future” is one of the most affecting pieces of music I’ve heard all year. Fusing a dark and foreboding bassline with a vocal about Belfast’s troubles (note the small t), it shifts and jerks as the beats sway between different rhythms and patterns and time signatures. That combination of unsettling drum patterns and the mournful sax line that hovers above gets me every time. It’s no surprise that this one has already received radio play in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Past, Present and Future by SertOne by MeltedMusic

8mm is a slow and lazy burner, combining some dreamy Hollywood-type strings and sci-fi bleeps, not to mention a spoken-word sample espousing the virtues of sonic and visual manipulation. Well, with that title, what did you expect? The end of it comes out of nowhere, with a set of hazy, icy melodies and basslines that make me think of Global Communication and Ulrich Schnauss. One can only imagine what the result would be if dude put his hand to IDM or ambient electronica.

Scattershot meanwhile employs a menacing marching-band snare alongside a snarling, almost dutty south-style synth bass. Vocal samples are scattered throughout, I think it’s Busta but I could be wrong. And not unlike in Riviera, that snarling bass drifts off in the end taking longer on each note before slowing to a crawl fading out. Ammunition buzzes with more vocal samples, and the sound of a ghost in the machine, hauntingly putting the sound of the internet wasteland in your ears. And Astro-Bazaar closes with a joyful twang of almost trad-like guitar, fusing another snarling bassline with wild-west melodies.

Astro-Bazaar by SertOne by MeltedMusic

The repress is coming at the end of the month, but in the meantime the ever-industrious SertOne has dropped yet another remix, this time of Deviant & Naive Ted, giving it away for free because the label wasn’t happy. I know it’s only August, but as we drift towards the end of the year you can be sure that this guy will be popping up on a lot of Best of lists for 2011, and who knows what 2012 will bring.

Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ...