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White Noise: November 2013

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Hubie Davison - I Won't Be There

Label: Leisure System

Soft, fragile, textural: when did these become dirty words in the dance music industry? Just after dubstep imploded - visceral bass-weight meditations souring to exaggerated exercises in phallic sound-posturing - a fertile current of music emerged which proudly wore just these adjectives: the early work of the James Blakes, Mount Kimbies, or, more recently, Troy Gunner. These early experiments in melody and texture were a panacea to those weary of beat-centric music, but the sound just didn’t seem to stick: as if its subtle charms were too evanescent to ever lay down roots. Predictably, all of these artists have since turned from their patient, atmospheric beginnings, and the sound of now is brutally angular, from rough-hewn analog house to grainy industrial techno, with little space allotted for the gentle, the warm.

This strikes me as a missed opportunity. Granted, within the realms of house there are still practitioners who focus on atmosphere over heft, notably recent work from Youandewan, John Roberts or DjRUM, yet too many of the artists who focus on atmosphere end up either moving to poppier terrain (compare the beginnings of Disclosure or Bondax to their later chart-topping material) or become simply derivative, as with the unattractive sidestep to IDM-laced ambience recently pulled off by Synkro. Simply put, if you’re going to focus on atmosphere, you have to get it spot on, and judging by recent dance releases, this seems incredibly difficult to achieve. It is for this exact reason that I Won’t Be There, the debut of Irish producer Hubie Davison, strikes such a chord in today’s musical climate. This isn’t mould-breaking music, but it’s unashamedly beautiful with its fathoms-deep atmospheres, and announces a quietly exciting new talent to the scene.

I Won't Be There

It’s not everyone who gets to debut on Berlin institution Leisure System, but Davison was a canny pick, offering up a six-track EP that glows with textural detail and ingenious sampling. Title track I Won’t Be There sets the scene fluidly, reverb-drenched vocals calling out over a melancholic piano line and a skipping beat pattern. The groove which finally comes together in the track’s final minutes feels beautifully earned, as minute atmospheric shifts and a chiming melody draw it to a tender conclusion. Rather than going for the dancefloor jugular, Davison’s eye for mood is what repeatedly impresses across his debut EP. This is clear later, as early highlight Mannequin Move emerges as if from the sea, building from a lonely plucked string to a finely-wrought crescendo of twinkling melodies and a metallic 4/4 stomp.

Each track offers treasures for the dedicated listener, from the expert vocal sampling laced across Yeh Sai’s minimal beat to the enveloping guitar that plays across the surface of No Shirt, No Shoes. Perhaps not all the tracks glitter quite like these gems: Haven’s zig-zag synthwork isn’t quite the melody which the intricate percussion deserves, while the obligatory dancefloor remix (here worked by Davison himself under the name of Dayvision) is decent but never goes beyond bassy-house formula. One might imagine that the intricate melodies of the original could be brought to exciting club territory with the right remixer on deck. It may not be perfect, but I Won’t Be There is far more hit than miss, and Davison’s dedication to atmosphere and detail should prove a rewarding listen for anyone who likes to dig a little deeper.


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Wednesday, 27 November 2013


We've recently had news of a very exciting radio station that's started up in one of the internet's darker corners. The wryly-titled Insider.fm is a new monthly broadcast run by a small and close-knit community, bringing increasingly impressive DJs into play. Last month saw Leskin of the white-hot Early Sounds imprint, and now we've got Echo 106, whose singular Infernal Regions EP has been on heavy repeat here at WNHQ.

So get on the inside and tune in on the 28th November at 5pm for some seriously underground sound.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Voiski - IAI Movement

Label: L.I.E.S

With the rate that L.I.E.S releases music, it’s a given that no one is going to like each one, and I have to admit that by the summer I was beginning to lose faith in Brooklyn’s taste-making imprint. Yet this Autumn the label has been proving itself in a big way, with a great recent release by Legowelt  and an intriguing new offering courtesy of KWC 92. To complete its autumnal hat-trick there’s this, a chimeric techno EP from young gun Voiski, comprised of three tracks which evolve dramatically over their runtimes, resulting in an uncommonly compelling exercise in propulsion. A-side From White to Red is a blissful trip, kicking off as an abstract slice of house composed of undulating chants and a persistent kick. It’s well produced but little more than mesmeric - until the track takes off around the 3-minute mark to become something else entirely. Suddenly broad synth strokes carry the track forward with fresh momentum, resulting in a thundering, uplifting conclusion sure to leave keen listeners stunned.

From White to Red

As the EP’s metamorphic track titles suggest, these transitional song structures continue, and the quality doesn’t let up. From Wood to Stone follows, a hypnotic arrangement of bright synths galvanised by a cast-iron kick, the percussion solidifying until it is joyously reunited with the melody for the track’s closing moments. Finally From Sea to Sea starts off with a colder pulse, serrated synths accruing a whirl of vivid melody in a slow, organic build of tension. The latter tracks never quite reach the ebullience of the opener but IAI Movement remains an unquestionably strong work, showing a producer with a keen melodic sensibility whose music evokes a rare joy in momentum.


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Monday, 25 November 2013

Marquis Hawkes - Sex, Drugs & House

Label: Dixon Avenue Basement Jams

After emerging last year on the ace Cabrini Green EP, which featured WN favourite Sealion Woman, Marquis Hawkes has proven an enthralling producer over his three releases on DABJ. His slow house / acid jams are rich analogue workouts which never fail to hit the sweet spot, and with Sex, Drugs & House Mr Hawkes has let loose his best offering to date. Big Papa is a lush slice ruled over by a bumping bassline, keeping the mood light with subdued keys and concise drum programming which gives the groove exactly what it needs and not a kickdrum more.

The temperature begins to rise on the oddball anthem Get Yo Ass Off My Grass, where metallic percussion leads elastic acid twangs à la Gerd in an energetic arrangement. Of course, it’s the titular vocal which takes centre stage, either sampled or pitched up to an earworm falsetto, looped in ghetto-tech style and miraculously never wearing thin. Acid Snowfall wears its 303s less surreptitiously, its acid line evolving fluidly over a crushed vocal bark and stripped percussion sure to get clubbers into the heads-down zone. After a trio of winners, closing number Hold On proves the EP’s biggest surprise, its rugged beat intriguingly counterpointed with a genuinely emotive vocal which runs the course of the whole track, astutely pitched down and dubbed out to create a real contrast with the taut snares. With his latest Marquis Hawkes proves himself amongst the ranks of the best producers, those who can try something different on every single tune and nail it every time.


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Friday, 22 November 2013

Roly Porter - Life Cycle of a Massive Star

Label: Subtext

Electronic music is an appropriate form to explore hefty emotional and existential concepts: as the music is a result of the careful sequencing of sounds and samples, the listener’s mind does not leap to associate it with the human who sings or plays instruments. Freed from this human association, electronic composition gains a curious sense of objectivity: standing as a complete product whose creation process is often incomprehensible, it can conjure the otherworldly, the fantastic and the terrifying in a way acoustic music cannot. As a tool to explore big themes it’s not just an apposite form, it’s downright liberating – yet within the market-driven musical sphere one seldom finds artists who choose ambition, who try to explore themes beyond love-, street-, or club-life.

From the opening bars of Roly Porter’s new album, Life Cycle of a Massive Star, it is clear that we are being offered something special. Following his work with pioneering dubstep duo Vex’d, Porter split from partner Kuedo to follow a darker, more abstract muse, fusing a clutch of genres from ambient to drone, dub to classical, culminating in his 2011 album Aftertime. Two years on, Porter’s second LP is an epic work, abstractly charting the creation and destruction of an interstellar body, and it's pulled off with an unparalleled sense of scale and emotional scope.

It may only last 35 minutes, but Life Cycle contains the richness of many albums three times its length. This is because it makes you think: using its cosmic themes, this LP is able to open a dialogue on mortality, tacitly questioning the significance of the human by contextualising him within an immense cosmic abyss. This sense of immensity is produced with sonic dualities: droney ambience is set against emotive orchestral figures, alienating blasts of noise nestled against intimate string sections. Rather than exploiting the hoary trope of techno as man vs. machine, Porter sets the human against the void, and the results are utterly captivating.

The word ‘cycle’ is key here: not only does human life move in cycles, but through the album’s central dualities the acts of creation and destruction are shown to be inextricably linked; death portrayed as another stage of the life process rather than its opposite. Opener Cloud contains clear human traces but its vocal sample is gravity-crushed, de-oxygenated and looped over a taut, juddering beat. The piece is astonishing to behold, gathering momentum as the beats jar like locked machinery, giving way to an ominous ambience which swallows those final strings.

Each sequence of Porter’s cycle is considered yet visceral, making an immediate impact and still rewarding detailed listening over repeated spins. Gravity contains several movements, its frightening intro of whirring machinery set starkly against subtle strings which build to a nakedly beautiful climax by the track’s close, swallowing the listener whole in a wash of reflective melancholy. Birth begins with what sounds like a vacuum gasping in air, flares of sound evoking the primal forces of the universe, here contrasted with stirring woodwind and choral movements which create a mesmerising dichotomy. The hypnosis continues on Sequence, a softer procession of drones and distant orchestras which moves with the glacial pace of stoic practitioners Stars of the Lid.

For his dramatic finale Porter configures Giant, a petrifying piece where abrasive squalls of stomach-churning noise are set against sudden silence, leaving the listener alarmed yet wholly receptive, emotionally rent open by the unpredictable textures of the previous thirty minutes. It’s a wild ride, yet for all the space present on Life Cycle of a Massive Star, it is not a work that exists in a vacuum. Its context is what makes the album shine, both sonically and spatially: brave sound calling out into the abyss, humans persevering despite the angst of insignificance both cosmic and human. This LP contains a universal sound: it is a sonic black hole which buckles the listener, forces patience and openness, and encourages us to hear differently. It is an awe-inspiring achievement.


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Will Hardcore Ever Die? Techno's Resurrection of the Breakbeat

Hardcore will never die – we’ve all heard the old adage. Except over the last ten years, hardcore did kind of die. The breakbeat, once supreme champion of dancefloor percussion, just wasn’t cool anymore. Meanwhile all the genres that worshipped at the altar of these chopped funk breaks: drum’n’bass, jungle and hardcore, began to stagnate, left to the die-hards with their perma-gurns as the school of the new millennium turned to grime, garage and dubstep, or indeed back to the worthy institutions of house and techno. The use of breakbeats within hip hop has a long history and continues to bear fruit, but it’s only recently that the percussive style has seen a re-emergence in the dance sphere.

For years the breakbeat scenes haven’t seen much in the way of progress, the last notable exception being DnB’s Autonomic phase spearheaded by the likes of Instra:Mental and dBridge. Yet listen closely and the winds are changing: there has been a sharp increase in the use of breakbeats in modern dance music in 2013, whether they appear as retro ornaments or something altogether newer: conventional drum loops twisted, distorted and recontextualised into fresh shapes. While others have charted the re-emergence of new forms of drum and bass, this article will explore the practitioners who are recontextualising breakbeats at slower tempos, in techno and beyond. 

Paul Woolford - Mindwash

One of the men at the heart of this revival (and the inspiration for this article) is none other than man of the moment Paul Woolford, who is currently attracting all the right attention with the rugged productions of his Special Request moniker. With a name that references (perhaps even mourns) the pirate radio stations that birthed his sound, Woolford’s Special Request tracks are ferocious club monsters, where familiar breaks are squashed into tough technoid forms, glorifying hollow, compressed kicks and elastic breakbeat loops. Yet Woolford’s compositions are not just throwback. On each of his celebrated white label releases (along with an ace recent EP for Houndstooth), he adds a distinct flavour to the gritty soundcraft, keeping it personal and modern. For example, while the superb Mindwash may give way to a tear-streaked breakdown of breathy vocals and eternal synths in pure 90s style, it has at its core the restless pursuit of a maniacally sinuous melodic line which would only be heard this decade.

Pev – Aztec Chant

As most of the music that heavily used breakbeats hovered around the 160bpm mark, some of the more interesting re-appropriations of the beats have come from artists who have slowed them down. Livity Sound head-honcho Pev (formerly Peverelist) is one of the UK scene’s leading lights at the moment, honing an utterly unique style of techno which incorporates various elements of the UK’s hardcore and dubstep lineage. Hear on this year’s Aztec Chant how the breakbeat is just one of the track’s percussive components, nestled amidst panning melodics and frayed hi-hats, looping like a broken record until it finally takes centre stage for the track’s final two minutes. Yet it is not just scene stalwarts who are reclaiming the breakbeat: A Sagittariun, one of the country’s more intriguing new techno producers, constructs a moody scifi soundfield on his stylish Eye Against Eye, only for a slo-mo breakbeat to steal the scene, a perfect fit for the slick Detroit atmospherics.

DJ Haus – Cold As Ice

It’s not just individual producers who are looking to reclaim the hardcore sound: certain labels seem particularly intent on pushing the 90s revival. Chief among them is DJ Haus’ inimitable Unknown To The Unknown, who topped our list of 2012’s best labels. Besides a hilarious Youtube channel and bizzare cover-art, DJ Haus has used UTTU to resurrect some of dance music’s less popular genres, from electro to bassline garage. Proving that these old styles have life in them yet, some of UTTU’s breakbeat experiments have been pure gold: one need only look as far as Haus’ own Cold As Ice for an achingly cool lesson in hardcore, replete with a tacky synth breakdown which I wouldn’t have any other way. Elsewhere on the label, Lords Of Midnite’s excellent Drown In Ur Love EP took the breakbeat on a scifi odyssey for its epic analog title jam.

Andy Stott – Up The Box

We’ve seen a clear renewal of interest in the noble breakbeat, with a variety of artists co-opting those breakneck rhythms to their own ends. Yet outside of the dancefloor exists another group of hardcore operators, dealing with decay and disintegration, resulting in what is perhaps the most fascinating material that the breakbeat has to offer today. These artists can be loosely grouped around the experimental Modern Love and PAN imprints, the former’s Andy Stott being a perfect example. The formidable Up The Box, from his ace 2012 album Luxury Problems, is a semi-experimental piece which loops a locked breakbeat, jamming like machinery in a slowly building gale of static noise. After three minutes it drops away, and after a few atmospheric shifts returns with a phenomenal compressed kick in toe, an exhilarating fusion of jungle and techno that combines the tough distortion of each without even a moment’s relief. It may also be worth noting the possibility of Stott’s involvement in Modern Love’s ultra-limited Unknown / Hate project, a purist exercise in pitch-black junglism which yielded uncompromisingly destructive club tracks.

Demdike Stare - Collision

Further into the world of experimentation one comes across Demdike Stare’s recent Testpressing series, also out on Modern Love. Drawing on a profound knowledge of jungle, hardcore and noise, Collision saw the pair at their rawest yet, building four minutes of seething, heatsick noise around a bed of jammed, dysfunctional breakbeats. While Demdike turned jungle to noise, PAN’s Lee Gamble used his superb Diversions 1994-1996 to draw out the ambience of these tracks, dissolving breakbeats in the faded ambience of musical recall, turning the raves of the 90s into the incoherent, mesmerising sequences which now exist only in our memories. In a fitting parallel, a similar trick was pulled off by Anthony Naples on his remix of Special Request’s Mindwash, casting the legend of hardcore beneath the gauze of memory, eroded by time, subject to dissolution and fragmentation. These experimental re-appropriations of breakbeats treat the drum pattern as an artefact of its own time, and through recontextualising the familiar drum loop they pose questions about evolving musical trends and the unreliable nature of memory itself.

Tessela – Hackney Parrot

Before this article disintegrates, weighed down by the fragility of its pseudo-philosophical musings, it’s worth drawing attention to how current, how big these modern breakbeat iterations can also sound. On the following playlist you’ll hear a selection of some of the sounds discussed above, but also some genuinely innovative use of the classic drumloop – DJ Rashad’s minor masterpiece, the emotive Let It Go, which dissects breakbeats with the finesse of a surgeon, or Clouds’ ode to the rave thump on the monumental Future 1. Yet at the same time we have Dance’s curious Still, a ghostly slo-jam that leaves the breakbeat wholly intact, or Shed’s nuanced second outing as EQD, which ranks among the producers best work to date. Then there’s Tessela’s phenomenal Hackney Parrot, doubtless one of 2013’s most memorable anthems, guaranteed to get the crowd moving even if the dancers don’t know their breakbeat from their steak frites.

The lasting impression of this survey is the extraordinary versatility of this simple set of drum loops, which twenty years on are still being used and abused in the most fascinating, exhilarating fashions. Not only are artists continuing to insert breakbeats into showstopping underground hits, but the passage of time has permitted an artistic re-appraisal, with producers subjecting the drums to the decay of memory and time in a way which opens entirely new avenues of musical possibility. Will hardcore ever die? It’s up to the artists, but on the strength of the scene’s ability to appropriate and re-integrate artefacts of our musical past in ever-more innovative ways, it looks set to survive for a long while yet.

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DJ Rashad – Let It Go
A Sagittariun – Eye Against Eye
EQD – EQD 002B (04)
Clouds – Future 1
Point G - Braka
Special Request – Broken Dreams
Ramadanman - Don't Change For Me
Pangaea – Razz
Unknown / Hate – Human Resources
Deadboy - Nova
Special Request – Mindwash (Anthony Naples Eternal Mix)
Lowout - LAS
Dance – Still
Simoncino - Happy (DJ Sotofett Slow Jungle Trippin')

If you want more, check out Boomkat's ace series of playlists on 14tracks.

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