Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Liars @ Shepherd's Bush Empire, 27th May

It goes without saying that Liars are a band that enjoy the louder things in life. Their five studio albums are a maelstrom of ideas and concepts merged together, propelled by a ferocious appetite for unseating the listener with wildly unsettling dynamics. Psych, folk, garage rock and punk form an often inconsistent palette that yet never fails to impress. So tonight’s surprise inclusion of two extra band members begs the question: what more is needed?  
Solidity and a more polished performance prove to be fruits of this line up change,  with frontman Angus Andrewprowling the stage like a caged animal, free to let loose safe in the knowledge he has double the manpower behind him.

Read the rest on here.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Holy Fuck - Latin

In today’s overtly fickle and pedantic media industry, albums get criticised left, right and centre in scrupulous fashion. UK Funky maestro Roska’s debut album was received to lukewarm applause by those who felt his soca-fied rhythms felt misplaced within the album format, while Fuck Buttons came under fire from a dissenting minority for supposedly “selling out” by compromising on their intensely abrasive noise.
Perhaps more than any other art form, music does not suffer fools lightly, and often a band’s work is heavily scrutinised in light of their previous work. New directions, an appeal for commercial success, an ill-conceived attempt at broadening horizons – all of these are potential pitfalls into the waiting arms of a zealot. Holy Fuck’s third album Latin falls under none of the aforementioned categories, but its problem lies in the distinct lack of progression from its predecessor, LP.
The album starts promisingly enough, with a welcome curveball of glacial ambient swathes and swelling white noise that form the introductory ‘1MD’. It’s atmospheric stuff, and slowly lifts a haze of smoke to propel the band into more familiar waters with ‘Red Lights’, a brilliant opening track combining a throbbing bassline and vibrant keys that are eerily reminiscent of much of LP.
The following 7 tracks are much of same, and herein lies Latin’s major downfall. There is no clear standout track to be found, and consequently the entire record melds into one congealed composition of overdriven basslines and madcap percussion. As the album wears on, the songs quickly begin to lose the fervent intensity that Holy Fuck clearly sought to bring to the table, and it’s a shame that they appear to have made little concession to the album listener and instead focus their energies on creating sharp, dynamic songs that are suited to their equally febrile live show.
‘Stay Lit’ is the only track that attempts to break the stifling mould, which falls flat on its face as a derivative, poorly conceived epic post rock clone. Its an oddly mournful-sounding effort, and stands out for all the wrong reasons.
Latin is by no means a poor record, and when taken out of the context of an album format a lot of the songs achieve a remarkable potency, in particular the crashing crescendo of ‘Lucky’ and the swirling, ethereal ‘Silva & Grimes’. It’s a solid, and momentarily exhilarating record, yet it falls short of beating LP and offers little to reward repeated listening.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

dBridge Interview

With drum & bass seemingly in a state of flux at the moment, scene veteran dBridge has quietly but assuredly carved out a niche with his burgeoning Autonomic movement, an all-encompassing music collective formed with fellow producers Instra:mental. Beginning life as a series of podcasts, Autonomic now extends to a regular club night at Fabric and a record label. I caught up with dBridge to see what he had to say about his latest venture, how the scene has changed and his singing.

H: Your latest release, and the first for Autonomic, is ‘Acacia Avenue’, a collaboration with Skream. How did you and Instra:mental hook up with him?

D: I’m trying to think when I met him first, it escapes me now, probably in some random club over a vodka! Well we were doing the podcast, and he was always really into it, and he started following the podcast. I think he hit us up actually, and we really liked what he was doing, and you could just tell the enthusiasm in his music, he was really keen. It was just nice to have someone who was obviously that big on another side of the scene into what we were doing. So we invited him to Insra:mental’s studio and we just hit it off straightaway. He’s really knowledgeable about music you know, especially drum and bass, he knows it inside out. The first couple of times he came down we didn’t do much, I think the first track we did was a track called ‘Reflections’ which is gonna be on his album. So I think we’d been in the studio all day and hadn’t really got anything, so Al and I went outside for a bit, and just left him and Damon in there, and they just came up with a beat. It literally came together really quickly cause we were almost in the last hour of the session and the track just came together. It’s quite hard sometimes with 4 people all in the studio, just trying to vibe. I think Oli wasn’t really used to all these synths screaming out at him at once (laughs), and it was organised chaos really trying to get the best out of each thing, but yeah it came together quite quickly.

H: What was the inspiration to start Autonomic, when you are already running Exit Records?

D: I think its just giving what we’re doing and our music another outlet really, cause instra:mental have their own ideas behind what they’re doing with their label and I have with mine, and we just wanted to give the stuff we were pushing and the stuff we were into…. just get it out there really. We were doing the podcasts, and we purposefully didn’t do tracklisting and people were always wondering what the songs were, and it was just kind of getting them out there to people and another way of doing it. So we literally have the next 5 or 6 releases sorted. I think people will recognise some of the tunes from those previous podcasts.

H: Music from the Fabric CD as well?

D: Yeah, some of the stuff from that is coming out as well, eventually, so yeah literally it was just started as an outlet to get that stuff out there really.

H: I caught the autonomic takeover at Fabric last week, which seemed to go down pretty well – will this continue to be a regular feature for you and Instra:mental?

D: Yeah, well as long as Fabric will have us down there. It’s a weird one, sometimes it seems to work, sometimes it doesn’t, It’s an up and down thing. We’re trying to get our crowd I suppose, or what we consider our crowd, who are used to stuff other than 170 or drum and bass tempos. But when we have guests down we want people who we are really into, artists who are pretty much as non-drum and bass as you can get. Sometimes the crowd kind of thin out when the guests come on, but its good for them to hear the other side of things and hear what’s going on, because we’re really honest about our influences and we really like what these people are doing, and they respect us the same way we respect them. We had Jimmy Edgar down before, and that’s one of Instra:mentals biggest fans, and to have him is a real honour. I love what Blue Daisy is doing, and we’ve got Bullion down for the next one, I’ve always loved his music. Its nice for us in some ways, cause Fabric are backing it, to get the guests that we ideally want for our parties. We’re booked into at least the end of the year, so if it all goes well we’ll still be there.

H: So how did you and Instra:mental begin working together?

D: I think the first time I met them was down at Swerve. I heard their track ‘Naked Zoo’, and I was really feeling it, that came out on Dat:music, and I was really into their stuff and was actively trying to get more of their music. I think they heard about me playing their stuff, because not many people were, and I was just expanding my set and a section of my set included their music, which was growing every month or so, so I started with a couple of tunes and it expanded to 20-30 mins, and it got to a point were I was going down the studio and making music with them. They were on my album, we were producing music and it was like well there’s a lot of this stuff here now, we should go out and rep this sound.

H: Your work with Bad Company will always ensure your place in drum and bass history, but do you feel that the direction you’re currently on is pulling you away from the core of the scene?

D: Maybe. At the end of the day I’ve just got to keep myself interested. I think most producers are constantly trying to move on and do something new, but at the end of the day there’s only so much you can do I suppose. I’ve never been one for overly rinsing a style, I try to do things and move on somewhat. It’s the same thing with all this stuff here; I don’t know how long I’ll be doing this style of drum and bass. You know there is that question  - is it drum and bass? Maybe it isn’t, but its roots lie in it definitely, even if it is the halfstep, 85 stuff, it’s still related to it, so I don’t see why the core part of drum and bass should feel its anything but that. I’m not overly concerned about maybe alienating some of my fanbase, the bottom line is I make music for myself really, so it’s for my own reasons and my own causes I suppose. If I wanted to just continue doing one thing or rinse out a style then I guess we could have kept Bad Company going! I could have quite easily done that but I’ve never been one to sort of stay in one place. So yeah, I think I have drifted away from it somewhat, but nowadays I think what’s good about music now is that the genre lines are really blurred. What I like about what we’re doing is that we’re encouraging people from other scenes to get involved cause its such a closed off scene; most people into drum and bass only listen to drum and bass, so its nice we’ve got people like Skream, Scuba, Distance, Ramadanman, Joy Orbison and James Blake all really into what we’re doing with the whole 85, 170 thing. Its good we can have that influence, show people outside our scene that you can get involved in it. Drum and bass has always been that whenever there’s a new scene that pops up, people making drum and bass sort of break off and join these scenes, Its never the other way round.

H: Do you pay attention to the other side of drum and bass at all?

D: It’s a hard question because as a scene its so wide now, its like there’s so many different sub-genres of it its hard to keep up with it. I’m more into the different artists, and whatever it is they do, I’ve never been one to like this certain style or that certain style, so I follow artists more than anything I think. For example, some artists who do jump up stuff, I like some of their stuff. I can’t even be bothered with half the names that crop up. It’s all at BPM (laughs).

H: You spoke about moving your style. Obviously your current sound is quite different from Bad Company’s – did that progress over time or were you always itching to broaden your style?

D: I think it’s always been a part of me. I’d like to think it has. I said in previous interviews where with Bad Company it was 4 very different people with very different approaches and sound, but towards the end it became less about the 4 of us and more about the 2 of us. But yeah it’s always been there. Once I was outside of that dynamic I was able to express myself you know, without having 2 people telling me ‘I don’t like this or that’. But when you’re on your own you can be selfish but at the same time I like working with other people and bouncing ideas off them. Like I work with Instra:mental and I like to do collaborations, and you learn a lot from collaborations, its interesting to work in different styles and approaches to music. So, my style is ever evolving, I’ve got this whole singing thing which is new to me and is a new approach to making music and a way of looking at it, so its constantly evolving for me.

H: So what prompted your foray into singing?

D: I’ve always sung in some way, mainly it would be on my own. When I was in school I was in a band for a while, but its always been a confidence thing for me and to be honest it was Calibre, we used to talk a lot and he was starting to sing more and it was just nice to have someone who was on a similar wavelength in that sense and him making those steps gave me the confidence. It’s the whole side of you that you’re putting out there for people to judge as well as criticise in some ways but its still a confidence thing for me. I should be singing a lot more than I do, but it takes me a while to kind of get on and do it and I’ve only recently started getting comfortable singing in front of other people or even in the studio, and that was through working with Instra:mental, who were kind of just like “fuck it just do it, don’t care what others think”. I think it’s always been a part of my sound as my brother Steve Spacek sings. So its something I’ve always wanted to do but just never had the confidence, and in the last 3 or 4 years its been slowly growing. I’m just enjoying the whole songwriting aspect really. I wrote a song for Breakage’s album, so it’s nice to get into the whole songwriting side of things as well. It’s another string to my bow I suppose.

H: Will that be a main focal point for your songs in the future then?

D: I think it’ll be one of them. I’m trying to write my second album, but I think a lot of it is getting the right equipment for me and learning how to mix vocals. I don’t want just sort of throw it onto a track, it’d have to be a part of it and feel naturally part of a tune, so there’s a lot I still need to learn about working with vocals. I’m getting there, the last 2 years or whatever I’ve been really trying to get my head round it. I’ve got some more collaborations coming up as well. So yeah, I’d like to do an album that is based around that. I’ve also got other people to do tracks for me that I can sing on and that’s nice as well, to be able to take that pressure off from me having to produce a track, with people sending my stuff, and I’ll think “yeah I like that, I can hear the vocal melody in my head and work with it”, so there is going to be a lot more of that.

H: You recently contributed an instrumental hip-hop track to the Fat City records compilation. Will that style feature more in your music as well?

D: Yeah definitely I love that. Its weird cause all that stuff there is just basically my halftime stuff and I play that in my d&b sets. Its just halftime drum and bass you could say. I’ve always had a love for hip-hop, I’ve got my brothers Black Pocket album coming out in May. Fat City have signed 2 things off me now, “ZX81” and my remix of “U’re A Sta”. So yeah, I’ve got a lot of those kind of beats, I’ll be putting some of them out there myself and getting them to Fat City, seeing if they’re liking any of them, so there’s going to be some more of that. I need to do some of that stuff cause it keeps me sane, I’ve been doing drum and bass for so long, its bloody knackering after a while (laughs).

H: In a previous interview you spoke of your dislike for the term ‘minimal’. How would you prefer your music to be categorised, if at all?

D: That’s a hard one. I understand why people say it but if you actually listen to it there’s probably a lot more going in it than most other drum and bass tracks. You could play a roller, for me that’s minimal. But ideally, I’d call my music electronica, as some of the stuff, especially the Autonomic stuff, has similarities in some senses to some of the early Warp catalogue, like Autechre, all those kind of things. So if I could pick any category it would just be electronica, simple as that because that’s what it is really. But we’ll always be called minimal, it’s simpler for people isn’t it?

H: With the rise of Serato and CDJs, and decline of dubplate culture, how has the scene changed?

D: I actually think it’s changed for the better. I love vinyl, I buy it constantly and I’ll always buy vinyl, but in terms of DJing out the logistics of talking out all those records, its ridiculous. I remember Bailey used to bring like 4 boxes of records to some places, and now I can have all that on my laptop. I love the fact that I have all the music I’m playing out, all my hip-hop things, all my electronica things, all my massive old school collection, so I could literally go in any direction in any club environment. I could play for 7-8 hours if I wanted to, so I think its helped in some senses. But I suppose the negative aspect of it is there’s this whole filtration process that used to happen with dubplates, especially from my point of view within drum and bass there was this whole culture of us going down to Music House, and you’d have a certain amount of money to cut plates and you’d make sure you were cutting the best tunes. There was that natural filtration process where you had to be coming with something good to spend £25-£30 on a dubplate, a tune that I’m only going to get 15 plays out of. But the flip of that is that its helped new artists who have come through and want to be heard. I can get sent a track by someone, try it out and if it sounds good its that simple. I can make a track, play it out and think “I need to change this, I need to change that”. To be honest, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives, and nowadays the problem I think you’re finding is that in clubs there’s an art to setting up record decks, you can’t just put them on a table and plug them in, so you’ve got to feel for the people playing out with dubplates and the needles jumping all over the place. A lot of clubs don’t seem to know how to set them up anymore, and they’ve almost become glorified drinks coasters. It’s only natural but for me personally I love vinyl and I will always buy it because in terms of sound I think its superior, but I think the convienience [of serato and cdjs] definitely outweighs that.

H: Also in terms of the digital culture, do you feel that maybe quality control has dipped with artists knowing they can send whatever they want, whenever they want instead of thinking long and hard what they would cut to a dubplate?

D: I think it’s down to the DJs to have that kind of filtration and ensure quality control. I get sent hundreds and hundreds of tunes, but its not as if I’m going to play all of them. I listen to them, and if they’re not of a certain standard then they’re not going to get played. With the whole digital culture you could say that with a lot artists around now, would they even be here if it wasn’t for the digital culture. A lot of these artists who live on the other side of the world, you’ve got a genre that’s centred in one country, how do these people in the outer regions get their music out there and into the heart of it? Things like AIM have helped. I think just now it’s a case of everybody thinks they’re a DJ and everybody thinks they can make music, just because they have a computer that has some music creation program on it. There’s more to making music than just having the equipment to do it. When I’m listening to tunes, you hear music where someone has tried to reverse engineer something else, but I try to find tracks with character, that have something a bit individual about it, and you can hear that person coming through. For me the whole digital culture, what happening now I’m personally moving away from it in terms of my equipment set up, cause I’m going back to hardware. Back in the early days of making music it wasn’t as simple as just having a computer with Logic or whatever on it, you had to invest money into it, in a sampler, mixing desk, all these things that weren’t cheap, so you’re making a vested interest in what you’re doing. It’s not just a hobby, although it can be for a lot of people. So I’m going back to my hardware roots, like old synths, cause for me I know that’s like. Its an edge I suppose in some ways over most other people cause I don’t like the idea of everyone out there having access to the same synths and presets as I have. Which is why I always liked sampling, cause its like these are the records I’ve found, I’ve dug out, I’ve found these sounds, and these go towards making up who I am. So now rather than sampling the sound that other people have made, Im going to make my own. There’s a lot more producers doing that now. I get old producers hitting me up, asking about my hardware, cause they want that as well, It’s a career that you have invested in, so use that rather than using some copy of Logic you got off a torrent (laughs).

H: What have you got planned for the rest of the year?

D: I’ve signed lots of stuff to Exit, and I can’t get it all out as quickly as I would like, so decided to do a various artists compilation instead, so that’s coming next. There’s me, Consequence, Instra:mental, ASC, Genotype, Distance, Code 3, Loxy, Mode,  I’ve got quite a few tracks , but I’m like “OK, how am I going to get all this out?”. By the sound of it with the artists I’m reeling off it might even be 2 albums, but we’ll see how it goes. Skream is doing a 12” as well, Consequence is working on his second album, and I’m working on my second album. I’m also doing a project with Riya, working with Instra:mental producing an album for her. So that’s what I’m up to at the minute.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

Much like dubstep, the rapid rise of instrumental hip-hop beatmakers in the past few years can be traced to a single place or collective. Dubstep famously emerged from Croydon, more specifically the Big Apple record shop where the likes of Skream, Benga and Hatcha developed their trade and formed a tight coalition of like-minded, musically driven individuals.

Flying Lotus and his cohorts reside in far sunnier climbs in Los Angeles. His breakout LP, named after his hometown, enabled him to transcend his close-knit community, and it was clear that the city had a major influence on the woozy, discordant music that he championed.

‘Cosmogramma’ presents us with his third album in only 4 years, and displays a startling change in direction. Dense, multi-layered and with a sonic palette that belies his 26 years, Steven Ellison uses 45 minutes to take the listener on a wonderful trip through his racing mind.

A cursory listen to opening track ‘Clock Catcher’ gives a brief snatch of what to expect; electronic pulses, silky harps and a throbbing rhythm all combine to throttle the senses and plunge you unexpectedly inwards.

The pace doesn’t relent, with Ellison continuing what he does best by creating all enveloping futuristic beats. The album reaches its peak with the stunning one-two of ‘Computer Face // Pure Being’ and the Thom Yorke featuring ‘… And The World Laughs With You’. The former is dizzying clash between two-step and 4/4 beats, with triumphant synths vibrantly jolting to and fro, whilst the latter avoids a potentially superfluous “Hollywood” guest spot from Yorke by seamlessly weaving him into the spectral fabric of the track.

The album somewhat reaches a lull when “Satelllliiiiiiteee” arrives, with Ellison indulging in psych-jazz electronics to admittedly great effect. But the drawback lies within its unfortunate disruption in continuity, and as such ‘Cosmogramma’ as a whole suffers.

Time will tell if it turns out to be the masterpiece that some are hailing it as, but the fact remains that ‘Los Angeles’ is the more important of the two, Whilst ‘Cosmogramma’ heralds a producer that can safely rest in the upper echelons of electronic music, its predecessor gifted the world a sound that was new and exciting, and has spawned a plethora of equally unique producers who can flourish with their growing fanbase.

   Despite this, ‘Cosmogramma’ will in all probability be considered as his crowning opus, and taken as a single entity is a mind-blowing journey through the thoughts and dreams of a genius. 

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Autechre - Oversteps

For someone unacquainted with Autechre’s work, a quick delve into any of their 10 studio albums is a confounding and exhausting experience, regardless of where you start. Displaying an admirable sense of ambivalence towards categorising their music within established genres, Sean Booth and Rob Brown have traversed the length and breadth of electronic music whilst still retaining a relatively dissonant yet rhythmic sound. From propulsive techno throbs (Incunbula) to introspective ambient soundscapes (Amber), the elusive Mancunians love to keep their fans guessing. Perhaps the album that is most representative of their all-encompassing sound is 2008’s Quaristice, an album widely hailed as return to form following the intimidating and at times mechanical production that characterised the main body of their career.
Oversteps continues that successful formula, and possibly singles itself out as the most accessible of Autechre’s albums. This may sound unappealing to some who hold Autechre in high esteem for their sheer experimentalism, but thankfully none of their avant-garde sensibilities are lost amongst the melee, with melodious arrangements and off-kilter percussion augmenting the more discordant parts of their music.
Opening in the album in total silence, ‘R Ess’ atmospherically drifts into life with a cold, apocalyptic tones harnessing Autechre’s penchant for enveloping the listener in their shadowy world. A skittering beat enters, setting the tone for a wildly diverse collage of songs.
Above all, Oversteps is an inherently textural album, with layers of synths and surprisingly moving notes forming the core enjoyment of the record. The true triumphs come in shape of the more contemplative tracks ‘Known (1)’, ‘See On See’ and ‘pt2ph8’. Devoid of any discernable rhythms, they are instead left to stew in their own beauty. Of course, Overstepshas its more orthodox moments, with Booth and Brown’s love for hip-hop shining through on ‘Treale’, a track that could quite easily be slotted into any one of their previous efforts.
More than anything, a major part of Autechre’s appeal is their ability to extract emotion and human feeling from their equally abstract sound, a feat that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Despite its perceived accessibility, Oversteps still stands boldly as an album that requires your time to release the endless sheets of detail that reside within its 71 minutes. It presents itself as both an ideal starting point for newcomers and as one of the highlights in an increasingly impressive back catalogue.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

James Blake - CMYK EP

In a recent article in the Guardian, writer Paul Lester offered up James Blake as the new figurehead for "intelligent urban music". Many loose terms have been banded about by journalists desperately seeking appropriate illustration for Blake's vibrantly unique sound. Yet this latest effort smacks of laziness, and revives the old argument that hounded the once-ubiquitous genre tag "IDM"; what makes it intelligent, and is all other music consequently cast off as dumb and brainless?

The 22-year old's productions feature a strong vocal R&B backbone, and beard-stroking, supposedly insightful music isn't the typical paradigm associated with a scene now lodged in rampant misogyny and overtly sexualised imagery. Rather, Blake's singing heroes include Ray Charles and Joni Mitchell. But for the purposes of his music Aaliyah, Brandy and R. Kelly are sampled, almost to the point of where they are indistinguishable. Their voices are twisted and contorted in Blake's inimitable style, cut up in staccato fashion and swamped in a mass of electronic effects.

Long the staple of many high-profile DJs' sets, title track 'CMYK' has its roots in the dancefloor as well as the headphones. He repeats the powerful one-two of dissonant, protracting synths and yearning vocals that embody his best work. The use of vocal samples other than his own offers a form of narrative that has escaped his perhaps more personal previous songs, with "I'll Stay" merging together both male and female vocals, stopping just short of revealing itself as a anguished plea to a lover.

"Footnotes" and "Postpone" show Blake at his most restrained, and both tie up sparse, effective openings with soaring crescendos. 

As the releases notch up, James Blake sustains the high expectations that rest on his shoulders. With   "CMYK" he presents a set of wonderfully fractured electronic pop songs, which continue to lay the groundwork for a potentially explosive talent. 

Out May 31st.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010