March 6, 2012 § Leave a Comment
It’s been out for a couple of days now and it already has dozens and dozens of rave reviews. The release of Scuba’s third full length album on Hotflush has been long awaited, as has been the release of anything on this label these days, and it lives up to the hype. Here is my modest review of what I consider to be one of the year’s best albums so far.
If you’ve seen Scuba play a set live or if you’ve heard some of his recent output, this album will not be a surprise for you. In his latest opus, Paul has pushed past what he and his label has been known for from 2003 to 2010, that is solid OG dubstep that has nothing to do with all the brostep noise that has become so ubiquitous. His last LP, Triangulation, was to me one of the last true dubstep albums, presenting deep yet unagressive basslines and a plethora of tweaked sampling over a shuffle of 2-step percussions at the usual 140 bpm. The game has changed since 2010, and it seems that Hotflush has changed with it, for the best. Not that I would say that Personality is a far cry from Triangulation… but Scuba and his label definitely seems to have turned the page on “traditional” dubstep and moved on to something else; Adrenalin and all the other EP’s released in 2011 tend to prove this according to me.
Speaking of which, if you enjoyed the Adrenalin EP, you will not be disappointed with this album . “Ignition Key” starts off strong with frank percussion and a solid yet simple bassline over an airy backdrop of reverb’ed synths. The minimal sampled vocals is pretty much the only thing reminding you that you aren’t listening to 90′s techno. The tone is set: you’ll be hearing a lot of techno-influenced stuff in the next hour. Underbelly follows suit with a consistent 4 to the floor stomp, weird ambient noise samples (birds and a garage door?) and jazzy percussions… again, it’s isn’t actually techno, but it’s pretty damn close. “The Hope”, one of my favorites, brings back that jacked house mood from from “Adrenalin” and makes for a sure-fire dance floor igniter. “Dsy Chn”, “July” and “Tulips”, are also all reminiscent of early techno, cheesy synth lines included. “Cognitive Dissonance” invokes jungly drums and silky smooth female vocals, with another healthy dose of interesting if not weird samples (I’ve heard a dog, a lock, and a long-travel bolt action rifle). The distortion-filled “Gekko” reminds one of Gesaffelstein, but with an upbeat rhythm and a definitely more “happy” percussion track. “NE1BUTU”, “Action” and “If U Want” are also all heavily techno-infused, albeit with longer and more present crescendos and decrescendos that defy the general convention of very progressive, predicitive beat construction and deconstruction present in minimal-techno. Here again, there are some cheesy moments… but if you ask me, it’s a very important part of the aesthetic value of the pieces. The bonus track, “Flash Addict”, almost sounds more like 2562 than Scuba, with ever-present ringing, the synth stabs, the hushed toms and an overall mysterious feel.
They say that everyone is a product of their environment… Scuba certainly corroborates this by having recently moved to Berlin, seeing the omni-present amount of minimal-techno influences. People keep talking about that famed “UK sound”, and how unique and distinctive it is. Too little is said of the “German sound”, or rather the “Germanophone sound” present in all of central Europe; a simple, well-built, no-frills aesthetic that values beauty within attention to minute details. Consciously or not, it seems to me that Mr. Rose is definitely assimilating this regional characteristic, and that’s all for the best.
With all this, where are Paul Rose and his label going now? It’s pretty hard to tell considering all the confusion in genre names going on. I’d be tempted to dust off the old “IDM” moniker to describe Hotflush’s output as whole… the label of “bass music” being not quite sophisticated enough to describe their latest content. It’s slightly slower, more soul-foul, yet it packs all the body-rocking energy of the techno influences that seem to have given it birth (see anything by George Fitzgerald). Is techno making a comeback, or is Hotflush bringing a new half-blood mix of UK-born bass music and German minimal-techno the masses? Is there more than that in the mix? One thing’s for sure, with the release of Personality, the label has further cemented it’s status as one of the best sources of forward thinking material in electronic music.
On a related note, if you have an hour and a half to spare, check out this great interview Scuba gave at the Red Bull Music Academy last year… it’s a very good watch, as are all the other RBMA interviews.
August 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’ve been talking about going to the Picnik for many years, but last Sunday I walked the walk: I attended August 14th 2011′s edition of the Piknic, which feature artists primarily from the UK: Dorobo (Canada), Appleblim, Addison Groove, and Hotflush head-honcho Scuba aka SCB.
The journey on bike was long and perilous; after being slowed down by the Gay Pride parade and put off track by the distant bass hits coming from the neighbouring “Fete des enfants“, I arrived at the Ste Helene Island for the show. The site is surprisingly intimate: while the area reserved for the Picnik can probably hold 1000+ people the area nearest to the stage, which forms a pit and is bordered with lawn furniture, is probably smaller than some of the bigger indoor venues.
First off was Dorobo: a local electro-fiend who I had never had heard about. I arrived late because of all my misadventures, but the last 15 minutes of his set was mostly deep house.
Second off was Appleblim, hailing from Bristol. Previously co-owner of Skull Disco and currently running Applepips, this guy was also a regular DJ at the legendary FWD>>. I was expecting nothing less than all-out dubstep from him, but I felt that the harsh transition between the previous set and an attempt at spinning some 2-step material made the set much more dance-y. Mixing was flawless and massive tunes were dropped. At the one hour mark, the area in front of the stage was filling up, and the crowd was very much into it.
Third up, Addison Groove. Originally scheduled for later that Night, AG took Scuba’s spot for an undisclosed reason. He rocked the ones and two with his distinctive style, however I felt that he too watered down his set a bit for his Quebecois audience. I request his remix of Jimmy Mack for the end of the set, but sadly I didn’t get it. Montreal isn’t nearly “rave-y” enough, according to him… What I did get thought is info about upcoming releases on Tectonic as AG, and Blackbox as Headhunter. Props to AG to have talked and shaken hands with his fans… Try doing that with YOUR favourite artist!
Last but not least, Scuba hit the decks. Or rather SCB in this case, as his set too was more on the dance side of things. Awesome none the less though… By the time the sun had set, the place was completely crowded and people were straight up juking out. I unfortunately had to leave before the end of his set, which probably lasted past 9PM as was planned. Big tunes were dropped, including Scuba’s own “Feel It“.
There was only one disappointment: the fact that damn near nobody even knew who were the artists and what they were playing. At some point, Joy Orbison’s “Source Delight” (“Ellipsis”?) was cued in, and I was the only one howling with my gun-fingers in the air at the MASSIVE, unreleased tune. I was ashamed of being part of such an uninitiated and non-reactive crowd. To add insult to injury, I heard one of the Piknicers commenting on how he had “heard better dubstep” during AG’s set… Yeah, whatever.
Overall though, the event was awesome. Fresh air, sunshine, cold beer and an excellent line-up of artists you definitely don’t get to hear live very often… everything was set for success. Thanks to the Piknic for putting Sundays back on the map!
July 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
SBTRKT has been stirring things up lately. With many pre-release plays from big DJ’s including Boilerroom regulars, hype was very well built up for the release of the anonymous producer’s eponymous debut LP on Young Turks. I usually don’t believe in hype. Aggressive marketing ploys and abusive use of the hype-machine that is the internet are too often deceptive; Skepta’s latest is probably the best example that I can give of this off the top of my head. So obviously, when I obtained SBTRKT’s release, I didn’t expected the whole album to be of Wildfire calibre. I was very, very wrong.
With it’s all-synth sonority, borked drum machine beat and deep, sensible vocals, Heatwave sets the pace for the rest of the album: this is going to be one of those undescribable new-electro / bass / post-dubstep albums. I reluctantly attached the “Bass / Electronic” genre label to this album, and it stayed there even after the first complete listen, because I cannot for the love of me put something more descriptive. A wide range of influences are omnipresent: Wildfire‘s wobbly bass shows off an aesthetic reminiscent of earlier dubstep, but then the another track, Pharoahs, pops a house-y, almost funk-esque beat and bassline out of the blue to throws you off. Every track gets a generous serving of heart-searingly emotional vocals, which further adds to the confusion.
I’m not going to review the entire song by song; I’m lightyears away from being a music critic and I’d rather leave that kind of job to people who have the vocabulary and musical knowledge to do a good job of it. What I will do, however, is clumsily try to give you my overall impression of the album. All in all, SBTRKT’s debut is amazingly fresh through the wide range of genres that it manages to cram in a single, continuous album that conserves a distinctive feel. Furthermore, the vocal elements present throughout gives it a character that straight-up electronic dance floor destroyers lack, no matter how good. Electronic music has failed numerous times at integrating voice as a tool for conveying emotion (recent proof), however this album is clearly an exception with Sampha & Little Dragon laying down lyrics with a fragile, smooth tone that isn’t corny or cheesy in any way.
There truly is something for everybody in this album. If you can’t enjoy the instrumental aspect of at least one track on this release, then chances are you hate electronic music altogether, and if the lyrics were able to touch the most hardcore bro-step lovers amongst my friends, then chances are you’ll be touched too. Please, please, don’t make this a morning commute type of listening. This album warrants taking 45 minutes out of your day to find a comfortable seat and some HiFi for a proper listening session: you’re in for quite a ride. The last time I’ve felt so much emotion in synthetic beats was with Zero T’s “Cheap Shots”, more particularly on Walk Away, and for this reason, I have to say that this release is right up there in my top 5 favourite albums of all time.
May 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
For the past two years, I’ve been consuming a lot of dubstep: classic stuff from a couple of years ago, but also a healthy dose of Montreal-produced Brostep as promoted by the likes of the JLD crew. While there is definitely a gap between early Benga and Dave Dialect’s latest bangers, labeling the genre in my iTunes library was never really that hard: “Dubstep”. But lately, for the past six months more or less, I’ve been really confused about the organisation of my library. New stuff keeps coming in by the truckload via sources like the Boiler Room, GenXGlow, Wastechester, Resident Advisor, XLR8R and a couple others, and the issue is that I haven’t got a clue what genre the stuff I’m finding belongs to.
Martin Clark has a post up on Pitchfork that describes the situation much better than I could ever do so. This new trend in electronic music didn’t start just now… offshoots of dubstep with formal names seem to be appearing every month, with an aesthetic that touches on my existing styles but never seems to settle on one. The ease of distribution that brings the internet catalyzes this production of bastard offspring to a dizzying rate. All the better for music lovers like myself, as long as your enjoy wading throw the giant cesspool that is the ‘net in search of rare gems.
Some say that dubstep has gone full circle and gone back to it’s roots with a fresh new twist through… I’ll say that electronic music in it’s whole is re-consolidating. In a not so distant past, drum & bass heads were considered eccentric scene folk who wanted nothing to do with dance music, and these days veterans like Photek are releasing “bass” EPs on labels with have nothing to do with breakbeats. After years of evolving withing their respective boundaries, scenes seems to be finally mixing up, and influences from loads of genres are crossing over in a perfect clusterfuck of everything electronic. These traces of influence appear everywhere, from more direct references to more sublte nods across scenes. A record (and by records I mean wax) I bought just the other days is a good example: staple of post-dubstep Breach and leader of the new “juke” (jukestep?) movement Addison Groove have put out remixes of 15+ year old D’n'B anthems… Kind of unexpected. In the more subtle stuff, sampling in Joy Orbison’s Ellipsis of an interview with Source Direct also shows how far-reaching this influence can be.
A counter-current in electronic music is bound to happen, and as the specifics of musical aesthetics are defined for each new genre we’ll probably get to eliminate the hopefully temporary “bass” designation which I have come to hate so much. What’s the future, what will be the new dubstep? Garage? Future Garage? Brostep? Drumstep? Clubfunk? Clubstep? Moombahton? It’s too early to call the shots, but it’s definitely an interesting time to be an electronic music enthusiast.
October 24, 2010 § 1 Comment
Last Friday was a big day for dubstep fans in Montreal: they were to be butchered up by the sounds of the infamous Excision. I wasn’t aware of this until the Thursday before, when I got the post from Montreal Dubstep through my Google Reader. I was kind of shocked that such a big name was giving a set in Montreal, and kind of pissed that I was working until 8 the very night, and at 9AM the morning after, but regardless I managed to get a friend to ride up to Montreal to see the show.
The Cabaret juste pour rire was hosting the show… a very small place by anybody’s standards, and not very adapted to shows. It was a tight place to pack so much dirt-thirsty youth, but an ok fit none the less. We came in just when VNDL’s set ended, and from the sounds of it, the guy was laying down a pretty good set, if you forget a slight technical fault that cut the music at one point.
Gnave was up next, and he lit up the place real good… literally. The show was brutally interrupted, and people were asked to step out, as the fire alarm was sounding off.
We eventually got back in, where Gnave resumed his murder of a set. Really, bangers end to end, perfectly laid down, people were nuts and the place wasn’t even full yet. The rest of the show went awesome… except for the part where we had to leave at just before 2AM, and in the making missed the actual main part of the show, Excision. Words to express how I felt don’t even exist.
I’m gonna be honest, I was expecting much more from this show… maybe the previous event I attended set the bar a bit too high. One major turn-off was the venue itself, which was drab at best. The two known annoyances were the fire alarm and a major misunderstanding relatively to letting underages in, but I personally found the place lacked panache. The stage disposition was minimal, with stuff (clothes, monitors, random gear) thrown left right and center, and the ambiance was totally neglected, with very minimal lighting effects and very little attention given to how the stage and DJ booth looked. It was pretty much plywood painted black and black fabric everywhere. But then again, none of the circumstances were set in favor of that night, so maybe I was just having a bad night… the lack of sleep, the fact that I was sober, my total inability to use a speedlight correctly, and more than anything else that I missed the main event, all of that stuff sucked but that’s just how stuff happened for me. Still, I got my skull thumped on by artists who know their shit, so it’s all good.
It’s especially good to see that big names of bass are converging to Montreal to give shows, a sure sign that the scene is going strong in Quebec’s Metropolis. One thing’s sure, this isn’t the last bass-related event I’m covering.
September 3, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I’ve been exploring new genres of electronic music for a while now. If you’ve been following me at all, through Twitter, Facebook, or even Last.fm, you’ve probably noticed that the last year or so was pretty much a drum & bass phase for me. I’ve probably listened to a million metric shit-tons of the stuff, so much so that I’ve kind of grew bored of it. Through one of my friends who I’ve introduced to DnB in the past, I got to know dubstep. He had brought a disk of what he labeled “random party stuff”, and smack in the middle of that mix was Rusko’s remix of Big Sister’s “Pro Nails”. From then on, I let go of DnB for a while and now for the past month I’ve been seraching the interwebs for dubstep, one thing came to another and I come across some stuff by Intoccabile.
Straight outta’ Montreal and now a regular performer in Japanese clubs, Jean-Smaille Germeil aka Intoccible puts out what he calls “Future Garage” under his own label, Fyutchaflex. Forget dubstep, this isn’t about the huge Reese bass, migrain inducing wobble and other aggressive auditive irregularities we learned to love with hardcore dubstep. While it is 2-step for the most part, the sound if much smoother, with distinctive yet groovy basslines, slightly upbeat drumming somewhat resemblant with what you get for DnB. I think I’d do a really horrible job of describing it if I went any further than what I put down now, so instead, have a track or two instead.
For me, it’s that kind of music that I’d put on a long nightly car trip: smooth enough to make your ride seem shorter, with enough energy to not lull you to sleep. It’s the kind of music you put on you pull a homework marathon and don’t want to poison your body with energy drinks. Simply put, it’s super smooth and super awesome.
A few listens and you’ll quickly understand why I’m so hyped over Intoccible’s upcoming release scheduled for the 18th of September, Rerum Novarum. If the content is true to it’s title, we’ll get to explore the new sounds of Future Garage, a genre which is still relatively new but infinitely interesting. Future Garage Vol 1 and 2 were pure audiogasm from start to finish, I can’t wait to see what new innovations we’ll see in this album which visibly has it’s creator very excited.
You can pre-order the album directly from the Fyutchaflex website for a measly 5$. That’s right, a full length release for 5 dollars. I’ve got mine since yesterday, and I was informed via personalized email that artwork, videos, and a couple extra goodies in digital format were to be added to the release to sweeten the deal. I’ve seen and interacted with people really hyped on preorders of their stuff, but I have rarely felt someone as excited as Jean-Smaille, and I won’t lie, it kind of gets my own hype going. If this album is even half of what I expect it to be, it’ll be an outright banger. Open up Paypal and spill the beans… my guess is you’ll be pretty happy you did on the 18th.