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.