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Ikonika
Contact, Want, Love, Have Petra Davis , April 14th, 2010 13:07

The debut full-length of west London producer Sara Abdel-Hamid, Contact, Want, Love, Have is already being feted as the forerunner of new movements in UK bass. In the two years since Hyperdub – which originally made its name on the back of its sinister, thinky, early dubstep releases - pressed her 'Please' 12'', Ikonika has shot UK dance music through with her own idiosyncratic strains of doubt and difficulty. 'Please' set out Ikonika's concerns early: the melancholic, foregrounded melodies, the intricate structures of bleeps unravelling, the organic development of her rhythms. But it was not until 'Millie', her second 12'' release, that we began to see what she was really capable of. Though the title track's delicious mid-range wooze and flutter captivated many, it was the deconstructed rave of B-side 'Direct' that demonstrated most clearly how far Ikonika could extend her sphere of influence. The release won her a place in critical consensus alongside Joker and Rustie as one of the UK's most innovative young producers, and an album contract from Hyperdub, only the fifth such offer the label has ever made. The compliment is well-deserved: Contact, Want, Love, Have is not only a fittingly innovative addition to the Hyperdub imprint, it's also an itchily pleasurable listen.

Contact, Want, Love, Have concerns itself with the construction of persona from the outset, leading with a brief intro track, 'Ikonoklast (insert coin)'. The title suggests a game character, but the track's vocal seems more intent on discussing Ikonika's musical ambitions. "I, I, Ikonoklast," intones a computer-generated female voice, a stammering statement of intent, over a squirm of contrasting, insectoid sounds and the WUB WUB WUB of a worried-sounding sub-bass pulse. The vocal sample is an intrinsic part of the rhythmic pattern, but floating somewhere above its crisp consonants, intent on mischief, is the I, that floating ego of a vowel, reminiscent of the braggardly 'I&I' of dub's lunatic godfather Lee 'Scratch' Perry. Images of Ikonika slaying Hitler swiftly disperse, however: " I, I, I, " calls the vocal one last time as the track closes, and then the broken chiptune of 'Idiot', percussive and insistent - Abdel-Hamid is a drummer-turned-keyboardist, and it shows – responds like a new voice. It's a moment that elegantly lends meaning to the juxtaposition of tracks, even without the luxury of mixing.

The gaming theme continues throughout, at times immersing the listener in prismatic recollection (the elegiac 'Yoshimitsu' is named for the ninja character in Tekken, and 'Look (final boss stage)' eloquently communicates the ambivalence of finishing a game and thereby losing its world). Much has been made of Ikonika's attachment to a certain era of gaming; still it bears remembering that for many of her contemporaries, this was their first subculture, a plethora of available alien worlds, a vertical mile away in narrative terms from the musical subcultures of earlier generations. It doesn't take a direct reference to conjure a gaming scenario: at times, the strangeness of the elements brought together, and the sense of unlocking that Ikonika brings to both rhythm and harmony, are enough. 'R.e.s.o.l', with its monstrous roars, disorientation and landscaping, is a track only a gamer could make, with or without the lasershot samples. It's about as far away from booty-shaking as one can get within the confines of funky; it's dinosaur funk, architecture dancing about, laden skies falling.

At other junctures, gaming references signal the narrative arc of Ikonika's work to date. The teaser 'Continue_' marks a bridge between two previously-released tracks, the aforementioned 'Millie' and 'Sahara Michael', whose extraordinary, alien funk so divided critics, and a set of new tracks – 'Heston', 'Psoriasis', 'Video Delays' and 'Look (final boss stage)' – which mark the album's most urgent forward motion, both rhythmically and stylistically. None of the tunes in this section are remotely recognisable as dubstep: 'Video Delays', like earlier track 'Fish', is hyper-modern R&B, complete with regret-soaked middle eight. 'Psoriasis' is an irresistible, soca-soaked future strut: it marches purposefully about, breaks down, and eventually, having reached a pitch of discomfort, simply runs off into the distance. The entire set seethes with a new determination.

Though these last tracks promise much in the way of future propulsion, the album nevertheless closes on a note of hesitancy and disquiet. Ikonika has over her closest rivals both her playfulness and her doubt. 'Red Marker Pens (Good Ending)', the album's final track, is moony and disconsolate, as though reluctant to leave. A relatively unfussy keyboard melody dominates throughout, repeating and repeating the same two-tone question, never resolving or really finding a home in the banks of synths below it. A twinkly counterpoint appears, and fails to help. The track begins to whimper; the melody hangs on for long seconds after fadeout. This is a strikingly brave way to end an album; but, meticulous and delicate though it may be, Contact, Want, Love, Have is nothing if not soulful, and courage is, always, the best part of soul.

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