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Ben UFO
Fabriclive 67 Rory Gibb , January 17th, 2013 05:44

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It might be a mere punctuation mark in the multi-volume encyclopedia of cosmic deep time, but sixteen months is a deceptively long while in the notoriously fast-moving ecology of UK club music. The sleevenotes I wrote back in 2011 for Hessle Audio co-head Ben 'UFO' Thomson's Rinse:16 mix CD reflected that "the sheer volume of influence currently pouring into UK [dance] music ensures that dancefloors often lack the sense of focus that a single genre provides ... so now more than ever DJs and record labels are required to act as guides, carving paths and drawing connections between different areas." At the time I was referring to the dissolution of dubstep, the genre that first inspired Hessle Audio's creation and formed the backbone of its early years, and whose increasing permeability to outside influences had caused it to swell and rupture during the preceding few years. But while the actual sounds dominating UK dancefloors might have changed significantly in the time period since, the same statement still rings true today. If anything the dance music landscape, especially in the UK, has become considerably noisier, messier and even more difficult to keep track of - and the curatorial role of a selector and crate-digger like Thomson even more sharply defined as a result.

Consequently, while Fabriclive 67 is a very different listen to Thomson's mix for Rinse, they share certain similarities of approach, in particular the sense that you're being guided along one of many possible pathways through his record collection. Neither mix has much truck with remaining pinpointed to a single location, either geographical or chronological. Instead - like Thomson's regular radio shows on Rinse FM and his exhilarating club sets - they flit back and forth between places and times, seeking for points of contact between tracks that stretch beyond officially delineated boundaries of genre. However, where Rinse.16 confined that approach within a fairly structured narrative that moved from slower European house through sub-driven UK post-dubstep mutations and finally into dubstep and grime, Fabriclive 67 remains comfortably around house tempo throughout. That stability allows the mix to leap freely around the map from old to new, US to Europe to UK, making its sequencing feel less rigid and far more intuitive. It's a deceptive listen: though it's clearly been carefully planned out to the tiniest degree, everything moves with a playful and off-the-cuff feel, as though he's simply hit the record button in the middle of a marathon mixing session at home, while busily dotting between shelves to pull out favourites old and new to chuck into the mix.

So during the opening minutes, raw house from LA collides with dubwise Bristol steppers' techno, as L.I.E.S man Delroy Edwards' monochrome ghetto house jack 'Feelings' abruptly - almost without warning, in fact - stumbles and collapses into the slamming percussive salvos of Peverelist & Kowton's soon-to-be-released dubplate 'Raw Code'. Much later a similarly explosive switch up in energy sends Richie Hawtin's 'Ping' (an early 90s track under his Circuit Breaker alias whose percussive boings sound as though they're being played on scaffolding poles) careering headlong into Anthony Shakir's inspired demolition of Osborne's ''Bout Ready To Jak', whose kick drums detonate like depth charges in a bath of wet cement. One particularly enjoyable middle segment finds Thomson plotting a 1990s-centric course from Detroit (K Hand's garagey 'Project 5') through the fathomless depths of Berlin's Chain Reaction echo chamber (Fluxion's near-silent 'Pendulous') into ravey-as-fuck British house (Minimal Man's 'Consexual'), before abruptly blasting forward 20-odd years to Jam City's 'Club Thanz'.

Fabriclive 67 is tied to Ben UFO's personal history via a scattering of selections from several current UK producers, most of whom share his roots in dubstep and its offshoots, and several of whom have found a home at some time or another on Hessle Audio. However, that comparatively small cluster of artists - Peverelist, Kowton, Elgato, Bandshell, Pangaea, Shackleton, Pearson Sound, Jam City, Blawan, Joe - contains about as much diversity as anywhere you're likely to look in the dance music world at the moment. They share many aesthetic sensibilities, and if pushed could plausibly be grouped under some vague 'sub-driven pirate radio techno' bracket, but each has pursued their muse to the point that they've ended up in largely self-inhabited space. As a result they tend to stand out strikingly from the mix around them, and mark many of its highlights: Elgato's 'Zone' flexes like an old El-B cut, but with all the extraneous material removed to leave only a series of delicate gestures; Bandshell's enigmatic 'Perc' shimmers, pulses and flickers like the bioluminescence of some alien deep sea species; and Joe and Pangaea both whip percussion up into deadly junglist whorls of razor wire, ready to snare unwary dancers.

Elsewhere Fabriclive 67's UK roots are apparent in Thomson's mixing style and the CD's overall trajectory. Many current European and US house DJs, especially those contributing mixes for Fabric, will mix for groove - tracks are allowed to play out across their length, the better to show off their subtle contours and not disturb the overall pulse. Thomson's mixing here gives equal priority to impact, a tendency common throughout the UK's post-rave diaspora (though admittedly not unique to it). So rhythm is central: percussion is in a continuous state of anxious disturbance throughout the CD's 72-odd minutes, swirling around your field of hearing, settling into one rhythmic configuration before dispersing and re-forming into something new. The overall effect upon the listener - oddly, despite its wild energy and perpetual momentum - is one of being pinned in one place while all hell breaks loose around you. The mix's core house throb anchors your body in place, static, while at surface level chronology, geography and genre dissolve into an endlessly shifting, overwhelming but invigorating cloud of colour, texture and rhythm.

Since dubstep broke apart there's been a fair amount of talk about 'waiting for the next thing to happen', as though the current scattered state of affairs in British club music is merely a stopgap to be tolerated between periods of intense genre-icity. Admittedly, without a strong rhythmic anchor (like the 140bpm halfstep of dubstep), it takes a skilled DJ's hand to assemble something concrete and focused out of the milieu. But on the evidence presented by Fabriclive 67, current DJ sets by Thomson and a few of his contemporaries, and the music that's been turning up from new UK artists over the last 18 months or so, something is happening - just not in a manner that long-term followers of UK rave history might expect. At the moment, the diversity on display here feels like something to be treasured rather than wished into oblivion.