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Certified Connections Oli Marlow , December 1st, 2014 18:45

I forget where I read it now, but someone, somewhere recently prefixed a review of recent Keysound material with words to the effect that the label is trying too hard to control and define the discourse curve its artists currently exist on. While I'd hate to think what that person would make of Certified Connections, the outfit's second compilation presenting 14 tracks by its artists specifically within their own context, I do kind of see their point. 

After humble beginnings housing the various studio endeavours of its owners, Dusk & Blackdown, Keysound now exists as a portal for documenting a very specific element of London's ever-blossoming club scene. Cloying, uniquely textural and bass-heavy, the label's output owes a lot to that early FWD>> and DMZ era of dubstep, a time when everything was an experiment and new approaches happened weekly and for an incredibly niche audience – something Blackdown would eulogise in his 'The Month In Grime & Dubstep' column for Pitchfork. Obviously times have changed and music has moved on, but to a certain extent the producers surrounding the label (Wen, Logos, E.M.M.A etc) are all channelling aspects of that same open-ended production process that made the dancefloor of Plastic People such a revered place to be.

By projecting such a clearly outlined narrative, the label is fully compartmentalising its experiments. But that's surely their whole point, especially with a compilation called Certified Connections. Perhaps all that writer was really saying is that it'd be better to present music without such a rigid accompanying conclusion? To let people find their own place within it, let them really wallow in the artistry of it.

Of course meanings being misconstrued will always be a problem - you need people to understand your reasoning for doing what you do - but thematically, it's impossible to fault Certified Connections; it's a compilation that makes no bones about what it is and what it's trying to achieve. As a collection of all exclusive music made by the producers orbiting the label who make music for blackened foggy dances, it succeeds tenfold in capturing the spirit and the talent of the music-makers. But much more than that, I've always admired the behind-the-scenes work Blackdown and co put into the music's presentation – plus their Rinse FM show and the community of producers they're building alongside it is often one of the most fruitful things to follow down the rabbithole. This compilation is a physical manifestation of exactly that.

Logos' 'Metropolis' is used quite purposefully as a scene-setter. Continuing in the vein of his masterful Cold Mission album, it's a stark and jarring initial benchmark that illustrates the sound palette without relying on drums. Aphix's 'Sin King' and Etch's 'Champion Dancehall' are notable high points early on. Facta's 'Quince' slows the pace and sprawls into space after E.M.M.A's 'Light Years' aligns her bounding arpeggios with a southern hip-hop style drum approach - all heavy, stodgy kicks and trickling hi hats - but its Murlo's 'Broken Arrow' that turns the compilation's first major corner. With melodies a country mile ahead of its predecessors, it offers colour like a dayglo laser careering around in a dank and smoke-filled room. The contrast between 'Broken Arrow' and DLVRY's 'Guilt' that follows it is palpable; Murlo's bubbling riffs are pummelled out of your short-term memory by the weaponised steel of DLVRY's stern bass pulses.

There's always been a magic in being able to flick between such polarised approaches to the form though - it's what makes the differences between a placid, plod-along DJ set and an electrifying one, and at its core it's precisely that expectation-confounding energy that Certified Connections strives to capture. It's definitely peppered with greatness, and tracks by the more established names take you by the hand and introduce you to a whole other squad of up-and-comers making the sort of cold, isolating, dancefloor music that Keysound represents and is inspired by.

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