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The Month In Electronic Music: Electro-Shocked Blues
Rory Gibb , May 22nd, 2012 08:37

In his latest electronic music column, Rory Gibb gets battered senseless by bolshy synthlines, fat handclaps and modern twists on the classic grime template, c/o Swindle [pictured], Kuedo, Logos, Slackk, Heatsick and more

After last month's exercise in genre deep-delving, for this month's Hyperspecific there's something lighter on offer. Contained within is a selection of new music that's been blasted with high voltage surges of electricity, either sending it wildly flailing to the floor or squashing it twitching to the spot (plus some other bits and pieces chucked in for good measure). Grab a handful of overhead power cable, jam it deep into the midrange, throw the switch and watch these creatures light up, spark and spit.

Kuedo - Live, Work & Sleep In Collapsing Space [Planet Mu]

Jamie Teasdale, ex-Vex'd, ought to know something about abrasion. That former project, alongside Roly Porter, heaped distortion onto dubstep rhythms until they finally ignited, sending vast firestorms ripping everything to the foundations. The flames burned right into his early solo work as Jamie Vex'd and again into his marvelous debut 12" as Kuedo, Dream Sequence, though they had largely receded by last year's airy Severant. This new single re-lights them once more and allows them to tear through that album's crystalline Blade Runner-styled cityscape, melting glass, setting flying cars ablaze and generally wreaking havoc in paradise. That's a positive: 'Live, Work & Sleep In Collapsing Space' is better than anything on Teasdale's debut album, largely because it finds him venturing into territories and textures that aren't quite so naggingly familiar. Demolishing the hard edges of Severant exposes the skeleton beneath, and produces moments where everything - trap-rap hi-hat blizzards, Vangelis synth blooms, the roar of seared metal - blurs into a snarling and triumphant wall of noise.

Laurel Halo is here on remix duties. Coinciding nicely with her stunning Quarantine album, her remix appears to alight upon a single second of the original, and zoom right in to microscopic level. At this magnification, its textures are continually in flux, ruffling over one another, tumbling into the background and roiling around jagged string stabs. It's more akin to Quarantine than it is any of her previous releases, in that it forsakes momentum for total immersion, all body-snagging textures that reach outward to beckon unwary souls deeper.

Swindle - Do The Jazz EP [Deep Medi Musik]
Swindle & Silkie - Unlimited/Pineapple [Butterz]

The music currently emerging from Butterz and its associates (including Silkie & Quest's Antisocial Entertainment crew) has effectively picked up momentum from Bristolians Joker and Gemmy and run with it, traveling along a continuum that stretches from the likes of Terror Danjah and D.O.K to newer producers like TRC, Royal-T and, sluiced in funk, Swindle. Where Joker's The Vision stepped off into saggy structural predictability and bland vocal pop, Swindle continues to rip up his own rulebook with every single release, constantly reconnecting even his wildest flights of fancy back to the high-powered immediacy of grime. That's as audible as ever on his latest 12" for Butterz, in collaboration with Silkie, both of whose tracks appeared on label heads Elijah & Skilliam's explosive and brilliant mix for Rinse (pick it up, post-haste). 'Pineapple' was one of its highlights, a crisp toe-tapper of a grime instrumental whose breakdowns pack all the spandex wallop of an eighties gameshow theme.

And as for 'If I Was A Super Hero', the midpoint of his new Do The Jazz EP for Mala's Deep Medi label - well, I'm not sure there's been such a deliciously talkative funk lead line on a dubstep track since 2000F & JKamata's Hyperdub schmoozer 'You Don't Know What Love Is'. As befits its release on a dubstep label, rhythmically the EP is looser than his Butterz tracks: after an opening minute that's blessed with a distinctly Latin/lounge feel, the title track abruptly swandives into a vortex of electro riffage, smacking listeners out of that early reverie. But what's so enjoyable about Swindle and many of his closest contemporaries is they successfully blast any imaginary divides left between grime, dubstep and garage to pieces, and make merry in the hinterland.

Logos - Kowloon EP [Keysound]

A decade after they first emerged, it feels like the world at large is only just starting to catch up with the virtuosic minimalism and prickly intensity of Wiley's early eskibeat tracks. Logos, one of the latest signings to Martin Clark's Keysound label, joins the likes of Zomby and Slackk as modern devotees of the sound. In the manner of Wiley's Devil Mixes, he lurks within the sound's shadowy recesses - his debut EP Kowloon is frequently shorn almost entirely of percussion, leaving only thin residues of synth hanging in the space where entire tracks might once have existed. All wafer-thin minor key melodies tracing delicate arcs in the air, the title track and 'Atlanta 96' are near-weightless save muffled sub-bass booms that oppress their surroundings. Rather like the exquisite miniatures of Actress' R.I.P album, they hang near-static, daring DJs to even try and drop them during a set. (Their combination of physical weight and extreme sparseness pin dancers to the nearest flat surface, enforcing temporary eyes-down stasis upon a crowd; try that for size at your local generic club night.)

The EP's other two tracks are more attuned to dancefloor momentum - just about - though the drum machine tics and stammered voices of 'Error 808' are still liable to jar the unwary. They rattle in a way that seeps Chicago house and footwork into what's otherwise a thoroughly London sound, and sit alongside Pearson Sound's recent music as some of the most successful examples of cross-Atlantic hybridisation emerging from the UK scene at the moment.

Despite their varying levels of ambivalence towards clubbers, all four tracks on Kowloon share a sumptuous depth and richness. 'Atlantis 96's stacked layers stitch together a frosty and freakily fragile patchwork quilt of synth texture. Between these defined melodies, chimes and percussive boinks are ghost presences, confined forever to the edges of perception. They leave a sad and metallic taste in the mouth, in the best possible way.

Slackk - Raw Missions [Local Action]

And while we're talking Slackk; as well as finding time to throw funk, disco and pop into the washing machine with juke for his alter ego Patrice & Friends, he's still piecing together grime-rooted creatures whose edges could peel paint. Like the Local Action label's last release from Throwing Snow - in fact, like many of that label's transmissions - his Raw Missions EP is a slow-grower. That might have something to do with the contradictory impulses that drive these tunes - their core melodies are quirky and rather lovely for the most part, but texturally they're ice cold, Sega-sharp grime through and through. '90 Years' is almost too intense to take - it squares up, plunging sinewaves aiming for the solar plexus like Untold's 'Stop What You're Doing'. 'Almost Transparent' is a modern twist on sino-grime, canned flutes and panpipes dancing a merry jig around eski clicks. Leader 'Blue Sleet' is a polyphonic ringtone of a tune, like something you'd have heard drifting from the back of a bus ten years ago, before the advent of future phones shifted public transport background noise to new levels of digital clarity. Its buzzy lead line - a chorus of two synth lines circling each other in an uneasy truce - relegates a muffled kick and 808 claps to the backdrop, like Logos again daring people to find ways to dance through its tangled digital flora.

Aybee - Astral Metronome EP [Deepblak]

On the subject of R.I.P... For voyagers who like their house and techno deep and strange, that album will likely have dominated the last month or so's schedule. However, aficionados would do well to turn their attention towards this latest missive from Deepblak label head Aybee, whose take on deep house is just as idiosyncratic and equally superb. Like fellow voyagers Marcellus Pittman and Jamal Moss, the fact that Aybee's sound is rooted in house feels almost by the by; it serves an ideal framework around which to hang his ideas, but he's not afraid to break the rules and bend the track out of shape according to the demands of his muse.

On B-side 'Kommands', he occasionally destabilises the groove by throwing a couple of bars into total disarray, sending the track tumbling into a heap before it picks itself up, near imperceptibly, dusts itself off and carries on as before. Towards the end, as its earlier instability suggested, it begins to unravel entirely, and is swallowed up by a rising mass of swampy fluid. The Astral Metronome EP highlights the sensory parallels between being underwater and being so monumentally stoned that even the sound around you seems to stretch and distort. With its skunked out kitchen-sink rhythm and indistinct vapour trails, lead track 'No Fiction' is cemented to its chair, doomed to forever wander the inside of its own skull, only smacked out of its reverie by handclaps that hit with phenomenal force.

Heatsick - Deviation [PAN]

Several years after he started crafting bastard noise hybrids whose jagged rhythms tapped into the all-night shenanigans of his Berlin home, Steven Warwick's Heatsick project seems to be gathering momentum. Deviation is his second release for the PAN label, following on from the freefrom meanderings of last year's Intersex LP, and in advance of a new EP soon to come through the continually on-point Rush Hour. It might have something to do with the rise and rise of 100% Silk and the dirt-smudged house of contemporaries like Ital, with whom he shares a similar directness of approach and loose notion of rhythm. However, Warwick stretches for something rather more multi-faceted with his Heatsick music, whose simplicity of construction - it's essentially crafted with a beaten-up old Casio keyboard and a few effects - belies its variety.

So 'C'etait un rendez-vous' swings and slinks its way through summer night streets, equal parts corny jazz-funk elevator Muzak and Pet Shop Boys, featuring (presumably) Warwick narrating in sing-speak the title's naughty escapades. The title track and 'The Stars Down To Earth' are Mathematics-style no-fi house/boogie, ablaze with grubby neon striplight - the latter is a woozy delight, sensually layering jazz keys onto a stiffly syncopated dancehall rhythm. It's reworked seamlessly into kwaito-fried closer 'No Fixed Address', which whines like a vuvuzela; the closest thing you're likely to hear to a Heatsick Dancefloor Banger. Both find Warwick at his most playful, but like the rest of its music they radiate hints of melancholy, toying with dissonance and isolating each character firmly in its own place. It might be a summer night in Heatsick's world, but the humidity and pollution is still thick enough to press in upon the senses.

October & Borai - Palmorosa/I Didn't Mean To [Apple Pips]

Bristol's Julian Smith, aka October, has had a prolific few months, with releases through Simple, his own label TANSTAAFL and Never Learnt, as well as this 12" through Appleblim's label. Much has been said of the emergence of house music as a growing narrative within the city's clubs, but Smith's been delving into the murkier regions of four-to-the-floor for several years now. This new flood of releases is somewhat deceptive in the sense that most of the tracks currently finding their way out on wax are over a year old, but for someone as determinedly pursuing their own path as October that's scarcely a problem.

B-side 'Palmarosa' is a case in point. It's been nearly two years since it opened his depth-charge of a set at Freerotation 2010, but its ominous busted saxophone blurts haven't lost any of their frostily anthemic edge. Nor has its tantalisingly slow ascent from near-silence, its gravitational pull gathering additional sonic detritus like some softly pulsing celestial anomaly, ratcheting up the tension to fever pitch. Halfway through it draws backward and wraps in upon itself, the prelude to the inevitable rush outward, which grips somewhere near the small of the back before violently dragging you forward into the swirling heart of the maelstrom. 'I Didn't Mean To' is beatific by comparison: its silk-soft pads and the chatter of birdsong in the distance are the deceptive calm right in the eye of the storm.