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Keysound Recordings
This Is How We Roll Maya Kalev , April 2nd, 2013 09:05

Just before Christmas 2012, Keysound Recordings label bosses Dusk and Blackdown, plus Wen, Gerv (one third of LV), Logos, Visionist and E.m.m.a., took to Rinse FM for a special showcase. If not a turning point, it was certainly a defining moment in the brief but exciting history of the not-quite-genre that takes its cues from grime, garage, dubstep and UK funky, yet has few universal characteristics bar a 130bpm-ish pulse that gives it the appeal to house heads that grime never quite had. The sound may not yet have a name (the tags for the mp3s tellingly list the genre as '130') but it does have its own – albeit inchoate – identity, and the show highlighted Keysound's role as a fulcrum.

The label's new compilation This Is How We Roll opens with a tripartite track, 'New Wave' from Wen, Beneath and Visionist. Its decree – "the new wave coming through" – isn't without arrogance, but nuance is hardly the point here. And there's no denying the track itself is tough as fuck, with kickdrum after kickdrum after exquisitely gated kickdrum like jackboots to the solar plexus. This isn't quite grime (though it isn't quite not-grime either), but its urgency is there in the high-octane strings, frosted synths and filthy sub-weight. This is grime for the Ableton age, the production far more refined than ten years ago – though of course, much of that naïve rawness was central to earlier grime's appeal. And while there'll always be a place for MCs, tracks as polished as Samrai's 'Hear Me Now' hardly need them, and 'The Steppenwolf' by Epoch would be overloaded by vocals. It opens with a tense string phrase, wobbly synths and a Pharcyde-esque skit sample before seguing into a slinky groove dotted with thick two-step percussion and the snippet "the stalker, the monster", finally concluding in swathes of dark ambience.

Still, though they stand well as instrumentals, many of these tracks are best with bars. For her 1Extra show, DJ Barely Legal invited Wiley, Scratchy, God's Gift and Riko Dan to freestyle over Wen's 'Commotion VIP'. There are few bigger compliments than the (admittedly self-proclaimed) king of grime laying bars over one of your beats, but the instrumental is fine in its own right: intensely funky bassline, ice-cold synths, half-time beats and, repeated throughout, the phrase “What's all this commotion about”? Arguably, that swagger's unearned - Wen's a relative newcomer, February's Commotion EP on Keysound also his debut 12” – but his talent's undeniable, even if his longevity is yet to be proven. Mumdance and Logos' collaboration 'In Reverse', on the other hand, has been doing the rounds for about nine months now, and still sounds fresh and raw. Grainy chords underlaid by ghosts of filtered vocals taper into a chilling half-step rhythm and perilous sub-rumble. The whole thing peaks in an unholy ruckus, all clanging percussion and messy mid-range. Also brilliant are the tectonic sub-weight, earworming string phrase and muscular kicks of Visionist's 'Dangerous'.

It's not all bone-chilling tuffness, though; some of these tunes are proper heart-wrenchers. Dusk and Blackdown lay lustrous synth pads and vocal wisps over drum patterns so vivid they pop. 'Lonely Moon ft. Farrah (Android Heartbreak Drumz Remix)' is closer to the LVs and Damus of the Keysound catalogue, though at six minutes its charms wear a bit thin. E.m.m.a.'s denuded 'Peridot' is also unashamedly romantic, the crepuscular chords of the central melodic phrase complemented by honeyed square-wave counter-melodies and a silvered beat. The closer, Moleskin's 'Burst', is sweeping and cinematic, anchored by plump cushions of bass, glassy tinkling chimes and warm synthetic strings. There are lows as well as highs, though. Double Helix's offering is fine but lacks meaningful progression, and the melodramatic string phrases, squishy synth and uninteresting drum pattern of Fresh Paul's 'Blaster' are all bluster and no interest.

Keysound's claim to the frontline of the most important UK genre since jungle could be seen as smacking slightly of arrogance, yet its collective of young eagers mostly live up to their pronouncements. Their phoenix-like ability to rise from the ashes of grime, dubstep, UKG and funky and come up with a new weird hybrid is testament not only to their talent, but also to the ongoing mutability of dance music, and the excitement that inheres in that. This Is How We Roll assembles some of the most visceral and thrilling music I've heard in a long time. It really does feel like a new wave coming through.