The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


DJ Spider
Upon The Gates Of Great Depth Albert Freeman , April 24th, 2015 11:44

As an immigrant New Yorker who missed the city's artistic heyday in the late 90s, it's difficult to feel nostalgia for a bygone era never witnessed. Without taking time to lament the extreme gentrification that has transformed most of Manhattan and large swaths of Brooklyn into malls or playgrounds for nouveau riche, it's increasingly hard to access the gritty, raw picture of urban decay that contributed so vividly to hip hop, early house, and much more broadly to culture in many forms. William Gibson's cyberpunk visions of the future would be nowhere without these extremes, and while it's increasingly clear that the era of postwar suburbanification and interior decay may finally be reversing in the US due to various factors, it was just this drawn-out crumbling of New York that brought about the conditions which bred many of the city's greatest artistic movements by offering accessible prices for those finding meaning amidst the unprecedented conditions.

Recent revivals of New York's long-dormant dance music scene have touched somewhat on the heritage, but they rarely confront the history head on. Artists like Fred P, DJ Qu, and Anthony Parasole may speak at length about their individual experiences coming up in New York, but apart from certain familiar aesthetic ideas common to the history of New York house and techno, their music is decidedly apolitical, only confrontational in its modernisation of aesthetic ideas much more so than in its content.

With his sprawling discography recently spread across several labels: NORD, The Trilogy Tapes, Killekill, and his own Plan B and its offshoots, DJ Spider's music has never been that easy to narrow down. It ranges from pure noise excursions to almost-traditional deep house, to the hardest possible techno ideas, dealing in layered complexity mostly absent from the work of his more famous contemporaries. Upon The Gates Of Great Depth, his latest full-length and the first since his 2009 debut, arrives at an important time for the artist who is only belatedly rising to recognition, despite his early emergence.

The album takes little time in assaulting the listener in both depth and physical force, quickly establishing both a complexity and grit that can't easily be compared to other contemporary producers. While both techno and house have embraced the kind of analogue rawness that made eventually made Spider's music a more palatable prospect, his various influences in house, noise, hip hop and techno come across on each track with a natural fluidity of a producer who has learned to breathe within his own music. The nearly 9-minute 'Tribal Mechanism' is indeed based around tribal drumming that lands between African and ethnic house ideas, but the cycling blast of nasty, noise-based synths and zaps of uncontrolled electronics take it far from the traditions it references. Even at its most straightforward – 'Hungry Ghosts' comes to mind – there's still great amounts of detail to the tracks, and while its easy to see them mixed with the kind of cavernous techno currently in vogue, it's unlikely it would be mistaken for the same thing.    

The album establishes its extremes on the first side, which cycles from the hazed-out dub house of 'The Lucifer Rebellion' to harsh free-jazz sampling techno and then, on 'High Level Violence', into brutal noise. The sound palette remains thoroughly muck-encrusted throughout, with a detectable undercurrent of paranoia and sampling ideas seemingly borrowed from the RZA's most belligerent moments. With its sci-fi samples and cinematic depth, with layers of pads, noise, and the sample vocal hook, 'Misanthropy' is the first piece that makes the apocalyptic political agenda clear and a track whose grim outlook and bleakly heads-down sound marks the album's closest ideological approach to the 90s era hip hop that is such an obvious inspiration. It's furthered by 'New World Resistance', where a curious musical hope emerges from the heavy bed of vocal samples drawn from newscasts and politicians. These kind of sample-based house tracks could easily lack originality in other hands, but Spider keeps them fresh with grimy production touches entirely his own. These ideas reach their best expression here on 'Dystopia', where jazz samples, shuffling, shifting percussion, dub influences, and a steady, submerged kick and bass thump are marred only by the slightly overmixed sampled monologue but still combine into an impressively sophisticated whole.

The album also shines in its instrumental moments, where Spider's layered juxtaposition and transitions between pummeling techno and chord-rich deep house, sometimes within the same track, evidence a highly nuanced grasp of his New York past as well as of contemporary techno. This is particularly evident on 'Mysterious Structures On Mars' and 'Mysterious Structures On The Moon', the former which somehow brings traditional deep house chords to bear on the kind of dubbed-out, noise-drenched and acid-flecked house that could be called the producer's signature sound. The latter, with the triplet bass rhythm that climbs into the highly-swung percussion patterns and more layers of noisy, panning, disorienting synthesizer sounds, makes it perfectly clear that the lower-fidelity aspects of his sound are there by choice alone and that Spider's production prowess has grown greatly since his first appearances in 2008.

Without being a masterpiece of contemporary New York house, Upon The Gates Of Great Depth should prove beyond reasonable doubt that DJ Spider is an artist of distinctive voice and considerable depth. New York's recent crew of house producers have shown considerable range, whether it be the spiritual deep house of Fred P, the cosmic grit of Joey Anderson, DJ Qu's aggressively acidic sound or the increasingly unclassifiable Levon Vincent, but none channel this particular side of the city quite so well. Laced with paranoia and attitude and constructed with obvious skill, it's easy to hear the history of New York here, from gutter punks and industrial blasts to Adam X and the Storm Raves and even the Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy, all thoroughly processed and combined coherently into a sound entirely his own. DJ Spider has always been an artist worthy of respect for his ideas as well as for his dedication to underground sounds, but here we find him fulfilling his promise with his best music yet.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.