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Pessimist Bob Cluness , August 29th, 2017 08:01

A drum & bass record of tantalising intensity from Kristian Jabs

In the seven or so years since its inception, Kiran Sande’s deliberately inscrutable label Blackest Ever Black has cut an idiosyncratic and personal path in contemporary music, with Sande and his roster developing a beguiling web of esoteric signifiers and dark romantic influences: British neo-noir, cultish cinema and television, dub, goth, experimental post-punk, 80s industrial, and various DIY and bedroom underground indie scenes and labels from Siltbreeze to Forest Nun.

But in an early interview he gave about the label, Sande cited one influence that ranked above all others as central to Blackest Ever Black’s ethos: the white-hot aggressive energy, quaking bass and brain reformatting hyperrhythms of jungle circa 1994-94 that begat the alien algorithms and dystopian mindspaces of mid-90s drum & bass. Tracks such Dillinja’s ‘The Angel’s Fell’, Photek’s ‘The Hidden Camera’ and ‘Ni Ten Ichi Ryu’, and Source Direct’s ‘Stonekiller’, ‘Black Domina’, and ‘Call and Response’ displayed cinematic sound fictions of paranoid cybernetics, a soundtrack that heralded a machinic future shock of the human security system that we’re still unpacking and beginning to understand the ramifications of.

Since the early releases of Raime and Regis’s Manbait, few of the releases on BEB have harnessed drum & bass’s inhuman machine essence and moulded it to new and daunting forms. But now we have Pessimist the self-titled debut album from Bristol producer-turned-Dr Moreau of twisted bass forms, Kristian Jabs. For most of this decade Jabs, under his Pessimist pseudonym, has been cultivating a name for himself on the UK DnB circuit with a brace of 12”s and EPs that showed a talent for laser-guided micro-rhythms, bulbous pulsing bass, and hollowed drones and sci-fi horror aesthetics. In the past couple of years though, releases on Samurai Music, Osiris Music and BEB’s A14 sublabel have seen Pessimist expand and venture outside his boundaries. Tracks such as ‘Astrous’, ‘Balaklava’, and his remix of Sciahri’s ‘Atonement’ showed him spreading his tendrils into the cracks between the slabs of bass and rigid drumkicks to feel out and commune with the ghosts of dead machines and unreckoned digital futures.

This exploration has now come to fruition with Pessimist, a shuddering mix of techno and drum & bass that manages in moments to capture those scenes' sense of kinetic desolation with today’s sense of stuttering techno-malaise into a sound that seems to ooze as a noxious vapour out of the speakers. The album’s openers, ‘Intro’ and ‘Bloom’, unfurl with the static and crackle of broken vinyl and fractured radio signals that segue into abstract, sub-low-level booms and abandoned warehouse sounds that wouldn’t be out of place in an old Burial track. But whereas Burial’s soundscapes are the manifestation of dreams and a longing to recapture a time and a sound that only resides as the melancholia of half-formed memories, Pessimist looks at the stains in the brickwork of abandoned rave and hardcore temples and sees something formidable, unnameable, something that is not yet finished and that lies dormant to be awakened.

In many moments Pessimist shows how far Jabs’ production skills and intent of purpose have come on since his early releases, effortlessly mixing the twitchiness of DnB and with the propulsion of techno’s 4/4 forms and codes into a fully realised vision and clarity of where it wants to go. Tracks such as ‘Bloom’ and ‘Glued’ contain morbid post-apocalyptic drones and tarnished ambient ticks and smears, but to this he adds the thudding motion-capture and assemblage of a DJ Shadow-style breakbeat. The overall effect is ominous yet strangely reassuring, bringing to mind turn-of-the-century cyberpunk narratives of degraded and overbloated cybercities, overseen by technocratic monocultures and accelerated global corporations.

Alongside such noirish spatialisation, Pessimist mixes up his sounds and textures to filthy effect. On a track like ‘Peter Hitchens’, the deflated texture of the kickdrum alongside the voided sub bass provide a satisfying rumble that shakes your chest while lurid acid bleeps and twisted ghostly sounds drift in and out of the mix. This sleazy combination is further accentuated when you remember that the 12” single release included a monochrome picture of Hitchens himself, made to look like he was one of the lost Kray brothers, something that you would expect from the Downwards label or from Regis’s British Murder Boys. The influence from the likes of Regis and the Downwards label is also be felt on tracks such as ‘Grit’, a mix of industrial and techno that forgoes the sharpness of hi-hats and snares and instead is all swelling bass with the creeper dread of industrial synth buzzes overhead.

But it’s worth remembering that Pessimist is a drum & bass producer through and through, and this cuts across in the tracks such as ‘Spirals’ which, with its atonal sounds and wobbling bass, is probably the most minimal track on the record. Then there’s ‘Through the Fog’, which mixes punishing jungle rolls emanating from late-90s drum & bass with the murk of dark ambient. But it’s on ‘No Matter What’, a collaboration with Overlook, where we hit peak levels of annihilation as the sludgy bass is picked up and tossed around by a relentless tribalistic beat, complete with squalling klaxons that quicken your heart and overheat your brain.

Pessimist is an album that’s pretty unrelenting in its worldview of claustrophobic blacks, metallic greys and eroded neon with barely any light or relief: the moments of crepuscular ambient vistas are a mere prelude to another barrage of punishing bass weight. That's not to deny the tantalising intensity and enticing urgency present throughout this record. With Pessimist, Jabs has shown himself to be a producer who’s taken a step to the next level, mapping his domain among the dystopian soundscapes of his 90s precursors.

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