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Album Of The Week

Night Fever: Iceboy Violet’s Not A Dream But A Controlled Explosion
Eden Tizard , August 3rd, 2023 07:29

The febrile new album from Manchester's Iceboy Violet offers a portal into a whole scene, for Eden Tizard

ceboy Violet press shot (credit Oliver KGH / styling by Lou Webb )

For review purposes I don’t make a habit of getting into what’s been going on while I listen to X or Y record, but the title of Iceboy Violet’s Not A Dream But A Controlled Explosion can’t help but resonate at the minute. I spent the weekend in and out of a fever that would escalate each night. A controlled explosion may as well describe the kind of dreams I was having. With a fever dream, body and mind team-up to fuck with any coherent sense of reality – or at the very least contort it through vivid fantasy, sweat and projection. Waking from a fever dream is not unlike waking after a night of heavy clubbing: for one thing the first half of the day is a write off, a bewildered slump of recalibration. You must allow time for the tremors of the previous night to settle. Like an unforgettable night on the dancefloor, dreams are not just the domain of transient ephemera. Dreams can re-shape you.

So yes, dreams have been on my mind, but what influence have they had on Iceboy Violet and the making of this record?

In an accompanying statement, they explain how Not A Dream But A Controlled Explosion “is a project about the role desire and fantasy plays in our lives. What is considered fake is constantly constructing the world we want to live in and the people we want to be, as we brush up against fantasy, as we feel the everlasting tug of desire, our reality is pressed into shape almost entirely by daydreaming, hallucination, yearning and cum. This is something to be celebrated, harnessed as a force for good internally and externally. Fantasy as map and desire as engine. I love to want; I want to love."

I’m pleased to see the use, even reclamation of the word daydreaming, which might typically be associated with absentminded distraction, the pastime of dissociation. Iceboy Violet doesn’t deal in idle withdrawal; dreaming and desire are tangible here, agents capable of shifting, even shattering reality.

Take Florence Sinclair’s chorus on opener ‘Black Gold’:

Freedom is a must
All I know is lust
All I know is pain
All I know is change
Nothing be the same
Sunlight shimmers on the skin
Black porcelain
Dance with phantom limbs
The room rises and I sink

Fantasy as the site of potential, the grounds of a future yet to come, brought to us through force of will and desire, embracing the disorder that comes with it.

Fittingly, the beats here are more amorphous than last year’s The Vanity Project. These eight tracks chart a fluid dance through the threads of UK rap, UK bass, and avant electronics, while Iceboy Violet as an MC is a canny seeker of unlikely pockets, an experimental and emotive vocal manipulator, with bars full of uncontainable yearning.

‘Ekklipse’ is a grotty slab of future clad dancehall, a lurch in zero gravity. Cuts like ‘Paris, Bradford’ deal in rich, enveloping ambience, but this ambient music isn’t the wafty nothing that, to misquote Brian Eno, is as boring as it is dull. No, this has far more in common with how scene mates Space Afrika tackle ambient music: all or nothing bass heaviness, textures that subsume you more than placate you. These are ambient sounds for city turmoil.

‘Refracted (Feat. Orlandor)’ and ‘Street Dogs Have Wings’ are the record’s emotional zenith. Iceboy Violet’s vocals spill out over the two tracks, sounding like they’re rapping on borrowed time, desperate to exorcise, to make flesh and matter of their desire, an obliterating union, “to break into a thousand pieces in the blackest night.”

Iceboy Violet is synonymous with The White Hotel, Salford’s hub of borderless sonics, a place uninhibited by genre loyalty. Speaking with The Quietus at the time of The Vanity Project, Iceboy Violet broke down what made the venue and its scene such an important force for the UK ecosystem: “Not to make White Hotel seem like this utopia, but there are so many factors that make it the space that it is, like that it’s far away from town. For a while it was physically dangerous to be there. You had all the ledges that people smoked out of. There were changes in the height of the floor, and there was a fucking pit for the bar. It meant that people would have to make the effort to go. The first time you go, everyone is a deer in the headlights.”

I’ve only been once, but what Iceboy Violet said certainly speaks to my experience there. When I got out the cab I assumed I must have been given wrong directions when faced with an unassuming, and seemingly deserted mini-maze of closed garage doors. But once inside It’s hard not to see the place as a kind of subversive dream factory. Along with the aforementioned Spake Afrika, as well as the likes of aya and Blackhaine, these are the true heirs of Manchester modernism.

Not A Dream But A Controlled Explosion is Iceboy Violet’s most vividly realised work yet, but one of the most exciting things about it is the collaborative fertility of the scene it represents. Any of these artists taken on their own terms are cause for urgent interest, but collectively this is a legit creative epicentre. The sense of flux, which really is the only constant – the thread that connects the scene – means the possibilities are boundless, and as brief as it may be Not A Dream… maps out with rabid hunger what those possibilities might be.