Dancer In The Dark: Pattern Damage By Bianca Scout

The Newcastle-born, south London-based producer draws on her background in contemporary dance for an album of chopped loops and murmured voices

Photoby That Travis

Steadily, unselfconsciously, and to a mystifying dearth of general acclaim, Bianca Scout has been fashioning a netherworld, its crevices inlaid with shards of her consciousness. The decade-stretching oeuvre which functions as the visible front for this hidden psychic reverse now comprises six albums, a strewing of singles and EPs, and various music videos and choreographed performances – the latter drawing from Scout’s background in dance. But to know her work, in full (unlikely, since its roots tend to redouble the deeper you dig) or in part, is to remain palpably distant from Bianca Scout, the persona and the person. She expresses herself with a sort of uncanny ingenuousness, a direct candour which communes with the emotions and perplexes more rational engagement. Revelations promptly dissipate on taking off the headphones, the fog of mystique gathers once more. Which is to say, listeners coming to her work for the first time through Pattern Damage need not feel underprepared; there are no privileged entry points.

Granted, new listeners might miss a number of echoes from within her discography. The very first sound we hear on the album, a chipper dial-up sputter, is one Scout has peppered in at least once before, on ‘w.o.w’, from 2022’s ghoulish, genius karaoke at the slagheap. More substantially, most of 2020’s Elemental Figures EP finds its way here in one form or another; back then it was billed as a “skeleton score for ‘The Anchoress’ – a ballet in the making”. The Heart of the Anchoress, released last year to a broader reception than previous projects, apparently appropriated the imagery while the music was saved for Pattern Damage

Such overlaps and rejiggings evidence the ongoing, often recursive nature of Scout’s creative practice. In a 2023 interview with Subbacultcha ( in which she also trailed a “pattern ballet” to accompany Pattern Damage (no official word on that yet), she threw out that she was currently working on “various projects including books, a PlayStation game, an interactive role-play experience, and seven other albums.” Although its release on sferic, among the most consistently outstanding labels of the decade so far, tees Pattern Damage up for linear framing as a breakthrough moment for Scout, its vaporous tableaux are better understood as just one of many transfixing incarnations of her seemingly Tralfamadorian aesthetic temperament.

While The Heart of the Anchoress naturally found an eldritch consistency in its development from an initial set of organ recordings; Pattern Damage is closer to the tonal jumpiness of prior solo records. The churning glitch of ‘Intro’ is brasher than anything that follows, but the transition into the tender lover’s reckoning of lead single ‘Forest Spirit’ is well managed through the latter’s halting opening section. This graciously fades out to set the scene for Darkmarik, aka regular musical and choreographic collaborator Malik Nashad Sharpe, whose two appearances mark the album’s most fully wrought emotional crests. Scout’s voice, for her part, is usually too swaddled in effects or else swimming among too many overdubs for her lyrics to impress themselves – with the notable exception of revisited early composition ‘Midnight’, a sparse, Grouper-esque duet with Mun Sing’s guitar.

It’s when Scout is left to her own devices that Pattern Damage is most inscrutable, reminding me of Laurel Halo’s Atlas in the way its shifting components create dense but transient atmospheres. On the insomniac psychedelia of ‘I Don’t Sleep’, written back in 2017, Bianca abstractedly muses to herself (“Why won’t you notice me?”) from a bed of glowing synths, while squelches and güiro-like ribbets suggest a sort of enchanted marshland backdrop. ‘Chances’ is still more slippery, with demure piano and strings, fitful breakbeats and 808s, and vocals, either reversed or autotuned, all circling one another in a sleep-walk waltz.

The album’s more readily apprehensible moments, such as following track ‘Desert’, come by way of collaborators: in this case Marina Zispin bandmate Martyn Reid. Despite being comfortably the most straightforward number on Pattern Damage – the only one you might actually feel you’ve heard before on a second listen of the album – Scout still drags Reid into the murk; the peppy synthpop immediacy of last September’s Marina Zispin EP is traded for a downcast groove and more withdrawn mix. It all prompts a mental image of the pair swaying on the stage of a dive bar in the background of some noirish film scene. For an instructive parallel, compare the EP version of ‘Private Party’ to the one which appeared on karaoke at the slag heap a year before.

The contribution of NWAKKE, another movement artist and a fellow member of the recently conceived ‘life is beautiful’ record label and collective behind a series of multidisciplinary performances at Bermondsey’s Ormside Projects, illustrates still more clearly how the right collaborator can flourish on the volcanic substrate of Scout’s creativity. On ‘Passage Reversal Fortune’, NWAKKE reconfigures the choral source material of Elemental Figures’ ‘Passage’, lifting the track to a stunning finale after Scout’s ambient treatment in the first half. Their curtly chopped loops mount to hypnotising effect while they sing-murmur, their vocals guileless and affecting in a way which reminds me of Tirzah. Along with the other featured artists, NWAKKE imparts a welcome sense of resolution to Scout’s mastery of the Dionysian art of blurred, unparsable expression, diving down into her netherworld and returning with dark pearls.

While par for the course for Bianca Scout, Pattern Damage does not exhibit the watertight internal cohesion we’ve come to expect from sferic releases. It does, however, feature numerous more or less distinct atmospheres which teem with constantly fluctuating detail. For as long as she has been making music, Scout has harnessed a preternatural ability to express the most particular and abstruse of moods, to crystallise minute subjective ephemera in compelling aesthetic form – check out 2015’s ‘bitchblade’ on YouTube if you need convincing. Like the best abstract artists, she takes the ineffable and renders it ineffable again. As listeners, we experience the bewildering thrill of being temporarily subject to an alien consciousness, fully realised. How, then, to ‘get’ Bianca Scout? There’s nothing else to do but keep hitting play.

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