Available on: Keysound compilation
“The new wave coming through”, reads the central refrain of Visionist, Beneath & Wen’s ‘New Wave’. It’s a bold statement of intent, and one that could leave its makers open to accusations of hubris. But the first compilation from Dusk and Martin “Blackdown” Clark’s Keysound label has been a good while in the making. The past couple of years have seen the imprint find new purpose in the post-dubstep confusion, with releases from the likes of LV, Sully, LHF and Logos offering fresh perspectives on London’s rich musical heritage. In recent months that activity has intensified and crystallised around a younger generation of producers, and Dusk & Blackdown’s Rinse FM show has become a fertile proving ground for new talent.
This Is How We Roll serves as an introduction to and mission statement for this new sound. ‘New Wave’, with its rolling UK funky-indebted percussion, grime-like strings and chilly, paranoid textures, hints at the blueprint for much of the compilation. It’s a soup of signifiers drawn from the darker side of London’s musical past, from the urban paranoia of golden-era Metalheadz through to 2-step’s restless flex, early dubstep’s cavernous spaces and the muscular syncopations of darker UK funky, all wedded, loosely, to a 130bpm tempo locus. Blackdown has waxed lyrical about the long-awaited return of darkness to London dance music, and listening to the sickly 2-step of Visionist’s ‘Dangerous’, or the baleful broken-beat house of Wen’s ‘Commotion VIP’, it’s tempting to see this compilation as the fulfillment of his wish.
But while dread sonics are certainly on the agenda, This Is How We Roll reaches beyond that forbidding, monochrome landscape, taking in bold daubs of colour from Gremino (the high-octane grime of ‘Monster 130 VIP’), Fresh Paul (the anthemic ‘Blaster’) and Moleskin (mournful closer ‘Burst’). In fact it’s difficult to pin down a single unifying sonic characteristic of these 14 tracks, beyond tempo. The commonality, rather, is in approach. In defining themselves against the US and Europe-indebted house sound currently dominating London dancefloors, these producers are at least partly concerned with resurrection. To access the new they disinter the bodies of styles past, using their constituent parts as material for cross-breeding, intensification and abstraction.
As such many of these tracks are festooned with textural and rhythmic detail, as if their makers were more concerned with the subtleties of mutation than the bold gestures associated with stylistic rupture. This is by no means a criticism. Rabit takes ‘Ice Rink’-style grime to newly frosty heights in ‘Satellite’; Epoch’s ‘The Steppenwolf’’s is a delicious half-time hybrid inviting tenuous comparisons ’05 dubstep; Double Helix’s ‘LDN VIP’ is dubstep-inflected rhythmic science par excellence. The compilation’s highlights are a perfect storm of UK signifiers, fresh but steeped in history, and highly technically accomplished to boot.
Granted, there are a few lacklustre offerings. The ‘drumz’ mix of Dusk & Blackdown’s ‘Lonely Moon (Android Heartbreak)’, taken from their recent Dasaflex LP, suffers from a similar stodginess to the original, while E.m.m.a.’s ‘Peridot’, pairing plodding video game-like melodics with a house beat, never quite achieves lift-off. But for every such moment there is a counterbalancing spark of originality, as in Mumdance & Logos’ ‘In Reverse’, essentially the 130bpm grime equivalent of Rockwell’s ‘Reverse Engineering’, all shimmering sheet-glass chords and jagged percussion. Conscious attempts to define and demarcate a scene are often doomed to failure – just look at future garage – but there’s no denying that the group of producers behind This Is How We Roll show considerable promise.