I feel a palpable sense of disappointment at the output of the stars of electronica as they were (in what I will refer to as simpler times for no apparent reason) in their post-Warp-heyday era, but perhaps this is just because LFO, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre et al propelled themselves so far ahead of everything else surrounding them, sonically as well as simply in terms of concept and enterprise, that there was nowhere left to go. For a brief moment, electronica seemed so futuristic, so innovative and at times plain mind blowing (a much overused term I know, but really, think about the first time you heard Aphex/Autechre/Squarepusher) that it never really occurred to me that those same artists would, well, plateau (to be polite), satisfied to fall back into the cult they loved and receive a little less exposure delivering acid sets and producing music for their friends alone. All have maintained a consistency, a continuation of ideas, but really never moved into the places we dreamt they might push us.
Richard James may have been the poster boy, but Luke Vibert was as much part of this scene as anyone, perhaps suffering only from not having an identity quite as distinct as the members of the Warp stable; his forays into the Ninja Tune/Mo Wax brand of dance and hip hop, his love of all things acid, making him a jack of all trades rather than a master of anything specific. Through his various projects (Wagon Christ, Plug etc) he has undoubtedly produced a few classic tunes (‘Receiver’ from his Ninja Tune days and ‘I Love Acid’ come straight to mind as particularly memorable singles), but also suffers from an inconsistency that has left him without the recognition he perhaps deserves as a producer (and he is, incidentally, as good a DJ as I have seen; there‘s something immensely satisfying about dancing to quelching, bastardised electro for 30 minutes until ‘Take On Me’ emerges for a brief moment of clarity before the musical perversion recommences).
With this in mind his new record for Planet mu, We Hear You, fails to dispel the doubts, instead simultaneously enforcing the view of an artist too eclectic and inconsistent to produce an album that will become as memorable as Richard D James, and one that is criminally underappreciated, with more vitality and spark than many of his contemporaries. We Hear You also serves as a reminder that Vibert was as influenced by hip hop as anything else, and perhaps this is what sets him apart, and gives him an outlook of his own.
The album opens with cut up spoken word and hip hop samples reminiscent of Coldcut’s Journey by DJ mixtape, pre-aged to ’96, before the low-pass bass fills in the sound and spaced out keys usher in thoughts of simpler times in dance music, moving it beyond mere homage. This heavy hip hop influence is further evident on the title track, with its Q-Tip vocal sample, loops of ‘Now hear this’ and ‘the sounds you are about to hear can be devastating to your ear’ (reminding you of the early 90s hip hop golden days), and a soulful cut up chorus. Really it follows the classic hip hop cut and paste technique, the funky string loop, city call outs, handclaps, ‘instructional’ samples in the vein of Steinski, and general dependence on funk and soul samples. Indeed, ‘Batting for England’ sounds like misshapen brother of (again) Q-Tip’s ‘Manwomanboogie‘(employing the same break and similar slices of 70s guitar).