With this edition of armchair dancefloor we’re going in simple: all new music, no frills. And we kick off with one of the best electronic compilations of the last few years, and certainly an absolute essential for anyone even remotely interested in the experimental possibilities of club music; Hessle Audio push its boundaries until they almost snap entirely.
Hessle Audio – 116 & Rising [Hessle Audio]
Blawan – Getting Me Down [white]
The crew around Hessle Audio have swiftly risen to the top of the UK’s dance music scene, their music rocking a set of traits that have become entrenched as something approaching a unified aesthetic: dry and heavily syncopated percussion, ocean deep sub-bass, subtle drones around the midrange, total dancefloor bliss. This fantastic label compilation, 116 & Rising, both brings together some of its more underrated past releases (including Pangaea’s delicately soulful ‘You & I’, the jarring garagey dubstep of Untold’s ‘Test Signal’ and Ramadanman’s woodblock-fest ‘Blimey’) and unleashes a job-lot of new material on the world.
By itself the second retrospective disc would be essential; with the addition of the first it becomes one of the best UK-borne electronic music compilations in recent memory. D1's ‘Subzero’ is notable for its predating of the current drum machine craze in bass music; Pearson Sound’s heartbroken ‘Stifle’ buries similar elements in a rising wash of monochrome synth; Elgato’s ‘Music (Body Mix)’ slows things down to a heartbeat’s pace – and Joe and Blawan offer two of the label’s best tracks so far in the jazzy ‘Twice’ and percussive frenzy of ‘Potchla Vee’.
The latter’s fantastic ‘Getting Me Down’, meanwhile, has just been released separately on limited white label. A deliciously subversive take on both typical vocal house tropes and the current craze for R’n’B sampling, it allows a short snippet of a Brandy song to stretch outward into dissonance and back again over a brittle percussive backing that nonetheless hits the dancefloor like a ton of (saccharine-laced) bricks. Both releases offer conclusive evidence as to Hessle’s growing importance in the messy bass music world – they’re currently one of the only labels managing to maintain a coherent identity in volatile surroundings.
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir – Frictionalism Part 4 [Rush Hour]
Last year’s spectacular Frictionalism boxset revealed Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir to a new generation (myself included) in all his glory – previously one of Detroit’s lesser known luminaries, its gargantuan length held enough of Shake’s gems to make buying the whole set worthwhile straight off. But for anyone put off by its prohibitive price (somewhere around 40 quid), they’ve made many of its best tracks available on single 12”s. This fourth in that series contains the entire set’s highlight ‘The Floor Filler’, a banging slab of electro-infused techno that builds slowly before exploding in a rush of staccato synth hits. ‘Plugged In’ is similar in sound and structure, though with its sliced ‘n’ diced feel its disco-ish feel recalls the stammering edits of Soundhack/Soundstream; ‘The Other One’ is gorgeous in the most lo-fi way possible, with every element buried waist deep in analogue fuzz. As with the rest of the series (and Shakir’s music generally), an essential purchase.
My Panda Shall Fly – Sorry I Took So Long [Growing]
This record’s title is appropriate considering we’re reviewing it embarrassingly late – it arrived somewhere around the start of April, boasting a raft of remixes from the likes of Throwing Snow, Nightwave (the producer formerly known as 8bitch) and Dam Mantle. It’s also really rather lovely, yet another of those totally uncategorisable beasts that’s becoming characteristic of the current bass music epoch. My Panda Shall Fly’s music, unlike a lot of his contemporaries, often feels almost entirely weightless – EP opener ‘Injury’ appears to defy the laws of gravity, its Detroit-ish synths and insectoid rhythms drifting in space several feet above the usual club floor level. Attention to percussive detail really marks it out though, ‘Xerox’s rhythms swung in slightly off-kilter direction lending it a slightly manic energy. Despite his mammalian moniker, MPSF’s beats sound far more invertebrate than they do warm-blooded; they move with the controlled fury of of six or eight legs, often thrusting outward in several directions at once. Of the remixes on offer here, Throwing Snow’s stands out, turning 'Injury' into a doomy broken house epic that appears far longer than its four-minute runtime.
Prosumer – Panoramabar03 [Ostgut Ton]
It’s admittedly a matter of personal taste more than anything else, but I’ve always preferred Ostgut Ton’s Panoramabar mixes to the pounding predictability of their Berghain counterparts. The series’ second mix by Tama Sumo remains one of my favourite of the label’s releases, and this third from Prosumer is a worthy follow-up – albeit probably the least special of the series so far. Opening with Steffi’s magnificent ‘Sadness’, a vocal cut that recalls her Yours & Mine album from earlier this year, it swiftly heads for peak time, with the staggered synth jabs of Soundstore (an anonymous producer whose name and sound offer possible clues as to their identity) and a surprise appearance of Lil Silva’s grime-house banger ‘Pulse Vs. Flex’, which carves the mix in two like a knife. Its drop breaks up the momentum generated over the previous few tracks, but the mix swiftly picks up pace afterward. While possessing less of a unified mood than Tama Sumo or Cassy’s contributions to the series, on the whole it’s a good introduction to one of the Berlin club’s best resident DJs and an aural recommendation to catch him in a space near you as soon as possible.
Swarms – Old Rave’s End [Lo Dubs]
The Lo Dubs label has been responsible for unleashing a number of records over the last couple of years that take dubstep as a starting point and head off in less dancefloor-friendly, more insular directions. *Swarms’ Old Rave’s End fits nicely alongside their previous two albums from Clubroot – both appear to have immersed dubstep’s stark spaciousness in an warm tropical bath, lending the music a hot and radioactive feel that’s reminiscent of Ballard’s The Drowned World (they call to mind images of its sunken London, capped off with palm trees and freakish mutant lizards). On Old Raves End that’s made manifest as oceans of thick reverb, sending Burial-ish vocal stanzas ricocheting around a massive imaginary vista and backing everything with thick synth drones. Swarms manage to harness the slow-fast, halftime-doubletime dichotomy that marks out dubstep for an entirely different purpose – it’s hardly dancefloor music, in the sense that it’s far too ethereal to get most club crowds moving, but their music retains the same sheer weight as its ruder cousins. ‘Stokes Croft’ is the highlight here, its Zen-like tranquility a pretty major contrast to the rioting that kicked off in that area of Bristol a few weeks ago.
Bias & Gurley – Roll [Keysound]
Zed Bias and Steve Gurley were among the most influential figures on the nascent sound that would come to be known as dubstep. Back in the early years of last decade their stripped-back, sub-heavy garage ended up giving birth to the darkly swung sounds of Horsepower and early Benga, which paved the way for its evolution into a genre in its own right. Here they’ve teamed up for a double header on Martin ‘Blackdown’ Clark’s Keysound label, which in keeping with the current bass morass doesn’t sit within any particular camp, instead constructing a dark and claustrophobic piece of UK funky-ish house that nods to dubstep and two-step in equal measure. Given the pedigree of its creators it’s actually less striking than you might hope – though well-produced and possessed of intense bassweight, there’s little here to distinguish ‘Roll’ from many of the recent producers that they’ve inspired. Blackdown’s own remix redresses the balance; the first track of his released for a while, he ups the pace and transforms it into a fantastic darkened roller, all looped vocal and drum hits that glance off its curiously reflective surfaces.