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Autumn is, increasingly, a good time to be a fan of electronic music in the UK. The longer nights lend themselves beautifully to those of us who enjoy spending our darkness hours holed-up in bass-drenched warehouses, and across the country promoters seem to be tacking advantage of this in impressive style. As ever, Manchester's Warehouse Project has an exceptional line-up of autumn/winter events (check them out here), and Bristol's In:Motion series, now in its third year, is giving them a decent run for their money - their Hessle and Resident Advisor showcases in particular look pretty unmissable for anyone based around the south west. In London too, promoters Broken and Uneven are hosting some spectacular-looking warehouse showcases (highlights from R&S, Bleep, and Non-Plus) with their new season The Hydra.
There's no shortage of excellent releases on the horizon too - some of which are covered in The Playlist, below. First, we catch-up with producers, journalists, radio-hosts, DJs, bloggers and all-round electronic renaissance men Dusk + Blackdown to talk about their new LP and running this month's featured label...
Keysound bosses Dusk + Blackdown’s debut album, Margins Music, released back in 2008, was an important record for dubstep. Compositionally, it felt like a guided tour through both the roots and the capabilities of a scene that - at the time - was teetering on the verge of mainstream recognition. The work of two figures - Dan Frampton (aka Dusk) and Martin Clark (Blackdown) - who had been at the core of the movement from its beginning, it was more than just a playlist of dubstep’s influences; it played like an audio tour of London, dipping into the geographical locations that where key to the sound’s gestation and speaking to the cultures that dubstep shared its home with - from south-Asian influences, to soundsystem culture and grime (the album’s highlight ‘The Bits’ hangs around a vocal from one of the scene’s most fascinatingly esoteric rappers, Trim.) It was an album that reflected its era and location, but looked ahead towards things to come.
Four years later and the pair have just released another, Dasaflex, the second album that - as they state in the attached press dossier - they swore they’d never make. It’s both a natural follow-up to Margins Music and an entirely new, and different entity. Again, Dasaflex feels like a guided tour through various dance music sub-cultures of the UK underground, but the sounds - and the spaces in which they exist - have changed completely. Speaking to the pair last week, they describe the difference between the close-knit community that spawned their earliest work - “30 people at a FWD>> night would be a massive turnout... Pinch would put on Subloaded nights and you’d see all the same people travel down to Bristol” - and the sprawling, social media-connected community that provided the conditions for the follow-up.
The biggest impetus, it seems, behind the decision to release a second LP has been the rolling wave of new producers they’ve encountered via their regular Rinse FM show. The pair joined the (then) pirate station’s roster around the time the first album was released, and have since become one of the station’s most-acclaimed fixtures. Their roles as hosts - along with the erosion of geographical restrictions, brought on equally by the internet and dubstep’s larger profile - opened the floodgates to a much wider base of producers and musicians. “When we started doing the Rinse show, we were getting sent tracks we’d never heard by producers we knew,” Martin explains of the transition, “now a lot of the new stuff we play comes from producers we’ve never heard of before.”
Download an exclusive track from Dusk + Blackdown Blackdown "Mashed Concrete ft Durrty Goodz" by Dusk + Blackdown
Over the intervening years, the influence of dubstep and grime seeped quickly into other genres - morphing with house to give birth to UK funky, finding its way into mutant strains of techno, blending with the frantic 808 beats of juke and footwork. Tempos changed; as Dan points out, in traditional dubstep style Margins Music played out at a steady 138bpm throughout, the new LP veers between dubstep and grime, house and hiphop tempos. London is no longer the insular focal point for a close knit scene, but it still remains an anchor point; an epicentre for UK bass music. “The new album might not consciously be about London, in the way Margins Music was, but a lot of the sounds come from there,” Dan explains, “the last album was themed around London, but the sounds came from all over the world.”
This transition between albums one and two, however, is intrinsically tied to the growth of their label. At the time of Margins Music Keysound was still a fledgling imprint, founded out of necessity as a means for Dan and Martin to release their own music - this remit quickly expanded though, as they began to use the platform as a means to support underrepresented producers. They cite Starkey’s ‘Gutter Music’ as an important moment in the broadening of the label’s reach, as they began to look beyond London: “it was like, ‘this guy’s from Philadelphia, but this is some of the best grime we’ve ever heard.’” However, despite releasing a string of excellent 12”s early on - from the likes of Geenus, Grievous Angel and Kowton, it’s in the past two years, with a run of genre redefining EPs and full lengths (last year the label played host to two of the year’s finest debut albums, from Damu and London production-trio LV) that the imprint has come into its own.
In 2012 Keysound has already released one of the finest electronic albums of recent years, in the form of LHF’s double-LP debut Keepers Of The Light. The enigmatic collective of London-based producers - comprised of Amen Ra, Double Helix, No Fixed Abode and Low Density Matter - have been slowly releasing music on the label since 2010, mentored and, to some extent, curated by Dan and Martin. “They must have had about 300 tracks that could have been on the album,” Martin recounts, discussing how the two and a half hour record came together. “They were still sending stuff through right up until the last minute - some of the tracks on the record were finished literally just before we put the album together.” He explains how Keysound came to sign them in the first place, the result of the collective posting a mass of demos through his front door. “I’d been out of the country,” he recalls, “and I returned home, feeling fairly awful, to find all these tracks on my doormat. I think the thought of that would have made them happy.”
In the main though, it's the meticulous way that the pair seem to manage and curate Keysound that makes it a label continuously worth following - everything they release appears to have been carefully thought through. This care manifests itself in the label’s strong visual identity; they reference ‘key sights’ - the photographic snapshots that provide the artwork for each release - that match the running themes of ‘key sounds’ that gives the label its name. Similarly, Martin describes the cover art of Dasaflex - bright circles of colour against an indistinct background, intersecting to form new shapes and tones - as a visual representation of the sounds they work with through the label.
“I look for music that you can listen to on headphones, but you can also dance to,” Martin explains, when pushed to find a running theme through the label’s artists, “if it’s only one thing or the other then it doesn’t really interest me.” Primarily though, they want Keysound to feel like a family; a tight circle of producers taking the ever-diversifying strains of UK dance music and moving things forward. Martin recounts events at the label’s recent Fabric takeover: “we had a extra half hour at the end of the night we hadn’t accounted for, so we decided we’d all play an old-school jungle set. At the end of the night we all walked back into the DJ booth together - around 15 of us - I remember looking around as all the DJ started stepping up and playing jungle tunes back-to-back and thinking, ‘Yea, this is cool, this is what Keysound is about.’
Dusk + Blackdown’s Dasaflex and LHF’s Keepers Of The Light are both out now on Keysound.
The playlist: new and forthcoming releases
ARP 101 x Elliott Yorke - Fluro Black EP [Donkey Pitch]
The latest release from Brighton’s Donkey Pitch label sees synth-loving former d’n’b producer ARP 101 teaming up with Elliott Yorke for an EP of swagger-laden, day-glo hiphop beats that sit somewhere in the middle ground between TNGHT’s recent debut and classic Starkey.
Artifact - Worn EP [Local Action]
Bristol-based producer Artifact is quickly shaping-up to be one of the most exciting of the UK’s current crop of rising dance musicians. Having already released the utterly infectious ‘Archaic Line’ at the start of the year, he returns this month with his most substantial release to date, the three-track Worn EP on Local Action. ‘Drain’ is standout here, perfectly encompassing both the moody tones of his obvious dubstep influences and his ability to turn in a proper 4x4 floor-filler - expect it to get dropped a lot over the coming months.
Four Tet – Jupiters (Happa remix)
This remix conveniently ties in two things worth mentioning: firstly, Four Tet has recently – albeit fairly quietly – released a new LP, Pink, which collects the run of 12” singles he released on his own Text label over the past year-or-so. However, despite being a compilation of sorts (and the fact it seems to have evaded DiS’ album reviews section), it’s possibly the best full-length Kieran Hebden has released – exceptionally cinematic and meticulously produced, but also the most dancefloor-focused work he’s ever put out – and it certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.
Secondly: Happa - a 15 (or 16?) year old producer from Leeds who is, quite rightly, gaining a lot of hype for his remarkable ability to turn out murky, techno-infused bass music. This remix – of one of the highlights from said Four Tet LP – takes Hebden’s rolling drums and slowly unfolding melody and reworks it into a weighty techno number not a million miles away from Blawan’s best work. Hugely promising stuff – check out Happa’s SoundCloud for more.
Morgan Zarate - Broken Heart Collector [Hyperdub]
Former Spacek member Morgan Zarate returns to Hyperdub with an unexpectedly chart-friendly dubstep number featuring rising vocalist Stevie Neale. Don’t let the words chart and dubstep put you off though, ‘Broken Heart Collector’ is a warm, well produced bit of synth-heavy pop.
NeferTT - Blue Skies Red Soil EP [Hotflush]
Released on Scuba’s Hotflush label, Blue Skies Red Soil is attributed to NeferTT, a new moniker for a pair of established producers working incognito. This four-track debut EP sees the pair skilfully blending numerous retro-leaning styles - from garage to Chicago house - to create tunes that are intricate and texturally fascinating, yet still slightly playful and entirely dancefloor-friendly.
Oneohtrix Point Never/Rene Hell - Split LP [NNA Tapes}
This new split LP from Brooklyn ambient hero OPN and LA-based composer Rene Hall arrives next week via DiY imprint NNA Tapes, who have previously released brilliant - but largely overlooked - cassettes by the likes of Laurel Halo, Dylan Ettinger and Julia Holter. OPN’s contribution, Music for Reliquary House, reworks parts of a recent a/v exhibition of his, chopping and looping snatches of spoken word vocals and digital drone sounds; it bears similarities to last year’s Replica, but with even less regard for melodic elements and traditional song structure. Hall’s In 1980 I Was A Blue Square combines delicate, often beautiful modern-classical piano work with computer generated soundscapes to lovely effect. Stream it in full below.
Pangaea - Release [Hessle Audio]
Pearson Sound - Clutch EP [Hessle Audio]
Release - billed as a double EP - is Pangaea’s most substantial output to date and the closest thing to an artist album (it’s LP length, but he seems reluctant to use the a-word) to be put out by Hessle Audio, the acclaimed label he co-runs. Classification debates aside, it’s a brilliantly conceived work of electronic music and one of the most accomplished things to come out of the Hessle camp so far; taking the emphasis on percussive, syncopated rhythms that has become the label’s calling card and working it into an eight-track tribute to the UK’s pirate radio heritage, touching on the tones of classic jungle, grime and soundsystem culture. Due 29 October. In the meantime, his Hessle cohort Pearson Sound has just dropped his stellar new EP Clutch, featuring three tracks of grimey, efficient and rhythmically bonkers dance music - stream previews below.
Trimbal - Confidence Boost/Saying (Harmonimix) [R&S]
These two tracks - which have been kicking about in mixes and as YouTube radio rips for the past couple of years - are the first official releases from James Blake under his hiphop-leaning remix alias Harmonimix. Coincidentally, they were originally conceived as part of an EP set for release on this edition’s feature label, Keysound, back in 2010. Both cuts are based around chopped and warped vocal takes from Roll Deep member Trim. For my money, they’re still the best thing Blake has ever produced.
The Tone Of The Number 5 - NO SLE.EP [YRZ]
NO SLE.EP is the debut release from Preston-based producer The Tone Of The Number 5. It's a work of exceptionally well-crafted atmospheric music, built around a backbone of fractured garage beats and scattered sounds lifted from classic UK hardcore - sitting somewhere between Mount Kimbie's found-soundscapes, Burial's kick + stick swing and classic Godspeed. Listen to the whole thing over on Bandcamp, and download an exclusive, unreleased track below - an atmospheric, beatless number driven by a lovely lo-fi melody.
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- armchair dancefloor 037: Keysound/Dusk + Blackdown, Artifact, James Blake, NeferTT, Pangaea, Oneohtr
- armchair dancefloor 036: Tri Angle Records, Mala, Scuba, Old Apparatus, Bicep, Dusk + Blackdown...
- 'It's like the Barcelona FC of grime stations' - DiS meets Martin 'Blackdown' Clark
- armchair dancefloor 016 incl Blue Daisy mix