As we move out of what has been a long, cold winter of discontent, the start of the new season is marked in no better way for us bass heads than by the annual Winter Music Conference in Miami. Held between March 23rd-27th, the WMC celebrated its 25th edition this year and repping D&B-side were the likes of Goldie and Metalheadz, Andy C and the RAM crew, Digital Soundboy, the Ganja crew, Virus, Pendulum, Noisia…in total over 50 artists, across three arenas gathered for the World of Drum & Bass event, as well as some searing performances at the Heathrow Lounge – the ‘Metalheadz vs Bassdrive’ and Virus and RAM collab event Viram being particular stand outs.
But WMC aside, March also heralded the release of one of the most interesting, diverse and technically astounding albums to emerge in recent times. Yes, I’m talking about Breakage’s Foundation. While we’re on the topic of hot albums, Sabre’s concept album A Wandering Journal also deserves special mention as one of the most esoteric electronic productions in a long time, plus Med School’s New Blood compilation requires a listen, as does Noisia’s “Machine Gun” — the first single of their forthcoming album Split The Atom. Elsewhere in March, Shogun Audio also dropped the first of the Evolution E’ series, Zero T launched his new label Footprints, DC Breaks, Stray, Marky & S.P.Y, Bladerunner and Logistics were all busy on the remix duties…and here are the fruits of these labors:
1. Breakage / “Foundation” (Digital Soundboy)
“Foundation,” the eponymous track of Breakage’s second artist album, is one of the few tracks on the LP that sees him sans collaborator, tuning into some serious jungle vibes, rather reminiscent of his debut album, This Too Shall Pass. For the rest of the album, Breakage moves between dubstep, grime, D&B, soul, and future garage, collaborating with Dizzee’s Newham Generals, reggae/dancehall legend, David Rodigan, Roots Manuva, gravelly-voiced MC Kemo, Zarif, Erin, UK Funky Donae’o and (hold your breath) Burial…with a couple of cheeky “interludes” for good measure. Suffice to say, each and every track on Foundation is next level. In the words of Roots Manuva: “I’ve never heard someone so young use bass so excessively. Breakage has got an ear for a whole ‘nother frequency of bass that a lot of people forgot about. Deep, deep, deep, sub-sonic frequency…” Word!
2. Noisia / “Machine Gun” (Spor RMX) (Division Recordings)
When this bullet splattered single landed on my desk, I pretty much played it non-stop for a fortnight. Yep, I had my own little World War Three going on in my headphones 24/7 for a full 14 days. The battle: Noisia vs. Spor. The weapons: bass. Lots of. Distorting the electro bombshell that is the original version into a violent, tech-infused D&B work out, Spor’s transformation uses trademark strained synths, crisp, punchy, kicking breaks and a thudding, chugging b-line to disastrous, awe-inspiring ends. The bullet-whistling beats are accompanied by thundering, tank-rolling atmospherics and screeching sound effects. Massive shout-outs to the original version (which is still winning the World War Three battle at the mo, FYI) plus 16 Bit (think Chainsaw Calligraphy gone horribly, apocalyptically wrong) and Amon Tobin remixes.
3. DJ SS / “We Came To Entertain” (Formation Records)
Putting the dancefloor destroyer, “We Came To Entertain,” on the A-side of a glorious remix of one of DJ SS’ genre-defining releases from the deep depths of the jungle hey-day, circa ’95 (Black), was a smooth move by the Formation Rec’s label boss. Full throttle energy, soaring, fizzing, adrenalin-fuelled synths, thudding drum beats and tense building sound effects, coupled with the hyped up vocal encouragement, “We Came To Entertain” goes off like some sort of 180bpm bomb. “Go, go, go,” screams the vocal, amongst a cacophony of furious noise, like some heavy metal machination from another time. For those of us who were but a bairn in ’95, the rework of Black on the flip, may not hold quite so much resonance, but a quick look in the history books, will reveal that this jungle gem will get D&B heads wringing their caps with nostalgia. And no wonder — it’s rolling riddims, relentless, rattling breaks all the way here. The chiming ship’s bell and delicious glowing, sonorous vocals are enough to bring even the most hardened junglist to tears. Yes, Bladerunner gives the original a good glossing up, making it sparkle and shine a-new, but without drenching it in paint.
4. Jakes feat. TC / “Swerve” (Marky & S.P.Y RMX) (D Style)
Swerve first hit our soundsystems over a year ago, appearing on Jakes’ debut artist album, The Jakes Project, and has since seen Brazilian D&B-sters, Marky and S.P.Y going in on the remix treatment. As Jakes’ soothing, husky, Bristol-drenched vocals drift in to audible focus, Marky and S.P.Y add that characteristic, twinkling of hazy, mystical South American magic to the original. Gentle guitar interludes are highlighted and some nice twinging bass accentuated, which will no doubt make it into a summer anthem for 2010. Sweet, sultry rhythms roll from here…”you know where I’m going to now? I’m going down to City Road.”
5. S.P.Y / “Feel The Music” (Spearhead)
S.P.Y makes a second appearance in this month’s column. Having cut his teeth on Metalheadz, and garnered the support of DJs and producers alike, from across the spectrum, this release on BCee’s Spearhead Records, marks another golden release for the Brazilian superhero. The aptly named “Feel The Music” is a pared down, melodic roller, with crisp amen breaks, and a gradual build up of atmospheric texture, leading into a nice, flowing main tune, complete with signature warm, fuzzy b-line. Soulful, reverberating vocals add further depth to the track. Flip over for a deeper, darker piece, embodied by The Bug. It’s another very strong release from S.P.Y.
6. Sabre feat. Noisia & Icicle / “Quarters” (Critical Music)
It’s difficult to isolate just one track from Sabre’s debut long player, A Wandering Journal. It’s a concept album, which has a storyboard of black and white photographs to accompany it and a whole plethora of symbols and motifs flowing through it, with everything very dependent on another thing and a stream of consciousness feel to it. For me though, this track, featuring Noisia and Icicle, with it’s tense, creeping cinematic sounds and darkly nervous atmospherics, is a particularly poignant track from the album. The ticking sounds and rather bleak, lonely feeling and residual concepts are reflected and echoed elsewhere in the sonic Wandering Journal. Much like the rest of the album, “Quarters” is very deep and reflective, and also incredibly profound. My best advice for this one is to listen to the album in its entirety, with the accompanying photos for the full, and intended, experience.
7. Zero T & Bailey / “Wasp Factory” (Footprints)
Lay out the red carpet, hold back the paparazzi, crack open the champagne…a warm welcome to the premiere of Zero T’s brand-new imprint, Footprints! This, the debut 12” for the label, sees Zero T team up with 1xtra DJ, Metalheadz member and old time friend, Bailey for a track that harks back to the ’90s, both in self-proclaimed spirit and in sound. A deep, moody, stepping number, with sweeping atmospherics, and sampled vocal snatches, it’s a dark, brooding piece which makes a defiant statement of intent. We can’t go without mentioning the flipside, a collaborative effort between musical mastermind, Calibre, and ST Files, named “Devil Inside,” which is an altogether more mellow, liquid, melodic exploration. If this is setting a precedent for things to come, then watch out!
8. Phace / “Strange Science” (Shogun Audio)
I always love a bit of Shogun Audio, just like I always like a mid-afternoon chocolate bar – sweet, satisfying, consistently delicious, they can always be relied upon to give you that little pick-me-up! This, the second track on the Evolution EP – Series One, is the track that grabbed my attention the most. Neurofunk’s finest, the German production duo, Phace, bring us Strange Science – a tough, eerie, waspish sounding intro, with bleepy, vocodered voiceover snippets, which soon falls into a sci-fi, rattling, tapping, mechanical number with grating synths and swooshing atmospherics. Elsewhere on the EP, Spectrasoul do some serious damage with their dreamy, nostalgic musings in Bygones; Icicle goes in deep with Minimal Funk, and commanding officers, Friction & K-Tee get a re-work of their classic Overtime, courtesy of the Spectrasoul boys. A big look all round for the Shogun Audio crew.
9. Rox / “My Baby Left Me” (DC Breaks RMX) (Rough Trade)
DC Breaks seems to be smash hits central at the mo. Not content with toying with the chart topping “Empire State Of Mind” by Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, the remixing machine has just gone in on Rox’s soulful, simmering R&B pop song, “My Baby Left Me” and given it a big ol’ dose of D&B medicine. We’re talking punishing, punchy drum kicks, sped up, rolling tumultuous rollercoaster highs and lows, scorching synths, and whomping b-lines, accompanied of course by a spoonful of sugar in the form of Rox’s super-sweet lyrics (Mary Poppins would be very pleased!) Needless to say, the remix is getting serious amounts of love (number two in the D&B Arena downloads didntcha know?) Let’s hear it for DC Breaks.
10. Helios / “First Dream Called Ocean” (Stray RMX) (Med School Music)
Situated halfway through the New Blood compilation album — the most recent release from Med School Music — at the junction, toward the leftfield roundabout, is this little beauty. A stark, evocatively named, even more evocatively executed piece of music, Helios’ “First Dream Called Ocean” is remixed by big-name-for-2010, Stray. High-pitched vocals stay just the right sight of the soulful/screechy divide, bleepy, pulsating rhythms keep the energy moving, but not pumping, synergy presides over the sound effects…it’s beautiful, calm and a notable reference point for the rest of the album, which sees a whole brigade of new, cutting edge producers showcase their work. See also: Joe Syntax’s “Expectra,” Enei’s “Z Grab,” DJ Madd’s “I Don’t Want To Be” and the album opener, “Departure” by Synkro, for more astounding, boundary-defying productions.