Following a succession of well received releases spanning moody Detroit instrumental dance tracks, classicist 90′s slow burning house, and New York bassline thump, Matthew Lambert and Jacob Martin have done a formidable job of developing their Outboxx project into a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes accompanied by vocalist Naomi Jeremy’s vocal stylings, the duo is in the process of ascending into their own recognized niche within Bristol’s current sonic state, ably assisted by two years of appearances on Idle Hands, Well Rounded, Immerse and perhaps most memorably BRSTL with last year’s Through The Night release.
After a debut appearance on the intermittent BRSTL imprint, anonymous producer Rhythmic Theory makes good their allegiance to Bristol on Idle Hands, one of the city’s most noted outposts. Both that BRSTL drop and a subsequent stealthy 12” for an eponymous label have established that Rhythmic Theory is an artist keen to forge their own distinctive approach to deep, undulating techno rather than playing catch up with other more established presences in the West Country.
As highlighted in the Young Echo feature we ran recently, Kahn stands aside from his co-conspirators in that he doesn’t want to segregate his output into different monikers, whatever the style might be. True enough, already his releases have spanned varying shades of the bass music spectrum, from the technicolour lilt of “Helter Skelter” to the dark and pounding “Tehran”, and there’s a strong sense that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
There’s no doubt the high-grade electronic music coming out of Manchester at the moment isn’t getting the love it deserves. Interestingly, at a time when Bristol is enjoying plenty of attention for its dubstep-cum-house output, Idle Hands has been subtly forging links with leading exponents of Northern beats; namely Szare and AnD. Both those releases, and this new effort from fresh face Alex Coulton make complete sense in the sequencing of the label, functioning around a house music ethic but not being constrained by it.
With releases on Horizontal Ground and the Black Sun offshoot, it would appear that this mysterious Manchester duo’s art is rooted in the shadowy sounds of anonymous hand-stamped techno. As is often the case however, the reality is somewhat different: their latest release, on Bristol’s Idle Hands, is as much of a natural fit, and says a lot about the blurry, indistinct nature of the relationship between techno and bass.
Indeed, the title track embodies the collision of aesthetics developed in Berlin and Bristol. At the centre of “Hydrothermal” is a minimal, bleepy techno groove, like Sahko in playful mode, but it’s the understated rhythm that lurches in and out of AnD’s 4/4 beats that make it so alluring. Add in some detuned but plaintive chords and “Hydrothermal” sounds more like a more natural combination of influences than a warehouse full of dub techno records.
“Lights Down” is even more adventurous: based on a more abstract rhythm bolstered by layers of dissected percussion, it’s hard to ignore the bass at the arrangement’s core. It sounds like AnD have taken one of the brute force pummelling rave basslines from CJ Bolland’s 4th Sign masterpiece and dropped the tempo, in the process refining and rarefying it but without losing ts impact. As new explorations on existing themes go, Hydrothermal takes some beating.
Let’s hope that Canadian producer Kevin McPhee can avoid falling into the trap that so many promising producers are guilty of. McPhee received a lot of praise earlier this year for his debut release, Get In With You on [Naked Lunch]. Let’s hope that he can learn a lesson from other upcoming producers, who having enjoyed a brief taste of recognition and decide to rush out a slew of identikit releases in a short space of time, effectively alienating those who had found their first few steps so endearing. It speaks in McPhee’s favour that his music could never be described as ‘big room’ or ‘peak time’.
Instead, he prefers to follow a path where subtlety and creating an atmosphere are at a premium. It certainly sounds that way on the title track: over a pared back groove, he layers atmospheric textures that are both haunting and curiously upbeat. This is the strength of McPhee’s approach - his sound is both involved and understated, complex and at the same time brilliant in its simplicity. “House 44” follows a similar path, but is more lo-fi sounding, as wave upon wave of hissing percussion is fused with stuttering vocal samples, woozy atmospherics and doubled-up beats. It’s in keeping with McPhee’s idiosyncratic seduction techniques – something that on the evidence of Sleep, will be with us for a long time to come.
The best artists are the ones who don’t repeat themselves. This may sound like contradictory advice for producers involved in a style that places repetition high on its list of necessary attributes, but there are countless techno artists who kept ploughing the same furrow and now reside in the ‘where are they now’? category.
So far, Szare has shown himself to be someone who is not afraid of changes. While there are common characteristics and nuances in each release, both as Szare and under the 188.8.131.52.5 guise, this new release on Idle Hands sees unmistakable progress. The title track is, like his recent remix of Shifted on Syndrome Z, a steppy, lurching number, but by no means plays by the rules. Distended, dislocated vocals appear amid the fuzzy bass licks and heavy claps, lending the arrangement an ethereal feeling. A similar approach is audible on “Action Five”.
While Szare again avoids the temptations of the straight kick drum, the drizzling percussion and incessant filter will give it some DJ usefulness in the right hands. However, it’s the gorgeous melodies, mysterious yet strangely beautiful melodies that make “Action Five” so special. Reminiscent of the esoteric warblings of the 4AD label in its heyday, it will pique the curiosity of those who might normally run a mile from techno.
All the latest news, reviews and features from Juno Plus straight into your inbox