When asked how to describe their sound in a recent interview, Andy Harber & Richard Roberts could only admit that their productions “sound… very Letherette.” It’s a statement that’s both fitting and inadequate: The Wolverhampton-grown duo who cut their teeth releasing woozy spliced up edits on Alex Nut’s Ho Tep label are not lacking for inspirations– listening to Letherette brings a flood of associations to mind, from Discovery-era Daft Punk, Madlib and the more intergalactically minded members of the Stones Throw crew, Bibio, Dilla, Dam Funk, Donna Summer, as well as a bevy of darker UK dance influences.
There’s always an air of uncertainty that hovers around a fresh Falty DL release before you set it off and submit your ears to it. Drew Lustman has adopted a chameleonic trajectory since first emerging just five years ago in the midst of a dubstep scene he didn’t really fit in with. More than anything his output has always seemed indebted to the free spirit of beats (as in that wholly insufficient catch-all term for the likes of Flying Lotus and Prefuse 73), as hip hop-mannered sampling collides with contemporary club dynamics across all kinds of tempos. There’s no denying that the UK hardcore heritage comes to bear in many places too, and now this latest offering for his more recent home of Ninja Tune makes some sizable nods to the past.
Recently we asked one of our favourite producers of recent years, FaltyDL, who he’d like to interview most. The answer – revered instrumental hip-hop artist Blockhead, aka Tony Simon – was ostensibly a surprise choice, but when you scratch the surface the similarities are abundant. Both are now alumni of venerable UK label Ninja Tune, and both have a grounding in making instrumental beats, although while Blockhead made his name as a hip-hop craftsman of considerable repute, FaltyDL (real name Drew Lustman) has veered into a sounds that touch on everything from house and garage to jungle.
Blockhead has released nine studio albums and a slew of singles over the past decade, mostly with Ninja Tune, and is perhaps best known for his production work for acts signed to the Definitive Jux imprint such as Aesop Rock. The FaltyDL discography contains two albums (2009′s Love Is A Liability and last tear’s You Stand Uncertain, both released on planet Mu), as well as killer 12″s for All City, Ninja Tune and Swamp 81 among others.
Late last year Drew popped by Tony’s Manhattan apartment for a wide-ranging chat (the initial transcription was in excess of 10,000 words and it was with some reluctance that we trimmed it). Beginning with a discussion about Simon’s production history, they sit down and listen to music from Earl Sweatshirt, DJ Rashad and Eugene McDaniels among others, and discuss touring, inevitable backlashes, the state of the record industry from a producer’s point of view and much more besides.
FaltyDL has long been something of a musical alchemist; the New Yorker’s wriggling, mutating sonic experiments are borne from whatever the studio equivalent is to hunching over a row of bubbling test tubes in a laboratory, carefully seeking out the right measurements to discover that elusive elixir of life. Contained within those test tubes is a milieu of musical elements – a forgotten jungle break, a vocal from an 80s house classic, or an obscure slice of afrobeat – which are then combined with certain trademark touches (slashing, frantic hats) and constantly evolving rhythms.
These experiments becoming increasingly deft, and the Atlantis EP arrives on venerable UK imprint Ninja Tune with arguably the most accomplished FaltyDL productions to date. The producer’s relationship with some of electronic music’s most respected labels – Planet Mu, 50 Weapons, Rush Hour, Swamp 81 – has seem some fascinating results, especially in 2011, but even so this serves as a landmark release.
As with most recent FaltyDL 12”s the artwork is striking, and, like his Mean Streets release for Swamp 81, the vinyl weighs in at a reassuringly heavy 180g. The title track is a melodic, smudged out deep house roller, with a bassline that evokes memories of LCD Soundsystems’ “Tribulations” dovetailing snugly with twangy plucked instrumentation. As one expects from a FaltyDL production, there are frequent rhythmic shifts, changes in direction and any number of seemingly disparate samples, mashed together into one engaging whole.
“Can’t Stop The Prophet” is more adventurous still, with crackly atmospherics, toyed-with vocals and sumptuous strings giving off a languid, relaxed air – that is until the frenetic jungle breakdown arrives – perhaps a nod to his earliest forays into production. There’s even a cheeky moment at the end where the source material for the primary samples is briefly, tantalisingly, revealed – a trick that he has used on recent outings for All City and Swamp 81. The flipside houses two more richly detailed productions, with the hip-hop-esque swagger of “My Light My Love” an exercise in the art of filtering. The clattering hats and softly throbbing deep house chords of “The Sale Ends” save perhaps the most emotive, introspective moment of the EP for last, leaving an unmistakable sense that, once again, this musical alchemist has got his measurements just right.
It must be great to be Alfred Darlington. The tweed suits, the PG Wodehouse-esque name, all awesome. But what must be so extra lovely is the complete musical freedom he enjoys. From indie-tronica, to the dank hip-hop of his Exquisite Corpse album, to his 2006 sample-fuelled Denies The Day’s Demise, Daedelus has covered a huge amount of ground already in his career. His move to Ninja for 2008′s Love To Make Music By saw another sea change – a concerted application of house music tempos and instrumentation to his scattergun songwriting that resulted in the wonderful “Make It So” single and a brace of highly engaging hypnogogic mindfucks.
Bespoke picks up from those learned lessons, but this time he’s created an even wider scope for himself. Simply everything imaginable is contained within Bespoke. Operatic female vocals mixed with doo-wop? Yes, on the slow trip-hoppy “Penny Loafers”. Juke rhythms and Stereolab melodies? Sure thing, courtesy of the Milosh-vocalled single “Tailor Made”. Folky post-rock instrumentals? Why yes, on the gorgeous “Sew, Darn, Made”.
Variety suits Daedelus’ musical outlook. His distinctively choppy production style lends itself to having three or four competing styles going on at any one times, in the manner of Japanese Pico-Pop artists like Plus-Tech Squeeze Box. “What Can You Do” featuring Busdriver is a case in point – though underscored by a simple kick “n’ clap, the sheer crazed randomness of his drum sequences opens the space up to allow things like clarinets, acid-pianos and torch song vocals to actually sound normal working together.
The downtempo material is delivered in a slightly more conventional manner however. Allowing the vocals to shine though the murky, pitched-down beats of “In Tatters” for example or letting simple filter-curves dominate the excellent Fly Lo funk of “Slowercase D” means the album doesn’t suffer from being too hyperactive for its own good. Yet it has to be said that it’s that side of Daedelus that makes Bespoke memorable – who else would match Bilal’s vocals with a garage rock-meets-dubstep beat as he does on the album’s highlight, “Overwhelmed”? The mythological Daedelus was well aware of the dangers of flying too close to the sun. As Bespoke proves, the real life version should never be subject to any such constraints.