I've made no secret of the fact that over the past year, I have become rather convinced that the most exciting and forward-thinking arena within contemporary dance music can be found amongst an amorphous, non-defined grouping of producers and labels in the UK that have arisen from deep within dubstep to shoot off in every direction possible, many of them demonstrating a different voice from record to record. The fertile post-nuum milieu currently operating within the UK around labels like Timedance, Wisdom Teeth, or Mistry and the artists affiliated with them seem to finally be carving out a musical space that can't simply be reduced to "post-dubstep." Two figures, Actress and the recently reactivated Lukid, have been developing their sonic voices over the past decade; the former interrogating the ghost of Detroit as a launchpad into a sound both referential and alien and the latter first debuting with the post-Prefuse slice n' dice of Onandon and persisting down a rabbit hole of his own making via both Actress' Werk Discs and his own Glum label. Though the extent to which Lukid and Actress' influence over such current producers like LOFT and the array of young guns that Untold's longstanding label of dub deconstructions Hemlock has given recent shine to is perhaps vaster than has been critically assessed, it feels like a good moment to step away from the theorizing and to simply marvel at the wondrous music we've received both in the past week and over the past year. And don't worry...I've got plenty of theory in the pipeline for 2018.
Despite hiding with Tapes behind the distortion-soaked poly-stylistic Rezzett moniker and releasing solely on Will Bankhead's solid-but-pricey-on-this-side-of-the-pond The Trilogy Tapes imprint for the past few years--a label whose recent Parris and Buttechno twelves are undeniable must-buys--he's an artist I have been clamoring for new material from since his last trilogy of missives that came out between 2012-2014. The years preceding saw his sample-based and hip-hop indebted sound expanding even further from the considerably more outré beats found on 2009’s Foma and 2010’s Chord’s parallel world of dubstep and bass music-inflected constructions--synthesis has always been at the heart of his practice. But little could prepare for what came next as a month after Chord’s release, he kicked off his newly-christened Glum label with the two-tracker Boxing Club trading in distorted, dubby waters and naroticized, played-through-the-wall house presaging the rise in lo-fi dance music that was still a couple years off from full-blown trend. Spitting Bile was an astounding four-tracker that showcased the producer’s range, at once throwing all of his influences into the blender while drawing a powerful and nuanced connection between dubstep and techno that was nothing like the strain of technoid dubstep pioneered by the likes of Appleblim and Peverelist.
Those two releases still remain amongst the most explosive releases in his catalog, but 2012’s long-player Lonely at the Top is an album that continues to reveals new treasures five years on, including one of the most sublimely beautiful tracks in the producer’s catalog, “USSR.” While samples had always been central to his production approach and sound, in retrospect Lonely feels like the final chapter of the producer’s initial trajectory, with the Crawlers EP on the now-dormant Liberation Technologies imprint carving out a sound more akin to the Glum EPs: functional yet confounding, familiar and alien as the producer jumped from itchy downbeats on the A to the bizarre 4X4 constructions on the flip. And then…nothing. Of course, if I had paid just a bit more attention to Rezzett, it would have been obvious very early on who was responsible as it allowed Blair to explore a rawer, more granular and distorted sound palette, stretching and bending the sonic skin to affix to his ever-evolving rhythmic skeleton.
While I now am in the process of hunting down the Trilogy records, it was upon seeing the return of Blair’s marquee pseudonym in Boomkat’s upcoming releases section a few weeks back that truly sent my heart aflutter. An artist always committed to quality over quantity and seemingly more so as he’s aged, that he was releasing the fourth entry in the Glum catalog and the first one in five years--following the less-sedated yet still quite askew house sounds of Samoyed--it felt like he was returning to his Ninja Tune-signed moniker with a sense of purpose.
The text on the Bandcamp page states that Twisted Blood is “for the adventurous DJ’s DJ” (hi!!!!!) and as soon as the clunky and lithe rhythmic backbone comes into full view on the opening title track, one is hardpressed to envision many dancefloors where this would be played in a peaktime set. With its skittering hi-hat fluttering over a staggered triplet bass kick pattern, Lukid’s mutant dance floor heaters suddenly have a lot more company via a new wave of UK producers like Batu and Ploy who are exploring the seemingly infinite tension to be found in the badlands between dubstep and techno. Nevertheless, from the textured distortion to the brittle and sticky topline that sounds like an electrified glockenspiel, Blair’s steady thump belies an experimental sensibility that opens up an additional dimension for the listener to explore upon repeat plays. While the producer may share a striking affinity for the lo-fi, he also has an abiding appreciation for nuanced mixes as evidenced on the hypno-ambient “Doom” that rides a contemplative, yawning loop of a hook that steadily fogs up the aural lens, which is wiped clean and left to dirty again and again until suddenly collapsing inwards upon itself.
Where his last effort under the Lukid alias seemed to compartmentalize two dominant strains of his sound--restless post-hip-hop daydreams backed with quaalude-aided house excursions--he splits the difference on “The Yips,” taking the track’s hesitation-filled title to the bank. Opening upon a rushed, nimbus-informed melody, the stark interplay between hi-hat and kick drum rhythms gradually enfolds additional percussive patterns and elements until the beat sounds almost tribal-industrial in its competing tom drum lines, like Afrikan Sciences reimagined for the Wax Trax! Label. Rounding out the EP is the wondrously-titled “Another Victory for Furniture” and its space-punctuated kick for a marriage of ambient techno harmonics with broken beat-informed drum parts that is equally ethereal and leaden, the vaporous synths exhaling in sync with the beat, seemingly growing weaker as the composition pushes past its initial build-up into an extended exploration of the dance music magic hour. Taking the tradition of the bucolic outro and stretching the momentary into something slightly more permanent, the track speaks to Lukid’s growing agility at maneuvering through the in-between areas shared between genres and styles, carving out a path distinctly his own against his countless reference points.
Unlike previous extended players, there's a sense of thematic cohesion that elevates the whole affair into a unified statement. That each track is so distinct is style and structure while retaining an unmistakable sonic signature is a real development for the producer and confirms the suspicion that he wouldn't have revived the project without a genuine artistic motive. After all, as he's made clear through his work for Trilogy as well as for Werk, he can make club-ready bangers with the same ease he can churn out a solid long player's amount of head-nodding and dome-scratching compositions and trackier twelve-inch fare. On Twisted Blod, we get a producer who's reached a new and exciting stage in his career, one that just might be considered with the same amount of consideration and reverence as is given his peer in Actress. For while Blair has never quite demonstrated the conceptual acumen of the Werk Discs founder, his exploratory mindset has given him much with which to sharpen his own distinct voice through inhabiting so many others' ideas and legacies; he's eschewed crafting genre meta-narratives in favor of developing a genre-hopping mentality that move right past pastiche into a referential zone of innovation and creation. While the past ten years has seen an artist coming into his own again and again, here's hoping that the next decade sees listeners starting to catch up to the many wonders Lukid has to offer.
Moving from a producer whose sound arguably prefigured many of the exciting developments occurring in the more adventurous corners of the UK to one whose embracing of experimental club aesthetics and techno traditionalism is fast becoming a new standard for the country’s producer vanguard, Manchester’s LOFT is the latest artist to realize a new step forward in their sound on Facta and K-Lone’s increasingly vital Wisdom Teeth label. In a year in which the label released almost as many records as they have in total since their 2013 inception, 2017 saw the dubstep-informed imprint crystallizing its sonic identity in earnest following the fourth world-facing On Line Vol. 1 collection and Duckett’s ethno-informed house-not-house Gannets for Guano EP. Taking Peverelist’s brand of winding, pretzeled techno rhythms as a starting point while engaging liberally with an experimentally-minded sonic palette that trades both in Lukid-esque lo-fi texturing and the 4K tech-step favored by Beatrice Dillon and Call Super on their ace pairing for Hessle earlier this fall, Three Settlements Four Ways finds the Mancunian up-and-comer displaying an omnivore’s appetite over the course of four intricate compositions.
Beginning with the shattered music box melody that provides the backbone for opener “Filton Recal,” one can be forgiven for mistaking the tension provided by the hi-hat and kick interplay in the track’s first ninety seconds for a rejected Livity demo tape. The sound may be considerably more bright, but the rhythms call to mind the rain-soaked technoid dub emanating from Bristol since producers first started connecting the dots between their city’s bassbin tradition and the mnml pulse of Berlin. Just as the track gains enough momentum to clear its atmosphere, an electro-fied snare hit strikes just left of the two and four, seemingly grounding its skyward pulse in more familiar dance floor territory while keeping listeners and dancers alike on their toes. LOFT's synthetic sensibility aids shines through the lush bed of synths that blossom beneath a lead siren melody, resting ever-so-oddly on a punchy and ever-morphing bass line. And then a vocoder enters the mix and any clarity or confidence one feels in terms of putting “Filton” in a single genre or stylistic box evaporates once again, a tenuous bridge constructed between the known and unknown.
The rhythmic interplay between a Classical Curves-esque machine gun-powered camera shutter and loping mechanical saunter sets the stage for EP stand-out "Funemployed," a song that seems to devour the past seven years of trends in UK dance music in as many minutes, drawing a line from Night Slugs to Timedance and beyond. A chirping vocal hiccup, polyphonic synth smiles, and even the passing doppler effect of an ambulance siren help contribute to LOFT's wide sonic berth as syncopated kicks, relentless hi-hat sixteenth notes and synth-aided percussion provide the track's exercise-bike-in-the-sky rhythmic foundation. A Sisyphean sensibility of climb-and-collapse serves as the track's animating element, recoiling instantly upon the barely-glimpsed releases that serve to punch breathing holes in the translucent soap bubble that serves to encase "Funemployed" in a panoptic observational tower of sorts, one that can easily survey the endless iterations of British and international dance music history.
The rhythmic car crashes of Jam City are conjured once more upon the outset of "Oh Well, We're All Fucked Now" while a seething army of dance music sounds beat against the door as LOFT moves with absolute agility from the stop-start dynamic into a constantly shifting rhythmic bedrock. Rude in all the right ways, the track is the sort that seems to be a slightly different hue on each listen, its far-reaching sensibilities making effortless bedfellow out of a never-ending stream of sonic theses and antitheses. Closing track "Pottlin" takes a precarious, delay-aided hi-hat pattern and adorns it with a lovelorn chorus of melted steel drums and metronymic bleep that is soon offset by an off-center bloop, competing elements fusing themselves together into rhythmic and harmonic clusters while warm synth strobe light flickers in the distance. Arguably the smoothest offering on hand, the dulcet tones deceiving the less perceptive listener into a sense of uncanny familiarity while the endless tinkering and one-off epiphanies keeps the inquisitive coming back for more.
LOFT's tech-y sound evokes the weirder side of mnml and UK techno while also sounding like something entirely other. The words it uses are familiar and commonly understood ones. And yet, the sentences and paragraphs they form are open to endless interpretations and impressions; styles and concepts that might not necessarily be present in the mix can seem painfully obvious on the first listen and seem wildly misplaced on the fifth. Where artists like Ricardo Villalobos were able to exercise their wackiest sound designer impulses and keep a dance floor moving due to the sturdy durability of a 4X4 kick, LOFT achieves a similar rhythmic momentum and steadiness through a bed of nails comprised of left turns and everything that was thrown at the wall and stuck. It's a dance music founded on a heterogeneity of references and influences that are found in the tunes themselves and are materialized through an alchemic process that we can hear coming into form. The four tracks on hand are equivalent to a series of state or phase changes, be it ice turning to water or water turning to steam; LOFT exhibits a similarly environmental mentality, his creations miniature ecosystems in their own right, teeming with endless life and possibilities.