What does the Timedance compilation Patina Echoes represent in the larger scheme of UK dance music? And what agenda am I imposing in asking this question? Well, I'm not sure.
I've got my head deep in writing and IRL-generated anxiety--turns out a lot of people don't get the concept of time being worth money, like srsly--so I approach this review with both hesitation and joy. The hesitation arises over the fact that in writing a review about the first album-length statement from a label I've broadly identified as being at the center of an ever-expanding network of nuance and trying to reconcile my own still-gestating and always-changing thoughts with the utilitarian need to at least try and write a review that's informative without throwing anyone into the deep end I'm currently wading my way out of. And, well, the joy comes from trying to at least listen to the music as music firstly, narratives set aside if only for a moment, perhaps uncovering an unconsidered angle in the process.
Let's get to it as I'm going to ramble. Timedance is a label founded in 2015 by Omar McCutcheon. Born in Bristol but not quick to identify as a Bristol Producer (in the sense that the city has a rich, storied, and intimidating musical history), his father and uncle ensured he grew up against a very British backdrop of "dub and punk and jungle." One of the defining shared sensibilities that is true for everyone that has released on the label is the importance of dubstep in their individual musical journeys. An extension of that love which is shared by the new young producers making their debuts on Patina Echoes is the fact that the internet was truly a tool that allowed Batu to use those oh-so-important ages between thirteen and eighteen to begin his path to production and music unavailable in his immediate environs.
When I discovered dubstep and the underground world surrounding it I was about 13. I was already writing music and had some experience with DAWs. There was an overwhelming urge to contribute to that scene. I'd never experienced such a collaborative, community like spirit. Even though I was very very much on the fringes I wanted to add something I guess. There was also a network (dubstepforum) ready and waiting where I knew I could be supported. Despite not really knowing anyone around me who guided me with production I got so much help on the internet.
Dubstepforum and Dissensus were/are two music forums--remember those? No? CHECK ONE OUT--that arose around dubstep and an increased critical debate about its merits and role within the Hardcore Continuum (HCC; more on that in a sec pls). The former was more 'fanboy' to again speak broadly, but as Omar notes, it was where those truly serious about making dubstep could congregate to learn from one another. As he also notes, he was on the fringes, another defining characteristic of the music we will be talking about: functional, club-focused music that also works well as home listening that tends to either push at the margins of an establish genre or style. Or, as Parris has put it, artists like himself, Bruce, Beatrice Dillon, Minor Science, and Actress make "music [that] sits nowhere but at the same time sits everywhere."
Personally, I've found myself settling on an idea that positions itself somewhere between those two poles, one within genre and the other outside or beyond it. To these ears, so much of the dreadful pastiche we've heard across almost all new music everywhere has morphed into 'bricoliche' (a portmanteau of 'bricollage' and 'pastiche'). After all, very few pop songs can be seen as engaging n any form of 'genre purism,' often instead going for an uninspired mèlange. At some point in the mid-90s, subgenres started emerging like trip-hop, illbient, and I supposed other forms of the brand of music some have referred to as 'sampledelica' for the way a wide range of samples are collaged together to create something that sometimes is more than the sum of its parts. These genres also got stale fast, indicative of the boom-and-bust cycle most electronic genres have undergone: a period in which a new style or form emerges out of or in response of (or both) another genre or tradition. The idea of 'tradition' in modern dance music has almost always been the remit of disco, house, techno; all three of which persist as the three principle classifiers under which so much music is filed.
The idea of a tradition is much more slippery as it often involves a retroactive picking out of patterns that emerge over the passing of decades or centuries, though we're definitely in the short durée for the purposes of this piece. While a term that certainly has folksy connotations, to me, tradition isn't far away from dogma or religion as fractures often emerge within the same continuum--be it rap or, for our cases, the HCC. In its most basic sense, the HCC refers to a period in which pirate radio was dominant in the pre-internet 90s and early 00s, a "lineage" of genres that goes Hardcore->Jungle->UKG/2-Step->Grime->Dubstep->? Now, all the bickering this idea will be covered extensively, but at this point, I think it's just important to remember the terms was coined by one bloke, Simon Reynolds, to describe a wide-ranging London-centric neo-modernist charge towards the 'new.' That, for some people, the new is going to start sounding old is a symptom that many thinkers have identified.
What honestly bothers me more about the term's existence is that it is inevitably used 'incorrectly' by more passive music fans/writers as I've just recently seen and heard it referred to as a genre or as something still going on (the debate is pretty conclusive on that part--the internet killed the nuum and everything else we loved about the 90s. Oh well). That incorrect use of language would perturb a writer isn't exactly astonishing, but it's certainly led me down a rich well of reading and thought.
For if the post-dubstep period (2009-2012) was an overly media-hyped and self-conscious attempt to reignite the excitement dubstep incited in so many people of my age and younger (born 1984) that itself was a continuation of the hype-facilitated blossoming and withering of numerous genres in the 90s and 00s, there has been a conspicuous lack of press or criticism in the past five years of UK dance music (or "UK techno" as it seems to be called). And I'm not necessarily saying that this is necessarily a 'good' or 'bad' thing but rather simply curious and perhaps an indication of an inability on the part of the press to at least try and connect the dotsa. While Batu's almost a decade younger than me, it's a riot talking to other producers like Facta, Ploy, and Beneath as we all share a reverence for dubstep that's, well, not particularly 'cool' at the moment. We also all watched something we love turn into an utter parody of itself, which starts to explain the hesitation amongst these producers to be lumped together under some generalist genre tag when 'techno' or 'bass' seems to get the point across (but does it really?) Of course, the people who mock dubstep tend to not have the slightest clue as to what dubstep originally was, only what it became (like thinking of trip-hop as car commercial music rather than having a Proustian flashback where Portishead, Massive Attack, and seemed to attempt to supersede genre singularity before being reterritorialized by the 'formula-fication' of their sound).
Nevertheless, what we've been seeing in the past five years is what, to my ears at least, sounds like the first iteration of UK dance music that was perhaps born of the nuum but not tethered to it, neither the practices that defined the HCC--dubplate and sound-system culture, pirate radio, mentasm stabs, and science of the breakbeat, vocal, and bass variety. Today, two of those musical traditions are very much alive, but one could also argue drum-and-bass science really goes back to Jamaican dub. What really matters for this generation of producers, or at least the eleven assembled on Patina is seemingly a reflection of McCutcheon's desire to "showcase how we can still have dance music that isn’t relying on any specific pre-existing tropes. It can feel familiar in some ways and still feel fun, but be exciting.” Experimentalism and formalism have long seem tailor-made for one another, especially in the mid- to late-90s rise of glitch and other microscopic forms of house and techno that, much like the junglists a few years earlier, got into not just the DNA of rhythm, but sound as well. While I'll vouch for Villalobos and a number of other producers that can be grouped under the MNML umbrella that ruled the 00s, the sound design valued by dear Ricardo was something to be ultimately imitated and the genre receded into the purist stage (when the diehards either remain or arrive late).
Taking in the work being released by dubstep dons Peverelist's Livity Sound and Pinch's Cold Recordings and vanguard steppers like Hemlock and Hessle alongside labels like Timedance, Wisdom Teeth, Mistry Muzik, No Corner, Hotline, and many others reveals a club music that is often more rhythmically varied and sonically adventurous, from low-end to high. That Patina Echoes--which carries in the long tradition of dance music label comps--opens with a voice both new to the label and vinyl altogether speaks to the FWD>> mentality that's persisted on from dubstep even as it takes forms its originators could have never imagined.
Cleyra's "Naked" is a vaporous, sensuous take on what I've started referring to as the broken bass style that has concretized into something of a template, though one whose inward-looking rhythmic complexity keeps things fresh. Such is the case on "Naked" as pillowy pads and hand percussion give the whole thing a decidedly lounge-y vibe--albeit one that sounds like it's located in never-ending field of grass. It's jungle by way of UKG rhythm is light but forceful, providing the track with the necessary forward energy and calming vibes to both gently guide the listener into the world of Patina Echoes while priming the repeat listener with a chance to hear rRoxymore's "bRINGTHEbRAVE." Complimenting her recent Thoughts of An Introvert' Part 2's triad of tracks that married nimble drum programming with quasi-cacophonous (and vary intense) harmonics, "bRING" starts off with a two-minute rhythmic-melodic vamp, the cutely-phased percussive sixteenth notes providing the rhythmic anchor for the pummeling, punctuated kick drum assault that follows, wafts of the carnivalesque floating about. I gotta admit, the fact that Batu, Ploy, Bruce, and a few others all studied sound design comes across in so much of what that nexus of producers both does and interact with, rRoxy achieving a balance between a Timedance-friendly bass breakdrop (coined it!;) and her own curious melodic sensibilities and a track that speaks to the incredible mastering job Beau Thomas does on everything he seems to touch (as I was not feeling the track via the initial stream).
Completing the opening build-up that kicks off the comp is rising techno producer Chekov's "Stasis 113," a blistering fusion of machine noise and syncopated kicks that will snap any neck in the immediate vicinity. The track is very much a development of the ideas presented on his EP for Shanti Celeste's Peach Discs, a theme, er, thematized by Via Maris, another graduate (I believe) of 'dubstep university,' Where his first two records were lithe rhythmic rollers, his three-track EP for Beneath's Mistry imprint saw him going from slowly seismic belters to the more diminuitive with the miniaturized UKG waltz of "Toys" (recently deployed to devilish effect on Parris's must-hear RA podcast...and scoop that Beatrice Dillon on Fact too!) It doesn't take too long for "Side Effects" to invoke its title as the driving, percussive intro gives way to a pensive low-end and radar synth laser shots. French champ Simo Cell comes sauntering with the low 100sBPM of "Consider the Internet" (early contender for song title of the year, folks!) Evocative of the type of slow tom-drum techno sambas conjured up on Batu's Marius EP from last year but boasting a formidable percussive bass drone.
After this parade of familiar faces, we're treated to the ascetic-yet-bombastic "Sleep Rotation" that in equal steps reminds one of the dank atmospherics of Sleeparchive with the go-for-broke high-end sound madness that harkens back to mnml's most formless moments (while still remaining pretty damn formalist!) Outré techno producer Metrist, who also released the second Timedance record under his fantastic L.SAE, gave me a solid reminder of what made those tracks so special on the blinding "Auld Flaurist": a willingness to push things until the seams start to split. What begins as another exceptional cut of weirdo techno soon transforms into a ghetto tech banger based around a single, stuttering vocal utterance. It's phenomenal. He's soon joined by fellow Timedance stablemate and all-around stallion Bruce, an artist whose ear for samples and his ability to manipulate them into something truly otherworldly has been on display since his Delia Derbyshire-sampling breakthrough debut "Not Stochastic." And while this factoid is perhaps irrelevant, it's also hard not to hear the brief but intensive composition "Let's Make The Most Of Our Time Here" as both a loving homage to his country's considerable history of post-musique concréte musical voyagers and a statement of intent towards the brand of 'futurism' that labels like Timedance represent: one that's in constant dialogue to the past without ever kowtowing to it. What's so remarkable about "Let's Make"--and perhaps accounts for my generous/presumptive reading--is that it actually manage to capture that sense of excitement/thrill of discovery that makes listening to early electronic music like Derbyshire or her contemporary Daphne Oram feel so electric. You hear the producer starting out with a number of fixed elements and mold them into every sonic shape imaginable with sounds appearing as if they're occupying two different states of becoming at once. It's emergent music, music built around a sense of process and not-knowing what may next arise from the rainbow puddle. Considering that Bruce helped win Timedance some serious attention via his big room destroyer "I'm Alright Mate," that his appearance on the comp will be in the form of an amorphous experimental jaunt speaks to the restlessness that seems to animate so many of these producers, never content to stay still in just one style or genre while actually offering up a substantial piece of music (it feels that token nods to experimental music have become part and parcel of dance music at this point, but experimental music's role in many of these producers' work should not be downplayed in the least.)
While I was unfamiliar with Neinzer's music before hearing "Horus," it has the unenviable task of following Metrist on the vinyl pressing of the comp and more than holds its own. Riding a percolating post-Livity pretzeled rhythm, he introduces choral-like slabs of materialist ambiance like voices in cement being smashed with a dubwise sledgehammer. It's evocative of Shackleton in spirit, while carving out its own singular sonic space.
Calling to mind a more tribal A Made Up Sound through his elastic yet rugged broken beats, Nico's "Soft Opening" harkens back to the album's opening moments as its steely veneer melts into a vat of aural velvet. Speaking of velvet, label badman Ploy (who has a new record out on Timedance at the end of the month!) closes the album with its second beatless composition, and like Bruce's, it's a doozy. Built around a blooming smear of polychromatic chords, "=O" shimmers in a way few 'ambient' tracks ever seem to these days. To me, it's oddly reminiscent of the future jazz heard on Huerco S.'s Loidis record its ability to render the music liquid and the notes and space in between somehow fuse into one blisteringly beautiful closing statement.
Like the album itself, the title Patina Echoes seems to offer a vague statement of intent or summation of the contents contained within. A word that first originated to refer to the aquamarine film that appears as a result of extended oxidation in metals such as copper or bronze, it's a sign of aging and duration and a pretty one at that (just see the picture at the top of this article). As tried-and-true genres like house, techno, jungle, broken beat, UKG, 2-step and many others are woven into the album's eleven tracks, each piece provides yet another vantage point into the curious development of these established forms as they never resist the past but rather use it as a springboard past pastiche into something truly fresh-feeling. Could these tracks have all been conceivable ten or twenty years ago? Probably. But why waste one's time worrying about that when the music itself is accomplishing things not plausible twenty years ago and the people making it come from no fixed place or position and are able to connect and exchange ideas regardless of geography? Patina Echoes is not a game-changer and I sincerely doubt it was developed to be. What it is is one of the best representations of what's exciting in dance music right now, both in the UK and well beyond it. The new singularity is a plurality and Patina Echoes effectively captures the myriad voices and ideas now coexisting in a shared, open space in a way that is simply unprecedented.