Over the course of the past two-and-a-half months, I've been seeking to provide a deep dive into what I consider one of the most exciting musical nexuses currently operating: the post-post-dubstep school of producers in the UK and beyond that has cropped up around newer labels like Timedance, Cold Recordings, Wisdom Teeth, and Mistry alongside erstwhile (post-)dubstep labels like Hemlock, Hessle. and Livity Sound/Dnuos Ytivil. In mapping out the chronology, Tom Ford's (Peverelist) Livity imprint--founded alongside fellow Bristolians Asusu and Kowton--emerges as a crucial line of flight that arguably set the agenda for the continued musical outgrowth extending from Dubstep. Listening to the label's catalog between both 2011 and 2013 and 2015 to present, one hears the emergence of certain tropes--rolling broken techno, a focus on groove and atmosphere, inter-genre exploration and synthesis--that have served more as ideational fuel for the many producers who have emerged in the past five years than a template to copy. These musical developments have also been cleverly reflected in the label's ever-evolving visual design, as I discussed last month.
Writing in the fall of 2016 before I had fully immersed myself in the productions associated with the above labels, I struggled with trying to understand whether Livity Sound represented a late stage in the post-dubstep period or something distinct enough to signal a new stage in the development of nuum-adjacent UK dance music. For as cherished as both labels' catalogs are, writing at the time about the French producer Simo Cell's Gliding EP, I couldn't quite escape the feeling that the four tracks featured on the release were trying a bit too hard to sound Livity-friendly as each track indulged in many of the label's sonic tropes.
However, one of the principal themes to have emerged from our extended dive into the past five years of UK dance music is the desire amongst this new crop of producers to take considerable risks with each new release, often changing up genre, style, or even their production approaches. At the same time, looking at producers like Laksa, Bruce, and Ploy who craft extremely distinct records, a certain continuity starts to emerge within each producer's catalogs. Whether it's the eternally shuffling drums of Batu, the laser synths of Laksa, Bruce's brilliant sampling, or Ploy's rhythm science, defined silhouettes begin to emerge. In the case of Simo Cell, his stellar 2017 output helped me to make sense of his earlier, once-underwhelming releases while crafting the portrait of a particularly exciting and promising young producer.
Kicking off his 2017 with his second appearance on the Wisdom Teeth label, he showcased his distinctly crystalline approach to rhythmic ambient on "Symmetry." Released the following June on the exciting French Brothers From Different Mothers label, the Pogdance EP felt like a far more personal affair, its five distinct tracks ranging from the smart electro of "Crystal" to the IDM jungle tear-out "Echo Doppler." Both releases went a considerable way to filling out my perception of the producer and getting a better sense of his muscular yet supple voice, but for my money, it was last December's return to Livity Sound that truly cemented Simo Cell as one of the more exciting acts in this increasingly international scene.
The A side of Pour Le Club! is comprised of two different versions of the muscular broken beat romp "Stop the Killing." Where the Gliding EP often sounded unsure of itself as each track felt like a different exercise in UK dance mechanics, "Stop the Killing" is a ferocious rhythmic assassin that also serves to highlight just how insufficient the genre categories of "techno," "bass music," and "broken beat" truly are. This is primarily because unlike so much other dance music that seems to just seek to recapture the magic of the 90s, Simo Cell's gaze is focused squarely on parsing out the complexity of our present moment. As we've seen so far in our analysis, establishing a vibes-heavy atmosphere is usually given equal if not more priority than topline melodies and the opening minutes of "Stop the Killing" play out like an elaborate rhythm track, the beat starting off with the familiar elements--off-beat hi-hat hits, interchanging tom and kick patterns--and gradually grows more rhythmically complex and dense despite the presence of a 4X4 kick pattern. A growling bass snarl emerges and plays off the soaring, ricocheting UFO of an upper register hook while tribal toms mutate endlessly before a downward percussive domino effect signals the track's closing moment: a locked groove that makes it a true weapon in any clever DJ's arsenal.
Ratcheting up the tempo from 133 to 136BPM, the "Intello Mix" of "Stop the Killing" on the A2 sees the negative spaces of the above track adroitly filled in as a chorus of glasslike percussion introduces the track before the restless, punishing beat kicks in at full force. Yawning pads and rhythmic-melodic accents join the broken beatdown, feedback careening over the landscape and its tributaries. At the time of Pour Le Club's release, it was joined in my record bag by Skee Mask's dizzying ISS002 and Djrum's Broken Glass Arch EP. Each release took ample liberties with junglist drum patterns but at a tempo closer to 130 than 160 so as to create rhythmic patterns that felt somewhat novel in an age where innovation often takes a backseat to emulation. As the "Intello Mix" works through itself, the producer is able to take percussive gambles that pay off in their singularity while presenting a version of the A1 that works as well in a home listening environment as it does in le club.
Lest one starts to feel worn down by the beatdown of the A side, "How Do You Turn This On" starts the B side with another lithe and extended percussive intro as the producer makes nanosecond nods to seemingly everything from electro to juke. A stuttered triplet kick pattern emerges to support the radar beeps populating the high-end before the bass mothership comes down to land with a totalizing and syncopated bassline. Much like the "Intello Mix," when Simo Cell looks beyond his ripping drums and bowel-churning bass he pulls from a decidedly alien-sounding palette of FX and synths. Even the single-note bassline takes on a quality of morse code as its inscrutable rhythm is hammered out beneath a shrieking fogbank and a quasi-melodic light show ripped straight from Encounters of the Third Kind.
Closing track "Feel Di Kouala Vybz" kicks the tempo up to a junglist-friendly 160BPM for what becomes arguably the EP's most lighthearted moment. For as rhythmically exciting as the preceding three tracks are, they're also melodically sparse as Simo Cell seems to be working within a framework that feels more closely related to Jlin's post-footwork beat science or Kode9's intricate jungle juke than many of the artists we've discussed so far. But on "Feel," the Frenchman puts in his lot with the UK's tradition of polyrhythmic dance music to craft a sleek, laser-guided closing track that pairs rapid hand drums with an impatient bass throb and more astrally-inclined sonics. Even when the beat goes double time, the bass pulsation remains to give the vertigo-inducing sensation of running in place and taking flight all at once.
Where the Gliding EP felt overrun with competing and often counter-intuitive ideas and impulses, the four tracks on Pour Le Club! feel like they've been put through an exercise work camp and shrunk down to just muscle, bone, and almost dangerously low body fat. The A side, in particular, makes for a uniquely compelling listen as one could easily listen to both tracks a dozen times and never peg them as two different versions. With this release, Simo Cell catapulted himself to the head of the class when it comes to his ambitious, take-no-prisoners approach to drum programming and DJ's and dancers alike are the better for it. Here's looking forward to what the producer has in store for 2018.