Wrapping up our brief stop over in 2014 is Rob McAndrews aka Airhead's first twelve for post-dubstep tastemaker Hemlock and the only twelve released by a label that until last year seemed like it might have gone defunct despite its near-legendary A&R'ing at the start of this decade. After all, Jack Dunning's imprint boasts the distinction of releasing James Blake's first twelve alongside debuts by post-wonky operators like Fantastic Mr. Fox and early Cosmin TRG material, but by 2014 it seemed to have run out of creative gas like many other labels and producers who rode the vanguard wave of dubstep's glory days. I mean, do we really need to revisit the sad state the Hotflush label was in in 2014?
Anyway, let's talk about why we're including this EP by a producer whose music tends towards more formalist explorations, his love for a rolling swing displacing his earlier LA beat scene-influenced work, which was issued via the Ramp sublabel BRAiNMATH. Having gone on to sign to R&S alongside Blake as the longstanding Belgian label continued to flirt with the post-dubstep milieu for the first few years of this current decade, McAndrews was at a bit of a career crossroads when Hemlock issued this two-tracker following the tepid response that his For Years LP received in 2013. Having first gained prominence alongside mates like Blake and Mount Kimbie, by the time he signed to Hemlock it was clear the Airhead sound needed a bit of a freshening up, which it got in the form of the low-slung, uptempo breakbeat-led rollers "October" and "Macondo."
We've been talking a fair bit about how the sort of rolling grooves popularized by UKG gradually fell by the wayside during dubstep's populist period as songs became vehicles for their respective drops with any preceding groove or beat often as forgettable as the drops themselves. At the same time, as post-dubstep began to become something else entirely, we started seeing a new generation of producers reconfiguring the drop to coexist with the beat itself, often enhancing the groove rather than overwhelming or derailing it. "October" is a perfect example of the breakbeat-led rollers that have become the norm these days, but done with a far greater deal of nuance and detail than (insert breakbeat-led track burning up the Beatport charts here). "Macondo" takes the ideas presented on the A even further, creating a true track that could be fitted to just about any end.
Opening up on an exhaled cloud of 8-bit sounds, alien vocals, and atmosphere, "October" is the sound of of the would-be genre of wonky being picked over and disposed of in favor of something a bit more dance floor-friendly, something you can share with your fellow dancers. A high-end hook quickly comes into focus, a three-note descending melody arpeggiated to evoke those video games that have proven so influential on the past decade of dance music. But Airhead approaches his groove with an impatience carried over from his downtempo days, a snare roll upping the energy before one has even gotten the lay of the land and pulling the rug out from underneath the listener, leaving them marooned with only a beat and atonal samples. Evoking the sans bass rollage of "Velez," the beat underpinning "October" utilizes negative space to make each hi hat and snare hit smack the listener right upside the head before McAndrews switches up his 125 BPM track with a snarky downbeat that nods to what had razed so many new producers' naive potential, bringing back his arpeggiated lead melody but refusing to offer forth any form of reconciliation. It's a bridge of a track, a tool to be used by DJ's eager to push forward a metanarrative in an age without an end.