Despite 2014 being an odd, transitional year in the development of the post-dubstep 'bass-techno' strain of UK dance music that we're currently charting with many of our subjects still finding their voices against their country's overbearing electronic music history, one who had already found his joined "Not Stochastic" in opening new realms of possibility. I make no secret of the fact that Beneath's 2012 debuts just did not get me excited, but they certainly got others fired up with the producer going on to feature prominently on Keysound's 2013 This is How We Roll compilation with label co-founder Blackdown a crucial early supporter of the man otherwise known as Ben Walker synthesis of UK Funky rhythms with early dubstep's stoicism and rudeness. Later releasing on continental tastemakers like Berceuse Heroique and PAN--it took me a minute, but Vobes is some filthy business--what was so striking about the producer in 2014 was how confident he seemed to be in his sonic vision, a particular sensibility he parleyed into the massive Mistry Muzik label.
Speaking with the producer last year, Walker explained his rationale for starting Mistry in a similar ho-hum way that fellow scene lynchpins Batu and Facta have described in their own Timedance and Wisdom Teeth labels. "I just wanted to release music that is getting overlooked and help push new talent," said Walker, noting that Laksa, Webstarr, Gaunt, and most recently Kailin have made their debuts on the label, no small feat considering that makes half of the total records Mistry has issued so far. In speaking to both Walker and some of the artists on the label, it becomes clear that he had much he wanted to express beyond his music and has a particular yet ever-evolving sense of taste. As he notes, "In comparison to my own output I guess it runs alongside it in parallel, my music or DJ sets potentially inspired some of the music released on Mistry and the music on Mistry inspired me to push harder to try and create something different and unique like they had done."
Walker's commitment to finding and supporting new music was an outgrowth of his own burgeoning DJ career. "The label started to form in my head when I noticed I was playing tracks that other people weren’t playing or taking notice of but I really liked," he commented, noting how effective the tracks were at getting a dance floor energized. Exchanging emails with Beneath, it became clear that he seemingly took delight in being somewhat contrarian to the belief that there is a new scene afoot, instead noting that its impact doesn't come near to the paradigm shift initiated by dubstep. And he's right. Whether there will ever be the level of future shock many associate with the different phases of the hardcore continuum--be it jungle, grime, UKG, or dubstep--is perhaps not the question with which we should be concerned. For as exciting as each of those new movements were, they soon became calcified creatively as aspiring producers would set out to make a "jungle" or "dubstep" tune that emulated the sounds and ideas that had once been so disruptive.
If we want to talk about radical ideas within electronic music, perhaps we should stop worrying about the rampant borrowing of old ideas and instead champion the move away from sonically cohesive scenes that typically reach a creative cul de sac towards loose groupings that encourage individual artistic growth. The lack of a regular club night, radio show, or even a clever linguistic label might rob journalists from the typical signifiers they can point to in order to identify a new scene or artistic movement and, more importantly, as Oscar Henson (aka Facta) has said, "It's meant that we don't really have an identity around us - whoever 'we' are." But it's also arguably encouraged a far less catholic approach to rooting one's sonic identity as a producer within genre. Producers like Lurka or even Untold who started out as "dubstep producers" now exist within an in-between space where ideas and styles can synthesize in ways they might have not otherwise.
When I started this research six months ago, I knew of Alex Coulton as a curious footnote of an artist who despite being responsible for the inaugural releases on both Dnuos Ytivil and Mistry, his more blunt-edged material for the ever-FWD Tempa label has kept me at an unreasonable distance. Yet, listening to "Bleep Sequence" today, one immediately hears many of the production tropes and themes of this new individualist class of British dance producer. As we mentioned in our discussion of "Stochastic," there was a renewed fixation with the high-end but not in the overly melodic and dexterous way that wonky moved the focus from the low to the mids and highs. As its title suggests, the high-end is highly evocative of the bleep techno, or bleep n' bass as it was also known, coming out of dreary northern industrial cities such as Sheffield, Leeds, Leicester, and Birmingham in the form of "The Theme" by Unique 3 , "Ital's Theme" by Ital Rockers, and a little-known group called LFO who are generally synonymous with the style. As Simon Reynolds has argued, bleep techno represented the first distinctly British take on what was until then a purely American artform, and thus serves as a preface to his hardcore continuum. Unlike bleep techno, high-end-focused tracks such as this, "Bleeper Feed" and the more percussive bleep hook of "Murmur" by Batu, and "66 Rebels" by Laksa don't use their bleep hooks so much as a melody as they do a twisted inversion of the classic dubstep drop.
Other sonic hallmarks that would help this and so many other tracks be mis-classified as techno or bass include the incessant off-beat hi-hat sequence, the staggered kick and atmospheric percussion, and the ease with which it can be mixed into a techno set, the 4X4 kick finally coming in the songs' final minutes after being teased for so long. It's not a song you necessarily hum, but much like dubstep, it's a sound you simply have to experience on a proper system to truly appreciate the wide range of frequencies at work. )to truly appreciate the wide range of frequencies at work over the restless and lively drum sequencing. And like "Stochastic," there's little low-end to speak of outside of a handful of kicks, opening up the post-dubstep landscape for something much more artistic while remaining closely aligned to its national tradition of electronic dance music.