If 2013 and 2014 represent incubatory and transitional stages for the next generation of UK bass bobblers, 2015 is the year where it became clear that something new and exciting was afoot in the seemingly endless post-dubstep timeline. Part of what makes UK dance music so tricky to write about is that many of the characters often remain the same, meaning that it's difficult to neatly draw a musical history DMZ of where this new UK sound began. That said, the first release on existing scene concern Batu's (née Omar McCutcheon) new Timedance label in March of 2015 marks a significant new development in the post-dubstep saga, one that moved away from that label towards the ambiguous zones of bass music and techno.
And not for nothing does Batu's Discogs page identifies him as a "Bass music / Techno producer from UK." For while he boasts a Bristolian heritage--that second city of UK dance music that has long provided a crucial parallel narrative to the developments going on in London--when I first reached out to McCutcheon for this story last July, it soon became clear to me that like myself, much of the producer's formative experiences in his music development occurred not in the sweaty rafts of Plastic People but online. Remarking that my initial stab at making sense of the current post-Livity crop of producers reminded him of something he'd have read on Dissensus--that crucial late-00s forum for the nerdier, more theoretical strain of UK music fan, not to mention a blush-worthy compliment--he had also been a committed contributor to Dubstep Forum, an essential online hub for the development of the genre in the 00s.
Identifying a five-year period between the ages of thirteen and eighteen in which he discovered dubstep despite already having some experience with writing music and producing in DAWs, the young artist was swept up by a shared "overwhelming urge to contribute to that scene. I'd never experienced such a collaborative, community like spirit." He adds that when it came to learning production, "I got so much help on the internet," help that encouraged him "to add something" to a scene that he still felt "very very much on the fringes [of]." Whether through online networking or by virtue of sharing a city with dubstep accelerators Peverelist and Pinch, McCutcheon had the considerable good fortune to release his first two twelves on the former's Ytivil Dnuos and the latter's then-nascent Cold Recordings, a label with the stated mission of chronicling "new movements in the ever evolving UK hardcore-continuum."
While both singles are not slouches in any way, listened to now, it's clear that McCutcheon was still learning how to develop his own artistic voice, one that had been constructed through an online music fan's existence. Speaking as to what unites him and the other artists who would go on to release on Timedance--an ever-growing list that includes Lurka, Ploy, Laksa, L.SAE, and Bruce--McCutcheon notes:
I think all of us come from a generation where we haven't been tied to a localised or insular scene. We've all dug online and taken bits from here and there as influence - cultivating our own singular sounds. I guess where this differs to other UK scenes (perhaps?) is that we are still basing what we make in a pretty UK-centric heritage. Dubstep, Grime, Jungle, Garage, DnB is very much core to the influences of what I make, but other things come into the fray....I mean, in a age where we have access to so much amazing music who wants to just listen to one genre?
Contained in the above observation is some of the principle defining themes of this distinctly UK scene, including that many of its key producers came of age online with access to music not otherwise available to them from their local scene, its geographically dispersed nature, and its creators' willingness to draw in ways both explicit and implicit from other genres and styles while still each developing a singular sound all their own. And there's really no better word to describe the tracks "Cardinal" and "Domino Theory" that make up the A and B sides of Batu's third overall release as unlike his previous efforts, while both sides contained ideas and even sounds borrowed from innovators like Pinch and Pev, it does so while creating something not easily boiled down to its constituent parts. In doing so, Timedance and peer labels like Wisdom Teeth and Mistry Muzik have resisted the type of new scene-fawning articles such a unique sound would warrant as any attempt to try and pigeonhole a group of producers who seem to define themselves in relation to not being easily pigeonholed will feel painfully outdated even months after its publication.
Quite interestingly (and perhaps tellingly), Mixmag's 2016 hype piece on this "new UK techno sound" has been the only such piece I've encountered. Locating the roots of the scene within the techno-referencing dubstep proffered by Pinch's 2010 "Croydon House" single--though fellow Bristolian producers like Pev and Appleblim were notably drawing throughlines from their city to the icy techno of Berlin and Basic Channel--McCutcheon's remarks remain focused on the unconventional nature of his label's output, fostered by the "open-minded mentality" that "scene elders" like Pev and Pinch, not to mention the Hessle and Hemlock crews, have been pushing since dubstep's crucial middle period of 2005-2008. And while the article smartly connects many of the then-available dots and identifies Batu's Timedance party as a crucial petri dish for the scene's development, it's important to note that try as it might to argue, Batu's and other's Bristol origins are not a definitive feature of their sound.
Of course, one only needs to give either side of Timedance 001 a spin to be hard-pressed to nail down its origins to a particular city, though both tracks remain unmistakably products of the UK's unique electronic dance music history. That McCutcheon placed "Cardinal" on the A serves as a strong indicator of his willingness to defy and transcend expectations. An odd, plodding transition mark of a song, its steady sixteenth-note percussion and sneaky, unresolved bass and high-end melodies make it still easily insertable within a traditional techno or more broken beat-focused set three years on with little else out there taking the kinds of risks it does. Those looking for obvious bangers were likely discouraged at this point from proceeding to the twelve's B side, much to their loss.
Opening up on a similar sixteenth-note led percussive spine, this time with more of a swing, the mobius strip melody transposes the pretzeled rhythms of the Livity stable onto the harmonic side of things while the beat itself takes more traditional techno forward shuffle while remaining infinitely vexing, the seemingly predictable snare hit on the fourth beat often falling just outside of its target range. That the song is pretty much entirely held together by layers of interlocking arpeggiations signal that early post-dubstep artists like Ikonika and Zomby likely had an influence on the young McCutcheon, though he isn't aiming for type of song-based resolution that much of the 'wonky' era achieved. Forcing his melody into an oblique groove, the beat becomes inferred in a way--baked into the very notes themselves--for McCutcheon to deploy what is perhaps the track's most astounding feature: its expectation-defying breakdown. In that Mixmag article, Ben Walker (aka Beneath) remarks on his own experience playing "Domino Theory" to crowds at Bergain and "being totally lost in that mad breakdown." He goes on to comment, "that tune is exactly what I want to play in a club. It’s measured but it’s got this forward momentum that feels unstoppable until the mad breakdown comes in." And really, I can't think of a better summation of what makes "Domino Theory" such a belter for the dancer and DJ alike as it sweeps up the crowd in its tireless melodic engine while displaying the type of rhythmic sophistication and directness that makes it an easy track to slip in to sets of all sorts. This modular quality of much of the scene's tracks, productions that both stand out while remaining utilitarian for the DJ, would go on to become one of the defining hallmarks of this new scene, a willingness and commitment to interrogating old forms to produce new syntheses and developments.