In my twenty-five-and-change years being a willful music fan, there's one hard and fast rule I've learned to abide by: If a release that I would expect to get into fails to land at first, well, try, try again. This has worked for acts as disparate as Don Caballero and Dariush Dolat-Shahi, but I still was a bit surprised by the sheer "aw shucks" quality that I experienced when listening to Bruce's two twelves released in the spring of 2016, the future broken beat of "Steals" for birth home Hessle Audio and the utterly beguiling "The Trouble With Wilderness" for Bristol's incredible-when-they-nail-it powerhouse Idle Hands run by Bristol lynchpin Chris Farrell.
In an interview with The Quietus released in anticipation of the Idle Hands release, the producer born Larry McCarthy discusses how during his senior year at university in Bath he decided to pursue a career as a producer and set about releasing 'bangers' to get on the labels that inspired him to make music, including Peverelist's Dnuos Ytivil and Hessle, upon which he released the expectation-razing "Not Stochastic." And while his two-tracker for Ytivil showed that he certainly was aware of the dance structures most commonly associated with 'banger status,' "Not Stochastic" was a banger partially through the sheer shock of its own newness, achieved through utilizing well-worn structures in extreme ways, riding a singular Delia Derbyshire sample for six straight minutes of pure WTF-ness. Discussing the university music course of which Batu, Asusu, and Vessel are also alumni, McCarthy commented, "My university course was best suited towards people who were interested in sounds on a real practical or even vocational level. Furthermore, it grasped sound on such a serious, sonic level and it showed us the ways in which sound works in all applicable, modern professions."
And while creating academic music wasn't in the cards for the producer who would soon become Bruce, his acumen with treating samples and rendering impractical sound practical has become a hallmark of his output. That McCarthy was able to land on such established labels with such unconventional music is a testament to scene godfathers like Tom Ford (Livity) and Ben UFO (Hessle) keeping an open ear and never becoming too fixated on a single genre or approach. In that Quietus interview, when asked to describe his music, Bruce gives an answer that at this point could practically serve as a manifesto for the loose grouping of artists covered in this space so far.
Well, I find my music really hard to define. It's often described as techno but I don't think it's as simple as that. When my mum or her friends ask, it is techno: 'You know mum, techno! "ush ush ush [fist pumps]"!' But I think genres and sub-genres in the current scene - and it has been this way for a while - have become somewhat pointless outside their journalistic purpose. From how it's seen from the outside world, the [concept of] genre seems to have become a parody of itself. And in a broader sense, both a result and a cause of this have meant that defining this mass of new music has become quite a disorientating task. I can say in all honesty, I haven't got that great of an understanding or knowledge when it comes to defining a genre. But when it comes to making tracks, of course I think about how they are going to be presented but I try not to think about how it will be categorised. I have no time for adhering to a particular sound. Whenever I do, I produce crap as a result.
That he refers to the very idea of genre as an ultimately self-parodying endeavor resonates with what Oscar Henson (Facta) told me in an interview last December when he talked about the influence of dubstep on this generation of bass bobblers as something of a double-edged sword as its big influence "on this new generation of producers and labels" is a "need to create something new," something that can be heard in tracks like "Stochastic." At the same time, the "self-referential, inward-looking nature" that came to characterize dubstep and its immediate offspring has instilled a "real sensitivity" in these producers as well in that "they don't really want to be likened to one another too much" in terms of producing a similar, easily identifiable sound or style."
Bruce's quote also identifies the early tendency to group these new producers under the "techno" heading even if their broken and pretzeled beats and genre-bending releases made such categorizations desperately lacking. And while that term could be used with less issue at the start of 2016, the drum machine samba of "Steals"--not to mention those B cuts--and the neo-ambient-house of "Wild" couldn't have been less removed from the fist-pumping hedonism often associated traditional techno. Opening on microburst of a truncated breakbeat which is soon banished to the back of the filter queue as an early drum machine-like waltz-beat gains its sea legs, the rhythmic framework gently sees two different beats melding into one for a heady, slippery pattern that is as funky as it is martial. Given the rampant popularity of breakbeats these days, McCarthy offers up a savvy twist on the growing trend as the rotary-like beat evokes an Amen-derived polyrhythm while retaining a monochromatic quality as if he had bleached out all of the color, just like the white label that adorns the track's physical release. Churning away at a cool house-friendly 122 BPM, "Steals" lacks the thudding kick of "Stochastic," seemingly treading air right above ground. The distorted, crunchy chord stabs that enter the mix in the final third make good on the song's elevator jazz vibe, delayed staccato triplets and all, providing ideal musical furniture over which the song's questioning top line drapes itself. To me, "Steals" has always sounded like a lost Antena demo left to bake in a boiler-filled basement for thirty years. More importantly, it signaled that this was a producer who would not fit neatly into any one box and that the post-genre approach described in the above quote was a sentiment shared by his various label mates.
For as unique and important of a track as "Steals" is, it's "Wilderness" that for me truly seemed to communicate the sense of "burn all rule books" that has permeated the Timedance-Wisdom Teeth-Mistry Musik axis of producers whose music we've been interrogating the past month. "Wilderness" is one of those psychedelic techno-house hybrids that can totally pass the less-attentive or adventurous listener/DJ by. Starting off with a compressed af kick and a vaguely tech-house-indebted bass line, things quickly go off rails at 1:11 as the beat just collapses into a molten ooze, only to patiently pick itself up together as a whispered voice of "I will always love you" pierces the mix, and the heart (it does tho! This was supposedly a track created in relation to a breakup and it's that vocal utterance the truly moves into far more heartfelt realms.) For while the kick and tech-house tropes may now be firmly back in place, they're joined by the wistful, cursory melody introduced in that first breakdown that injects boku melancholia into the track while Bruce's drum programming starts fixing to up the energy with his double-timed high-hats and post-Linn snare hits. Things hit a slightly more predictable impasse around the 4:08 mark, the grid seemingly disappearing into the ether and reappearing almost as fast as a solitary kick joins the lead melody and some atmospheric echoes before the whole kaboodle comes roaring back into a focus, a lachrymose high-end melody adding that last, much-needed piece of kinetic sadness. And the groove carries on until an extended beatless outro buries the beat in the ground.
Given how unexpected and baffling as both releases' A side were, the two tracks contained on both B sides only served to further muddle any simple reading of what Bruce's music exactly sounded like or where his music fared best, be it on the floor or at home (or in the woods). What's perhaps most significant though is how each three-tracker felt like a work unto itself. No matter how stylistically different each track was from the other, they share a similar fidelity and mood that is as heavy as it is intractable. Of course, as he would go to demonstrate on his subsequent Timedance and Hemlock releases, even when seemingly paying heed to a genre's tropes, McCarthy has that unique ability to inject whatever he touches with an artistic singularity all of his own. That this is a trait shared by so many of his peers at the moment is exactly what makes this 'scene' so goddamn compelling while remaining resistant to any established category or buzzword-y scene neologism. And I wouldn't have it any other way.