After a day spent staring in an uncertain abyss, this dude needs some sure footing. And considering we’ve just introduced Laksa and Gaunt to the timeline, it only makes sense to move into the start of 2016 when I was first introduced to the mind-boggling music of Ploy. Having enrolled in the Gatekeeper-taught music production class at the University of Bristol that Bruce and his other Bristolian peers attended as well, the producer born Sam Smith first began making percussive deep house under his birthname-derived name of Samuel for labels like Shanti Celeste and Chris Farrell’s BRSTL imprint and Not So Much before moving onto another single-work pseudonym in the shape of Ploy. In a scene where as much if not more emphasis is fostering difference as it on finding and encouraging certain stylistic commonalities, the raft of austerely-named producers like Laksa, Lurka, L.SAE, Batu, Bruce, Gaunt, Parris, Beneath, and so many others is an almost cute example of the latter.
Released on Hessle Audio, Ploy's "Sala One Five" was brought to wide attention early on in this stage of the producer's development thanks to co-label head Ben UFO's ace A&R skills and the inclusion of the track in his beyond-obsessed-over RA 500 mix. Having just come off their most fetid year and having produced records with diminishing returns between 2013-2015 following six years of nearly a bum release, that they kicked off 2016 with both the Ploy release and later another stellar Bruce release we'll be getting to shortly. For me, hearing the first Ploy release and in particular "Sala" on a brutal early February afternoon walking down 14th St. in Manhattan was my first indication that something truly different and new might just be out there.
From its opening seconds, few things sound like "Sala One Five," either then or today. Like hearing techno dissolved in a vat of molten lava or the type of acid the Joker fell into, its motorik kick drums soon give way to one of the scene's most potent tropes, the staggered triplet kick. And considering how important this drum pattern has been for this crop of producers, count sixteen out loud and accent the beats as follow: BUM-da-da-BUM-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-BUM-da-da-da-da. Simple, right? But the accents only come into focus following the initial future shock this track can't help but elicit as the sound of entering the airlock of a spaceship and then instantly going into warp nine places the listener right in the track's wind tunnel acoustics. A rhythmic top-line joins proceedings at the one-minute mark as the producer continues his steady but growing build until 'the drop' hits at two-minutes in with an electro last hit coming in on the three to truly send things into hyperdrive. And it's this bass-anchored weightlessness that has really become a hallmark of this new sound as with all the baffling noises and ideas fighting for air within this mix, there remains a technoid ghost animating affairs and throwing dancers a bone of sorts while also turning up its noise at techno--at least the chugalug percussive workouts with little character that have come to dominate too many sets by too many DJ's. There's something ineffably fresh and comfortingly familiar in the music Ploy makes, with B1 cut "Move Yourself" taking the housier side of Detroit and turning it on its head while using a drum sample that should be instantly recognizable to anyone who's spent some time with Donuts. And while the futurism inherent in so much of Detroit techno is an undeniable reference point for "Sala" and "Move Yourself," by the time Smith released the Unruly EP for Hemlock last fall, it became clear that like his peers, he is more content to push back at any attempt to put him into a stylistic corner. In all, it's a stunning debut and arguably one of the most important dance records of the past two years as it seemed to only push his peers to deconstruct the genre tropes so many other UK producers had long pledged fealty to while Smith continues to reset the rules with each release.