,The country of Latvia made a strong showing in my record buying over the past few days as I finally got a much-needed copy of the ~Stroom label's NSRD EP by NSRD, or Nebijušu Sajūtu Restaurēšanas Darbnīca, which is Latvian for "Restoration Workshop of Unprecedented Feelings" from my trusted resource for fucked-up dance music, 2 Bridges. And while I hope to do a belated review of both the aforementioned EP and their Workshop For The Restoration Of Unfelt Feelings full-length collection, for the time being, let me just leave you with my absolute favorite track from the EP, "Augu nakti. Kādā rītā. Šovakar." And if you're still itching for more from the ~Stroom camp, you'd be smart to check out the recent Les Anges, Les Bonheurs EP of moody trip-hop from Sonoko, Keysha / Fg's Romance's cross-genre synth-pop on Stop It! / What Is Love Today, and Walter Verdin's Voor Adeline "Een Fantastisch Nieuw Muziektheater".
OK, so while my deep dive into the current post-genre, post-nuum landscape of UK dance music via my For A Song series has gone on a bit longer than I had hoped--and often at the eliding of hot releases like all of the above--it's one of those things that I just feel a preternatural compulsion to see through. And despite the mostly linear cataloging of what I consider to be some of the foundational tunes to this new scene that's not a scene, sometimes you just have to go back and account for a truly exceptional EP that seemed to slip through the cracks a bit--though the fact that it just came into my life via a repress suggests it must at least be doing OK overseas.
Anyhoo, while we've touched briefly on Pinch's Cold Recordings in the past, the label has been absent from our round-up of UK dance music following the post-dubstep period of 2009 to 2012. Cold Recordings was started in 2013 and from the get-go, had a far more experimental quality to its releases while retaining a club-facing mentality. According to the label's mission statement, it seeks to focus upon “new movements in the ever-evolving UK hardcore-continuum — taking inspirational vibrations from a long-standing heritage that ran through acid house, hardcore, jungle, UK garage, dubstep and beyond.” Now I can't purport to fully understand every aspect of Simon Reynold's long-evolving Hardcore Continuum, which at some point in the 00s he ceased referring to as a theory, identifying it as a historical system not unlike imperialism or serfdom with a stringent set of criterion not updated since the 90s (from breakbeat science to MC chatter and the centrality of pirate radio, the nuum as conceptualized by Reynolds simply doesn't exist anymore. The more I dive into the writing that served as its ur-texts, the more I've come to see Reynolds as a music writer who excels at picking out patterns and trends and giving them press-friendly names (post-rock, the nuum, hauntology, retromania, et al).
However, for all my theoretical qualms about the nuum, when I set about interviewing a number of the producers whose focus on genre science, synthesis, and refusal to simply emulate genre tropes, I soon found myself confronted by a different, far more forgiving reading of a concept that is often used to refer to UK dance music as a whole with little regard for the endless nuances contained within. From my first interview with L.SAE/Metrist who characterized his L.SAE release as a reflection of a desire to do "something that was more UK," I began to get a sense amongst these younger producers that while they could care less about the theoretical criteria underpinning the nuum, the idea of a British tradition of dance music is clearly inspiring to many. By the time I spoke with Parris, I was starting to get a distinct sense that the growing non-reliance on genres reflected a far more loose reading of the nuum, treating it more as a springboard into the unknown than as a blueprint to chart a narrowly defined conception of 'Britishness." As Parris noted, "I've felt like the term genre has been pretty irrelevant in the current space of music over maybe the past 5-6 years due to the fact that there's so much middle ground. Labels like Hessle Audio and Hemlock helped in opening doors which most people didn't even know existed and helped in using the hardcore continuum as a catapult into exploring different spaces."
Speaking to Omar (Batu) and Callum Laksa, they both emphasized the role of the internet in destabilizing traditional forms of information and record distribution, opening a post-geographical and nonlinear space in which innovation can be put in service of creating new developments in an age where a seismic music movement like dubstep is appearing less and less likely to emerge anytime soon. Laksa emphasized this fact in our chat while pointing out how it's cultivating a whole new form of experimentation enabled by technological advancements:
I think with an increased accessibility to different kinds of music through youtube, downloading, social media etc, alongside an increased accessibility to djing (cdjs/usbs), it’s not surprising that there’s a breakdown in music tribalism. As a producer, if you can make a track in a different style/tempo and have the access to other music in that field, why would you just stick to one sound/scene? Maybe this wasn’t an option or as enticing/interesting for producers/djs in more localised scenes, with a vinyl culture. I think the openness to fluidity/diversity in genres is a big positive for me and, personally, in djing I see an exciting future for experimentation/new experiences in music....As the essence of my music, and I think the others, are these genre hybrids, a melting pot of ideas and genres, we don’t really neatly fit into these set genres.
In his typically succinct manner, Oscar Henson (Facta) summed up the role of the hardcore continuum in today's UK-inspired dance music in a manner that both highlighted its importance and arbitrariness: "Well the hardcore continuum point is really just saying there's a sonic strain going through UK dance music. And to that extent, I agree that it's still relevant."
It was these conversations and others I will share soon that really helped me to get beyond my black-white thinking about and fixation over the more nefarious elements I see the nuum as representing. Primarily, the fact that it's often conceptualized in such a rigid, quasi-Hegelian manner--indeed, I've always found Reynolds' use of the word 'continuum' a bit misleading--and is fueled by a distinctively modernist obsession with 'future shock' creates an often impossible set of expectations for the music itself, as best embodied in his and Mark Fisher's criticism of many of the post-dubstep microgenres they seemingly willed into momentary genres, such as wonky.
Writing for Fact back in 2009, the late post-Marxist theorist penned the following words: "The problem is that Wonky and Funky, and also Bassline, for all its merits, induce a feeling of past shock. If it were possible to have played someone in 1988 a Jungle track from only four years later, it would have struck them as bewilderingly, unplaceably new. Yet if you played them a Wonky or a Funky track from 2008, the chances are that they would only have been mildly discomfited; in fact, they might be shocked that the music of twenty years in the future was still so recognisable." For as much as I adore much of Fisher's writing on capitalism and music, this always struck me a shockingly tenuous and subjective argument from someone whose intellectual rigor has long been an inspiration. Not even acknowledging the dubious practice of speaking for voiceless historical actors, what I find more unsettling is the way both he and (especially) Reynolds enact a constant handwringing over the 'tastefulness' of music originating from the decidedly populist rave context, with the latter often resorting to rockist reasoning to validate the work of producers who more often than not come from radically different backgrounds.
One sentence that especially agitated the hairs on the back of my neck was this quip from Writing for The Wire in 1992 on Hardcore Rave, Reynolds stated, "Well, history shows us that the despised Black Sabbath subsequently went on to be perhaps the biggest influence on alternative rock in the Eighties and Nineties (from Black Flag through Butthole Surfers to Seattle grunge), while Jethro Tull, ELP and Pink Floyd went on to influence practically nobody." In a post-poptimist environment, such a derision of three populist bands whose influence is legion might seem quaint for when it was written, yet it's an elitist and chronologically myopic sensibility that permeates the entirety of the hardcore continuum essays. As the years progressed and a more musical sensibility began to enter rave music as jungle morphed into the more 'respectable' drum & bass, by 1993 Reynolds was already fretting over the growing focus on "maturity" that he believed initiated a "progressivist discourse" drawn along class lines and was a real threat to the spontaneous, ad hoc innovation facilitated by the rave schedule and constant demand for new tunes to move the crowd.
As tracks moved away from a sole focus on functionality, Reynolds still found plenty to like, albeit for seemingly rockist reasons. Writing in 1993, he pleasantly observed that "tuning into the pirate stations, you’d be astonished by tracks that sounded uncannily like PiL’s Metal Box, 23 Skidoo, early Cabaret Voltaire." And while Reynolds is a well-known post-punk obsessive who wrote one of the books on the movement, it feels ultimately reductivist to locate a music's selling points in a tradition with which its creators might not have even engaged. This impulse carried onto into the new millennium in his seventh nuum report from 2005. Writing of Grime's musical merits, he observes, "But in Grime's textured beats and complex programming you can also hear the imprint of the Jungle that most of these late teens/early twenties producers grew up on, alongside folk memory traces of gabba and Techno. Sometimes, listening, you might imagine you can hear uncanny echoes of post-punk era electro-primitivists such as The Normal, DAF, Cabaret Voltaire, or the calligraphic exquisiteness of Japan, Thomas Leer, and The Residents."
Look, there's ultimately little harm in pointing out musical resonances and similarities with totally unassociated acts, especially in today's climate when it's much easier to assume that those similarities are at least a bit more intentional due to the ease with which artists can now familiarize themselves with the Mute back catalog. Ultimately, as much as we've gotten to a point where genres aren't nearly as deterministic as they once were and new in-between spaces are opening for a type of scientific synthesis of different movements and styles, we've also moved beyond the modernist notions of good and bad taste. I often think about how dizzying covering the truly lightspeed development of electronic music in the 90s must have been and that it's not a role I particularly envy as it's almost impossible for much of the writing to not feel insufficient when read from this historical vantage point. Still, I think it's important to understand just what we're talking about when we mention the Hardcore Continuum, namely that it's a far more esoteric and rigid concept than that which would properly befit a framing device for the development of UK dance music.
Considering that we'll revisit the above conversation sooner than later, it makes sense to move onto the 2016 EP that got me thinking about Reynold's post-punk goggles. The Latvian producer W3C made his vinyl debut with the four-track Atmospheric Entry EP, a record that would likely appeal to Reynolds' inner Cabaret Voltaire fanboy while also being excluded from his precious nuum as it looks to a period prior to Harcore's 1991 ground zero while also pulling glibly from the Grime playbook. An oscillating progression of dark rave synths flicker like strobe lights at the start of "Atmospheric Entry" before diving into an au courant post-Livity kick-drum pattern that would sound as at place on a Ploy record as on an Emptyset track. It's a dread-filled affair awash in distortion and mangled synth beats that would likely work best in a 4am dark techno-laden set.
On the Discogs page for the Atmospheric Entry EP, the styles listed are Techno, Bass Music, and Breakbeats. However, as the A2 track indicates, W3C seems to be operating as much in the industrial tradition as the sound of lateCancel 70s Manchester comes to the forefront of "Bile." Riding a restless eighth-note kick-drum march that at times sounds like it'd be better fitted soundtracking a Spartan war march, it also flexes its post-Pansonic rhythmic noise muscles as the melodies are moved from the top register down, weaving themselves into the beats undergirding the whole affair. Its final third features a particularly enticing passage as the addition of high-pitched percussion and mangled sound waves introduce a whole new level of tactility to an already richly-textured track.
Machine gun blasts with snare and high-hat bullets set the stage for the taut B1 track "Prometheus." A martial kick pattern sends the track into sub-Warp speed as descending and rising synth notes patiently zig and zag over the steadily changing beat. Harsh snares keep time as blast beats emerge and rearrange themselves with marked vagility. The track reaches a death drop of a breakdown, the assembled elements each having their say before assembling into a sleek and mournful second-half that introduces a whole new set of anxiety-ridden emotions into the mix that carries the track beyond its baleful potential.
EP closer "Fire Walk With Me" wears its Lynchian cred with pride as the producer saves his most radical track for last. On a record brimming with inhuman rhythms and heavily gridded programming, W3C is able to maneuver his gutwrenching bass drops and rhythmic-melodic synth towards more organic ends. It's a piece that suggests the producer's familiarity with home listening electronic music. "Fire Walk With Me" serves to nicely summarize the whole of the Atmospheric Entry EP with its post-industrial, Pansonic-indebted noise-rhythms that despite being created by just one person, feels more like a former punk band learning how to operate sequencers, drum machines, and synths in search of a music that is equal parts human and inhuman. There's even a faint semblance of the alien in the tracks' upper registers with sounds that call to mind distant transmissions and melodies that arch upwards towards the cosmos without even clearing the, er, atmosphere.