Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 in Music - Pt. 2

Pt. 2 We Going Tech

Right at the tail end of 2012, a thread was started on the music forum I frequent, dissensus, calling for a discussion on "Shuffling / House Music / Cutting Shapes", referring to the shuffling/shape shifting/cutting shapes dance style which had taken the capital by storm - essentially a revamped charleston, or a take on the kind of fancy foot-work that proper dancers have been doing to house music since it began - and the deep tech house music pushed by DJs like Mark Radford and Majesty which these shufflers were dancing to.

I clocked the thread, watched a few of the videos, listened to a few of the tracks, thought the dance was good fun and the music alright but a bit pedestrian, and then basically didn't give it any serious thought for the next half year. Because why would I need to when jackin existed and it was a gift from the EDM gods, a music that could have been custom made for me considering how exactly it hit all my raving-erogenous zones, with a thriving club scene and massive tunes coming out faster than I could keep track of?

Yet as the summer wore on and I found myself having to search harder and harder for less and less jackin trax, I began looking elsewhere for tunes to fill my sets and I thought I'd give "shuffle house", as I thought it was called (it is not, it's called deep tech), another look. Credit where credit is due, "give another look" meant "give another look through the dissensus thread", and it's simply the case that without that thread, and without the advocacy of posters like Continuum and Trilliam in particular, I would have never clocked the sound (clocked it from Tokyo? are u mud??), I would have never clocked the big tunes, and the second half of 2013 might have been spent in total musical/existential crisis mode, rather than gleefully exploring a whole new genre's worth of beats and bass and #danger.

One of the first deep tech tunes I "got". Total scene anthem, crowds singing all the words sort of flex. Wicked vocal and lovely rolling bassline, very easy to see how this fits into a UK tradition of tuneful bass bangers.

Whereas with jackin I was hooked at the first donk, with deep tech it took me half a year to get from "I don't like it", to "I don't really like it, but some of the tunes are alright for warming up jackin with", to "I don't really like most of it, but some of the tunes are big, still", to "I like it, but it's not very original" to finally just admitting "fuck it, I really like it".

If that sounds like a lot of umming and erring over a few tunes, then I'll justify my caution by saying that, deep and tech house has been, in a very tangible way, ruining my nights out in London for the last 2 years. This is not some inverse hipster snobbery about the inherent superiority of British urban dance musics compared to european house music (though duuuuuh, that music sucks and our music is great), but I mean I have been to countless club nights across the capital where the DJ I liked has stopped playing, and the next DJ would come on and start playing some fucking boring standard house music, and on a visceral level I would stop having fun, would no longer want to dance, would want to go home.

 (I remember one party in particular where Marcus Nasty had been playing a jackin set, smashing up di place, me and my mates feeling jolly with a couple of pints and a spliff in us and having a great time. The next DJ comes on, we're not really paying attention, he wheels a track, we sit up to take notice, the track drops, it's some tedious deep house bullshit, my mate Becky says "this sounds like... HOUSE music!" and we down our pints and leave...)

Another one of the first tunes I was feeling. Though it's difficult to identify a single sonic innovation there is a certain swagger and menace to the track that has been absent from house music for a long time now. Spooky ghost noises, sleazy/chugging bassline, an almost breaks-y shuffle and complexity to the rhythm section, and a fuck off massive second drop all speak of its UK origins.

It took me half a year to realise that deep tech is not simply deep or tech house, although the ridiculousness of that sentence does belie the slight undead quality to UK rave music as we go full circle on the 25th anniversary of acid house...

Like Lorenzo with jackin, the birth of London deep tech can almost be entirely attributed to one person - Mark Radford. Whereas Lorenzo's path to jackin involved slowing down a UK genre - bassline - to house tempo, Radford's "innovation" such that it was one, was to see the UK tuffness immanent in the best of Euro and US deep and tech house, but crowded out by the filler:

"I'd go to raves and hear 3 hours worth of music, and out of them 3 hours of music there might have been 3 tunes that I thought "if someone put a set together, of all that sort of music, they're gonna kill it", I did, I killed it!"

Radford's own story is the perfect example of the hardcore continuum theory - which states a genealogical and scenelogical affinity that runs through nearly every major UK underground dance music from the time of acid house through to the present day, and is proof positive that this deep tech stuff fits into that lineage. 

"I've been through every genre of what you could possibly say is the London dance scene. Started off back in the early days with, like, the acid house raves, then I got into jungle, drum & bass, then moved on to garage when I felt that drum & bass had lost a lot of its soul, then the same thing happened with garage, so I moved onto soulful house and then where I am now, with like the deep tech stuff. 

In the same video he talks about a marriage of "mad noises" and "groove" that is more or less the perfect summary of what it is that holds genres as disperate as hardcore, jungle, garage, UK funky, bassline, jackin and deep tech together.

Interestingly, there are more or less three separate groups of producers who all come to deep tech from very different backgrounds, but all contribute to it being more that just deep house in very different ways:

1. Old Dons
One of the most interesting thing about deep tech is the prevalence of old dons, guys who've been through every hardcore genre like Mark Radford, and many more who had their moment many years back, and have found deep tech the perfect forum for their comebacks. The list is kind of astounding, from garage you have Ed Case and Sticky and from jungle you have Bizzy B(!?!!) Best of the lot however are Martin Ikin, a G making hardcore back in 92, and darkside, breakstep/dubstep pinoeer Darqwun/Oris Jay making tunes under the name of RS4.

Marin Ikin's deep tech sound can be heard best on the magnificent, Nightmares On Wax sampling Nothing To Fear:

Old hardcore vocal samples, deep, subbass heavy rolling jackin basslines, a bleeps and bloops that flicker like vague memories of the entire history of UK dance music - watch for the Soft Cell - Tainted Love bleeps at the drop. A masterful blend of the bouncing, raw-danceability of deep house music, with the sonic debris of UK rave music, this was one of my tracks of the year, and one of the tracks which taught me how to stop worrying and love deep tech.

Even better is RS4, which is no surprise considering just how sick Darqwun was back in the day (Said the Spider, top dubstep tracks), but what is somewhat surprising is that a figure so foundational in early dubstep, but only really remembered among the DJs he influenced and not the massive at large, managed to reinvent himself to be so thoroughly relevant in 2013, using his years of production practice to show up all the young upstarts.

Essentially every track track he's released or previewed on his soundcloud has been pure fire, with killer remixes of Walk On By and L.F.O but for my money, the best of them are his remixes of Soulstar's Locked On You and Sia's Little Man.

(This version unfortunenly cuts out before the wicked second drop, but you can hear a longer version here for now from about 7:30 into this mix - http://podcast.dgen.net/rinsefm/podcast/MarkRadford071213.mp3)
If Martin Ikin's tracks meet somewhere between house and hardcore, Locked On You strips the house elements down to a mere skeletal structure, 4x4 scaffolding to build his monster darkcore riddim. For Locked On You sounds like nothing more than that moment around 93 when hardcore turned to the darkside, the drugs stopped working and euphoria quickly turned to its opposite. Panic attack synth stabs, an undulating, slimy bass lines, militaristic rolling snare drums and haunting synth strings which sound like they're about to snap all made this one of the spookiest tracks of the year, and one of the best.

Equally sick is the "monster remix" of Little Man, a classic garage vocal rerubbed on pure darkside 2013/2014 flex.

This one's a proper scene anthem and got wheeled twice - once for each drop - when it got dropped at Scala on Boxing Day. Though it might sound restrained compared to the exuberance of the original, it throbs with a compacted energy, like jungle slowed way way down, and grows on you slowly. By the time the swamp monster squelches come in, there's not a hand in the rave not bussin gun fingers.

2. The Bandwagon

Another major source of deep tech producers comes not from such old veterens, but producers from recently extant scenes which have been loosing their zeitgeist luster - grime and funky primarily, but more recently from bassline and jackin too.

Of the grime guys, it's Black Ops' Charmzy who's been making the biggest moves for me with his Shape Shifting EP, specifically the icey cold Dirty Disco:

The biggest contingent however come from funky, who's death was intimately tied up with deep tech's rise, and who can be said to have bequeathed this new scene not just a large number of DJs, producers and MCs, but also much of its clubbing infrastructure, and perhaps the entirety of its audience. 

Carnao Beats was one of the earliest defectors, having been edging his funky towards a deeper sound as early as 2011 with his VERY cleverly named Deep-ception EP http://www.beatport.com/track/infected-by-house-original-mix/206353/, before switching decisively to the deep tech sound in 2012. With a number of releases out on Audio Rehab, half of his tunes being scene anthems, and being a mainstay at deep tech raves from London to Leicester, Carnao represents one of those figures who was a bit tangental in one scene - funky - but has become central to another.

His sound is defined by mental, polyrhythmic, almost acid house basslines, with a distinctively 80s, electro vibe to his drums. His hit rate is high, but my favorite tracks are the hypnotic, shuffle-tastic, bleepy and bassy H.O.U.S.E

And the recent top-40-hit-by-any-other-name Gone in the Morning, with the ever shape shifting Donao, who's also jumped from funky to deep tech right on schedule

Also from the funky diaspora is Tazer, producer of the house-music-for-people-who-hate-house-music masterpiece, the slow-fast, Notorious BIG sampling Wet Dollars

An absolute anthem in the scene, this got played about 4 or 5 times at each deep tech party I went to in December. It's difficult to pin down just what it is exactly that makes this track go so goddamn hard, but there's some magic in the percussion section for sure, with those memetic ravey woodblock stabs that linger in the body hours after hearing them on a system. One of my favorite tracks of the year, if you don't get this one, then you won't get deep tech.

My favorite crossover artist of the bunch though is Arun Verone, the new deep tech alias for bassline/UK B badman DJ Pantha, coming hot off the heels of his jump to jackin last year, which produced some stone cold bangers:

With his deep tech stuff Arun Verone has brought some of that bassline/jackin rowdiness, and has brought the full force of his knowledge of big, bouncy basslines to bare on the house template, making for a much needed anecdote to the sometimes-too-serious vibe and aesthetic of the deep tech scene.
With only a couple of free downloads and hardly any official releases to his (new) name yet, the best way into Verone's stuff is through his mixes:

And it's a lucky coincidence that he happens to be one of the scene's best DJs, with a proper grimey cutting and chopping, wheelups, fast mixes, constant energy-vibe-hype-flex to his sets. (For what it's worth though, the quality of DJing in deep tech as a whole is infinitely better than in jackin, where apart from Marcus Nasty, there isn't a really top class DJ among them, though the best of their producers, IE Lorenzo, is objectively the greatest UK producer of the last half decade - seriously, name anyone who comes close...)

Vocal hooks a-plenty, wompy, warpy wobblers, sharp plasticy drums and a certain reek of noir/dread that hovers over his sounds like old skunk make his sounds a perfect entry point into deep tech from other UK genres, and give all of his tunes that vital edge.

3. Young Blood

The last major group of artists keeping deep tech gully and UK is the new school of producers for whom deep tech is their first foray into UK rave music, for whom DJs like Mark Radford and Majesty were their path into the music and who come to it, consequentially, unburdened with and largely uninterested in the long history of house music, and questions of how house music 'should sound'.

This perhaps represents the largest group of the three, with many of the artists of Radford's essential-listening Audio Rehab label, seemingly having no name to speak of in any genres before the current deep tech wave.

This group would seem to include massive-in-the-scene names like Playtime Productions:

(check the hip hop meets house in East London vibez on this one, and the wobbles)

And Lance Morgan:

(Absolutely love the noir swagger on this one, perfect music for driving around London at night)

As well as some very recent debuts such as Truce:

And indeed, a whole new Audio Rehab imprint, +Recordings dedicated to highlighting the work of new producers exclusively, starting with the 'ard-as-fuck debut from the Area 8 boys, which sounds, of all things, like Pulse X at house tempo

Cutting Shapes

So, having got over my initial distaste at the name and the music's proximity to deep house - I've never liked a music more that has verged on music I dislike so much - I think the quality of music speaks for itself. If you're not listening to deep tech, then you're missing out on a lot of the best music in the UK at the moment, and that's never a good idea.

Getting into the music slowly over the year, as a DJ, miles removed in Japan, I was lucky enough to experience it in its proper context, in a rave, when I was back in the UK over Christmas. First, DJing it out at 02:31 in an absolutely mental night which started when my plane got in from Tokyo around 4 in the afternoon, getting a lift from Heathrow back home from #Mum (big up!), shaving, showering, burning my CDs/USBs, wistfully looking at my bed and thinking it looked GREAT, then grabbing my 17 year old brother, rushing to Euston and grabbing the 9:05 to Birmingham where it just so happened that a group of 4 girls - deep tech ravers - were VERY publicly taking balloons, talking about Arun Verone and Lance Morgan, and running house which sounded EXTRA deep on their tinny mobile phone speakers, before getting into Birmingham New Street, hitting the Rainbow, and playing the 12-1 warm up slot with a set of 90% deep tech to a crowd of about 5-600 people and absolutely tearing the place down if I do say so myself, which, you know, I do.

My other experiences were at a couple of club nights over Christmas, House Passion at Scala on Boxing Day, and Rhythm N Funk at Dukes the weekend before New Years. 

I had been curious to see deep tech music in a rave for a long time, and was interested to see how the club experience of the music that was taking over London compared to 02:31 and the jackin scene in Birmingham. Unfortunately, but not really surprisingly, neither event even came close to the standard vibes of 02:31 on an off week, let along their big blow out, monthly 10:31 specials. But it's not really a fair comparison, because I've never been to any rave ever which is nearly as good as 02:31. If you're into bass music, it's probably the greatest event on the planet right now.

But on their own terms, both House Passion and Rhythm N Funk were good, really damn good in fact, the best party experiences I've had in London for a long long time. Both had sound issues - Scala's a live music venue and it had a live music soundsystem, all the low frequencies were there, but it was not exactly a bodily experience. Rhythm N Funk had a MAJOR problem for half the night, the problem being that the sound man at Duke was a prick and had the limiter set insanely low, so that you really couldn't hear any sub frequencies at all. If by some insane coincidence the sound guy from Duke reads this - fuck u thnx. It got sorted at the end of the night, and was a bit of a lesson in how this music is of course, UK bass music and needs rasclart bass.

Both were very vibezy. The crowd was a bit older than 02:31 (average age, say, 26 as opposed to 21) and blacker (maybe ~60% to 02:31's ~10%). Both had a mixed crowd, mostly quite street, with plenty of those new-school house band wagon not-hipsters-but-still-wearing-Raybans sorts, with a spattering of proper cockneys shouting OI OI and FUCK OOOORRRFFFF at the big drops. Plenty of people on MDMA, but not particularly a communal loved up vibe - more like drug/music induced personal hypnosis. Skunk smoke everywhere. Most importantly, EVERYONE was dancing, shuffling, cutting shapes, going #ham. It was wicked to see, some really great moves, and it looked like it must be loads of fun to be able to do it to the music, which compliments it really well. Actually felt like a bit of a prick for wearing a t-shirt not a shirt, and not being able to shuffle. 

Would definitely recommend that anyone in London checks out some of the raves, because to my mind you're unlikely to find better vibes or better music in any other scene in the capital. 

Back to the Future

So in short, after a year of being aware of the music, and 6 months of actively attempting to get into I end 2013 and begin 2014 big into deep tech and excited about what the future holds. Which is good, because if I didn't like the stuff I think I'd be in a very bleak place musically right now. 

That said, it doesn't move me like jackin at its best did, and there remain legitimate criticisms of the sound, least not the question of its novelty and innovation. For while the questions of "is it really its own sound?" and "Isn't it just deep house music?" have been answered ("yes", "no")  the question of "is there anything new here?" is still open. 

For all it's many qualities - darkness, toughness, danceability  big badbwoy basslines, hip hop vox, diva vox, slinky riddims, fact that it's an actual massive scene people are raving to -  there really isn't anything about the sound you can call totally unique to deep tech or totally new. Though there's something future about it in terms of spaceaged sounds, cold minimalism, tech-noises, it's a sort of Robocop-retro futurism, with a massively strong 80s influence running through the sound. This is hardly a bad thing, as it's great to hear those old 80s synths and bleeps and drums brought into a new context, but it does feel like the hardcore continuum going back to its roots rather than opening new horizons of possibility. 

We're living in retromania, and the fight for the future remains more important than ever, there is a point where if you don't compromise a bit, you're either going to end up listening to experimental but vibeless wank (see "poststep", or don't), or just not enjoying anything at all.

For me, the fact that dark, trippy rave music is taking over London again - and looks poised to infect the heart of the mainstream like no genre since garage - is reason enough to be hopeful for 2014.

Tokyo, you've got the rhythm in you

Though I've gone on these last two posts about the state of UK rave, the truth is that I spend most of 2013 in Tokyo. It wouldn't be right not to end with a shout out to some of the incredibly talented musicians I've had the privilege to get to know this year.

Pakin - Probably the most important grime MC in East Asia

First up is my mate Pakin (パ禁which is short for 中途半chuuto hanpa Kinshi - which means "being halfhearted/half-arsed is forbidden" or "don't fuck about". An old school hip hop head with a massively knowledge of JP-hop hop, he got into grime nearly 10 years ago by reading about Dizzee Rascal in a magazine. One of the hardest working guys I know - in the context of the fickle Tokyo nightlife scene, his event Gum has been running bi-monthly without fail for 5 years and recently had its 30th event - and also one of the safest. I've seen his MC skills grow sharper and sharper in the year I've known him and seen him doing his best to promote an authentic Japanese grime culture, teaching hip hop MCs about wheelups, and encouraging them to pass the mic and spit over DJs grime sets.

His hard work has paid off with a number of collaborations with Birmingham's Dark Elements crew (including the likes of Devilman and Darx), cumulating in him going up to Brum when he was visiting me over the summer and recording this:

Seiho feels rave

Though there are many talented DJs and producers out in Japan, it's often said that the Japanese are better technicians than innovators and not many have a uniquely Japanese sound. I think this is racist as shit - the idea of Asians as hyper rational, lacking soul, orientalist bullshit - even though many Japanese would say the same thing and it is true that many Japanese artists judge their own success via its proximity to a Western source material.

Seiho however is a true original, fusing sugary sweet J-pop influences with rave, trap, footwork, trance, hardcore, and anything bright and euphoric in his own productions, and DJing with a controller and midi keyboard, adding live piano vamps, speeding up and slowing down songs to double or halftime, dressed in mental-stylish-mental combos of colours and patterns while dancing like a maniac and singing along to his own stuff. He's wicked basically.

Part2Style have more dubs than you

Part2style are purveyors of "future ragga". Doing exactly what it says on the tin, they're sets consist of dancehall, dub, dubstep, grime, jungle, dnb, footwork, garage, and house , everything and everything as long as it's got a strong ragga vibe. Their mixing and selection is sick, reaching deep in the bag for old gems and pulling up new tracks which haven't been rinsed out. Nearly everything they play is an exclusive dub, with some absolutely massive names giving them a shout out including General Levy on their dubplate of Incredible. Their sets are packed full of energy with super authentic ragga-style MCing, and I've never not seen them mash up the daaaarnce. Regulars at Outlook Festival, and booked to play Fabric later this year, they might just be the first Japanese DJs to break the UK. Watch the fuck out.

Frankly$ick has more grime than you

Not /strictly/ Japanese although 100% fluent in the language and poised to be out in Tokyo for, I dunno, the next decade or something, he gets to be on this list because he's such a fixture of the Tokyo bass scene. DJing a bit of everything, but specialising in grime and bassline, he's one of the most technically on-point DJs I know, and the only person I can think of who still puts in the legwork, crate digging, hitting up producers - big and small - to get exclusives, and overall hustling like mad to keep his sets full of gully, future, non-wishy-washy-seapunk-Visionist-eskiwank up-to-date grime music. A DJ who'll have you reaching over the booth and asking "what the fuck is thiiiiiis?????" he's $ick and you should check him out.


This last year was the first in recent memory where I literally could not keep up with everything I wanted to. Trap, footwork, UK 130 shit, and pop were all popping off, and I simply did not have time to get as into Miley Cyrus as I wanted to. Every just focussing on the current UK house stuff took me so long that I'm now publishing my 2013 list in the second week of the new year lol. 

But it's probably a good sign, though economically, socially and politically, the world's probably more bleak now than at any other point in my lifetime, musically we're living in times of abundance. If you can't get excited by that then you're doing it all wrong.

Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 in Music - Pt. 1

Pt. 1 House & Bass all in one place

It's very difficult for me to talk objectively about music this year. It's been a year defined by both moving closer towards and further away from the musical scene of action for me. 

Moving closer, though jackin was my obsession for much of 2012, it was NYE 2013 when I first actually got to hear the music in its proper context, had one of the best raving experiences of my entire life, and began a love affair with 02:31, the Rainbow and Birmingham which has seen me go back another 4 times this year, including two 02:31 raves I had the privilege of DJing. 

Moving away, literally, in March I moved to Japan, where I plan on living for the next few years. In Tokyo I've made some amazing friends, met a lot of very talented DJs and producers, been to some wicked nights out and have had an great time getting involved in the Bass scene out there. But yet,  Tokyo's not London, there is no massive, there is no sense that musical activity is plugged into the lives of tens of thousands of people around the nation, there is no sense of the history which everyone with more than a passing interest in raving in the UK knows almost innately, there is no sense that any of it really matters, because to 99.999% of Japanese people, it doesn't. 

Still, I had a fantastic 2013, and if you can forgive that my vision is necessarily partial, unreliable both for standing too close to the sun (nearly half my weekends in the UK this year have been spent at 02:31 exclusively), and too far away (the biggest party I've seen in Japan had 200 people... It was sick!) then I hope you'll find me thoughts and feelings and not-feelings worth a read.


As anyone who read my yearly round-up last year, or basically had any sort of contact with at all knows, jackin was the single sound that defined 2012 for me. The first half of 2013 saw me grow even closer to music, ushering in the new year at 02:31 and going back again and again at every opportunity I've had. 

My obsession with the music itself continued on a similar level to 2012 for much of the year, as the scene continued to dash out banger after banger after banger at an insane pace. Indeed, lining up the top 10 or 20 jackin tracks of 2012 and 2013, you could even make the argument that jackin improved this year. 

Some of the tracks/vibez/flavours/artists I've been feeling this year are:

2013 was the year jackin did what we all wanted it to and went over to the dark side. 
Brent Kilner had been pushing his own dark, dubstep/dnb influenced take on jackin since last year's 02:31 anthem Too Bad
This year he continued in the fine style, and it's really difficult to whittle down out of so many banging tracks (Too Bad VIP, Kelis's Milkshake refix, Dizzee's Old Skool refix etc etc.). So honestly, go over to his soundcloud, pick a track and random, and be treated to a darkside bass banger. Best of the bunch however has to be the very recent refix of Skeng, an inspired mix which speaks to Kilner's background in dubstep, is hard as f$$$ck and is just a few more follows on Kilner's soundcloud away from becoming a free download, so support the cause and follow him!

2013 also saw Lorenzo on a darker tip, most notably in his tracks with Pete Graham, starting with the half-step, screwface, "dark and creepy" Dorothy's Forest

And getting progressively weirder and wobblier with the likes of Dorothy's Armpit/Wom, Chu Ba Ka, The Twlight Zone and Who Dat.

Chris Gresswell, one half of the pioneering jackin crew Screwface, really came into his own this year, with a stream of twisted bassline bangers, including a likkle dubplate he did for me of the 2-step classic Stone Cold ;)

But nowhere was he spookier than with Silent Hill, sampling from the horror movie of the same name, complete with eery twinkle noises, whipcracking sharp drums, deep rolling bass and two wicked drops.

Come over to the dark side? Yeah alright then.

B list jackin

For me, one of the joys of jackin at it's best was the sense that there was so much energy, so much quality to the scene that even the second tier of tracks - tracks by artists who pop up and disappear again, tracks dashed out on bigtunes with no sort of promo or bloghype, tracks you might rinse for a month obsessively but that are unlikely to be considered classics or even remembered in a few years time - even these tracks are sick.

As the year went on and jackin turned increasingly professional, with tracks signed to record labels. drawn out release schedules and artists imposing stricter quality control/brand management to their releases, this B-list jackin suffered massively for it. We released that this abundance of B-list jackin, the ability to go on to bigtunes and find 10 tracks which were good enough to bang out in a club - if not necessarily good enough to have played at your funeral - was vital to the health of the scene as a whole.

So this goes out to the B-list.

This following one's actually a remix of some bate EDM tune, which I only realised after hearing the original in a connivence store in Tokyo.

Massive hardcore/euphoric vibes on this one. This track really sums up that thing I love about jackin where it rehabilitates fatally cheesy vocals, where you're left wondering during the build what the hell you're listening to and how the producer's ever going to redeem themselves, and then it drops and you do a nasty bassface and cop it into your bigtunes cart right there.

97 plays on soundcloud, but was my song of the month earlier the year, duppying a number of my first  DJ sets in Japan

Some dude called Phatfunk, who made this track and no others that I can remember. Wicked dancehall vocal from a DJ Zinc track, and absolutely love the slowed down donk bassline.

Hybrid Theory
Hands down the debut artist of the year, Brummy duo Hybrid Theory exploded onto the scene way back in January with 0483 and have put out nothing but bangers since.

Their sound encapsulates the blend of speed garage warps + bassline wobble + house beats + magical mystery ingredient that defines jacking, and they come with a toughness and grit that counterbalances the cheese and pop tendencies of other jackin artists.

Their soundcloud reads like a best of list for jackin this year, with track names like So High, Higher, Mind Games and Drop to the Max likely to set off screwfaces on anyone who's heard them in a club. Though choosing a favorite out of all of those basslines and beats feels nearly impossible, two special mentions have to be given to the wobbling stomper that is Screened for having one of the best second drops of the last half decade:

And the anthemic remix of Decibel's Skank featuring Flow Dan:

This track had me skanking round my room for nearly an hour when I first clocked it, even bussin' a cheeky selfie video of the massive screwface it induced. It's the gift that keeps on giving, 'dropping' about 3 times before settling into an un-fuck-withable blend of slinky 4x4 drums, owl bassline, and grime vocals. Top 5 tune of the year, and would be number 1 grime x jackin crossover if Cause & Affect hadn't upped the levs later on...

Number 2 breakthrough artist of the year. If Hybrid Theory is a genius producer, likely to be making waves for a long time to come, the South African(!?!?!) Niggur (a name which makes talking about the guy obviously hugely problematic for white people...) is rather only a good producer with a genius formula - namely putting bate, singalong hip hop and r&b vocals on top of You Want Me-style, deep and dirty, bouncy house beats.

Shake Dat

"Shake dat ass for me, shake dat ass for me" - it might not be clever, but it is big.

You Want Me Too

Perfect name for a track which basically acts as the sequel to Nick Hannam ft. Tom Zanetti's mega anthem You Want Me, sampling the classic Cassie track U & Me and guaranteed to get gyals and guys #emotional on the dancefloor.

Cause & Affect/Lorenzo
Yet despite new tallent entering the scene, no one came close to challenging Lorenzo's reign supreme over all that is jackin, either in his original productions with Kane as Cause & Affect, or engineering for countless other producers.

2013 was a big one for Cause & Affect as a duo, seeing their track Don't Like To Do That released on the massive Dirtybird label, with tours taking them everywhere from London to Ibiza to San Francisco.  It also saw their productions getting better and better.

Pushing the bass line as hard and far as it could go was Kamikaze, the name being an 'o so subtle statement of intent as to its impact on the dancefloor:

Coming like an 8 bar grime tune, with the same bassline played out in turns between a metallic, saber-toothed sin-wave bassline bass line and a jackin-owl-bass which sounds like someone's been handing out M-kat in an aviary, this was my go to dj tune for when I was mashed and just wanted to take things a bit nasty throughout the year.

On a completely different flex was the C&A remix of Stanton Warriors' (lol yes I know, bare with me) Cut Me Up, a spangling metamodern, back-to-the-future mashup of 'ardcore and 'ouse and bass.

It builds with a near era-perfect replication of a 92/93 hardcore-jungle build - piano vamps, diva voxs, rolling breaks, thundering reese bass, with only its too-clean production values to give its real age away - but drops in pure 2k13 ruffneck jackin style.

Best of the bunch was Battle, an absolute monster riddim featuring vocals from the Newham Generals, all the little orchestral/cinematic frills and trills that fill the C&A soundscape, and a rudebwoy bass line which can't help but make you pull a face like someone farted nearby. A sick tune that got us all very gassed at the possibilities of the grime x jackin crossover

Though much of Lorenzo's best work was in collaboration with other artists (though one never really knows what percent is Loz's input, you suspect sometimes that he basically just makes the whole damn track).

Particularly strong this year was his work with Tom Garnett, which resulted in the wonderfully tracky P.A.R.T.Y featuring party-hard lyrics from Tom Zanetti and a womping bass line which sums up everything jackin does best:

Perhaps winning the award for 'most inspired sampling' (last year's prize obviously had to go to Loz's refix of Running Up That Hill...) was Trouble

Which bounces along nicely until drop in the middle, where it smoothly slips into the original version of Woman Trouble by the Artful Dodger ft. Craig David. I can't conceptualise the human who would not be left beaming, singing along and bouncing around like a mad eejat when this kicks in. This has been one of the anthems of the year for me, played by me or someone else at nearly every party I've been to in Tokyo this year. It's the sheer will-to-pleasure that everyone who 'get's' jackin, gets.

The closest thing the scene had to a runnaway anthem in the vein of You Want Me this year was Darlin' a Lorenzo engineered Sleepin Is Cheatin' track featuring the lethargic and louche, day-after-a-night-taking-too-many-drugs crooning of Tom Zanetti.

With an almost-professional video feature TZ's adorable little son bussin moves in a warehouse, this was the jackin tune with staying power: I've heard it at least 3 times at every 02:31 event I've been to since it was released. It's also the only jackin tune I can think of that's crossed over, getting some serious play in deep-tech raves, radio sets and mixtapes too. Slow, druggy, donky, sick.

Track of the year!!! 
Finally, both in the sense of coming at the end of this too long (sorry!) rundown, and being the last major jackin track of the year - released earlier in December - is Up To No Good, a masterful rework of an old hardcore track done alongside the ever ravey Ill Phill

I could pick it apart and look at how every single element is perfectly engineered to to get UK ravers gassed as #f$$ck - but really it's just the best build and drop of the whole year - and then it insanely generously repeats the trick with the best build and 2nd drop of the whole year. A massive anthem, and for what it's worth my track of 2013.

Jacked out?

So, given that I've just spend a lot of words and way too many soundcloud embeds (sorry about that slow computer/internet users...) gassing about 2013 jackin, you might think that the scene is in rude health. The unfortunate truth is however, that over 80% of the tracks listed here came out in the first half of the year. Since the summer, things have really, reaaaally slowed down.

A large part of this would be down to the increasing professionalization of the genre. Whereas it used to be that a track would be previewed on soundcloud, a within the month it would be up for download on bigtunesmp3, now the vibe is, a track gets previewed on soundcloud, it gets signed to a minor record label whose sole act of promotion seems to be getting the track on beatport, and then you wait 6-9 months till you can get hands on it, with none of the producers willing to give the track as a promo because it's signed.

Though this false scarcity and label-support obviously makes sense from the standpoint of the individual producer, on a scene-wide level it acts as a major drain of energy, an aura killer, and has destroyed that scene you had earlier on in the scene's lifespan that there was just so much going on, so much creativity at work, that a producer would release a track a month because they could.

But if producers being more careful with there tracks was a cause of decline, it may also be the case that there simply was less energy, less momentum, less ideas floating about as the jackin brand exerted a weaker and weaker pull on tallent compared to house proper.

For much of the year even - to be honest, especially - among its biggest producers and DJs, you could not find anyone willing to defend, define, or even use the word jackin to refer to the bassline derived house sounds coming from Brum/Leeds.

When 02:31 got a weekly show on Rinse FM, they used the platform not to push jackin, but to push their own brand of 'house & bass' (which is the exact same thing but a million times less informative). As Lorenzo, Hannah Wants, Tom Shorterz have built well deserved profiles for themselves in the national scene, and have found themselves subject to interviews and magazine features, the words "house", "bass", and "house & bass" fly thick and fast, while there is no mention of jackin, the scene they made and that made them.

Chatting to Kane from Cause & Affect, he says the affiliation with house is due to having an eye on the long term - having seen jungle, garage, bassline etc. fall by the wayside, he would rather exert his efforts for the scene that never dies - house music. Of course, while house music never dies, neither does is come to define an era, or expand the possibilities of what is meant by dance music like those UK genres which shine too bright and die too fast.

Ultimately, I can't but see the abandonment of jackin as a name and genre to rally around as a massive shot in the foot - from the bottom of my heart wishing Lorenzo and co all the best in making a name for themselves in the massive, 30 year old, international house scene - but seeing this as less likely, and the rewards in fact lesser, than the patient work of building jackin as its own scene and having the mainstream come to them (ala 2-step).

For this reason, though 2013 was a great year for jackin, it truly saddens me to say, I reckon it will be its last. As the summer wore on and the weeks since I had bought anything from bigtunes piled up, I began looking elsewhere for tunes to fill my record bag and for that little hit of future. My search led me back to my hometown, and ironically given my dispair at jackin's direction, back to house.

Continued in Part 2

Thursday, 27 December 2012

2012 in Music


Yo, this blog post will be in two sections, Part I dealing with my own personal year-in-music, and the second a more critical look at some of the major musical trends this year.


2012 was a good year! Started the year doing a dissertation/parring it in Cambridge and finish it as a graduated real human about to move to Japan for the next few years :O

On a personal musical level it's been interesting as well. Though I've been out raving less than in 2011, this was the year I really pushed myself with DJing and began to develop a (very small) name for myself. As I say, my first couple of terms at Cambridge were a big parr, and it was bedroom DJing that made most days bearable, so I did a lot of it (big up my neighbour Leeana for her tolerance!!). Coupled with getting far, far better technically, my residency slots with Rudimental and Voodoo Rave, and later on in the year, my slot on Innacity FM, gave me space to develop a sound and the motivation to constantly hunt for new music to keep things fresh. I can now say "I am a DJ" without feeling like a wanker.

As a punter, a few of my major moments came on the dance floor - Champion dropping Mosquito at Cable, Beneath's whole set at Rudimental, Manny and J-Cush slaughtering the dance in Brooklyn - but just as often came from intimate moments with friends - discovering Call Me Maybe at Jambie's Jubilee BBQ,

And a very high, very magic May Week evening listening to Will Saul's old Fact mix by Mill pond with good friends.

But in true 2012 fashion, the defining musical moment of my year, my epiphany/I-have-seen-the-future/I-like-music-again/this-is-why-I-rave moment, came not in collective euphoria on the dance floor, but in the atomised setting of my dorm room on headphones, when I clocked Marcus Nasty's jackin podcast, thus instigating the most exciting 6 months in music I've ever had. More of that below.


'UK Bass' AKA post-dubstep, AKA intelligent zzzzfest AKA HOUSE MUSIC… AGAIN!!!!! 

Hessel Audio, Hypderdub, Hemlock, Night Slugs etc. Are all banished to the 'boring until proven exciting' corner.

how do u even dance to this I don't even

For London producers working under the 'Bass' umbrella this year, not a single gun finger was busted. Postmodernism has not treated UK dance music well, and the atemporal, internetty, vybless music coming from the capital - a mush of vaguely dubsteppy bass, house rhythms, washy synths, 808s and AALIYAH SAMPLES MADE BORING HOW DO U EVEN DO THAT?!?!? - has lost all sense of FWD progression and all sense of fun. 

This is literally Pearson Sound pressing the 'make Pearson Sound track' button on Logic. Dead-Out.

One notable exception to this rule has been the output of Keysound records, and Dusk and Blackdown's Rinse sessions. Here a sense of teleology has been sculpted by the curation of a tight aesthetic - dark, grimey, jungalistic, syncopated rave music:

Yet otherwise there was next to zero signs of life here. Wake me up when London artists stop talking like critical theorists and when somebody, anyone makes a BANGER. Until then Fuck u-K bass.

 UK FUNKY 2007-2012 RIP 

Well it had a good run; maintaining a sense of cohesion and progression, constantly putting out great tunes, and balancing light and dark elements for a good five years, even as it was loosing support to the most stale of deep and tech-house for three of them.

2012 even saw a number of great funky releases, notably from Beneath, who's combo of dank 2006-dubstep dread vybez with ass-shaking tribal soca-flavored skank riddims make him a sub-genre unto himself.

Mosquito by Redlight's Lobster Boy alias is possible one of the greatest funky tunes ever, and gets a special mention for providing my most memorable and documented rave moment of the year:

Champion's one of the best DJs in the country, and his Crystal Meth EP showcased the gully possibilities of entwining funky even further with grime.

Still, though the massive left funky in 2009, for a few years still there was a constant stream of great music being made by people like Roska, Lil Silva, Cosmin TRG, Swing Ting etc. By summer 2012 that stream had truly dried up. UK FUNKY R I P


Not so much a movement as a feeling.

This year, we climaxed

100% of humanity has climaxed to this song

We've gone up up up up up uuuuup.

And we wailed where have you been all my life

Yes. Yes yes yes. 


Imagine what music/culture would be like right now if footwork didn't exist? It's a truly depressing thought. For musical modernists, footwork is pretty much all that that stands between us and the end of history. There is quite literally no other movement across the arts - music, literature, visual culture - that is more radical, more important right now. 

Yet the radical rhythmic/music-structural disjuncture that footwork represents is a large part of why the original sound itself has been limited in popularity to the Chicago demographic that created it and the global avant-hipster class who live for that future rush. 

Where its influence has spread, it has spread in watered down forms - from UK bass to trap. The fact that the for the first time in musical history the UK has responded to an American innovation by tempering it:

And not by roughing it up:

Is in itself a telling sign of the relative decline of the London based hardcore contiuum vis-a-vis ghetto America.

This year was a particularly great one for footwork, and once again the Teklife crew of Chicago fought off new pretenders and reasserted their place at the top of the footwork food chain. 

The undeniable king of footwork is and remains DJ Rashad, who this year helped to launch the Lit City label to showcase the best of the Teklife massive. The first album on the imprint, Welcome To The Chi, showed footwork reaching a new stage of maturity and production values, and showed it turning outwards towards the world by incoperating influences as diverse at Jungle and Grime:

The dreadest track on the album, We Trippy Mane, brought footwork at it's most avant-'ard, evoking the minimal grime instrumentals of Alias and Wiley:

Back in the summer I was privileged enough to make a trip to Chicago to witness a footwork battle in a closed-off shop front down on 87th street. The vibe was insane - dark outside, bright florescent lighting inside, no drinks or drugs (just lots of soda), fuck off pounding sub-bass, a circle of dancers kicking their limbs at speeds your eyes can't register, DJ Spinn MCing like a total joker, and 200 tracks just like this - the dark, minimal, brutal ones they call battle trax - mixed deftly by DJ Earl. It was like witnessing the limits of human cultural expression expanding before my eyes.

Fellow Teklife badman Traxman also killed it this year with his Da Mind of Traxman over at Planet Mu, which engaged the rhythmic NOW of footwork in a dialogue with black America's musical history - namely jazz, funk, and disco. 

Planet Mu were also responsible for a number of the other footwork highlights this year, particularly the scholarly undertaking that was Bangs & Works Vol 2 - which showcased footwork in all its wonderful diversity

And they brought us the dancefloor duppying experiments, the metamodern mashup of Jungle/Juke/Jukle/jUKe/Foot & Bass with Dream Continuum's Reworkz e.p.

The experiment worked and it remains to offer a fascinating path out of the UK's dancefloor malaise and a good answer to the question of how to deal with an import scene like Chicago footwork. Here's to more of it in 2013.

Jackin AKA Jackin House AKA Jackin Bass AKA "bouncey wobbly mucky in ya face catty phat beats (real house music)

Anyone who's friends with me on facebook, or who's held a conversation with me over the last 6 months will know wot music won 2012 for me. Ever since clocking Marcus Nasty's 6th of June Rinse podcast, northern/midlands jackin house has made up the vast majority of the music I listen to, buy, think about and DJ.

Never since getting into music have I been so interested by a current scene that old music ceased to grab my attention, but since Jackin my DJ sets have gone from predominantly old school Garage retro-fare to 80% traxs from the last month or so. Every month brings out as much good music as I was used to getting in half a year. It is quite simply the most exciting thing happening in British music, and if you disagree, you're wrong. 

What is jackin? Jackin is what happened when the police shut down all the bassline raves up north and all the bassline ravers, DJs and producers started going to house events, and eventually, started making house music.

Bassline RIP

From house jackin got its "neck snapping" 4x4 riddim, defined by propulsive open high hats and straight forward snares. From house, jackin got its slower BPMs (124-130, with the sweet spot at 126), and from house jackin got its sense of 'cool', 'sexy'.

From bassline, jackin got its penchant for big, mellifluous diva vocals, good-times-toasting MC patter and cheeky pop bootlegs. Most importantly, from bassline jackin got its bass: big, bolshy bass; bass that overpowers the other elements; bass that would be turned away at the door at classy house events. 

But those these elements - snappy 4x4 beats, cheesy, crowd pleasing vocals, oversized bass lines - are the core of jackin, there's more to it than that. At its best Jackin is kitchen-sink UK house, in the tradition of Basement Jaxx and Groove Armada, both of whom have been serviced with the jackin treatment to great effect.
More than that Jackin is a topography of a specifically Northern British dance tradition - evoking everything from bassline to Northern soul, via organ house, speed garage, happy hardcore, donk and jungle, and at times reaching to a pan-UK pop history which includes 2-step garage, dubstep, and the imported RnB and hip hop American hits that topped the charts here.

The difference between this music history in a blender and the internetty mush I decry in London-centric UK Bass, is that Jackin is the response to a specific Northern tradition, it's not a random assortment of influences gathered from soundcloud and youtube (thought the artists are all very much plugged in, the music disseminated through 2k12 digital channels), but local influences absorbed into the music through a regional IRL scene, and absorbed through the memory of other local scenes. Simply put, jackin is exactly what you'd expect Northern rave music to sound like in 2k12, and it's strong because of its basis in The Real. 

Apart from this Jackin succeeds where UK Bass fails not only because it takes itself far less seriously:

The Anchorman sample ALONE here cements jackin as the true heir to 'ardcore

But because it is a scene which corresponds to a sound. Whereas if you say a song sounds like UK bass I have 0% idea what you might be referring to - in regards to its rhythmic pattern, its sound pallet etc. - if you tell me a song has a jackin bass then I know what to expect from the bass line. This is a sign of the scenius at work - a creative community that is stronger because its members share good ideas, not one in which such a premium is given to individual expression that there's no sense of collective purpose. 

I've seen this drop do things to people... 

Specifically, jackin doesn't just have a sound, but it has a new sound, a sonic innovation, in what I call its hollow-donk-warp-owl-bass.

Check at 1:14

Reliable sources tell me that the sound was one hidden away under layers of midrange in bassline, and  that the innovation here consists of bringing it to the forefront, giving it space, and making it "cooler". The sound is made by taking a speed garage warp:


Then ramping up the attack, and filtering it through high-end, spacey/contemporary F-X. If dubstep innovated by giving the sub-bass some space, and then through its wobble, jackin runs with these innovations and furthers them by making the bassline carry the melody, wobbly arpegiated melody.

It's space aged shit, and its impact upon the body in the dance is like nothing else before.

Tracks which meant a lot to me in particular include Tom Shorterz - We Are The Stars
Garage to the future, this track perfectly evokes that moment in 1995/1996 when the Brits first tried their hands at American garage house - labels like Nice and Ripe, Confetti etc. but it updates this pallet for a 2k12 sensibility. The track is glorious and euphoric throughout, but something rather magic happens at 2:45 when the female MC and organ sounds come in. 

Donkie Punch n Lorenzo - Snapbacks & Tattoos
To pick just a single Lorenzo tune would be to commit a great violence, and indeed, if you look at the tracks throughout this list the tag '& Lorenzo' appears again and again. Lorenzo, one half of Cause & Affect is without a doubt the greatest producer of the year. Lending his engineering skills to countless collaborations which populate and dominate the bigtunesmp3 best selling charts, as well as his work with C&A, I count no less than 41 tracks this year in my iTunes folder, of which perhaps 30 are total classics. There has not been a producer with this kind of hit rate since Wiley, or perhaps the DMZ guys if you're being generous. The year wouldn't have been the same without him.

Majestic - Let's Go Back (Cause & Affect remix)
The first track on the Marcus Nasty mix, the track which started it all, the track that was so good I had to wheel it about 10 times before I could bring myself to move on to the next track. This one's a true collaboration between Majestic's nostalgic vocals and C&S's futuristic production. It starts with one of the most perfect build ups in dance music, going from the shuffling two-step, filling in with the thudding 4x4 bass drum, before pausing to build and then.... and then that drop. SNM

TUNE OF THE YEAR: Nick Hannam & Tom Garnett ft. Tom Zanetti
No competition - no single song got wheeled as much, got as much play on my iPod, made me and my friends smile so hard or gave me more faith in UK dance music's ability to revitalise itself. 

The tune combines Nick Hannam's signature sound - deep, haunting, crisp-yet-murky, silly-yet-sexy - 
with Tom Zanetti's cool, bubbling, pure-Leeds-vybzin vocals, and that Said Ama sample. It sounds great at its native 124 bpm or pitched up to a ravey 132, on a poor quality pirate stream or a massive club system. 

This is the perfect British pop song. Perfect. If there was any justice in the world this would have been number 1 in the charts, sung at school discos, sodcasted from people's Blackberries at the back of the bus, wheeled up and sung along to at raves across the country.

It helped make this year the best year I can remember for music. And just to reiterate, 2012 was a great year in music. Let's push the sound and make 2013 even better.

Happy New Year! XXX