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

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