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

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