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.

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