Friday, 19 June 2009

Meanwhile, outside....

In case any of you were starting to become (understandably) worried that I've withdrawn myself totally into some esoteric little realm of purple-wonky-psych-funk-mutational-nuumoid-tension-step, I am aware that there is some fairly serious, important stuff going on out in the wider world right now, particularly as regards the aftermath of the Iranian election.
This has so far been my main source for keeping track of events. It provides a sort of meta-level commentary-on-the-commentary, with links to Twitter tweets, photos, news reports, opinion pieces, plus informed discussion on all of the above.
Sending out massive respect, sympathy and hope to all those risking their safety and security on the streets right now...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Bonus extra unity

(Just when you thought it was over...)
Whilst many of the readers of this blog will already be as familiar, if not more so, with the music under discussion as I am myself, I am aware that some of you out there may not be. So I thought a nice way to wrap up the topic (for now, at least) would be to share some of what I think are the best introductions to it.
I am rather wary of the blog becoming an mp3 dump cum link-fest, but I'm going to allow it in this particular case becasue it serves a specific purpose. I reckon that mixes are in many ways the best way to hear this music, partly because of practical reasons - many of the tunes are unreleased or from artists with so far a very small output - but also because, as I've mentioned a few times below, this type of music 'mixes well' in a way that's somewhat hard to specify; a lot of its excitement is generated by pushing one tune up against another, seeing how what might seem like disparate material can form a coherent whole. The Pangea mix for Reprise linked to in the last post would be an excellent place to start. I can also wholly recommend the following:
Jackmaster's recent mix for the Wire - A true musical thrill-ride from start to finish. (The degree of ecleticism here, I should point out, goes beyond what is the norm in UK music right now, particularly in the ammount of hip-hop material used. Though perhaps this is not outside of the norm for the Glasgow scene in particular: more to come on that at a later date).
Bok Bok's new guest mix for the Lucky Me family - Just beautiful, with loads of woozy psychedelic synths.
Jamie Vexd's mix also for Lucky Me - A bit older this one, but still sounding exciting and relevant.
Marcus Nasty MC special on Rinse FM - Bit of a different take on the unity concept this one, but a classic and pretty much an instant historical event from the moment it was broadcast last November.
Terror Danjah's May mix for FACT magazine - More recent excursion into grime/funky territory, with plenty of Terror's own amazing instrumentals.
Ben UFO, Oneman and MC Asbo doing a recent Ruffage Sessions show on Sub FM - high-energy stuff from start to finish with surreal hosting chat from Asbo.
Also make sure to check out Colz' blog, which hosts a proper shedload of relevant mixes, including plenty of recent radio sets.

Finally, I thought it might be helpful to share links to blog posts and articles that have been of use to me in attempting to get to understand 'the new music'. Along with those linked to in the original post, the following are well worth a read (tending perhaps to focus on the w*nky concept, but covering other stuff too).
(+ follow-up posts)

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Enhanced Unity

Thanks to everyone here and on dissensus for their kind comments on the last post. I've spruced it up a bit over the last couple of days with lots of extra Youtube links to tunes which I mentioned but didn't embed.

As promised/warned, here are some afterthoughts and further enlargements on the topic, but this time without any pretence at an overarching framework. So you're left with the top-of-the-head ramblings for now:

"4th – there’s an overall trend in the beat grids, away from ease of release and towards a certain tension, seen perhaps most obviously in all of grime, in wonky’s unquantised beats, and in the broken-clave patterns underlying funky. Also in dubstep, most obviously with the return to 2-step among some producers, but also with halfstep beats when done well, the hesitation about what the ‘real’ tempo is, the tension between elements pushing forward and pulling back. I have a growing feeling that this tension could be said to ‘reflect the times’ in an abstract sense, but this idea clearly needs elaboration at a later date ."

Well yes, I'm going to stand by that, though it's phrased clumsily and still needs more thought. But what I ought to have said also is that alongside the tense rhythms, another almost if not equally important component of many current tracks is the multi-tone-coloured, three-dimensional, joyously hyperkinetic melodies that leap out to grab the listeners' attention. These come through most strongly and obviously in funky, bassline and wonky dubstep, though examples could be found elsewhere. What is interesting though is the way these melodies both contrast with the percussion structures, making the tunes attractive and catchy, often adding a certain lightness, even nonchalance of mood, but also complement them, sharing the same twisted, off-kilter effects which disorientate the listener, setting them excitedly on edge.

Thinking about the beats like this has also brought home to me that I have next to no idea how to talk about the basic rhythmic templates in grime with any accuracy. And I'm not the only one here: the standard critical terms for dealing with grime beats seem to operate at the most general level, characterising them as stiff, cold, hard, twitchy, tense and so forth. Not having a dig here; the terms are accurate enough at their intended level, and useful in a way as an introduction to the newcomer, but y'know, we could do with something more. It's not that there is a lack of understanding either - follow an internet or other discussion between experienced, engaged grime fans and it's clear that they have a grasp of various beat templates operating in the genre, and that their understanding of these help shape the meaning and expectations attached to new tunes for them. It's just that there doesn't seem to be any standardly agreed on terms which would help express these conventions more clearly.

Anyhow, here's some other examples of generic mutation and cross-genre fertilisation that I either neglected to mention before or that have only occured/come to my attention after I published the post:

* "Dubblestep": Bit of a gimmick, a one-trick pony even, this one, but none the worse for it in terms of fun and immediate impact. See here for the dubblestep refix of Benga's 26 Basslines; supposedly there are others either in the pipeline or hiding unaired somewhere. It does exactly what it says on the tin really - rejigs the percussion on a half-step dubstep track so as to put the emphasis back on the full 140 bpm side of things, thus raising the energy levels and extracting the latent intesity from the tunes.

* The recent productions by Emvee. These I really should have mentioned before - released on Wireblock, these tunes operate on the borderline between funky and dubstep (his Myspace also has clips that throw bassline elements into the mix, though not yet too successfuly imo). Sadly there doesn't seem yet to be a Youtube clip for Nocturnal, my favourite from his current release, but there is one for the its flipside track, Glitch Dub, which is almost as good.

*Going back quite a bit further in time, on the funky refix front, I can't believe I missed this one, a classic of its sort that was big early last year just as that scene was beginning to rise to prominence and establish self as genuinely distinctive UK variant of traditional funky house.

(And the Benga and Coki original of this was a BBK Napa favourite in the summer of 2007, which played a part in it being one of the first and biggest dubstep tunes to cross over to a wider audience. The major previous one being Midnight Request Line, the melodicism, synth sounds and quirky/spooky atmopshere of which is now seen as a seminal influence on Joker and the Bristol 'purple' post-dubstep sound...... But you're getting the picture by now, I'm sure).

*As I mentioned Dexplicit's productions before, here's a link to excerpts from two recent bassline tunes by him that I'm really rather keen on.

* Been looking around for more tunes like Innami, not had much luck, the closest is perhaps Ramandanman's remix of A Nie Dyamata S Bobi Peim Kafe. However, whilst this tune is excellent, it is perhaps not wholly relevant to my case as it takes its source material directly from an existing non-UK track (still struggling with easily accesible on-line audio for both of these tunes: check that Night Slugs radio set posted in April that I love to bang on about for the Ramadanman, whilst Pearce's Innami can be found on this excellent mix by Pangea done back in March). But in the process I did remind myself about the following tune, one very much in next-level/wot-do-u-call-it territory to my ears, and which exhibts another kind of relationship to the existing UK post-garage styles, whilst still mixing very well with them, as demonstrated in various recent radio shows.
(Although having said that, I half-expect someone to pop up and point out that it's not quite as original as I'm making out, as I rather suspect it might also derive elements from the various established international forms of house music that I don't listen to much. Will have to look into that more. But don't let that distract you from how great it is!)

(The track title is nicely relevant too!)

Finally, in a nice little bit of synchronicity (which I've not yet decided helps prove anything or not), it's been pointed out to me that many of the points from my original post, especially those relating to the grime-funky relationship, were discussed in this recent Grime Debate on Rinse FM, featuring major DJs from the scene such as Spyro, Vectra, Scratcha and JJ. Between them they represent a case rather similar to mine and the opposing argument. Please do also read Elijah's contextualising post for the debate; in some respects he is on the other side of the debate to me, but it's well-expressed and again carries special weight coming from a currently operating grime DJ. You would do well to check his radio show archives too while you're there, the last 3 in particular have been fantastic.

*STOP-THE-PRESS EDIT* : You can now listen to a teaser clip of Innami here, and it will be out to buy on the Blunted Robots label from July 6th. Good times. (Thanks to Alex for the heads-up on this one).