Posts Tagged ‘DSCI4’

fresh music roundup/ personal update…

December 24, 2010

What’s up everyone?

Akiva here. I haven’t posted an entry in quite some time. The following represents an attempt at a brief summary of what I’ve been up to, and also a recap (as always at least as much for my own benefit as for my readership) of some of the great music I’ve been hearing lately.

Here goes…

Well, firstly, I fulfilled a long-standing goal earlier this month when I bought the Apogee Duet and Logic Studio – two powerful audio tools that will go a long way toward helping me begin to establish a small home-based audio production studio. How exciting! I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of Logic, but I do have some previous experience with audio software so I don’t feel like I’m totally starting from scratch.

This purchase, though, is undoubtedly a big part of why I’m so excited about music right now (and the improvement in audio quality after I got the Duet set up was noticeable). Here are some highlights for me as far as stuff I’ve heard that’s either come out recently or is forthcoming (warning: this list will be rather eclectic):

1. My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky: Swans (site). Let me be blunt: I was fucking ecstatic to hear that Michael Gira decided to reunite the Swans. This album does not disappoint. The first track, “No Words / No Thoughts,” which clocks in at 9:24, starts out ambient, and builds menacingly and forebodingly for minutes until it explodes into a repetitive riff that breaks down into the familiar Swans “wall of sound”…a sequence that refreshingly goes on and on, as though to make up for the years of silence since the Swans disbanded in the ’90s. It’s a wonderful album.

2. 2D33P is a new drum & bass project and label from Trace and Voyager, “focusing on the ’94 vibe and beyond.” All you really need to do is click that link (it leads to their soundcloud page), and listen to the tracks. Unless your soul is immune to sub-bass frequencies and breakbeats (in short unless you don’t like jungle and aren’t willing to be receptive to something new), you’ll see why I’m excited. I’ve also heard a couple clips of tracks forthcoming in 2011 on Trace’s legendary drum & bass label DSCI4.

Speaking of which (and I’m going to probably going to do an entirely distinct post just for this, because I don’t want the link to get lost in the mix), there is a link on the DSCI4 soundcloud page to a mix by Trace and Ed Rush from 1997 called the No U Turn Experience. If you have any interest in drum & bass history, `90s era techstep, and the legacy of underground institution that is No U Turn, don’t pass it up.

Looking at iTunes, I’m beginning to realize I probably only bought one or two releases this entire year. You know what? That’s not going to stop me. I’m going to tell an uber-brief story to illustrate why I think dope releases from 2009 and even (dare I say it?) 2008 are still worthy of mention…

Two days ago, I happily checked out a free track being given away by Blu Mar Ten for Christmas. It’s a total banger. Anyway, some asshole posts a comment, like, “Wow, this track is amazing – can’t believe it’s four years old!”

RIGHT – because it’s only in the last three years that technology has finally enabled us to make amazing music! Everything before then, while still noteworthy, is now going to be relegated to a bygone era. Because…now every producer can afford a DAW, and Ableton and Autotune and etc. etc. etc. Thank God that after millenia of primitive audio production techniques good music will finally be within our reach…OK, now that the rant is over, I’m simply going to say that there’s so much good music that’s always coming out, I’m obviously at least two or three years behind even on the stuff I like to follow most. . . like hip-hop and d & b.

3. Something that’s fresh right now…Duck Down Records!! These guys are KILLING it right now. I still need to catch up on the last five years of dope releases from them. My “to cop” list includes some of the Buckshot & 9th Wonder collabs, the Heltah Skeltah albums that have come out since they reunited a couple years ago…Sean Price’s solo stuff…Boot Camp Clik…oh my god, the shit is fresh. Brooklyn is definitely on the map right now.

4. I gotta mention my man Dash Speaks, a very talented MC, DJ, and producer that I went to high school with. What he does is fresh and original – I just downloaded his album Geography a couple months ago and really, really liked it. His lyrics and approach are unique; the production is an innovative hybrid between hip-hop simplicity and a sort of electronic dance music synth / beat aesthetic, making the album accessible without sacrificing its integrity (if you ask me).

As a matter of fact, you can too. Check a review and free download link here. Dash, Speak brother!

5. It came out last year, but Rakim’s Seventh Seal is fire. Go get it if you haven’t already.

6. While dubstep and dubstep influenced bass-heavy music has continued to become increasingly trendy, drum & bass producers and labels have been stepping up their game over the past year and many of them are killing it. A label that has consistently delivered in terms of quality and originality has been Critical. Without getting too sappy or gushing praise, I gotta say that Critical exemplifies what’s good and what’s always been good about drum & bass. The sounds are varied and diverse. The production quality is always high, and the tracks tend to be on the moodier and techier side, but other than that, the criteria seem to be whatever Kasra thinks fits the label, which is a good approach, and has really allowed Critical to hone and define its own sound. I love what they’ve been doing.

7. A label I’ve had my eye on for quite some time, but which has really put itself on the map and garnered some attention in 2010 is Shogun Audio. Friction has done a good job showcasing a diverse range of musical talent. I would have to say that it is labels like Shogun, Critical, Exit (D-Bridge’s label and one of my faves – killing it right now) that have done a great deal to release material that reshapes the templates for what we used to define as “techstep,” “liquid,” and so on. Rightfully, much of the new d & b straddles several of these arenas. I’m also really happy to see the stripped-down sound that D-Bridge, Instra:mental, and Spectrasoul are pushing to start to get more acceptance. When Shogun Audio first showed up on the scene, I expected Friction to release forward-thinking d & b with deep roots in techstep and the “neurofunk” tradition. Of course, he did; but over the past year he’s also been pushing the envelope with tracks that hardly fit that description. His podcast has featured guest appearances from the likes of Spectrasoul, Lenzman and Rockwell. Shogun is killing it, and doing its part to help shape the new sound of drum & bass for the 21st century. With new material from Alix Perez and Icicle, Friction seems to have done a good job balancing releases from established artists with stuff from more up-and-coming producer. Cheers to the Shogun Audio massive…assassinating the global scene right now.

8. Frankly (and this could just be a reflection of my musical tastes changing), although I’ve always respected them but never been a hugely dedicated fan, I’m kind of warming up to Hospital Records. Obviously they are a total institution by now, and with fresh and hugely popular new acts on their roster like Netsky, they hardly need my endorsement. But I still want to recognize this label for their contributions. Again, a few years ago it seemed like you could pretty much sort d & b tracks by category: liquid, neuro, roller, jump-up, wobble (remember “clownstep”?), hardstep, ragga, jungle…FUCK that! Listen to the new d & b and it’s liquid / neuro-funk / dancefloor / tech. jungle. THAT’s what I’m talking about. (A LITTLE more innovation with the breaks probably couldn’t hurt…but my point is simple: d & b is fresh now so fuck the haters! Frankly more dubstep illustrates the problems associated with d & b than d & b does these days. But feel free to make use of the comment form if you want to argue that point – this is swiftly turning into a rant.) Although in any case, I gotta say, the old school vibes are making a comeback. And that’s something that makes me happy.

9. I guess now that I’ve consulted my iTunes library, I realize that Nine Inch Nails’ free album the slip was actually released in 2008. But I only found about it and downloaded it a few weeks ago. Well, it’s good. Thanks for the free music Trent…and for keeping Nine Inch Nails alive. rock on! And while I’m on the topic of 2008…Portishead‘s Third is fucking awesome. Bleak and cynical and wonderful. It took me a few listens to get into it. Totally worth while. Here, watch the video for Magic Doors.

(I’ve got to grab some dinner…to be continued)

P.S. Bonus video link…O.G.C. – Hurricane Starang. With Heltah Skeltah. It’s a real banger, not to be missed.

Still to come…artists I’m just beginning to discover and still want to check out…labels to watch…producers to watch…forthcoming albums I’m excited about. The round-up will continue! Peace, love and enjoyment…hope everyone that’s reading this has enough reason to stay positive going into 2011. I’m out.

obscure beauty from the black sun

August 9, 2009

That title probably made this post sound more interesting than it will actually be.

I’m listening to a song off an E.P. I’ve long wanted to listen to but never had until last week: Black Sun Empire‘s Smoke E.P. on DSCI4.

The track that inspired this blog post was the title track, Smoke. Those who aren’t drum & bass heads might listen and wonder what the big deal was about, whereas drum & bass heads might contemptuously respond simply by asserting that the track is “old” (yeah…so?).

This track is a classic example of the style of tech-step pioneered by DSCI4. It doesn’t necessarily transgress the sort of general boundaries of that style, but I think it does exemplify the style almost perfectly. I love how Black Sun Empire can sit their drums perfectly in the mix; they don’t rely on ultra-compressed, distorted kick and huge snare to carry the entire dynamics of the track, but rather the breaks feel restrained. Instead of feeling cliche, as in many drum and bass tracks, the breaks occupy just enough space to provide structure and flow to what’s happening – and what is happening always involves some melodic intelligence and transition.

After thinking about it, though, I think what most impresses me about Black Sun Empire – and this track in general – is the way they integrate all the elements together in the mixdown. That careful precision of the mixing – to me – is as much an element of style as the aesthetic defined by their choice of samples, especially that definitive sounding stab…and it is this sense of controlled precision (at odds with the sort of menacing ambience so often evoked by the synths / samples they select) that more than anything else at that time evokes techno. (The sharpness of their drum samples and the uber-compressed cymbals that punctuate them have become a much more familiar trope by now, but I think this is something that Black Sun Empire really innovated in many ways).

And plus, this track does something else I love. Listen for the change in the second break right before the bassline comes back in…

This probably sounds overly technical, nerdy, and slightly irrelevant – all of which it is. But the feeling I had that prompted me to write this blog isn’t.

While I have been guilty of it as well (and so I’ll avoid polemicizing overly much), I think there is a widespread conceit (no doubt a proper direction for deconstructive critique) in our culture as I understand it, at least, that holds art – and especially music – to be something that offers an almost mystically transcendent experience…and this is especially evident to me in the way musicians are idealized, as though gifted with some prophetic or visionary insight somehow inexplicably lacking in the rest of us (from John Lennon to Bob Marley to Jim Morrison to 2Pac – not to mention Michael Jackson, there seems to be a cult of personality associated with music almost unparalled by anything else I can think of).

But great music isn’t achieved only through some intangible wellspring of creativity (and I would dispute those who idealize either this supposed “quality” or the process by which it is thought to produce the tangible product we ultimately enjoy so greatly). There is also the (much-reviled) technical knowledge – and experimentation, and innovation and yes, discipline that plays a role. When electronic music is stigmatized or marginalized, I wonder about the extent to which an aesthetic is at play that fetishizes the inexplicability of human processes of expression – and ultimately, I would argue, the human “creator” as well – as privileged agent of creativity. When what is heard is not solely or primarily the result of vibrations produced in a tactile, physical manner by human hands, feet, or breath, but mediated instead by systems of circuitry, software (and furthermore is often comprised of auditory objects already recorded), and sequencing – it would seem that for some, the media produced can no longer unreservedly be regarded as “music.”

And yet, to denigrate electronic music (usually out of ignorance – and perhaps also out of fear?) is to kill the messenger.

Now how the hell did I get on this tangent?

There’s something about the mechanization of rhythm in this Black Sun Empire track on an obscure EP released by DSCI4 in 2002 that is just lovely – and, I think, a precursor of things to come. Now, if you haven’t already, go click the link and listen to it at least once through.

DSCI4