ALBUM REVIEW: keysound recordings presents…this is how we roll

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So for the last 2-3 years, Gunter Sacks has been telling anybody who would listen that the musical landscape we inhabit feels remarkably similar to what it did a decade ago. Consider: as the noughties began, drum’n’bass was fading into irrelevance and had mostly degenerated into a one-dimensional macho caricature exemplified by the likes of Pendulum.  There was a sense of lack of direction and casting around for the new form of electronic music that would mark the decade. While waiting for it to emerge, heads indulged in a lot of love for US ghetto sounds (funny to think how much adulation DJ Assault got at the time) but also explored the most worthy and refined end of US house (an appreciation of Theo Parrish was the mark of a true connoisseur back in those days).

In the meantime, the true sound of the new century’s first decade was quietly slipping into being in the most obscure recesses of the 2-step garage scene. But it would not be until 2004 or so that dubstep would start to get recognition outside of a tiny clique of 2-step heads.

Now, three years into another decade we don’t quite know how to name yet, the same confusion and lack of direction reigns. Dubstep mostly degenerated into cartoonish irrelevance by 2010 and Skrillex is the Pendulum of this generation. Where 10 years ago people used to listen to ghetto-tech and booty bass from Detroit, they now listen to Chicago Footwork. Others seek refuge in the good taste of US deep house: Levon Vincent, Hieroglyphic Being, Omar S…in fact people are still worshipping Theo Parrish almost as much as they did a decade ago.

But in the midst of all of these different currents, my feeling is: if any sound is going to rise up and dominate the way dubstep ended up doing last decade, then it’s going to ooze out of the most interesting underground nooks of the house scene in the UK (again much like dubstep did, as 2-step garage is basically a form of house). Personally, about a year ago I was ready to predict that something really interesting would come out of the scene around the Idle Hands label in Bristol and producers like Hodge. I was predicting that the new decade’s sound would be slow, really slow, maybe under 120bpm.

Yet well into 2013, we’re still stuck in the same holding pattern and I don’t quite have a sense that anything radically new has been unleashed yet, though there have been plenty of promising blueprints.

So in the midst of all of this comes the new compilation on the Keysound label run by Dusk + Blackdown, whose Rinse show I listened to avidly during the Dubstep heyday, but which I more recently neglected while searching out possible new developments in the South-West on the likes of tape-echo.com.

“This is How We Roll” generated a lot of excitement on announcement of its release, purportedly representing a new generation of mostly UK producers running at a 130bpm tempo and offering a fresh sound and vision in the UK underground. Indeed the compilers seem to buy into this conceit, kicking of the album with a collaboration between three producers brashly titled “New Wave”.

Well with the amount of hype of release has had, there’s plenty of reviews to read online already, most of them written by people far more involved in, and knowledgable about, the scene then me. So I’m not going to dwell too much on describing the sonics in detail. Instead, I just want to focus on whether this is the radical new thing that I’ve been waiting for the last few years.

Now most of the reviews out there agree that the tracks on here generally recall both ’04 – ’05 era dubstep and the grime sounds from the same period, but with much, much higher production values. And that’s a judgement I’d generally agree with, save that I think some of the less interesting tracks (by Fresh Paul and E.M.M.A.) are too similar to the “Purple Wow” sound that came (and went) out of Bristol a few years ago.

So while I’ve been caning this cd all weekend, and find it a much more satisfying listen than the other purportedly genre-defying compilations recently released by Nonplus and Night Slugs, it doesn’t have that true SHOCK of the new yet.  When I first heard the “Grime” compilations on Rephlex in 2004, or picked up the Youngsta “Live at FWD” mix cd the same year, I certainly wasn’t thinking “wow this reminds me of early 90s hardcore with better production”. So I don’t think the new sound of the decade has arrived yet.

But I shouldn’t be too harsh, because this is still more interesting than most of the other sounds out there right now. Standout tracks include “PVO” by Beneath, “Commotion VIP” by Wen, “LDN VIP” by Double Helix (I’ll be doing a write-up on the genius of Double Helix’s LHF crew sometime soon) and “The Steppenwolf” by Christchurch’s Epoch.

Posted by Gunter Sacks

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