2014 – The Future is Here Part I

So this confused decade is almost halfway done and finally a musical and stylistic identity begins to emerge. Pretty much just like the last decade took a while to get into its stride too. In the last few months there’s been an abundance of releases which have really started to deliver on the promise of 2013 and that Logos album. More importantly, most of these releases are by artists that I hadn’t even heard of 12 – 18 months ago.  There’s a real feel of a new generation emerging, and some of the giants of the ’04 – ’09 era are starting to look like dinosaurs to me.

More importantly, I feel like there’s been one of those rare foot-centric seismic shifts that truly mark an era changing: yes I’m talking about the eternal swing of the pendulum from Nike to Adidas and back again.

The last time I felt an era-change – the middle of last decade when it was clear that dubstep was going to explode – was also the last time that I felt the pendulum swing from Nike to Adidas. The early part of the decade had been all about the Air Force 1 and, somewhat embarrassingly, the Bape Sta.  Then about the time of Dubstap Warz, I moved under the influence of casual culture and began a massive reappraisal of, shall we say, the more “European” end of Adidas. I spurned the obvious styles like the Shell Toe to begin an almost decade-long excavation of models like the Forest Hills, the Trimm-Tabb and the Munchen.

Now while I still adore those styles (in the overall pantheon of trainer greatness, will the Forest Hills ever be bettered?), I’ve slowly started to wake up to the painful reality that while those models were absolutely cutting-edge technology in their day, Adidas doesn’t really produce much in the way of exciting new trainers now.  In fact many of them are downright ugly, and the whole Adidas Originals schtick of continually re-releasing the golden designs of the early to mid-80s is wearing a bit thin.

Now on the other hand with Nike, the ubiquity of the Air Force 1 was putting me to sleep by the middle of last decade. And yet I now have to admit that it’s Nike and not Adidas that is making some new  trainers that you would both actually want to wear and that somehow capture the zeitgeist.

With the release of the Free Flyknit 4.0 Nike have released what I believe will be one of the defining trainer silhouettes of this era. Mixing the Nike Free sole and the Nike Flyknit upper, they combine two iconic pieces of Nike technology that left Adidas far behind. Stylishly blending form and function for a look that manages to stand out as new even after 40 years of modern trainer design, I haven’t been this excited about a new trainer since…well since I started collecting trainers.

Nike

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And it’s not just shoes where Nike are now winning the arms race. NSW keeps kicking goals with lines like the Gkyakusou running range, the collaborations with FFF and FCRB.  When was the last time you wanted to actually wear a piece of clothing from Adidas that wasn’t a classic item dating back from the 70s?

And so in a roundabout way, I come to music. As I said, the last few months have seen a whole exciting new generation of producers break through (or maybe I only just recognised that they are breaking through). I’ve spent a whole lot of time recently listening both to these new producers and to recent releases by some of my heroes of the 00s. In my next post I’ll deal with the producers that really excite me now, but first some thoughts about two of my old favorites: Hyperdub Records and The Bug.

The inescapable conclusion when listening to the recent Hyperdub 10 series of albums is that this once untouchable label is having a bit of an Adidas moment: iconic and era-defining in its glory day, but now distinctly bloated and tired. Was there really a need for an interminable series of compilation albums to celebrate the 10th anniversary? Why sign so many tedious American producers? What was once a lean and  focused operation now seems like a less-interesting Warp records wannabe. I shan’t listen to any of the Hyperdub compilations more than once, and have almost zero interest and curiosity about what Hyperdub might put out next.

bug

The Angels and Devils album by The Bug is, on the other hand, something I have listened to many times over the past few weeks. By my reckoning I’ve been following Kevin Martin a.k.a The Bug’s various projects for a ridiculous 22 YEARS, ie: longer than many of his current fans have been alive. His musical evolution has paralleled my own tastes in many ways, or perhaps even shaped them.

But while Angels and Devils probably has a lot more listening in it for me, I’m already clear that it’s just a further refinement of what he’s been doing for the last 15 years at least. Yes it may be his best single cohesive album to date but there is no shock of the new here, nothing that makes it feel like it actually helps define this moment in time the way London Zoo did in 2008 or indeed the way his masterful compiling of the Virgin Ambient series did in the mid-90s.  Somehow Angels and Devils feels like a good late period Neil Young album. Nice to see an elder statesman continuing to craft great albums, but it doesn’t really feel relevant to the era any more.  Still, Fat Mac is probably the single greatest Kevin Martin/Justin Broadrick collaboration to date.

Right then, next time I’ll write about the music that really excites me now.

Gunter Logo

Posted by Gunter Sacks

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Wen – Signals

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Well this isn’t officially released until Monday, but I’ve been caning it the last three days thanks to Resident Advisor kindly having a stream of the whole album up this week. There’s two excellent reviews up already here and here:

http://trusik.tumblr.com/post/79203332606/review-wen-signals-lp-ldn044

http://hedmuk.blogspot.hk/2014/03/review-wen-signals-ldn044.html

And no doubt during the next week there will be a lot more excellent reviews written by people much deeper into this music than me, because this is clearly going to be one of the landmark albums of the year.  I’m struggling a little bit to explain the context of just why this album is so exciting to me, because to do so I’d really have to write a whole essay about how towards the end of last year I finally fully woke up to the revolution going on in UK music that looks like making 2013-14 the most exciting sonic years since 2006-07. Actually I STILL want to write that piece here sometime, but I’ve got to review this album first so for now I’ll leave it by saying that what really finally rearranged my synapses last year was the Logos album, out on Keysound just like this Wen album. So Keysound may well end up releasing the key  (sorry – couldn’t resist) albums of both 2013 and 2014. This is even more amazing when you realise the label’s been around for almost a decade. In fact, in any genre of independent music I can’t really think of any other label which has been so involved in the birth of an exciting new zeitgeist-capturing scene when the label itself is a decade in. Usually the fresh new scenes bring fresh new labels with them. So yeah, maximum respect to Dusk and Blackdown for being so long in the game and still being absolutely vital and relevant.

Anyway where was I? Ah yes….that Logos album.  The Wen and the Logos really demand to be listened to and analysed together because they bookend what’s interesting and exciting in next level UK Grime right now. “Cold Mission” by Logos is still the alien transmission from somewhere far away in time and space, taking Grime to levels of abstraction that few had managed before. “Signals” is a much more – dare I say – “street” album. Wen’s trademark chopped-up snippets of grime MCs spray across most of the tracks.  Plus there’s more of a dancefloor focus, like the LDN remix of Swingin’ where the ghost of 2-step rears its’ head again, but with much more panache than various “future garage” hacks who seem so irrelevant now.

So basically if you listened to and enjoyed Wen’s earlier EPs then you’ll love this, no radical departures from the sound that he’s already been refining for the last year or two, except that one or two of the more downtempo tracks on here stray a bit closer to some of the Young Echo output then what I’d previously heard from Wen.  But on this album he’s really honed his production to absolute perfection, on a close listen on the headphones the construction of some of the tracks is just jaw-dropping (I read somewhere that Wen is a qualified architect – seems appropriate really). Plus the tracks are really intelligently sequenced to flow like a single piece of work, much like the Logos album or indeed Young Echo’s album.

Right now the whole album is still up for streaming here:

http://www.residentadvisor.net/feed-item.aspx?id=76036

If you only have time to listen to one track, listen to “In” – it will not get much better than this in 2014.

Plus there’s a fairly recent Wen mix to download here:

https://soundcloud.com/trapmag/trap-magazine-presents-rise-18

Good lord…I think I now actually have a nostalgic tear in my eye thinking about when I was mouthing off about the greatness of Wen’s Hedmuk mix around mid-last year…I think I called it the “sound of 2013”. I couldn’t even imagine how much cool stuff was still to come…

Gunter Logo

Posted by Gunter Sacks