No one could have guessed in 1985 when Radiohead formed that they would find themselves at the vanguard of cutting-edge, bass-heavy electronic music. They enjoyed moderate success off the back of their first single ‘Creep’ from their 1993 debut album Pablo Honey. Two years later they released The Bends but it wasn’t until 1997 when the band released OK Computer that Radiohead became a household name around the globe. The record’s sweeping, cinematic vibe and lyrical musings on modern alienation were enriched by their first subtle flirtations with electronic music. The album – now often considered among the best of the decade – topped charts globally and spawned a massive two-year tour.
Upon their return home the band quarrelled over where to take their music next. DJ Shadow’s debut album Endtroducing….. had been in high rotation during the OK Computer recording sessions and Thom Yorke jumped at the chance to write and record a song with him that ended up on the 1998 album Psyence Fiction by UNKLE. Yorke had been a DJ and even dabbled in techno production when he was at university and at this point was almost exclusively listening to electronic music. When Radiohead re-assembled in early 1999 to record a new album, Yorke pushed for a more rhythmic, electronic sound with treated vocals, synths and drum machines. Their next two albums Kid A and Amnesiacwere comprised of tracks from these sessions and the radical change in sonic direction caught many off-guard. For every critic and fan that hailed the new material as genius, there were many others left cold by the lack of guitars and traditional rock elements.
In 2006, Thom Yorke unveiled his solo album The Eraser – a pure electronica album. The uniquely raw and layered textures of the record were well received, nominated for both a Grammy and the Mercury Prize. The Eraser was released in the middle of a groundswell in the UK underground scene. The first wave of dubstep and bass music had blown up and none of this was lost on the Radiohead vocalist. An early champion of ethereal and elusive producer Burial, Yorke decided to commission a remix project for the tracks from his solo album. Across three 12s, bass producers such as The Bug, Various Production, Surgeon, Modeselektor, Four Tet and Burial put their spin on Yorke’s tracks.
Thus began Thom Yorke’s tight relationship with the bass music scene. Among much collaboration, he leant vocals to the 2007 track ‘The White Flash’ by Modeselektor, sang on ‘…And The World Laughs With You’ from Flying Lotus’ 2010 LP Cosmogramma, and earlier this year released a 12 inch record with Four Tet and Burial. Yorke has often confessed his love in interviews of the Los Angeles-centred beat scene – home to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder collective and beat night Low End Theory, where Yorke has played a couple of surprise DJ sets.
The influence of all this can be felt somewhat in Radiohead’s latest album The King Of Limbs – an experiment in aesthetics and rhythm. Like The Eraser, Thom Yorke commissioned remixes of the new Radiohead album – the fruits of which will be released next month on TKOL RMX 1234567. Mark Pritchard (aka Harmonic 313), Illum Sphere, Jamie XX, SBTRKT and Caribou have turned in remixes alongside Yorke favourites Modeselektor and Four Tet. Many of these have been aired on Mary Anne Hobbs’ radio show on XFM. Hobbs has long been a fan of Radiohead and Thom Yorke – even more so when his path and that of the bass music underground started going the same way. Last week she featured a brand new DJ mix from Yorke on her show. The mix featured some of the TKOL remixes as well as new bits from Yorke himself and can be streamed on Mixcloud.
This month in Subdetritus we look at the physical and psychological effect of music on people, specifically with regards to our good old friend – bass. Since the earliest day of sound system culture in Jamaica, there has existed a competitive strive towards having the biggest rig able to push out the maximum amount of bass. Sound systems are still judged on their ability to not only clearly represent all the frequencies of music to the ear, but also their ability for the music to be felt. To this end, quality sound systems are designed to emit frequencies well outside the range of frequencies that humans can hear. Above that range is known as ultrasound, and below the range is infrasound.
I distinctly remember my first visit to Fabric nightclub in London and that physical pressure in my chest and head from the bass during a Roni Size set in Room 2. While these kinds of systems are heaven to bass music lovers, the risk of permanent ear damage is very real and should be avoided with quality earplugs. Other symptoms of prolonged exposure to high volumes of low frequencies and infrasound can include disorientation, shortness of breath, anxiety and nausea.
Unsurprisingly, the physical and psychological effects of certain music and frequencies have been used by governments, military and police as sonic weapons. The use of sound to strike fear into enemies or prey has always occurred in nature by animals, and has long held a place in human conflict in the form of drums, trumpets, war cries and other taunts. During the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coalition forces reportedly blasted heavy metal from speakers mounted to vehicles in the battlefield and inmates at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay were allegedly exposed to extended, loud bouts of music from bands such as Metallica as a form of torture. Similar tactics were used by the US military against General Noriega in Panama and the Branch Davidians in Waco, and are also used to disperse crowds and deter teenagers from hanging around shopping malls afterhours. Sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease react negatively to wrong notes played in a familiar melody highlighting the effects of music deep in the subconscious.
Much research has been poured into sonic weaponry that goes a little deeper than the above examples. A great chunk of the research into the effects on the human body from infrasound was conducted by NASA in the early 1960s to discover what affect the low frequencies created by rockets would have on astronauts during launches. The most infamous effect on humans comes from the so-called ‘brown note’. The brown note is a theoretical infrasonic frequency between 5 to 9 Hz that would cause a person to lose control of their bowels and soil themselves. While the idea is frankly tremendous, little to no scientific evidence actually exists to support the theory, though many have tried – including popular TV show Mythbusters but alas to no avail. Other weaponry applications include sonic booms or ‘sound bombs’, focused beams of high intensity ultrasound that can cause lung and intestinal damage in mice, and Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) used to send instructions, warnings and deterrents to enemies over long distances.
If this field is of interest to you, I cannot recommend highly enough the book Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear by Steve Goodman – better known to bass music fans as Kode9. Goodman’s book not only explores the application of sound and frequency in a military sense, but more broadly how acoustic forces affect populations in a political and social context by creating a “bad vibe”. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with his label Hyperdub will attest to his fascination with interplaying rhythmic patterns and disorientating discordant harmony. The result is music that instils a pervading sense of dread or unease, but unfortunately won’t make you shit your pants.
This month in Subdetritus we take a snapshot of where things are at in the world of bass music right now. While we are all huddling around heaters, it’s the height of the northern hemisphere’s summer and much of the scene’s big hitters are out on the road peddling their sounds at festivals and clubs the world over.
James Blake took on the Park Stage at Glastonbury last month to rave reviews fuelling anticipation of his imminent Australian tour. The electronic music Mecca that is Sonar Festival descended on Barcelona the week before Glastonbury with a bass line-up only dreams are made of. From many friends of mine who were there, it seemed there was almost too much good music to absorb. While the more pop-leaning bass acts like dubstep supergroup Magnetic Man, Katy B and Zinc reportedly sounded pretty dull and uninspired, there were astounding sets turned in by the likes of Aphex Twin, Downliners Sekt, Raime, Teebs, oOoOO, Buraka Som Sistema, Shackleton and Illum Sphere.
Radio queen and bass champion Mary Anne Hobbs played a 2:30am set to an estimated crowd of 15,000 people at Sonar and backed it up by a sunrise set to 20,000 at Benicassim Festival last weekend. Hobbs has a lot to be happy about at the moment with her much lauded return to radio two weeks ago on Xfm. While her BBC Radio 1 Experimental show (a favourite of this column for years) was in a mid-week timeslot in the wee hours of the morning, her new show on Xfm is a primetime 7-10pm slot on Saturdays. “This is such a victory,” Hobbs said in a press release. “Not just for me, but for all the artists I believe in and all the live listeners who care so deeply. My aim… to create some truly mind-blowing, redefining radio on Xfm.” Her first show featured guest mixes from Deep Medi Musik’s Silkie and LuckyMe’s Machinedrum, while last week featured mixes from Ninja Tune’s Daedelus and Planet Mu’s Falty DL. Highly recommended if you’re hungry for fresh underground bass music.
Speaking of which there have been plenty of new releases to heat up those speakers this winter. Zomby has just dropped his second album Dedication for indie label 4AD which builds on the woozy, synth-heavy Nintendo-step of his highly regarded early releases for labels like Hyperdub, Ramp and Werk. Zomby is an artist who has always operated outside of the status quo and while this album is relatively short, it contains so many great moments and ideas. The latest transmission from Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder collective is the proper debut album from Samiyam. While the LA-centric “wonky” hip hop sound is starting to sound tired in the hands of many, Sam Baker’s Album possesses a funk and fidgetiness that sounds more exciting than most of the woozy, bass-heavy Dilla knock-offs making the rounds. Following two self-released CDRs, recent visitor Pursuit Grooves has also released her debut album Frantically Hopeful. Interestingly released on the Bristol-based label Tectonic run by Pinch, the record is an eclectic listen still firmly rooted in future soul with a definite Dam-Funk vibe that flirts a little with pop music in a good way. Other hotly anticipated bass music releases on the horizon include the new full-length from Ras G on Ramp and the new EP from Scotland’s Hudson Mohawke on Warp Records.
On the Brisbane tip, it would be remiss of me not to mention local duo Science Project who seem unstoppable at the moment with upcoming shows in Melbourne and a support slot for Los Angeles-based Nosaj Thing this week. Their deep love of dub and reggae has been the focus of a couple of beat tapes that are available on their Bandcamp page – one a tribute to Bob Marley and the other to Osbourne Ruddock (a.k.a. King Tubby). The beat tapes feature versions by the boys themselves and locals such as Erther, Syntax, Walrii and Puzahki.
Electronic music purveyors have long recognised that watching someone on a dark stage twiddling knobs or mixing records isn’t the most thrilling concert-going experience visually. Over the years electronic acts have deployed light shows, lasers and projected visuals to accompany and compliment the music in a live setting. This month in Subdetritus we look at bass music’s dichotomous relationship with live visual stimulus and it’s relationship with multimedia art at large.
From the earliest days of rave culture back in the late-eighties, parties were something of a visual spectacle – ravers dressed in fluorescent colours, warehouse spaces decked-out in UV décor, strobes, lasers and all manner of mind-altering lighting displays. This wasn’t necessarily the blueprint that all electronic music parties followed in subsequent years, particularly bass and sound system culture. Many drum’n’bass and dubstep parties were, and continue to be, very conscious of a certain “hoods up, heads down” mentality towards the music and how it should be enjoyed in a live setting. One of the most famous of the original dubstep parties – Mala, Loefah and Coki’s mighty DMZ night in Brixton – would pride itself on being no more than a dark room with one sparse blue light and the mother of all sound systems. No flashy visuals or strobe lights, just: “Come meditate on bass weight”.
This has been a staple of many bass gigs around the globe: spare no expense on the sound system and the rest should be simple and raw. It’s a cry back to original Jamaican sound systems and a statement that the music itself should be the primary focus. It was an ethos that one-time smoked-out jazzy junglist turned innovative sound artist Amon Tobin employed on his 2007 tour of Europe supporting his album The Foley Room. “Fuck visuals,” he was famously quoted as saying. “We’re sinking every last penny into the sound system!” And from all accounts he wasn’t fronting – the music was loud, bass-heavy, crystal clear, in your face and inescapable. Fast forward to the last few weeks, and Amon Tobin has just kicked off his latest tour in support of brand new album Isam. The album itself has received mixed reviews as Tobin continues to push his challenging sound manipulations into new and less familiar territory, but in an interesting flip, the live show he has assembled for this record could go down in history as one of the most unique multimedia performances of our time.
The first show of the tour was in Montreal on June 1st and is currently being staged in select cities across Europe. Videos have since been uploaded to www.amontobin.com of the performance and its design, and scores more have surfaced from fans on YouTube. Described in a press release as featuring a “stunning 25′ x 14′ x 8′ multi-dimensional/ shape shifting 3-D art installation surrounding Tobin and enveloping him and the audience in a beyond 3-D experience”, the footage has to be seen to be believed. The marriage of his dense electronic compositions with such a jaw-dropping visual accompaniment is light years ahead of its time and makes his contemporaries who seek to offset the visual boredom of DJ sets by wearing giant mouse heads look frankly ridiculous. On top of all of this, Tobin teamed up with respected artist Tessa Farmer whose unique visual style based on reconstructions of organic material has been the centerpiece of an art installation that has been on display in galleries in London and Paris to coincide with the launch of the album.
Flying Lotus is another that has been pushing the visual element harder than most in terms of cover art, live performances, interactive web applications and film clips. There are plenty of others in bass music who are embracing other media in an attempt to compliment and enhance the sensory experience of their music, including crews here in Brisbane. The future looks bright and flashy in the murky world of bass.
This month in Subdetritus we take a look at an influx of amazing, long-awaited releases from the world of bass music that are hitting record stores and headphones at the moment. I can’t remember a time in recent years where there has been this much good music stirred into the cosmic soup all at once. Pens and wallets at the ready…
The big one that has just been unleashed is the brand new full-length album from the head of Hyperdub himself – Kode9 & The Spaceape’s Black Sun. A lot has changed in bass music since their first collaborative album dropped back in 2006, but Kode9 is still hailed as a visionary leader of the movement. The album holds all the ominous might and menace you’d expect from this pair but the beats are teased out in slightly different directions. The collaboration with Flying Lotus is as killer as it should be.
Another Hyperdub legend recently gave a rare treat – new music from the elusive and iconic Burial. The three-track EP Street Halo holds its own after an agonizing four year wait for fans on any new solo material from his hallowed studio. It comes straight off the back of his stunning collaboration with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Four Tet. Speaking of Radiohead, there are very serious rumours of a remix project of tracks from their incredible The King of Limbs album. Thom Yorke has made no secret of his love affair with the new vanguard of bass producers having previously collaborated with Flying Lotus and recently spinning a surprise DJ set at Gaslamp Killer’s night Low End Theory. Names being mentioned as possible remixers for Radiohead include bass wizards Mark Pritchard and Illum Sphere. Watch this space for more news on this exciting project.
Other amazing albums with a drum’n’bass slant that are shaking up the detritus right now include the eagerly anticipated Instra:mental album Resolution 653 on Nonplus and d’n’b-heads-turned-steppers Kryptic Minds with their third album Can’t Sleep. Dutch producer 2562 has also lifted the lid on his third full-length Fever which heads in a decidedly more housey direction.
The king of them all right now for this bass head though has to be the brand new album from Mr. Amon Tobin. Entitled Isam, this record builds on the dense compositions, moody sound design and disorientating rhythms of 2007’s Foley Room with a more urgent and harsh electronic edge to it. Head to his website here for a free download from this amazing record and details of an incredible art installation to celebrate it’s launch. Also, be sure to check a full track-by-track commentary of the album by the man himself on his Soundcloud. It’s a good time to be alive!
This month in Subdetritus we hold a lantern up to one of the most promising young labels to spew forth from the heady bass brew slowly bubbling away in Brisbane – Ender Records. Founded by John English (aka Herts), the label has become home to a grip of young underground beat makers from Queensland and beyond. “I have been trying to get a label going for about 2 years now,” English explains. “With two failed ventures behind me, I decided to just do it on my own. It seems to be working well so far! I just want the world to hear the amazing music that is coming out of our region, and also further cement Australia as a serious global contender in the beat scene.”
So far the label has released the incredible Laser Storm EP by Brisbane-based Elroy 4.0, a free Christmas compilation last December that featured fifteen beats from the entire Ender family and an impressive 3-track release from Total Stranger called Burning Sockets – all of which are available from the Ender Bandcamp site. For English, its not just about getting this music released but to give the acts on Ender everything they need to move to the next level. “The end goal would be to have successful releases that lead to global tours for all our artists, and encompassing management, distribution and publishing,” he says. “Another goal is to expand the label to represent not only musicians but all media artists, releasing video and other new media content.”
Ender Records is sitting on some pretty exciting future releases. Keep a weathered eye on the horizon for new bits from New Zealand-based producers Epoch and Lefty. Also in the pipeline are releases from Australian producers Pedestrian and the follow-up from Total Stranger that has been described by English as “kind of like taking ketamine at a school disco.” A video for the new Total Stranger tune ‘State Of Mind’ is up now on the Ender website (see above). The big one that many people in the local scene are waiting for is the debut album from Puzahki – Flex Capacitor. No less than eight free mix tapes from this prolific beat maker will precede the official album release that has been almost four years in the making. Stay tuned to the Ender website or Facebook group for more info on these releases and further information about this new guard of bass alchemists.
Do you ever stop to think about how global and permeating the electronic bass music scene has become? Here’s a thought: the club nights, the DJs, the producers, the MCs, the labels, the remixes, the army of fans, the culture, the jargon, the equipment and the infrastructure of dance culture from London to Detroit all would not exist as we know it today had it not been for one tiny island – Jamaica.
This may seem as obvious as the nose on your face, but there’s a truth to it that most dance music fans don’t even realize or think about. Well over fifty years ago set to a complicated political backdrop, the music lovers of Jamaica mixed the early r’n’b and blues they heard being broadcast on Florida radio stations with their own music and ideologies. This melting pot gave birth to a distinctly unique musical language known as reggae. Before long there was a thriving scene of bands on the island that facilitated the opening of recording studios, particularly in Kingston, to capture this musical phenomenon. One of the most famous was Studio One founded by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd whose very first recording session took place in 1957.
Within ten years producers at these studios had started to experiment with the recordings of these bands, taking out the vocals and emphasizing the drum and bass tracks or the ‘riddim’. Known as dubs, these ground-breaking productions were pioneered by the likes of King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry and often involved extensive reverb, echo and delay effects as well as cut up vocal or instrumental samples from the original versions. These were among the first people to look at the recording studio as instrument in its own right and paved the way for the modern concepts of an electronic producer and the remix.
These instrumental dubs with their heavy drums and bass were pressed to vinyl (dubplates) and were played by DJs (selectors) on big sound systems set up in the street. These earliest incarnations of club nights didn’t have Facebook to promote their nights but instead relied on word of mouth – who had the biggest sound system and the best dubs? The notion of an MC also came out of all this with people on microphones “toasting” and hyping the crowd over the largely instrumental tunes. Here we are fifty years later witnessing the exact same thing at summer festivals and nightclubs. Respect!
*** On a related note, if you are interested in checking out some quality roots reggae and dub – make sure you get down to JUMBO MUMBO. Run by Erther and Ben Osbourne, Jumbo Mumbo is a new monthly reggae event taking place at the Rumpus Room in the West End. From all accounts the first one was awesome. Hit the image below for info on upcoming events…
Welcome to a whole new year of detritus! I wanted to set this off with a look at a relatively new bass-related genre that got a lot of attention in 2010 and is being rocked more and more on my speakers – witch house. What is it, where did it come from and how did it get its dubious moniker?
Denver-based producer Pictureplane whose album Dark Rift was an underground hit back in 2009 unintentionally coined the genre name witch house while describing the spooky, slowed-down house music he was making. The term spread like wild fire over the Internet and is now commonly used to describe a unique brand of dark electronic music. The sound of witch house borrows not only from house but more from industrial, drone, shoegaze, juke, soundtracks, trance, melancholy pop and 80′s goth in a distinctly hip-hop/r’n’b framework. Slow tempos, skipping or “screwed” drum machine beats and dark, moody atmospherics are all hallmarks.
Witch house is also referred to as drag or screwgaze. Brooklyn duo Creep even went as far as to dub it rape gaze. Oh, pigeonholes and sub-subgenres can be fun! Probably unbeknown to Pictureplane at the time, there is a house in the town of Salem in Massachusetts that was owned by Judge Jonathan Corwin who was directly involved in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. The house is one of the oldest in the state and is known as the ‘Witch House’. Judge Corwin served in the court that ultimately was responsible for the hanging of nineteen innocent women accused of witchcraft.
Whether by happy accident or clever design, one of the the genre’s biggest acts is called Salem. This three-piece released one of last year’s most unexpectedly brilliant and refreshing albums King Night back in September. Among a raft of other talent associated with witch house is Cologne-based record label Tri Angle. The label is home to the aforementioned Creep as well as Balam Acab and oOoOO who both released incredible debut EPs last year. Balam Acab’s almost lo-fi See Birds EP will immediately appeal to fans of wonky beats while the enigmatically-named oOoOO’s self-titled EP is a much more pop-influenced affair but whose opening track ‘Mumbai’ is a perfect example of what has drawn me to this sound.
It has been a while since I posted up a Subdetritus (my monthly bass column in 3D World) on the Morass site and for that I apologize. I thought I’d remedy the situation by posting this month’s column which is my little tribute to Mary Anne Hobbs after her recent decision to leave her position as host of the BBC Radio One Experimental show.
From here on in I will be posting them each month as they are published in 3D World (hopefully). Hope you enjoy!
In news that saddened many bass music fans – last month Mary Anne Hobbs hung up her headphones with the broadcast of her last ever show on the UK’s BBC Radio One. Hobbs had been with the radio station for almost fourteen years hosting her weekly two-hour Experimental show (formerly known as the Breezeblock). Over the course of that time, her ear and penchant for hyperbole helped break countless electronic music artists, and indeed entire genres. It’s hard to imagine another figure that single-handedly did as much to break the dubstep and wonky movements (and all their mutant strains) to a global audience. This month in Subdetritus, we pay tribute to the breathy-voiced queen of bass and beats.
Mary Anne Hobbs was not always on the cutting edge of electronic music. Her first passions were metal and motorbikes, so at the age of eighteen having ran away to London she ended up living in a bus with the band Heretic. She helped out as a mechanic and designed sets and cover art for the band. A year later, Hobbs landed a gig writing for Sounds Magazine in the UK and not long after found her way on to the pages of the revered (and loathed) British music press NME. When James Brown, former deputy editor of NME decided to leave and co-found Loaded Magazine, Hobbs went with him before falling into radio work on XFM. It was there that she got noticed by the powers that be at the BBC.
Being a massive fan of the late John Peel and his tireless work breaking new artists on the BBC airwaves, Hobbs jumped at the chance and has enjoyed a long relationship with them ever since. Over the history of her Experimental show, its hard to think of a forward-thinking electronic artist, label or subgenre that she hasn’t explored. Once claiming that she listens to about ten hours of new music a day, Hobbs’ quest to present the finest two hours of sounds on the planet each week was relentless and inspiring. Her ‘Dubstep Warz’ special back in 2006 was a watershed moment for the genre presenting mixes from the leading producers of the time and her final show featured an exclusive mix from Kode9 and Burial which was simply stunning.
Far from retiring, Hobbs will continue to DJ globally as well as taking an internship at Sheffield University, curating stages for Sonar and Bloc festivals and is currently helping Darren Aranovsky with the soundtrack to his new film Black Swan. We wish her all the best!