There’s a lot of joking in the electronic music community about the sheer volume of ambient and atmospheric music being made right now. And certainly a lot of artists went introspective during COVID-19 lockdown. This isn’t just a reactive, short-term trend, though—it’s the culmination of a steady upswing that’s been happening in the hinterlands between multiple scenes for the last decade. And Belgian producer SKY H1 has been emblematic of these movements.
On her debut album, SKY H1 expands the sound of her mid-‘10s EPs in all directions. Her most obvious musical connection has always been to the icy and rarefied “weightless grime” of London artists like Logos, Visionist, and Yamaneko—indeed, Visionist was a key early supporter, releasing her tracks on his PAN offshoot CODE. That ultra minimal vibe is certainly present here, in the knife-sharpening sounds of “Silk,” the vertiginous euphoria of “Blade,” and “Labyrinth” which is as close to an extended shiver in audio form as it’s possible to get.
Just as often, though, she joins dots towards other parts of electronic music history, and creates denser layers of sound. “Darklite” and “Topaz” sound very early-mid-‘90s—like a WARP Artificial Intelligence track and a Future Sound of London ambient dub groove, respectively—but made gothic with huge cathedral reverbs. “Freefall” and the single “Elysian Heights” do something similar to a techno pulse and rolling jungle breaks. But this isn’t being referential for its own sake: texture, space, and dark emotion are way more important here than any scene signifier. SKY H1 may be introspective in her processes and inspirations, but she manages to make her imaginative landscapes vivid and distinct—and worthy of repeat exploration.