As genres rise, fall, crossbreed, regenerate, and reinvent themselves, certain niches experience simultaneous surges in creativity. So it is with grime this month. The sound that swept London—and much of the rest of the U.K.—at the beginning of the ‘00s has had more ups and downs than most genres, but it’s long since proven that it will be around for the long haul, and that it’s capable of vast variety. In this month’s column, we have jazz-grime love songs, cosmic grime from North Carolina, newcomers and old-schoolers, funky fusions, and “Sexy Greeze.” Meanwhile, from other corners of the musical world, we have trippy scene roundups from California and Tennessee, East African dub, drone techno, and a couple of slices of adrenaline-boosted drum & bass to keep things lively…
It’s not often you stumble across a smart, funny, genuinely affecting grime love song. But then, it’s not often you find an MC like Manga Saint Hilare. Originally in the second lineup of grime’s OG Roll Deep crew—alongside Wiley, Flowdan, Trim, Riko Dan and many other of the scene’s great survivors—Manga’s known as a lyricist’s lyricist, and his output has consistently reflected his thoughtfulness and personal growth. On this EP, he lays vocals over two of the four beats by Captain Over—Leeds producer, multi-instrumentalist, member of live digital jazz band Paper Tiger and “intergalactic skengman”—and the results are in a world of their own. Over’s style lands roughly in the post-Dilla, post-Flying Lotus beat scene world, perhaps closest to Austrian keyboard wizard Dorian Concept, and Manga’s lyrical lilt swings between Over’s jittery funk patterns as he talks of love as constructive partnership—of “being in love with love” and of “creating happy memories.” It’s the most remarkable, life-affirming thing, and it deserves to be in heavy rotation for a long time to come.
Noise, acid, electro, jungle, hip-hop: genre barriers are clearly not a bother for new label Ten Trax, as this sampler of six of the very finest in Memphis’s electronic underground makes clear. They aren’t worried about playing nice, either—witness the pistols on the artwork, track titles like “Balls Deep,” and the skull-crushing overdriven sub-bass on NRVVS’s “Scream.” It’s also all, without exception, massively funky. This is low-down, dirty music for thoroughly disreputable parties, and it makes Memphis seem like the most fun place in the world.
Stalawa in East Africa
DigiDub / Misnakes
Originally founded to release music by the Mungo’s Hifi soundsystem from Glasgow, the Scotch Bonnet label has grown into a prolific and diverse enterprise in its own right. This month they’ve got two glorious releases. On Stalawa in East Africa, France, Scotland, Kenya, and Uganda meet in extraordinary roots and dub fashion. The French producer collaborated closely with East African vocalists and mixed the results in Glasgow; the results are both familiar and alien, especially on the ‘80s dancehall bounce of “Ukiangalia.” Meanwhile, shadowy producer Josi Devil delivers two tracks of foundational dubstep which, in true soundsystem style, have been rinsed on dubplate by select DJs and are certified tried, tested, and capable of demolishing the dance.
On this 12”, the Scottish drone/post-rock composer formerly known as Talvihorros recruits the very finest in leftfield electronics for remix collection. Chatwin is now several albums deep in his sound, which strikes a fine balance between the fragility of emotion and the weight of elemental sound. The main mode here is techno with elegance, delicacy, and finesse, from the likes of Konx-Om-Pax, Pye Corner Audio, and, perhaps best of all, former Emeralds member Steve Hauschildt, who goes further into the dance structures he started exploring on last year’s Dissolvi. But there’s a lot of fantastic, beatless stuff, including high sci-fi drama from Ital Tek, absolute bliss-out from From The Mouth Of The Sun, and eerie robot chamber music from sometime grime producer Visionist.
Jon E Cash
Knew Me Well EP
Jon E Cash is one of the true originators of grime, but he also stands slightly separate from it. He and his Black Ops crew were West Londoners, while the bulk of the emerging scene was in the East; he never had any truck with the genre name, preferring his own “sublow” to describe the bass-heavy sounds he made. Though he went AWOL from the scene, he’s been active again for a while now and thankfully is still making down and dirty dancefloor killers. This instrumental—in a couple of different versions, plus radio edit—is a return to the early days when double-time tempos still dominated radio and club sets, and the insistence of the bassline hammers home grime’s—or sublow’s—place in the rave lineage.
This is the second release from Berlin producer Mark on Unterton, the experimental sublabel of the Berghain club-affiliated Ostgut Ton. And it is phenomenal—angry, viciously complex drum & bass through and through. It touches on the more aggro-experimental territories of breakcore and IDM, too, but never loses touch of its core inspiration: the Metalheadz, Reinforced, and No U-Turn records of the late ‘90s. Indeed, it’s easy to wish that Metalheadz stalwarts like Goldie or DJ Storm would spin any of these three tracks. Bonus points for the best track title of the month: “Fucking Sick Of Myself Since Day One (Hot Desk Mix)”
Big Up the Ladies
Vinyl, Vinyl LP, T-Shirt/Apparel
Charlie “Fracture” Fieber has been one of the key artists—along with the likes of Chimpo, Sam Binga, and Dub Phizix—keeping lines of communication open between the experimental and funtimes sides of drum & bass. His music works in elements of Chicago footwork, retro rave, and all kinds of other sounds besides. Here, he brings in a four-to-the-floor kickdrum on three of the four tracks, while still keeping a zippy tempo, finding the sweet spot between ghetto house, old rave, and bassline house. Yet for all the freneticism, there’s a lightness of touch and modernist sense of style to it all that somehow keeps the funk at the heart of everything.
Sexy Greeze EP
Jason “J Beatz” Jules is a second-generation grime producer who doubles as manager of Mode FM, the London station flying the pirate flag. His productions are full of high gloss and slickness, but he never forgets the impact and weirdness that rave requires. On both of these tracks, he manages to combine soulful chords with crisp digital crunch in ways that recall Detroit techno’s influence on London’s pirate sounds back in the day. The title track is a juddering thing, full of energy, yet somehow still weightless. But “Chronosphere” is the standout; the tick-tock syncopation and hovering chords almost feel like a smooth drum & bass track slowed down, all the better to get the hypnotic head-nod going.
Bouquet. Vol. 1 Curated by Caffeine Worldwide
Dylan Chase, aka DJ Caffeine Worldwide, says that with this nine-track collection for the San Diego party organization Bouquet.: “[We] were very keen on making this a cohesive collection from front to back.” They have succeeded. This is a little like an antimatter version of Ten Trax’s Memphis comp—it’s every bit as off-beam, psychedelic, and funk-laden, but where the Memphis tracks are heavy, dark, and gritty, these float freely and gleam with sunlight—or mirrorball glints. Dreamy house music is the main mode, but there’s also levitational lo-fi drum & bass from Jack Roland, strungout sounds from Chipslut that sound like a no wave Nite Jewel, and some really off-key acid from Blair Sound Design and the compiler himself. It’s a wonderland of weirdness; it takes a few spins to figure out, but once you’re into it, you won’t want to get out.
Despite the fact that dubstep has spread stateside, very few U.S. artists in the genre have ever experimented with grime beats. Asheville, NC’s BLVCK COVVBOYS is an exception, and he’s gotten some significant spins from DJs in the tight-knit U.K. scene. After a hiatus, he’s back, and his sound is as sharp and strange as ever, heading out into the cosmos with rising synth ripples, liquid sounds, and oddly gentle rave riffs ebbing and flowing around the hefty, half-stepping beat.
Bop Through Ya Manor Freestyle
This is the kind of energy grime was always supposed to have. New U.K. talent FFSYTHO?! is from the humble East Midlands city of Northampton; she is also possessed of a riotous flow, which—even though her lyrics are soaked in English vernacular—is reminiscent of the rowdy likes of Busta Rhymes, Lords Of The Underground, or even Ol’ Dirty Bastard. She debuted at the start of this year in collaboration with the mighty Terror Danjah, but here she’s riding a beat from Birmingham producer Filthy Gears, its implacable dub bassline providing a platform for her cascade of lyrics that ramp up in intensity every 16 bars. No verse/chorus mucking about here, just grime spitting at its rawest, from start to finish.
This is four tracks from a new producer from Manchester and, in this case, the title tells you all you need to know. This is essentially uptempo electro, with all the ‘80s funk synths, vocoders, and jittering percussion you could ever want. But although the structures seem straightforward, the way ANZ flips and tweaks the patterns could only have been done by someone intimately acquainted with the mechanics of the dancefloor from both sides of the DJ console.
PERA STA ORI
The Yellow Machines label run by Jude “Scanone” Greenaway is an integral part of a truly underground London scene, one where the rawer sides of techno, electro, vintage rave, and IDM all generate rowdy party vibes, even as the music is taken very seriously. The two tracks here from George Kontogiannidis, who is from Thessaloniki, Greece, reflect that balance—the scampering rhythms never get repetitious, keeping a sense of sweat and strobes and raised heartrates going throughout. Remixes of “Gone Beautiful” come from Scanone himself and Brooklyn’s Brenecki; both find different kinds of beauty in the dirt.
“Have to Know” ft. Nico Lindsay
Southeast Londoner Roska is best known as one of the prime movers in U.K. funky, the dancefloor-focused offshoot of grime. His Roska Kicks & Snares label has been a vital repository of production talent in funky and beyond. Here, young Bristol producer Motu hooks up with North London journeyman MC Nico Lindsay for a fantastic piece of relentlessly shifting and changing genre-agnostic club music. Both production and lyricism are subtle to the point of being deadpan, but neither let up on their constant movement; the energy is intriguing, captivating, and ultimately addictive.
Kouslin & Logan
Durkle Disco have already shown their determination to keep U.K. funky alive with last year’s “See Them” by Cardinal Sound & Ngaio. Here, they’ve got another stone cold, party-starting banger on their hands. This one is powered by the dancehall vocal of Logan, with Carnival steel drum riffs and breakbeats added to the galloping rhythm for a big bold beast of a tune. A remix from up-and-coming Bristolian producer L U C Y ups the tempo and adds jungle and drum’n’bass edits to the scampering breaks.