Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Divided Circle - 'Nowhere’ EP (Lonely City Records)

Jon Rees was the songwriter in criminally overlooked indie-rockers The Sky Is Blue, while Krystian Taylor - who I interviewed here - is best known for the dark, atmospheric dubstep of Forensics. Their first release as The Divided Circle is one of the year’s most striking debuts. Contrasting Krys’s rueful baritone with Jon’s fragile, expressive tenor, the title track is a real heart-stopper. It sounds like Depeche Mode, re-imagined by Brian Eno, after five years immersed in the soundsystem techno of Basic Channel. If the other songs don’t quite match that improbable standard, they’re never less than well crafted – this is an EP of ambition and imagination that suggests the start of something special. File under ‘Essential Futurist Pop of 2010’, alongside the Darkstar album, and not a lot else.

Blood Red Sounds rating 7/10

This review originally appeared in Venue.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bambikill - Arachne (self released EP)

Enchantingly packaged with a suitably creepy illustration of haunted woodland, this self-released EP is perfect for Hallowe'en.* The work of solo artist Christelle Rox, it consists of five heavily layered and processed guitar pieces, all of them apparently summoned from the darkest nooks of their author's mind. Drones are droned, strings are bowed, and spindly melodies career into the night sky on broomsticks of analogue delay. At a little under twenty minutes, ‘Arachne’ is just long enough to get under your skin, and best enjoyed as a single composition, with the eastern-flavoured ‘Forest Mantra’ and ‘Wolf’s Milk’ at its densely woven, trance-like centre. As the closing lullaby ‘The Eagle With The Sunlit Eye’ ebbs away, the listener’s left feeling as strung out as De Quincey after an unexpectedly torrid date with the poppy. Bambikill’s grown-up fairy tale soundtracks are compellingly weird, and weirdly compelling.

Blood Red Sounds rating 7/10

This review originally appeared in Venue magazine.

*I wrote this about a month ago. It made sense at the time. A Bambikill isn't just for Hallowe'en.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Subloaded 6th Birthday. Friday 29th October @ Motion Ramp Park, Bristol.

Subloaded isn’t just a club night - it’s part of dubstep history.

When Pinch staged the first one in 2004, this music was the preserve of a small clique around FWD>> and the Big Apple record shop in Croydon. The early Subloaded dances triggered an explosion of local creativity, and within two years dubstep was a global movement, with Bristol rountely referred to as its "second city". Subloaded is where we started, then. Is it still where we're at?

After a typically modest, musically inclusive warmup from Peverelist, the answer comes from Digital Mystikz, as the night’s first plunging bass drop unleashes the sound system’s weight. If you’ve never heard dubstep at battle volume, you’ve never really heard it at all. There’s nothing like the physical shock of this music through a serious PA, and this one is serious. It shakes your teeth, your bones, the fabric of the building. It sucks air from your windpipe, and inhibitions from your mind. Within seconds, the head-nodding is consigned to history.

Brixton’s Digital Mystikz [pictured left, with Loefah] work a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine that sums up the genre’s contradictions. In theory, Mala’s hypnotic percussion and psychoactive subs explore dubstep’s reflective side, while Coki’s doomy horns and cocky, abrasive synth riffs channel its aggression. In practice, they’re two halves of the same unstable personality.

Ice well and truly broken, fellow DMZ man Loefah steps back from the abyss, and steers a course between the extremes, riding the tension.
Heavy on material from his fine Swamp 81 label, it’s the most satisfying selection so far. Stripped down and austere, but with pain-staking attention to detail, it’s exactly what you’d expect from Loefah – after all, his own bass sound is the only man-made structure visible from space.

As always, Bristol receives Pinch rapturously, and as always he earns it. His style is less minimal than Loefah’s, but no less powerful for it. Tribal drum patterns and eerie half-melodies add colour and texture, but they don’t soften the blow - the pressure barely drops for a second.

Dubstep isn’t the only music on offer tonight. There’s a rootsy vibe in the tunnel, peaking with a live PA from men-of-the-moment Dubkasm, while Dub Boy and Atki 2’s karnival house (or is it UK Funky?) brings rays of tropical sunshine to the cave. Even the main room lets off steam eventually, as Metalheadz legend Doc Scott tears off a spectacular string of 90s classics, including the ricocheting snares of J Majik’s ‘Your Sound’, and the claustrophobic joystick jungle of Jo’s ‘R-Type’.

He’s followed by Breakage, whose restlessly inventive set finally tears down the walls between genres.

We all know why we’re here, though. Dubstep’s purest form is often its most powerful, and the music at Subloaded’s heart is as pure as it gets. With this lineup, and that sound system, it has rarely sounded as deadly as it does tonight.

This review was originally published in Venue magazine. Thanks, as always, to Ellen Doherty for the pics.