Friday, 14 January 2011

Choke presents...'Minutiae'

I can't review this because I'm on it. I reckon it's well worth twenty-seven minutes of your time, though.

Here's a download link to 'Minutiae', a new release from Bristol's vaguely resurgent Choke community. It features 27 tracks - each of them exactly one minute long - in a wide variety of genres, from the dreamy indie-rock of The Sky Is Blue to the Wendy Carlos-goes-Happy Hardcore electronica of Alexander Thomas. All tracks were exclusively recorded for the compilation.

It's free. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Youngsta Interview: Venue Meets Dubstep Royalty

Here's a little feature on dubstep don Youngsta, adapted from a Clubs preview I wrote for Venue mag last month.

Few, if any, have a better claim on dubstep’s throne than Youngsta. He championed the genre long before it had a name, and remains at the heart of the movement a decade later.

As his adopted name suggests, Youngsta started early. “I was 13”, he says, “playing garage on a pirate station called Freek FM'. Growing up in Essex, he was introduced to dubplate culture by his sister (Sarah Lockhart) and soon built a reputation for technical mastery he's enjoyed ever since.

Sarah went on to be a key behind-the-scenes figure in the evolution of the new sound, as head of Ammunition Promotions and Tempa Records. When she launched her club night – the legendary FWD>> - in 2001, Youngsta was an obvious choice to man the decks, and pairing him with Hatcha proved historic.

While other FWD>> regulars pioneered grime (and more recently UK funky), Hatcha and Youngsta gravitated towards minimal, bass-heavy instrumentals, tweaking the EQs for maximum low-end impact.

Before long, FWD>> and Big Apple – the Croydon record shop where Hatcha worked – became the focal point for a cavernous, dread-filled sound that rapidly outgrew its garage roots. “Dubstep was a bit darker”, explains Youngsta, with characteristic understatement. “I've known Hatcha and the Big Apple lot since day one. We've all been there from the beginning, watching the sound and the scene grow”.

Now 25, Youngsta remains one of dubstep’s most wanted. He is still the only person to have contributed two mixes to the Dubstep Allstars series, both of which were key releases in the genre's development. His forays into production include a darkside collaboration with dubstep producers-of-the-moment Kryptic Minds, which has already yielded the excellent 'Cold Blooded' / 'Surge', with more to come in the new year. A 12" with SP:MC (working title: 'Unidentified') is out now, while the buzz surrounding his next release – a mix CD for Rinse due “early next year” - is proof he's survived a decade in which dubstep has grown from an eccentric splinter of garage to the international phenomenon it is today.

If peers like Kode 9 have distanced themselves from the dubstep juggernaut, Youngsta remains passionate and optimistic. The genre's success “has not surprised” him, and he's as comfortable with “good jump up” as he is with “minimal and deep”. It’s this inclusive, discerning approach that makes Youngsta’s Thursday night Rinse FM sessions essential listening at a time when the scene sometimes looks to have fragmented beyond repair. Club sets see bedroom DJs crowd around his booth to learn from the master: “it’s nice that people show an interest”, he says modestly.

Despite expressing a growing interest in house and techno - "who knows what I will play in five or ten years?" - Youngsta says his priority is “the latest unreleased tracks of the dubstep scene”, adding “I don't play anything I don't like, and I don't play tunes for the crowd just because they're big at the time”. Listen, and learn.

Rinse (13?) mixed by Youngsta out early 2011.
Listen to Youngsta's show on Rinse FM, thursdays 9pm - 11pm.

Youngsta pic copyright Shaun Bloodworthy.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Anika - 'Anika' (Invada Records) - Best album of last year?

Not that any of you should care, but right up to the end of November I was torn between Guido's 'Anidea' (which I reviewed here) and Darkstar's 'North' (which I didn't) for album of the year. Both are brilliant, but for me neither of them summed up the disorientating character of 2010, in music as in life. Then Anika showed up with one of those classics that always seem to arrive just as the year starts fading out...

On first listen, 'Anika' pushes an unlikely
combination of retro buttons - 60s 'death discs', the existential dub-noise of P.I.L, E.S.G's schoolyard funk - but soon coalesces into something greater than the sum of its parts. Co-written with Portishead's Geoff Barrow and his band Beak>>, it's a throwback to the genre splicing of the post-punk era, and stands comparison with the best of it.

A large part of that is down to Anika herself, whose restrained vocals focus attention on the words. The album's largely comprised of covers, which combine to create a picture as bleak as the post-Iraq, post-crash, Cameron Age world outside.

The singer's precise diction and no-frills performance (recalling surreal New Wave diva Gina X) put her deliciously at odds with the mainstream, not least the karaoke wailing of stage school twats beloved of record companies everywhere. In this well worth reading interview with the singer, Julian Owen called Anika "the Anti-Nico", but she's also the Anti-Duffy. Both on record and in person, her performances are intense, ambiguous, unshowy - anything but a repertoire of hackneyed songbird tics.

While she and the band treat Twinkle's tragic love song 'Terry' with respect, the other covers are twisted until you can barely remember how they sounded before. Skeeter Davis's easy listening ballad 'The End of The World' becomes the statement of deranged grief it was always meant to be, while Yoko Ono's 'Yang Yang' - filtered through sound system dub and 90s Hip Hop - is transformed into an anthem for the new #solidarity. Or maybe that's just me. Whatever it means, it's one of the year's most exciting tracks.

And that's what makes this album so fascinating. It's pieced together from such disparate sources and performed so inscrutably that you're forced to explain it yourself. It begs a whole load of questions and answers none of them. It hints at a bigger picture, but never spills its guts. It might even be a joke at the expense of people like me who are prone to talking about things they should be listening to.
It's a mystery, in other words - and that's what music's all about.

Blood Red Sounds rating 9/10. Listen to the album here.

Here's a review I wrote of Anika and Beak>>'s recent Bristol show, which included a cover of Nirvana's 'Love Buzz' that was definitely a joke. Wasn't it?