Each month Kmag’s Essential Rotation looks back at ten tunes of certified brilliance. Records to rate, rinse and fully rep. Read on for a salute to many more that drew Serious Heat, a deep dive into our record of the month – ‘If there was just one record…’ – and a trip to the Kmag vaults of 20 years back in Buried Treasure.
From Nookie on Headz to the return of Shy and Breakage, it was another crazy month. Critical took the finesse levels higher than possible with Maison Binga-Chimpoix (that packaging), Dom & Roland’s Overshadow collector’s item was similarly off the scale, and preposterously good releases were everywhere: from Sweetpea on Spearhead and Kodan on Liquid V, to Calibre on typically sublime remix duties and Sherelle’s Hooversound not letting up for a moment.
Hospital’s Future Symptoms and 25th anniversary LP bagged headlines everywhere, and killer cuts rained down: Drone on 1985 hurt it, the dark lord John Rolodex was on fine form, and D*Minds’ refix of Foxy’sOuch was huge.
Murdock on Liquicity and Sully on Astrophonica smashed, Paul T & Edward Oberon dropped another winner, Turno was seemingly everywhere, and Pola & Bryson’sUnder feat Lauren Archer was exquisite as standard.
It’s not possible to salute every tune.
Here’s ten that proved truly essential.
Concealed Identity: Fabian (The Nightingale Floor EP track, Repertoire)
The impossibly superior Repertoire, regular home of Law, Ricky Force, Tim Reaper and the cream of modern UK jungle, absolutely buried us with this. Cinematic and epic yet spacious and refined; viciously energetic yet thoughtful and textured – it’s a track that foregrounds all of jungle’s luminous potential for bewitching contrasts. A sweeping jungle aria from the moment those serrated stabs curl waspishly into shot, that gorgeously weighted stepping break makes it as much an eyes-down club head-nodder as it does a percussive listening treat. No wonder Tom Ravenscroft was salivating over on BBC 6Music. Keep ‘em peeled for Law’s first solo EP on the label and an album from Ricky Force later in the year. The levels will be high.
Those who shredded their raving shoes to Tech Itch and Kemal’s The Calling nearly 20 years back will stop in their tracks the moment that electroid riff begins at 0:01. The legendary, mysterious Kemal resurfaced last year after a 15-year hiatus, and this team-up with Phace for Neosignal’s handpicked Linked series was a joy. Signature Kemal trance hauntings vault us inexorably into Phace-shaped entropy: hurtling, jilted, neuro robo-step that’s impossibly haywire yet under fabulous control at the same time. Check the way that melody line blends with the deconstructed breaks as the end nears… Harmonious brutality.
Winslow and Mr Porter: Losing Direction (Full Fat Vol. 1 LP track, Goldfat Records)
It’s not just that handcrafted lyrical ballad Losing Direction is the best track on Mitekiss and Mr Porter’s exemplary Goldfat Records’ 25th release: a long-player of textured soul bliss, surging funk and the occasional warping slugger, no less. It’s that when a track contains this much artistry – the multi-tooled Winslow even sings the hook and brings his violin – you have to crank it out from the rooftops. Mr Porter’s philosophising and fluid crooning has almost as many hooks and pockets of imagery as a DRS masterclass; the orchestration simmers like hazy sunshine, and the soft-focus breaks strut with breezy elegance. It’s one of the tracks of the year from a label and an artist on fire.
FD: Hazmat feat Fox (A Vision of Hope EP track, The North Quarter)
You don’t get two EPs and a full LP on The North Quarter (Lenzman’s astonishing boutique label that gives handpicked craftsmen a chance to dive deep into extended projects) unless you’ve got something special. From early days on Subtitles, via CIA, SunandBass and beyond, Freddie Dixon has risen to become a watchword for pinpoint deep-end artistry. Back for another sumptuous outing on TNQ after 2019’s debut album Better Days, his A Vision of Hope EP is an uplifting treat, fusing velvety, deluxe vocal liquid shuffles with wonkier, Bristol-inspired bass shrapnel. Standout Hazmat, featuring the acrobatic talents of Fox, is an outrageous mosaic of call-and-response jungle basslines, meditative percussion and straight-up sexy funk. An artist doing things that few others can. And that “NHS… clap clap” line just kills it. Dive in.
Diffrent went big for its 11th anniversary, with Lakeway and Brand New Trumpets also releasing in the same burst as bossman Dexta. Spanning proto-jazzy, future-rave and wonked-out flavours between them, the releases sum up what a vital project Different has been over the years: a deep commitment to ensuring the 170 template gets a thorough and continuous deconstruction. Enter Tenz, then – a fabulous bleepy half-time wobbler, its clacking snares and sliding sub stabs creating oceans of space and a completely different feel to anything else you’ll hear this month. Couple that with an absolute monster of an AA side, as Blu Mar Ten protégés Conduct remix Dexta’s 2015 track Dissolute into a surging, epic, orchestral half-time predator – a tune that’s as widescreen and flashbulb-popping as Tenz is subtle and introverted. A 12” that couldn’t have come from anywhere else.
Consistently one of this writer’s go-to artists over the last decade, Dutch master Nymfo’s knack for ice-pick sharp bassline skulduggery and jedi-tech arrangements is by now legendary. This EP delves into murkier territories than usual yet without ever feeling dark – such is the range of bouncy experimentation at play. Stop-start minimal dust-up Headhunter would be a lead single for most artists: its descending escalator of midrange compressions and army of sculpted low-end squiggles is breathtaking. Here, it’s just part of the tapestry. Wonky jazz stepper Dizzy is leftfield wobble heaven, while the title track’s subterranean punches and loping, warping breaks are as close as we get to menacing. These are gorgeously weighted, refined tech grooves from an artist who just can’t stop making springy tech-roller gold.
Gold Dubs: Time Machine (Back to Jungle Vol. 2 LP, Formation)
SS’s gargantuan 50-track Back to Jungle jamboree was nothing short of a wrecking ball, and from smooth vocal jams (Toddlah & Motif’s Raindrops – SS remix) and dubbed-out glitch (Leaf’s Champion Sound) to rollicking low-end crunch (Ray Keith’s Sensi) it covered all possible bases, with an emphasis on cold fury. Setting the tone masterfully was Gold Dubs’ no-nonsense Time Machine – a deceptively simple slice of hardknuckle, womping rattle. Those perfectly weighted kicks wrap around a fearsome sub-bass throb which destroys everything in its path. And why not? Check Gold Dubs’ incredible Champagne and Asparagus album on Born on Road and you’ll be swimming in in the good stuff.
Circumference: Ambivalence (Ambivalence EP track, Flexout)
That 90 seconds of haunting orchestration is going to own us all for the rest of 2021. Astonishing Bristol duo Circumference are cut from a different cloth (check Dave Jenkins’ excellent 1 More Thing podcast for a superb introduction to them), and drop a seriously emotional one here, the blended keys and strings in no rush to get anywhere – until we slide off the edge of the universe into biting, clipped, rolling technoid funk. The kicker comes later, as that melodious backwater wave interrupts, refracts and morphs momentarily before the waters calm once more. It’s a moment.
Dispatch’s Blueprints series is a winner, aiming to render classic sounds and soup them up for modern dancefloors. This is a weighty slice of hardstepping old-skool industrial, but with enough space and time for a below-decks maelstrom of bass fudges to buck and twist things up from below. The stiff snares that march relentlessly through the track’s sci-fi atmospheres are pure foundation-era Doc Scott, and with edits that echo classic Suburban Bass and Full Cycle, it’s a clever brew of past and future. Check the way the pace picks up as the latter half of the track develops, stripping away drum layers to leave the funk naked and rolling. Sometimes, raw elements are all we need.
And finally… from the Kmag March 1999 issue… history:
Bad Company: The Nine/Bridge (Bad Company)
Review from Kmag March 1999: “You all know this, and although it’s been out a while, simply has to be mentioned. When this first started appearing on plate everyone was calling it “The Code 2”, and that’s essentially what it is, as Fresh, the mastermind behind “The Code”, is one fifth of Bad Company. Breezeblock beats, a raw yet fluid bassline and nasty-off stabs provide the power, and that my friends is that. Anthem. The crew show their diversity on the flip with the very funky Bridge, and just check the superb vocal injections. These guys will blow up this year… if they haven’t already!”