Each month Kmag’s Essential Rotation celebrates 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 one record…’ – and a trip to the Kmag vaults of 20 years back in Buried Treasure.
Lockdown #3’s blizzard of preposterously good tunes shows no sign of letting up. From Technimatic and Charlotte Haining’s impeccable Still Miss You, to the sublime Lenzman reshuffle of Phoenix Laoutaris’s Flowers remix on Maraki, via Mitekiss’s Night Bus Stories EP on Hospital (check heartstopper City Angels feat Milo Merah & RSWT), the hypnotic vocals were everywhere.
The darkness was crushingly strong, too: the Noisia camp hit us with the mysterious Sleepnet’s Angel Blade; Phace x Submarine’sGhettoshit, the latest in Neosignal’s excellent Linked series, hit hard as per; and Paradox’s Octa4 on Sneaker Social Club was a lesson in percussive heft.
Typically for this time of year, there was album roadblock business too. It just wasn’t possible to sleep on Break’s all-conquering Dusty Demos LP (check the Mark System collab Super Blue from 2004 and drift away on that bassline) or Shogun’sPoint of Origin: Vol 4 compilation, which sweeps the spectrum masterfully from Phaction & Leo Wood’s soul bullet Electric Wires to Gray’s wonky gem Bristol Jungle. Bristol kingpins Intrigue did the high-quality business with their ever-better annual compilation Intrigue 18: The Anniversary Collection Part 1, and DJ Hybrid’sDeep in the Jungle Anthems Vol. 7 Part 1 was pure fuel. Flying beautifully below the radar was a true gem, too: Cyberfunk’s Intermissions LP – a blend of 140 and half-time crowned by Dedman’s preposterous shapeshifting lowrider I.C.E.
Also blisteringly hot was Invicta’s Suspended EP from Formula; Koherent’s Ripple Effect EP on Shogun; Document One x Levela’s Heat Beams on Elevate; and Hyroglifics & AC13’sMercy & Misery/Clubcard 12” on Critical. Heavyweight.
Hat tips are also due to the always excellent Cardinal Sound, who dropped Breathe feat Ngaio on Archway; the stellar Echo Brown’sStruggles EP on The North Quarter; Low:r’s innovative Pixel on Soulvent; Quartz’s haunting Coercion EP on Headz; and Sofa Sound’s banging latest: M-zine’s Hot Dog EP. Serum’s Velour on Souped Up took squelchy to new levels, Wilkinson and GLXY stormed back into the fray, Cyantific’s gorgeously hazy Woman on Viper was a treat, and Bristol sharp-shooters Ambush Family point-blank nailed a vocal remix of Dutta’s Hotbox.
If you slept on Andy Skopes & Madcap feat Singing Fats’ sublime Trouble on Dispatch, you’re in for a treat. And as for that dusty crackle at the start of IMANU’s A Taste of Hope? What a month.
It wasn’t possible to not move to this. That trigger-finger hook, in all its fidgeting glory, a little descending staircase into the heart of all things naughty, made you pine to be first through the doors when they finally open up those spaces we need. The fact that those ice-pick breaks, the detuned bass hits, those distant sonar wobbles, have enough rhythmic flex to make a headspinning groove all by themselves, or that those Katy B vocal shards are played inch-perfectly, doesn’t even matter. Grab the trainers, beg a ticket, get first in that queue. You literally don’t need anyone else. That majestic shuffle-stutter is the very reason it’s called dance music. Hats off, James Reid. We’re watching.
Sometimes (well, every time, when you listen to a Blocks & Escher masterpiece, for example), you just want to hear that break over and over. Twenty-five seconds into Alex Particle’s addictively crackly, mystical opening on Lovesong – a percussive, Photek-shaped exploration that’s potentially not even the best track on his Audio Visual EP on Critical – and it happens. A grainy, textured, calligraphic squiggle of hits so glorious the whole thing could end right there. Only it’s just the start, as the snares wrap around the kind of vocal melancholia D Bridge slays us with, haunting and pristine and sharp. And then the masterstroke: a dropless drop to see us right. No fanfare. No red carpet paparazzi – despite this being, make no mistake, an A-list tune. No popping flashbulbs. Just a backstage pass into a party of sweet, ten-tonne bass hits heaving up and down like tectonic plates. Percussive, melodious, perfect. Particle said he had worked through a huge “creative block” to get it finished. We couldn’t be happier he found a way. Go check the 3D artwork from hayabusa.a and immerse. It’s the one.
Penarth’s young guns are on the march right now. Incurzion Audio keep roofing the ball into the net for fun, and Bristol’s Dedman is the latest to get silly. The title track of an EP stuffed to the gills with knuckledusting, slicing tech energy, My Heart is surging, technical, Monty-standard precision – and with a volatile, angrier Myth remix on the EP, those harrowing ghost-soul vocals are going to haunt dancefloors all year. Elsewhere, Terri Chango drops any pretence of sweetness and swings the pendulum firmly back to twisted low-end grooves – a seriously impressive show of springy dancefloor electrics. A label and artist to watch close.
Creatures & Volatile Cycle: Grump (Gonzo Transmission EP track, Overview)
An artist and label both hot as hell smash out a brilliant EP of innovative tech shapes, as Hadley, Rizzle, Wingz and Joe Raygun each take a turn with talented young gun Creatures. But it’s the final track that catches it just right. Grump, a pinpoint tech stealth-growler with Volatile Cycle, is a tense, constricted marvel: clean as a whistle yet spiked with ruinous chemical adrenaline; cavernous and expansive yet claustrophobic and suffocating. The whole experience is like being on the run inside a giant spacedome as searchlights sweep the floor and the air runs out. Don’t miss.
Nu:Tone feat Charlotte Haining: Sleepwalker (Little Spaces LP track, Hospital)
Album number six from Hospital’s stalwart lieutenant has you from the moment you feel the gentle crunch on those mahogany breaks on Sleepwalker. Delicate arpeggios of chimes and utter Charlotte Haining perfection atop unpolished basswarp makes for the perfect contrast of control and abandon. In other hands, the track would be a glitzier, electro-bloated affair, but Nu:Tone’s consciously organic palette for the LP means it remains as it should: dancefloor euphoria done grainy and done vintage and done right. If you love drum ‘n’ bass, you love this track. It’s that simple. Elsewhere we’re treated to infectious refined jungle on standout Jonas and a slew of excellent vocal collaborations. But the high-water mark is here, and it’s truly essential.
Double O feat Sheba Q: God Is A Woman [Coco Bryce remix] (Western Lore)
The visionary Alex Eveson’s Western Lore kingdom continues to be a Mecca for those who like their jungle customised, conceptualised and served with love – essentially anyone with their head screwed on. This, a gem found shining on the sampler for the forthcoming Blunted Breaks Vol. 2 LP (a project that comes with its own collectors’ item trading card set, of course), is a shot of understated dark sunshine, from the illusory opening guitar droplets to the weightless vocals to the unhurried snare darts that breathe the early action along. The track’s iron spine is beautifully masked, those perma-booming bass nodes increasing in domination inch by inch, occasionally rattling unadorned as the elements retreat. Just a fine piece of work from a fine stable.
Ulterior Motive’s Guidance vehicle is a byword for expertly selected tech-roller science, and from the moment those synth electrodes bunch and curl on opener Cold Brew, we’re in safe hands. There’s a classic Virus tautness as the breaks lope metronomically, like a distant slimline cousin of Sick Note, amid the muscular midrange brew that’s hemming everything in, boxing off corners, breathing heavily. But it’s as conventional as the EP gets: Aperol feat Genic wonks out into shredding mayhem, as divebombing waves of gristle gnaw frenetically at shapeshifting break patterns. Fans of subtle second-drop switch-ups will be knee-deep in it, as a cunning half-time slowdown takes hold momentarily before it all rattles off again. Closer Fernet is the only time the pressure releases – into a shuffling, muted, electronica-washed voyage. This is a duo in full control of the tech spectrum.
Various: Unchained: The Year of The Ox (Unchained Recordings)
East Asia’s runaway juggernaut Unchained have had a ludicrous couple of years, and follow up the Year of The Rat compilation with another show of force from friends local and international. Whether liquid kingpins Roy Green & Protone turning in a skitty half-time drone curveball on DemDem, the ever-sharp Lakeway dropping those trademark grime edits and jungle flurries on hybrid electro-stepper Safe from the Storm, or Beijing’s hype-magnet Radiax with a frankly colossal tech sub-rippler Big Tuna, it’s a 360 showcase of pinpoint club sounds. From gunning warehouse throwbacks (Champion Sounds’ OMG) to wonky Neosignal-standard future riddims (check 3VS’s Don’t Wanna Let Go and try to keep up), you’d be hard-pressed to find a better 12-track collection of dancefloor tunes anywhere this month.
From the moment an unassuming email dropped into this writer’s inbox in 2016, it’s been special. Ryan Fearon’s Shiken Hanzo moniker has slowly percolated in from the contours to become synonymous with enigmatic, quality-over-quantity masterpieces that take in precision futurescapes, half-time odysseys, Photek-level cinematic flourishes and always, always, innovative jungle-inspired grooves. From Cylon to Hardware to Samurai to Rupture, the scene’s darkside gatekeepers have felt the magic, and a debut LP on Inperspective now allows for a full-length voyage right to the centre. From the foreboding kicks of opener Fate Worlds, which recalls Lost All Faith era Kryptic Minds in its taut percussive explorations, via the Metropolis-esque ambient panic of Necromancy, to the technoid fluctuations of Spirits Are Gods and the breakbeat hypnotics of Taoist Elements, this is an album made for no other reason than to push the boundaries of expression. Those looking for a new experimental saviour, sign here.
And finally… Some 21 years ago, no less than Emcee Recordings 001 ushered in a new century like this:
Cybin: Roller/Unhuman Spy (Emcee Recordings 001)
From the Kmag January 2000 issue: “Kicking off with cold, technical beats and warm string effects, ‘Roller’ builds up to go off like a firecracker. Buzzing analogue creates a whole lotta tension when it’s mixed up with Richter Amens. Prepare for a rinse out (and possibly a rewind!). ‘Unhuman Spy’ is the better example of the rolling sound (perhaps the label is wrong?)… More mellow than ‘Roller’ but it still has bite. Frenetic drums move along at breakneck speed while surging analogue and a disjointed horn sample make it complete. Sure to get some feet shuffling.”