Milan-based independent record label, Beat Machine Records has provided us with some of the most noteworthy tracks of recent years.
Releases under the label are somewhat of a hidden gem that has garnered support from DJs in the scene and anyone who has listened to Sherelle’s iconic Boiler Room set will be familiar with Fixate’s remix of Pablo Dread’s, ‘Fyah Burnin’.
Other artists on the roster have established themselves as forerunners in jungle’s new wave, including releases from the conspicuous Coco Bryce, with his electrifying remix of Denham Audio’s ‘Who Started Jungle’, alongside Mani Festo and FFF, who have become one of the most sought-after artists within the scene.
Beat Machine’s releases delve into many other genres, such as footwork, dubstep and experimental, making them a dynamic label to watch over the next few years. They also have a nice balance of nurturing up-and-coming talent whilst featuring remixes from seminal producers within the scene, such as Chicago legend and Hyperdub alumni, DJ Spinn.
The label’s newest release is ‘Fantom’ from Washington DC-based Ornette Hawkins, made up of Marc Blackwood and Maxwell Houston. The EP features tracks ‘Fantom’, ‘Fade Away’ and ‘Bitch Is Blue‘, paying homage to the early 90s UK scene of Ardkore drum & bass, whilst still sounding innovative and contemporary. The EP also features a remix of ‘Bitch Is Blue’ by London-based producer, Tim Reaper, another promising young artist that is steadily becoming a household name within jungle and drum & bass.
The duo drew inspiration from the originators of ‘drum funk’, such as Paradox and also LTJ Bukem, when writing the EP. Blackwood is a live session musician, whilst Houston is a music engineer and this seeps into their productions, citing this as a major influence for ‘Fantom’, ‘most of our inspiration that drives our work comes from the performances of the musicians in our recording sessions. Having such a deep and talented pool to draw from is unique and helps to guide our sound in a big way’.
Jungle and Drum & Bass is strongly associated with the UK, however it is easy to overlook the influences from other places, such as the duo’s hometown of Washington DC, which has a rich history of music, from jazz to go-go, funk and punk. ‘It’s the hometown of Duke Ellington, Chuck Brown, and Bad Brains, each defining and setting the standard for their own styles of music. DC’s traditionally been filled with great musicians’, say Ornette Hawkins.
Their approach is heavily drawn on improvisation, combined with live acoustic sessions, modal soundscapes and analogue synths and detailed drum programming, which creates a three-dimensional sound. Some may categorise the latter as ‘intelligent drum & bass’. Yet, Ornette Hawkins doesn’t believe in classifying sub-genres within drum & bass, ‘it inherently implies that other styles of drum & bass are stupid – we don’t think that at all and listen to not only all styles of drum & bass but, really, all styles of music. The good and bad transcend genre’.
Whilst jazz-influenced drum & bass is not considered to be suited for the mainstream, Ornette Hawkins are not interested in making music for the sake of popularity. Rather, they value making, thoughtful and provoking jazz-influenced drum & bass, whether or not it becomes the next big thing. Essentially, Ornette Hawkins are here to indulge the underground.
Beat Machine’s wide range of releases – especially ‘Fantom’ showcases the label’s vision. You cannot place them under a certain bracket or category, leaving them room to expand and explore different sounds, just like Ornette Hawkins, ‘while we obviously like recontextualising instruments and sounds often found in jazz we definitely don’t want to limit ourselves to anyone’s idea of what that is or what it can be. We’re still figuring that out ourselves’.
‘Fantom’ is out now on Bandcamp and available in all the digital stores & streaming on June 11, 2021.