— Joshua P. Ferguson
Sembler | Project "Gold"
Darkstar's North is out on October 19. In the U.K. anyway...
SIXTEEN F**KING YEARS OF G-STONE RECORDINGS
chill•out \ chil-aût \ vb + dub \ dub \ n + house \haus \ n
Sixteen fucking years indeed. Some of my first college memories involve a smoke-filled dorm room, a few close friends, Snuggles—our bong—and the K + D Sessions, that game-changing double disc of dubby chill-out that would go on to be synonymous with downtempo and usher in a new phase of electronic music here in the U.S. I can honestly say that without that release I may not be sitting here typing this. No joke.
Now, a decade on, I’m finally hearing new material from Kruder and Dorfmeister. It’s been so long, I almost forgot I cared. But 20 seconds into “Aikon,” the opening track on Sixteen F**king Years, and I’m whisked right back to those carefree, hazy days and I immediately remember what it was about K&D and their G-Stone label that so captured my attention and made me want to become a DJ. The two haven’t lost their touch, not in the slightest. There’s a house music backbone to the song once you’re done stripping away the ominous keys, plucked strings and bubbling bassline. And when the pair wasn’t giving a house beat their stoner twist, they were doing it to drum ‘n’ bass. Few would really categorize their music as either, but that was their stepping-stone. It still is. And in my own round about way, it’s how I was introduced to both genres.
The great part about hearing Kruder and Dorfmeister together after all these years, is that you can draw it back against what each has done since they split and went solo around the beginning of the new millennium. Dorfmeister joined forces with Peter Huber to create Tosca, while Kruder decided to go it alone, becoming Peace Orchestra. The former was more accessible, bouncey and likeable; the latter, dark, moody and polyrhythmic. But combined K&D are all of those things, a sum greater than any one of its parts. That said, each of these secondary acts’ contributions to Sixteen F**king Years are the next best material on the compilation. Tosca’s “John Lee” grooves with the same bass-led groove and array of disparate samples that made Opera such a fantastic record way back in 1997. Set closer “Sional,” by Peace Orchestra, fittingly doesn’t even get a drumbeat until two and a half minutes in, and from there it’s the same darkly delightful mindfuck that I used to listen to over and over. Whether separate or together, these boys from Vienna score serious points for consistency.
Unfortunately, one thing this consistency means is that their label has basically been recycling the same formula all these years. Kruder gets a bit of a pass for his recent solo work under his own name as well as his collaborations with DJ Hell and the International DJ Gigolo label, but each Tosca record has sounded like more of the same, until last year’s No Hassle which succeeded in being both new and familiar.
The bottom line is that when the top dog talent is at the wheel, we’re golden, otherwise, not so much. And this compilation is mostly material from second-tier acts. Marsmobil’s spin around ‘60s psychedelia on “Patience” offers a glimpse at something different, but it’s followed by mostly mediocre productions from Makossa & Megablast, Sugar B, Urbs, DJ DSL and Rodney Hunter (who I’ve never cared for). It would have been nice to see Stereotyp rip into the dubstep formula and give us something new, or better yet, just leave the work to Kruder, Dorfmeister and their closest confidantes Christian Prommer and Roland Appel, who form Voom:Voom alongside Peter Kruder, and whose recent work under their own names has done the most to keep the G-Stone sound modern.
The second disc doesn’t offer any more insights than the first. In fact, there’re a few classic gems on there (“Fuck Dub 1 & 2” from Tosca, “Happy Bear” from DJ DSL) but most of the disc is easily skipped through and quickly forgotten.
As producers Peter Kruder and Richard Dorfmeister have lost none of the luster that made their music great all those years ago, and it’s a truly exciting thing to see them back together, producing and touring again. But beyond that, much of G-Stone’s label stable didn’t sound that great in the nineties and early aughties and it’s not terribly exciting in retrospect either.
— Joshua P. Ferguson
Click below to watch a slo-mo video recap of the shoot that became the album's cover—in all of it's black suit and tie-meets-cake-and-pie glory:
OUTSIDE THE BOX
Dub•step \ dub-step \ n + drum & bass \drum-bas \ n
Four years ago, when Croydon’s Oliver Jones released his self-titled debut and bass heads the world over, well, lost their heads for “Midnight Request Line” I too was impressed. But not that impressed. If I were a betting man, I would have lost my ass on the wager of whether or not dubstep would have grown to the worldwide phenomenon that it is currently. Similarly, I would have lost a second handsome sum had I put money down on whether or not Skream would release a sophomore record as confident, uncatergorizable and as listenable as Outside The Box.
Earlier this week, Skream’s partner in the epic dubstep act Magnetic Man, Artwork, contributed a ‘brief history of dubstep’ for the U.K. Guardian. New styles of music rarely fall from the heavens, and Artwork traced dubstep lineage from the U.K.’s vibrant bass music scene. It’s equal parts garage, grime and even a bit of drum ‘n’ bass, just with half as many drum hits. And Outside The Box is merely a progression of this. It’s comprised of all these same genres, but for this outing Skream has twisted them in new and even more forward thinking ways.
Following him on Twitter (@I_Skream) and seeing him respond to feedback about the record in real time, I got a sense that many in his legion of fans were none-to-impressed by how far “outside” of the dubstep box this latest record went; to them I say simply, grow up. Recognize that an artist will never be satisfied standing still. Once you come to terms with this, you’ll realize it’s a good thing when your favorite artist’s new record doesn’t sound like the last. And in Skream’s case specifically, this is a really—I repeat, really—good thing.
If you were still unsure after the two and a half minute ambient opening “Perforated,” the half-time stomp of “8-Bit Baby” with American emcee Murs proves that Outside The Box is a decidedly more mature affair than Skream’s 2006 debut. But that sound isn’t altogether absent, “CPU” is a haunting dubstep affair. If you thought the rogue man versus machine themes of films like Alien, 2001:A Space Odyssey or I:Robot were pure fantasy, you’ll think again after giving this cut the once over.
Often, though, it seems that Outside is showing off Skream’s lighter side. “How Real” deviates from his traditional formula, preferring a 21st century take on the garage and 2-step framework: all ominous bass, rave-y synths and soulful vocals. It’s his own swirling-hybrid interpretation on the most forward thinking sounds bubbling up in the U.K. The track signals a new phase in Skream’s interests as a producer and one that prevails over the next few tracks.
The Inner Life-sampling “I Love the Way” makes for one of the strongest moments on the record, He flexes the dubstep-turn-drum ‘n’ bass trickery that we first saw on his remix of La Roux’s “In For the Kill” and it sounds as potent now as it did then. Then we plow straight into the uplifting slo-mo d&b roller “Listening to Records on My Wall” which has already seen strong praise in the digi-pages of this blog.
The record continues on this path almost uninterrupted. He hearkens back to his earlier self on cuts like “Metamorphosis” and “Wibbler” but really he’s more interested in exploring his interests in the new paths being carved in drum ‘n’ bass (see his collabo with dBridge and Instra:Mental “Reflections," his brooding pairing with La Roux "Finally" and the storming finale “The Epic Last Song.”)
Over the past two years as I’ve watch the dubstep scene explode in the Midwest I’ve been very vocal about my disdain for kids who show up to hear these prolific Eueopean and British acts only to deride them for “not playing dubstep.” Sadly they’re a solid decade behind, as the scene continues to develop in its homeland, it’s already morphed into something completely know, in large part thanks to originators like Skream, who persist with thinking Outside the Box.
—Joshua P. Ferguson
Of course, there's also the most quintessential American brand of them all: Levi's. Levi's too has seen a grand resurgence in its market presence of late. If there's one overarching theme that connects all three of these brands, it's that they've reconnected with their core archetype. No longer are they trying to be all things to all people, or are they trying to chase trends. They are embracing what gave them their start and realizing that, until the end of days, this is always how their customer base will most recognize them.
Levi's is about as American a brand as Coca-Cola or Ford. It has a history that stretches back over 150 years. In that time it has come to signify a few key things as a brand, many of which it shares with core American values. It is a blue-collar clothing item, a garment for the every man. It stands for basic, rugged, no frills and being willing to get your hands dirty. It is tough and reliable. It is America. The Go Forth Ad Campaign, which it's been flexing for the past couple of years, has realigned itself with these core values, and as a result, the brand may be the strongest it's ever been.
The one editorial piece that I enjoyed the most from this weekends Men's Fashion issue was a story about Jay Carroll of www.onetrippass.com and Mordechai Rubinstein of www.mistermort.com. The two West Coasties spend their days traveling around in a beat-up pick up truck raiding flea markets and resale shops in search of Inspiration Americana, and in turn use their finds to help Levi's "regain some of its frontier mystique" as the article puts. I want to dedicate an entire Allure column to Levi's tomorrow, so without going further into things, I invite you to read the article for yourself: NYTimes | Highway Stars.
Until tomorrow my fashion forward friends.
— Joshua P. Ferguson