Abstract, delicate, yet quite wrenching and abyssal at the same time. This one goes deep. Caving…
“…a carefully curated body of work showcasing the breadth of his production skill.” (Deep Medi Musik)
It’s the “carefully curated” that makes me weary – for all the implicit reasons, that surely don’t need re-hashing at this point. Might as well have ‘Made in China’ on the label. Maybe it is hard to do? Properly. Maybe not at this stage? Is there really ‘breadth’? I largely hear rather desperate wrangling – especially in these ultra-well dug-in genres. And don’t get me wrong, that can have its break-out thrills too, and be a challenge in itself for the young acolyte, but then it has to push through to darker chambers (and we’re talking way beyond the ‘Dungeon’ now). I’m talking about Speleology. Caving. Going much deeper.
Norbert Casteret is regarded by some as the modern father of this arcane pastime. He came from Saint Martory in France and between around 1920 and 1970 was one of the most active cavers of his era. Most of us have never heard of him. Why would we? He spent much of his life underground, often solo, feeling his way through unmapped passages to discover wonders we could never have imagined existed; vast underground cathedrals, raging starless rivers, cave paintings, human remains, relics from prehistoric times.
I only chanced on him myself a few years ago, in an old climbing magazine lamenting (not dissimilairly to the state-of-dance-music 2020) the safeness and lack of mystery and amateur adventure in the contemporary sport; now all big brand sponsors, urban climbing walls/gyms, kids’ parties, finger board training etc.
“He would often cave naked (except for a swimming cap) and only take a candle and matches along with him. When he came to a sump, where the water’s surface meets the roof of a tunnel or cave, he would blow out his candle, wrap it up with his matches and tuck them under his cap. Taking a deep breath, he would then submerge and with one hand keeping contact with the ceiling and one hand probing in front he would drag himself along – into the unknown.
At this point most of us would probably be in the last throes of panic at the sheer claustrophobic terror, the near freezing cold water, the absolute pitch darkness, but Norbert would be calmly counting, Un, Deux, Trois …
He may not have known where he was going, or what he would find, but he knew what he was doing. He remained cool and collected. He knew just how long he could hold his breath for, he knew how cave systems worked and he knew the way back if necessary. If he counted to half of how long he knew he could hold his breath for and then went beyond that mark, he knew he would struggle to get back the way he’d just come and possibly even drown. But…if he felt the current change, the tunnel ceiling alter somehow or the water temperature change, he pressed on.”
(Andi Turner, Climber, March 2013 edition)
CUT BACK TO:
J Sparrow. On a few of these tracks he almost dares to do this. Press on. Into the unknown. Particularly on ‘High Fidelity’ (post the cornball Rasta incantations – that’s ‘breadth’ is it?). At 00:54 there’s this utterly stark free fall into inky black, reductionism. He holds his breath; submerges; just a single kick drum every 4 beats, a sub bass pulse and an off kilter sonar, a tweak. That’s it! No generic cracking snare on the 3rd. No gooning bass blurts. (‘Un, deux, trois’…) It really could have been leading somewhere, if only he’d held his nerve.
But no. He bottles it and turns back.
That something so minimal and simple can seem so surprising, so suggestive even, is very – what? (I can’t quite put my finger on it) – 2019?
Slowed down Grime vibes. The Don Dada of polished chrome construction and bada bing beats and bass. Sound system cool and deadly for sure.
There always seems to be more bass coming outta Bristol. Can’t fault these for the slamage damage and precision separation of the frequencies; it’s OCD, Groundhog Day, caustic loop hell all the way (triggering possible flashbacks to the mid-90s analogue hardnoize days?)
Which is the fly in the ointment really, with all this contemporary industrial techno innit (and my pet topic to moan about) – it’s SO fuckin’ clinical and pernickety it almost feels sinister, like a spotless plastic surgery clinic, the producers now all well trained technicians, nipping and tucking your MDMA rush with the (albeit very) skillful tricks of their trade, but with a kind of detached boredom? “Scalpel….suction….swab….forceps.”
On his own User Experience label he ran a remix competition (Britain’s Got Talent?) for his track ‘Don’t Be Afraid’… there were 146 submissions! (and only 4 made the record). That’s A LOT of man hours for a fairly slim to none return no!?! Make of that what you will, but it says quite a lot about the times we live in. Zero Hours contract techno anyone?
More drum & bass/techno hybrid goodness – that is; d&b tempos but with blank concrete techno facades and shorn of any brok out/booyacka aspirations. No-one’s going to be doing any rewinds on these – they’re from a completely different world anyway. The label touts 011 in terms of “fundamentals” and “reductions” (which is er, minimalism no?)
Overlook flips it to his signatures (and frankly leaves the newcomers on 011 in the dust) – that is; techno tempos and a pungent bouillabaisse of ambient fog banks with a d&b step and stagger and subby boom. Not exactly bangers, more like rollin’ rumblers, dark meditations draped over long, evolving frameworks to glide down the rabbit hole on.
Another UVB-76 Music sub-label curated by Vega & Outlook for “residual recordings documented in static matter”. This crew seem endlessly busy these days.
The hauntology positioning is a bit confusing (although painfully self-aware if truly grasped?) and kind of shoots themselves in the foot really: yes there’s a bit (not that much mind) of surface noise and hiss etc and the tracks ARE indeed neither present nor absent, neither dead nor alive (the eternal ‘techno paradox/impasse’ writ large) but do they really want us to ponder this as we consume their sweated-over output? Something akin to a chef putting his signature dish before you and telling you not to expect too much because after all, its only nutrition?
On their own merit though – as pieces of constructed, linear sound – I’ll take two of these for the bag. I like ’em without the guff just fine: the hypnotic, measured, deliberate glide of Pessimist’s slow, bouncey, break shuffle and Overlook’s ‘Purr’ which has more churning grit and lock-jaw drive but brightens towards the end like a creeping dawn.
I’m not haunted though. In the slightest, although a propos of ghosts etc I’ll leave you with this nubbin: I have an aunt who’s a bit “happy clappy” (Born Again Christian) who maintains that if you don’t belive in ghosts you can’t believe in the Holy Ghost. Ponder that one!
And speaking of Bristol and rave stabbing – leads me nicely onto DROOGS, the rather pointless sub-label of UVB-76. Natty artwork though.
There’s nowt wrong I suppose with some straight down the line, functional, D&B if you’re young and insist on your own own re-boot scene and practitioners to follow. I mean Aspect’s ‘Stand Clear’ is a ‘tune’ of sorts. Possibly. To some? – albeit a tried and tested one. Fuck it. Perhaps I’m the mug here? and it’s not even worth asking the question anymore – why people bother to spend their time creating such facile re-arrangements of such familiar sonic objects? This is Steve Carr/Digital and fam’s (Spirit, Total Science etc) ‘Dubzilla’ (2002) sound and era to a slavish T. Barely a tweak!
Honestly, purchasing these tunes was like a drunken shag with the Ex. You know you shouldn’t. Perversely, for some unknown reason, probably just because it’s easy and you can, you go with it but regret it as soon as the deed is done. The familiar pheromones are in your nose, on your skin again, but it’s too late as you remember all the hurt and pain you caused each other in the past.