J Sparrow: #000000365 / Dark365 (Deep Medi Musik)

“…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?

Elefant Doc: GG249 (Pressed)

Proper Dubtronics (on the original that is…) without resorting to all the usual cliches (rasta samples, psuedo stepper nonsense etc). Just a wicked gloopy, vertiginous, lolloping stagger with filtered grit rubbed into the meat n bones. And the dub chamber on the snare = just immaculate.

Dead Noise System: Bulkhead EP

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A superb new EP of pitiless, dystopian bleakness from the blasted, no-man’s land specialists DNS.

Far from evoking an underwater glide as the titles suggests (it just sounds too jagged, too ploughed up and ruptured to evoke the cold liquidity of the atlantic trench? A grim hunt, sure, but) ‘Radar’ feels rooted in a cold and lifeless landscape: Sea or land metaphors aside, this is probably their finest black ops, deep insertion yet. A rusty metallic beat clanks hard through the sinister creep of mustard gas FX and drone, while the bass saws and belches are so smeared out by reverb they merely fizzle limply above the wasteland like desperate flares put up in panic by wired sentries – highly unnerving and original.

There are possibly some comparisons to the likes of ARtroniks et al. to be made here. There’s a definite sub-cadre (away from from the big name dubstep ‘dons’ and labels) expertly crafting away in grim defiance who mercifully don’t seem to give a shit about producing according to the whims of the times, who don’t want their sound to be decorative, but true. There’s no false musical consciousness, just a kind of stoical grunt work that hits harder – DNS are dug in deep to their territory in this respect. Just don’t try a frontal assault on their position!

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Headland

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What a find. I love it when I hit the jackpot in my digging! This man is totally on point with his vibe. Fresh out last month, ‘Break Off’ is pure restrained intensity and a very deep space mission. ‘Steady’ on his Soundcloud page is, if anything, even better and more reined in? It needs a release soon.

This is almost a new industrial paradigm mercifully casting off the old EBM aesthetics? Cyclical springs, pistons, clanking, steam, pressure, furnaces burning in the night. Our old friends are still there but this is as futuristic and striking as the opening scenes of Bladerunner back in the day and absolutely what we should be striving for sonically right now. No bravado bullshit, ego-less. Just technical and cold and dripping with hydroponic bass groove.

Kahn: Abattoir

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Chronology right up the spout here as already mentioned! This one came out back in Jan. but I only discovered it after more digging following the more recent Gantz collabs. Well, Yes Iyah!….here we go again; this has the generic problematics (rasta=dark/gangster/moody whatever) but let’s face it, this is exactly the kind of track The Bug(ger) probably wishes he could make if he had the know how and the funk and not the clunk. Absolutely searing intro and a nasty, grunting, militaristic, trench-foot, bass stomp but ruined by the frikkin bumbaclaat rasta voice sample. Would I play it out? ‘ course I bloody would….