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Massive LKDWN V1 – Mapping the Moves

My second article for Construct neatly coincides with their Lockdown Vol.1 for good reason. This time I will be debuting a concise and descriptive form of analysis! So let’s jump straight in.

DARKMATTA

‘Do You Know’s drop vocal chop has been spiralling inside my skull the last few nights. The journey of this EP is embarked with emotive entrance, a deep kick drum punching in an instantly familiar rhythm, as the snares sweep out of the filter. An atmosphere of energy is set with a sprinkle of classic dub fx and a DarkMatta call out, hollering those who know the deal with this artist and those that are about to find out.

Appropriate choice as a precursor to hearing the title line of the track, as David Boomah’s soaring voice blossoms into the mix. ‘Where you belong’ is the first suffix to the question, followed by ‘what’s right or wrong’, immediately ponderous over location-latched identity and moral ethics. Typical of his recognisable style it’s simple and catchy, yet could be cavernous in meaning- you can get lost in the personal thought train but the music gives you a beautiful point of meditative focus instead to be present for. That’s a pro of relatable, non specific lyrics. 

For my interpretation, those are the ‘choices made’ prefix of the next line; ‘transparent lies’ is less ambiguous. Yet these terms will be relatable for all sorts of situations you might find yourself in, like ‘decisions made’ that ‘aren’t black or white’. The brass stabs and key chords of accompanying melody are summer-bound and fruitfully up-lifting. 

Before you know, we’ve dropped into a sweetly melodic, tone stepping bass. The vocal snippets that harmonise with this hark to a point I made in the last article about the way they nest in your head. Certainly not my preference, but totally memorable and whimsically joyous. The switch up sees some recorded scratching, no doubt not just a sample from such an act that involves such talented live vinyl work.

I would like to see more releases with recorded drum breaks that are still quite raw in processing with a live-room ambience, and other roughly represented instrumentation; for me this really captures the power of DarkMatta gigs and sets them aside from the norm, reminding people in the industry that it would not be an ordinary DJ booking to back a crowd raising tune like this.

BTRAX

Next up is a very different kind of Drum and Bass for sure. Less is more with this hypnotic and thrashing rhythm, thus so is my description because of its nature of reduced song structure. As quick to leave as it is to begin, Endurance Neuro riles up the pace of this EP into a fearsome bionic wild cat of unrelenting machine claws that bid no introduction or farewell; B-Trax throws you into dangerous waters with a cut throat mid range synth line, and a rolling sub complimented by up-octave enforcement. 

The beat here is crisp and bouncy due to tight separation into the respective frequency bands of drum types and harsh compression on those. The toms roll across the stereo image and this really throws you feverishly back into every kick and consequent bar, along with the strictly syncopated but timbre-shuffling hi hat. I enjoy the subtle progression in these patterns because it helps the repetitive nature of the piece from becoming tiresome. An A to B switch up in the kit programming at regular intervals involves more smashing snares in B, with a reduced kick swing/removed tom pattern to make way for them.

Haunting keys provide an eery scene that is openly wandering through endless melancholic space, which acts as an emotional counter weight in contrast to the ferocious foreground barrage. I like the other synth patch that works alongside this in mood, that then doubles up at the point of the main melody taking an every so slight twist 3/4 in. Something that stands out in the general mix perhaps a sample that punctuates the kick from about midway that provides impact in the form of a feminine ‘Uh’. I’m not sure how I feel about this but perhaps that’s rooted in association with a lack of contextual development. I’ll leave it to your imagination for what ‘endurance’ is giving her such a reaction…

I would appreciating seeing more progressive and experimental tunes from Btrax, as his extensive discography so far shows an ability to competently push a breadth of flavours. However, it would be interesting to see him put these skills to a different structure or formula for DnB. Modulation in the synth patches would give more ‘funk’ to the ‘neuro’, as is witnessed on a couple of the tracks he’s premiered via his facebook- more of this could be implemented in his future professional releases with some out of the box sound design, peaks and troughs.

HUSKI

Following through to mellow out the vibes at this tempo, but certainly not drop the bop, Huski comes through with the old-skool jungle taste. An escapade of nostalgia and hefty sub-focused LFO wobbles, this tune embodies a high-spirited, stripped back form of jungle that doesn’t convolute the tried and tested package. A dub siren alerts the 90s ravers that it’s time to dance, easing us in to an ethereal pad sound that belongs on an original tape pack. The whipping helicopter riser and ragga vocal make it crystal clear- ‘nuff vibes a-gwan in the place’…

A bit of tasteful pitch shift on ‘place’ before the boom with a sub siren again, into the stepping bass-boosted body-shaker. Keeping it really minimal here, all the focus at first is on stepping between the dry kick and snare with warps of sub for killing sound systems. Keeping the atmosphere moving with a sparse and distant cymbals and noise sweeps, here comes the subtle rattle of a breakbeat to start skipping feet. At this point that low frequency wave gives a more regular up and down flow for a jumping effect, before settling into the previous pattern with a change in the snare shake- seamlessly.

We’re released into a quick breakdown that reprises the intro pads, which serves to reset the darkness of the bass with livening energy. If my concern with the first section was in the subtlety of the drum breaks… well, here come the crashing amens! Spitting about over the second drop, Huski also grants the b-line a timbre change with a bit of Reese grit to further the naughtiness.

Lacking a point for my disinterest, I’d perhaps recommend that his next release perhaps feature an original vocal piece. Further drum programming and processing would give the beat a story and modern impact, but that doesn’t seem to be the aim with this OG sound. I can suggest that he works on creating a unique stylistic approach that will set him above the jungle canopy as an outlier soaking up that tropical sun.

The Gentleman Squatter
and DJ VayKay

Beginning with a completely different kind of siren that is characterised by a long, brooding horn. This alternative symbolises the change in approach to the jungle sound we’re about to experience in Ricochet- a moody, loosely hung and wildly swung trip through an urban environment. Slowly morphing electronic waveforms gurgle in the back drop as the breaks spring to life in scattered rhythms, driven sharp hissy hi hats and a plodding 808 that seems to be talking. It feels like the logical consequent chapter of this EP.

Some resonant notes ping pong between your ears like a steampunk bird call, paired with the unsettling likeness of a car alarm, reaching a tamed spike as the main rhythm kicks in with crunchy snap-back. The breaks become slightly more feverous, raising temperature with agitation and distortion. But it is the Reese synth that takes front and centre stage, growling across the full frequency spectrum like a world eater from a more sinister universe than Huski’s would have you boogie in. The 808s hits stay to release it every so often, as the breaks continue to racket in different acoustics about the place. They return to domination in the breakdown with some short stabs from the pad synths, which have been sauntering along in the expanse with that gloomy horn, maintaining the dystopian atmosphere throughout.

It’s also worth mentioning the welcome change brought by just a few flicks of LFO that feel well tuned to the 808s as they wave through. There’s a sporadic use of a stereotypical jungle sample, the written form of which no one really knows. Is It ‘ahuh’? ‘uhhet’? It’s usually more difficult to tell when it’s drowned in processing… Anyway, I only object to this when it punctuates every loop, which it does not here. The dystopian atmosphere is maintained by the horns and pads

In terms of what to do next for Dj VayKay and The Gentleman Squatter, I’d definitely like to see more from their collaboration. Some guitar work would make his influence more obvious amongst his more experienced partners work. Also, a similar sound with more prominent kick drums would deliver further dance-floor orientation.

B   GLE

4

Did I say more prominent kick drums? It seems that whatever I’m searching for here becomes apparent in the next track, so clearly it plays in the right order.

We’re brought into a totally new dimension with what I believe to be a Cimbalom string sample, characteristic of Balkan culture from which the tune gets its name. The way the timbre tinkles and plucks is fun, but the melody hints at hardship, somewhat like blues chords. Sprays of stuttered riser, skittering beats and a few fuzz bass hits tell, it’s almost time already.

That stutter is replicated in a straight forward arpeggio, layered with a more constant whine harmony. The notes rise then fall into a hard pumping low end thump, that is regularly broken with the aforementioned fuzz bumps and very artfully contained cymbals. Risers return at good intervals and the stutter synths are twisting with phaser to keep the whole thing rocketing wildly through space.

Just when you begin to miss the strings, there’s a short breakdown to enjoy the sample and then mash it back in with the next drop! I like that the arpeggio rears its head again along with the beat rolls only teased at the intro, creating a cacophony fit for the circus. Another breakdown reiterates focus on the Balkan vibe, and only relinquishes hold on the drums for a moment before you’re thrust back into good Tek. Like in B-trax’s tune, the subtle changes here are what keep any sense of monotony at bay, it’s just power from start to finish… in the last drop there’s an added thwack one tone above the bounce bass that I didn’t even know I wanted. He even throws this note up higher during a pause, just once. Can you spot it?

Having checked out his past material, it would be to hear him draw some snares to the surface a little more for fills for separating pounding nature as he is already doing well. The drop sound is nailed and I liked the variation at the end, so more variety in the main bass note could be interesting for the progressing with longer tunes. Perhaps effort to experiment with the scales/chords of the more melodic parts in between hard drops could create an even more emotional adventure for listeners.

The HardWarist

Last but certainly not least, less description is going to be more for this track, a progressive work of analog hardware with additional studio frills. ‘Take your chance’ goads the ominous voice, which I also implore you to do… 

The acid synth line gallops alongside a similar bass oscillator that’s hyper stepping about with filtered squelch already gasping for your attention. Soon comes another, and another, spiralling out like electronic tendrils from a killer plant. They feel cohesive like a hive mind entity, with the essence of ‘acid’ purely represented through intense yet gradual modulation under a syncopated high hats that click, clack, and ride the ripples this absolute monster is spewing. 

I like the industrial drones, screeches and shouts that coast along the way in auditory peripherals, bearing resemblance to the voices of tormented creatures. Never do the synths sit still, so a track with few describable structural sections/essential elements is actually in constant change and continued evolution.

It really embodies the spirit of hardcore Acid Tekno, so it’s difficult to improve upon a seriously winning formula, conveyed through the convincingly correct technology. You become immersed in the void of this one and forget time… How long have we been in Lockdown? What I can ask for is to experience epics like this from the Hardwarist that continue to experiment and push the envelope. Make a modular synth system that resembles a Terminator tree? A psychedelic finish to a brilliant journey from the Construct Massive crew, a multi sided shape bound to appeal to many at different points; my thanks to the artists and organisers for the isolation entertainment! Ears are surely ripened for Vol.2…

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