The consortium of post-millennial dance genres have often been referred to as “Bass Music”. Perhaps unconsciously, this undeniably broad rim-shaking moniker has resulted from the trimming of the “Drum” from “Drum N’ Bass”. At times, it seems like this is what D-Bridge (Darren White) and Instra:Mental (Alex Green and Damon Kirkham), veterans of late era of drum n’ bass, want us to believe. Their Autonomic podcasts have fused together the salvageable remnants of the faded genre that used to be called drum n’ bass (and jungle before that) with dubstep, funky house, minimalism, coldwave, et al. in ways that engage all genres in direct dialogue with one another.
It’s not that percussion is not important to Dubstep and corresponding genres, but it hardly becomes the rhythmengine; as Kodwo Eshun used to say, that fast-forwarded junglism light years into the future. Instead, the wobble bass becomes the predominant rhythmic instrument and drums don’t figure so much as the motivating factor as they do the hot embers that force the feet into the air.
Both D-Bridge and Instra:Mental came to drum n’ bass late in its evolution, at a time when breakbeat science had become an exercise in excess. By the time D-bridge starting putting out records as part of the Bad Company crew and Instra:Mental’s Green started to spin as Al X Green, drum n’ bass had gotten a bit too “intelligent” and self-satisfied for its own good. Its dynamism was not the result of drug cocktail equations or passion-projected spectral evocations at this point, but rather a micromanaged display of virtuosities, a look n’ see ornamentalism that, to paraphrase Tony Wilson’s words on jazz, was more fun for those making the music than for any one in the clubs dancing. Thus, the two crossover outfits began in tandem to create a parallel drum n’ bass that shedded many of its conventions and eventually united to host the Autonomic podcasts together, which won adoring fans from beyond those in their scene.
D-Bridge and Instra:Mental’s Fabriclive mix, the 50th in the series, sees the hosts attempting to reintroduce percussive rhythm back to Bass Music in baby steps. Drums here are skeletal and sparsely deployed motors that both propel and punctuate the mix. They diagram the album’s schema, which seems throughout to rely mostly on trepidation. This is a disc whose emotional thrust is the intensity and tension of apprehension. Tracks are so withdrawn and withheld via the cold atmospheres and nervous drums that the occasional outburst of melody is euphorically violent, like when Instra:Mental’s “Encke Gap” erupts what has seemed like a 15 track build-up.
That said, those violent moments are pretty rare on Fabriclive 50, which is instead pretty heavy on atmosphere. At times, this makes the mix lose its focus, particularly as it nears its end, drawing out the denouement with far more dread than drama. ASC’s “Phobos” and Skream’s “Fire Call”, for instance, slow the motion with too little action.
Perhaps contra to the reign of intelligent drum n’ bass, Consequence ft Instra:Mental’s “Reflex Reaction” samples the first half of the phrase “the mind is a terrible thing to waste”, leaving us just with “the mind is a terrible thing” and reassigning the autonomy to the body. Yet, the Autonomic mix is filled with plenty of wit. If D-Bridge and Instra:Mental can be guilty of anything, it’s compiling a little too perfectly. Some tracks are so well-layered on top of one another that it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins. The melody and voice that begins on the ASC mix of Consequence’s “11 Circles” reverberates and spirals into D-Bridge’s “I Know”. Neither track is able to claim ownership of the sounds. They are truly products of the larger project of the full set. The moody electro of Genotype’s “Distorted Dreams” is even mashed up with the vocals of the Funky House anthem “Go” by Meleka, making for a dark R&B accretion that’s even more emotive than the original.
One almost expects reprises of prior bits at times as several cuts work like bridges to their preceding songs. The listener only glances a minute or two of several gorgeous melodies (Stray’s “Pushed” and Instra:Mental’s game-changing “Watching You”, for instance) before being swept the next chapter.
Yet, unlike so many of these compilations, Fabriclive 50 isn’t just a new music showcase/show-off. This is really the deejays’ show. Not only do D-Bridge and Instra:Mental tracks constitute a good deal of the mix, but much of the rest is from their respective Exit and NonPlus+ labels. The contrapuntal fusions are well-thought out, the transitions are seamless, and the delights are plenty. Like their free Autonomic downloads, it’s programmed like a podcast too, designed more for earbuds than crowds. Played publically, the intricacies tend to get lost in a room and become like scenery, but in close-up is where they shine.
Though it’s hard to imagine many dancefloor rushes with this music, that’s not to say it won’t bear influence at the club. The self-imposed 170 BPM speed limit enforced by Instra:Mental remains intact, but its affect is rather arbitrary (can any one but the seasoned expert ever tell the difference between 170 BPM and 85 BPM anyway?). Nevertheless, the effect the two outfits are having seems to be making waves. NonPlus+ has already released music by Actress, ASC, and Skream, and plans are in the works for future releases by Zomby, Loefah, Untold, and Jimmy Edgar, either pulling those artists to the drum n’ bass camp or vice versa. The Autonomic Fabriclive set feels for a minute like a step back, a missing parallax link between techstep and dubstep (ignoring for a minute that UKG and Grime are part of that connection too). Is it possible dubstep is finally ready to raise the tempo and get things shaking a bit more?
- Autonomic Podcast