I’ve never made a secret of the fact that a large majority of drum & bass leaves me slightly cold. There is a lot of good D&B out there, but there’s also a lot of repetitive, mindlessly aggressive junk that honestly makes my head hurt. Where’s the style, I want to ask, where’s the atmosphere and the texture? In an endless quest for speed at the expense of mood, a lot of jungle has driven over the cliff into the white-noise realms of Relapse Records.
Anyone who might have given up on D&B needs to hear the latest installment in Breakbeat Science’s Exercise series. Mixed by Clever, this CD serves as a principled rejoinder to anyone who thinks the genre has become too insular or too ascetic. This is a fun, funky and diverse mix, and it’s easily one of the best mix CDs of the year.
The key to Clever’s appeal is his understanding of dynamics. So many DJs—not just jungle DJs, this applies to all electronic music—have little or no grasp of the way to build a set. They just start playing tracks at a certain tempo and stop an hour or so later, with no consideration of how best to cultivate and build energy levels or emotional crescendos. There are certain breeds of hard house that seem particularly designed to be enjoyable only under the condition that you’re taking a lot of drugs while you’re dancing, because that’s the only way you could conceivably dance to something so mindlessly repetitive and endlessly ruthless. I won’t say that D&B ever got that bad, because for the most part even the hardest jungle stays clear of the nihilistic misanthropism of DJ Venom and his ilk. The unrelenting tempo is still a drag, however.
Clever knows how to keep his game interesting. The mix kicks off with Endemic Void’s “Off the Market”, which stakes out a perfect middle-ground between the hardcore sound of the jungle mainstream and something more jazzy and atmospheric. Cujo’s “Time Traveler” is the first real clue that this mix is not your average boilerplate, however: Cujo, AKA Mr. Amon Tobin, is not your average D&B producer, and his techno-influenced jungle owes as much to mid-era Aphex Twin as to Goldie. Graphic shows up with avant rapper Beans on “I Am Metal”, which continues the expansive vibe established by Cujo while serving as the perfect segue into Mav & Twisted’s “The Tubes”, a track that reminds me as much of vintage era Ninja Tune as anything else.
And so on for the majority of the disc. Whenever it appears to be veering back in the territory of more conventional D&B, the mix throws a satisfying curveball like Klute’s “Oshima”, an airy and sophisticated slice of tech-influenced jungle that brings to mind vintage LTJ Bukem. Some of Clever’s selections even stray entirely from the rolling breakbeat format, hewing to a far more interesting and original road—the Strobe mix of Black Rain’s “Uptempo” replaces the conventional jungle beat with a slinky electro stutter.
Clever even throws in something of an old-school vibe as well—Amit’s “Motherland” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an old Jungle Sky compilation, circa ten years ago. Sure enough, while the middle of the disc was cool and funky, he knows enough to ramp it up in the last third, with Seba ft .Robert Manos providing “Steel”, an uplifting jungle anthem in the vein of Billion Dollar Gravy’s recent collaborations with Robert Owens. Ezekial Honig drops by with the glitchy Graphic remix of “Love Session”, which is an IDM track in everything but name (Honig actually left D&B to produce IDM, so the connection seems natural). “Deep Sleep” by Tundra recalls DJ Shadow’s “What Does Your Soul Look Like?”, while the Spirit remix of Deep Blue’s “Coral” brings everything to a close with an ominous slab of synthpop influenced industrial.
By highlighting such an eclectic and evocative mix of styles within the basic drum & bass template, Clever not only showcases his own impressive skills but provides an accessible vantage point into the genre for anyone unfamiliar. If you buy one D&B CD this year, it should probably be this one—but more to the point, if you had no desire to buy any D&B whatsoever, this is probably a CD you should hear. To put it as simply as possible, this is good stuff.