Dj Kicks so hard to beat. The return of Photek. Kind of.
Rupert Parkes, a.k.a Photek, is one of the high priests of the jungle and drum & bass scenes, recognised principally for his work with Metalheadz and his own album Modus Operandi before he switched tracks to a more noticeably house and techno groove on 2000’s Solaris. Photek has been relatively quiet since then (on the recorded front at least) before this new album, number 36 in the ongoing Dj Kicks series, which follows the excellent Gold Panda release.
Featuring four new Photek tracks, Dj Kicks is an engaging journey into the bass and dubstep landscape that has become more overground in the last few years. Listening to the album as a whole it hangs nicely together, maintaining a regular tempo, effortlessly mixed and with no real curveballs. As a one hour set (the length of the album) it is more of the head nodding variety rather than an arms in the air and wave em round like you just don’t care. It’s perfect for those of us like me, who are, almost, retired clubbers. You don’t have to get out of your armchair to appreciate the music.
In a recent interview Photek hinted at this change in his approach to music and his disillusionment at the narrow confines of the drum & bass scene he helped pioneer. “When I played in clubs, there was never any music I liked either side of my set. I wondered why I was part of this niche when it seemed I was a square peg in a round hole. If dubstep has taught us one thing it’s to let it all go, just let stuff happen and sort it out later.”
Kicking off with a new Photek track, album opener, “Azymuth” is a brooding bass and synth driven track that sounds very filmic which then drops into Kromestar’s “In 2 Minds”, a slowly building, rhythmic track with a beautiful recurring synth line running through it. Picture, if you will, the '80s game Simon Says or the intro to Knight Rider and you’ll be on the right road.
There is a serene calmness to the mix until we get to DJG’s “Here Come The Dark Lights”, which ups the tempo on a balearic tune which oddly calls to mind some early drum & bass. This kickstarts a little run of upbeat tracks that includes “M25FM” credited to Photek and Pinch, which segues into “No Agenda” which is accredited to just Photek, but has the same bass and synth line running through it as “M25FM”. This tip continues with the classic “Dead Eye” by Baby Ford + Don (made in 1994 unbelievably).
The best mix comes between Daze Maxim’s “Tomorrow Universe”, where Photek uses a simple fade out, into an acapella intro of “Taking You Back” by Sepalcure, set against the backdrop of the sound of rain. This is a beautiful mini mix within the album. The fade out mix is also used from this track into the brooding “Levitation”, another new Photek track. Again I can hear the early Metalheadz sounds in this track but as with cut up, vocal sampling, and almost Latin sounding “Fountainhead”, this time a Photek + Kuru track, it is clear Photek has moved on considerably from those distant days but has incorporated elements of them into his new music.
On this, Dj Kicks, Photek maintains the quality that the series has become synonymous with, while providing us with a glimpse of a new, and dare I say it, more mature artist. An artist no longer worried about playing to the crowd, rather, an artist following his own musical path.
Photek has a new album due out soon and it will be fascinating to hear his new material outside of a mix setting.