No longer rebelling against the system, this globally-minded bass producer returns to his New York City roots with a formidable yet accessible solo effort.
Some years back, an alluring Berlin migration drove many young producers and DJs to the city’s burgeoning, resurgent electronic music scene. New York native Matt Schell and his Team Shadetek partner Zack Tucker made the move in 2004, a year that yielded their chin-scratching Burnerism EP. A one-off for Warp Records, the release subsumed seemingly incompatible subgenres in ways not unlike contemporary Scott Herren did with his Prefuse 73 and Delarosa & Asora projects. A few years later, they followed that outré effort with the urban Pale Fire, a more grounded effort fixated on dancehall and grime rather than the anachronism of IDM. Though they shared similar DNA, the contrasts between those two records were stark enough to suggest ambitions beyond the club’s backroom.
Retaining the Shadetek surname for his solo work, Schell’s inevitable Big Apple homecoming has made him a known quantity alongside fellow local bass pushers and reformed breakcore boys DJ /rupture and Drop The Lime. No longer rebelling against the system with acts of aural abrasion, he’s opted instead to participate in pushing forward from within. The Empire Never Ended reflects an underground state of the union, in which--if you can stand the Berlin pun--the wall between electronic music and American hip-hop seems downright antiquated. This still-emerging reality provides a real breakout opportunity for an artist with Matt Shadetek’s history and talents.
Made cohesive thanks to an ever present existential bass foundation, The Empire Never Ended nonetheless revels in its diversity from track to track. “Don’t Give It All Up” reunites Shadetek with Pale Fire guest and frequent collaborator Jahdan on a dubstep tip, while the purp haze of “Triple Fat Goose” would sit comfortably next to anything off the last A$AP Mob mixtape. Representing Brooklyn proudly, coke rap chronicler Troy Ave slings more than slang on “La Vida Loca,” an energetic block rocker peppered with percussive sputters. Later, Riff Raff bursts through the trippy sonics of “Bout It Girl” like the Kool-Aid Man with low blood sugar. Whatever your opinion of the polarizing rapper, this performance won’t dramatically shift it in either direction.
Even when working alone, Shadetek delivers in memorable fashion. Indeed, the tracks that bookend The Empire Never Ended--the voice modulated electro-hop opener “Visions” and the laidback luminous closer “Palm Tree Garden”--are among the record’s best. “Madness” adds a beauteous R&B sample sheen to a rugged dubstep stomp, peaking with a stuttering yet soulful breakdown awash in filters.
Whether or not The Empire Never Ended is designed as a commercial showcase of the producer’s abilities or a proper album remains an unanswered question. Perhaps it serves both purposes, with instrumentals like “Logos” and “Jaguar” begging for accompaniment from the likes of Gucci Mane or one of his many imitators. Nonetheless, Schell’s worldly bass aesthetics and street-level cognizance coalesce magnificently throughout.