Blackfilm's Zero One Seven hints at somewhere drum 'n' bass could go.
Zero One Seven
28 September 2018
Maybe I've been looking in the wrong places, but Hungary is not normally associated with top-drawer popular music. Atmospheric drum 'n' bass? No. Blackfilm attempt to buck the trend with Zero One Seven – the third album in ten years. It's not a punishing work rate, but add a few tracks on compilations, and the mysterious Blackfilm has found plenty to keep him busy.
There's a lot to be said for artists who prefer to stay under the radar. The culture today dictates that anyone with a record contract has to tweet 30 times a day – preferably accompanied by noxious selfies and pictures of what they are about to eat. Blackfilm clings to his anonymity like a parachute. It suits his music. If you've ever read a Blackfilm review, you'll have seen the words "brooding" and "atmospheric" strewn around like confetti at Kanye and Kim's wedding. So, it comes as no surprise that album number three is "brooding" and "atmospheric".
It's hard to make this type of music memorable. Let's face it, every back-bedroom producer with a cracked copy of ProTools and a Toys R Us keyboard thinks they're Moby now and the EDM and drum 'n' bass markets are strewn with recklessly flung breakbeats and off-key vocal samples. For the most part, Blackfilm has got it right.
We get eight tracks, all of which are built on classic drum and bass lines. The percussion skitters uneasily and the bass throbs and pulses at a subterranean level. Every so often, a vocal sample floats in, drenched in the kind of reverb that Lee Scratch Perry would kill for. Fortunately, Blackfilm manages to make this time-honored template engaging enough to bear repeated plays. If you listen closely, on tracks like "Song Without Words" you can hear a vague jazz influence which adds real interest to the piece. That's followed by "Vegas" which is five minutes of ominous drones and submarine styled bleeps. The breakdown in the middle strips the tune down to a buzzing synth bass, then gradually builds back up to something you could (almost) dance too. Then, it stops.
There is a cinematic quality to Zero One Seven. If they ever do another Blade Runner movie, this guy could give Hans Zimmer a run for his money. It's all too easy to program some beats, slap a weird, droney noise over it and call it drum 'n' bass, but Blackfilm uses some musicality to make sure the pieces are structured, build up, and go somewhere. The only misstep on an otherwise solid album is "Version" which grafts an incongruous pop vocal to a deep and dark backing track, which doesn't quite work. "Traitors" gets the album back on track – nearly a minute of synthesized wind noise and digitally treated spoken word samples are finally swamped by a fast-paced drumbeat, which plows on relentlessly throughout the track. It stops to let you take a breath and admire the swirling, psychedelic noise fest and then starts up again. It's powerful, minimal stuff.
Zero One Seven is a bit of a rarity. It's a drum 'n' bass album that stands repeated listening, and you don't need to be out of your mind on your choice of mood-altering apparatus, or at a club where it's being broadcast to your brain at an infinite amount of decibels. It's a headphone album, as the old folks say. It's electronica for goths. The press release says, "evolving from downtempo electronic music to orchestral paroxysms and, insanely, passing from down-pitched nothingness to frozen urban landscapes, it becomes inevitable to resist". That's a hell of a mouthful, which translates as "it's a bit like dance music, but for people who don't wanna dance anymore".