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Rizzla: Iron Cages

A #deepdream of technology, violence, and freedom in globalized clubland.


Iron Cages

US Release: 2015-09-25
UK Release: 2015-09-25
Label: Fade to Mind

Earlier this year, Jam City unfurled a mini-manifesto in advance of his new album Dream a Garden, a record that proclaimed to be "rooted in the bleakness of the present; everyday life under the regime of high capitalism". It was a bold statement by Jam City’s Jack Latham upon his first foray into a kind of woozy, dreamy pop, far more energized it seemed than the sounds contained within.

The record itself was a departure, a sonic sidestep from the aggressive gloss and angular sheen of 2012’s Classical Curves. Yet, it can be argued that the massively influential Classical Curves was easily as political as Dream a Garden, though that former album was mystified and vague, achieving its aims through showing not telling over the course of its mostly instrumental tracks. The signature track was "H.E.R.", just over two minutes of call and response between crystalline stripped synth melodies and brutal rhythmic intensity. Its spine was a cinematic foley sound effect of a camera snapping a shot, supported by a distorted vocal sample barking demands of "Flash/Camera, Flash" wherein every third return or so would melt the word "Flash" so that it sounded like "Flesh".

This was true 21st century industrial music, using the raw material of materialism and image production against itself, the empty pallor of fashion shown to be as equally appealing as it is vapid. To achieve its aims, it not only created an additional layer of artificiality to keep pace with the mass media projections that coexist and interact with our virtually-constructed selves, but it sounded like it emerged explicitly from the #deepdream of this nightmare distillery of rotted simulacrums, a distorted reflection from the broken mirror we’ve come to accept as authenticity.

A new genre had been born, Foley Grime, a term I’ve dubbed after the sounds of postproduction which make up the often-exaggerated diegetic noises of cinematic spectacle, combined with the electronic movement from which most of these tracks and artists stem. Using sound effects to pepper riddim tracks is not a new device in music, nor even in the 15-year-old grime genre itself. More than a decade ago, Dizzee Rascal, Lady Sovereign, and M.I.A. were peppering their snares and hi-hats with the noises of cash registers, gunshots, video game one-ups, and the like. What distinguishes the current lot, which includes Lotic, Bloom, Rabit , M.E.S.H, and Miss Modular (whose label is named after the aforementioned Jam City song), is that the icy, atonal FX form the basic engine of their sound -- it's not just supplemental flair.

Add Rizzla to this growing list of essential names in Foley Grime to watch. His highly anticipated debut EP arrives on Night Slugs sister label Fade to Mind a good four years into his career. He has not exactly been quiet during his tenure, dropping tons of mixes, downloads, and remixes onto the world of dance music. He soon became known for his massive skills with hybridity and fusion, spawning new genres with each new offering, be they soca-driven industrial hip-hop or trance-guided moombahton club constructions or what have you. He was also part of the queer collective #KUNQ, along with other vanguard artists like False Witness, Battyjack, and blk.adonis" and performed explosive DJ sets at the late, wild graveyard trap sets of GHE20G0TH1K parties.

Rizzla’s also a couples masters degrees deep at NYU, meaning he is deeply aware of the political reverberations that a harsh globalized club sound could carry with it. This is evident in the song titles scattered across this EP. "Iron Cages" is a direct reference to Max Weber, who theorized that the human desire for logic and efficiency force us to get trapped in systems, which often carry ideological constraints that we are unable to break out of. Rizzla tune "Black Jacobins" also shares a name with a historical work by CLR James on the slave revolts of the Haitian revolution. And then there’s less subtle messaging, such as on "Fucking Fascist", which derives its groove from queering the dembow riddim popularized by a notoriously homophobic Shabba Ranks tune.

Though there’s serious intent behind the music, this does not detract from its immediate pleasure, nor does it require a master’s degree to get the listener out of their seat. In fact, just how much Weber is writ onto guest vocalist Odile Myrtil’s repeated lament on Iron Cages’ relentlessly catchy title track whose refrain us "You keep on calling... Don’t think I’ll be falling / For your shit anymore", is open to interpretation.

More immediate is the detailing. Rhythm may be the principal foreground on these five tracks, and the Carribean-cum-Brooklyn percussive assembly ranks amongst the finest in the Night Slugs/Fade to Mind cannon, but the warped and alien sounds melded along the syncopated curvature of the beats are what give the tracks real vitality. Sirens wail, urban voices breathlessly grunt, stringy synths wobble into the ether, and glass breaks briefly and shifts swiftly back into place.

On "Fucking Fascist", Eros and Thanatos collide as a dizzying nursery rhyme melody slinks up and down in BPM forming a morbid intersection for voices that moan out in cries of passion and a melancholy reprise that dips in from every direction simply stating "Rest in peace, my friend." "Airlock" is perhaps even more assaultive, buoyed by a sample that seems part mechanical beast, part air horn, and part jungle creature, a cyborg monstrosity whose wail is just the backdrop to a breathtaking barrage of snare stabs and raga growls.

After this rising series of distress calls, the neon synth harmonics of the closer "Black Jacobins" sound positively hopefully, though it’s just as anxious and twitchy as the rest of the lot. Iron Cages is many things, but shiftless is not one of them. It’s a massive sound, a productive and unified whole with a global scope and a finger on the zeitgeist, embedded with far more than its surface pleasures suggest.


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