Music

Saru: Downtempo Dojo

Maurice Bottomley

Saru

Downtempo Dojo

Label: Shadow
US Release Date: 2001-06-26
Amazon
iTunes

It used to be Trip-Hop now it's Downtempo. A better name, I think, if a little unspecific. Anyhow, this is as good an example of the beats and bluntz, student-friendly end of the Dance market as any. Not that there is likely to be much dancing going on while the post-modern landscape of Downtempo Dojo floats dreamily in front of you, even if the rhythms are more rooted in club-culture than some efforts in the area -- which is not actually saying too much. No, this is basically dope-smoking music; regular nods of the head and the occasional inane grin will suffice.

Its target constituency will love this record. Check out www.downtempo.com to see their already positive reaction - though how they get the energy to run a website is a bit of a puzzle. But what's in it for the rest of us? Just enough, I would suggest. It won't change your world - it certainly won't rock it -- but the bass drops with the right amount of tonnage, the mood is mellow and the musical textures are rich and resonant. It does tail away towards the closing stages -- these sets usually do. I got to track nine (out of twelve) before complete torpor set in. However, if atmosphere and slightly deranged dubbiness are what you're after then this has them by the truck load and will keep you amused, if not exactly mobile.

It starts promisingly, displaying the high production values and that cinematic feel we have come to expect from all the Shadow stable. I was won over by the first track, largely because it samples Scotty and Lorna Bennet's "Skank in Bed" -- always a good idea. This does however raise a serious doubt about the whole genre. Although the rest of "Posterity" (they go in for song titles like that) is reasonably self-reliant some of the most amenable tracks do leave you thinking, "Didn't Lee Perry and King Tubby do this thing first and rather more impressively?". The assured "Bamboo Shadow" is pure '70s dub, with a thin veneer of white boy intellectualism. Likewise, much of the second part of "Duality" (the first being a very acceptable electro-Satiesque doodle) draws from the same waters. They are both eminently listenable but nothing that couldn't be more than matched by digging out those old Black Ark recordings. Still, that is no more the case for Saru than for Massive Attack or other early explorers in the field. It would be nice, though, if some of the newer artists were more open about the sources of their "inspiration".

Still, these are different times and such carpings are probably beside the point. The bottom line is this -- either Saru will chill you out, in an esoteric but undemanding fashion, or they will bore you to death. In their favour is intelligence and something I can only call good taste. Their use of sampling (including some fine deployment of an acoustic bass) is generally more imaginative than on many similar productions -- and there is no denying the earnestness of the project. There is restraint too; the common tendency to throw the kitchen sink into the mix has been avoided. Complaining about lack of tempo is of course foolish but there is even one attempt to lift the BPMs. "Waking Up" -- of course -- is a momentary, though welcome, aberration. After that we slip snugly back into the stoned and the somnolent.

Saru (I am assured it's Saru even if it looks like Sarj on the cover) are Steve Branson and Jim Behrens. They like the miserabilist end of British music rather too much for my comfort but know their turntable culture well enough to avoid being simply depressing. There is also an evident fascination with Japanese culture as well as the more obvious drug reference points. Saru means monkey in Japanese and a zen, meditative quality does seem to hover around the music. I wouldn't push this too far but there is some attempt at exploring emotions and consciousness -- and not just at the narcotic level.

So -- Mood music with a few pretensions? I think so. That and a real talent for knitting together disparate tonal elements and laying them over some satisfying beats. A little too arid for a lengthy stay, but the sound collages and relaxed meanderings that make up this disc are worth at least a short visit.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image