Uberzone: Faith in the Future

Faith in the Future

Thank goodness for nu skool breaks. Silly spelling, yes, but a delightful genre mash-up nonetheless. Nu skool has roots that go back to the beginnings of the underground dance circuit. While folks in Europe were busy laying out strict categories for their music — hardcore breakbeat, house, techno had very little genre crossover at the time –producers in the US were taking elements from party-ready styles and combining them into one exhilarating sonic blend. Producers in Florida and California, in particular, developed distinctively breaks-tinged sounds (think DJ Icey, early BT, and the Crystal Method, who later championed big beat). An influx of UK producers, such as Rennie Pilgrem and Adam Freeland, came to the US in search of new musical avenues, and their contributions to the burgeoning genre had a tremendous influence. In its latest incarnation, nu skool breaks takes the classic early ’90s breakbeat formula and adds the growling bass of jungle, trance’s emotional synth work, and a hefty dose of ’80s electro-driven hip-hop.

Named after a James Bond character with a fondness for gadgets and gizmos, Q (né Timothy Wiles) brings his impressive collection of electronic music gear to the studio to produce an album that successfully combines the best of studio wizardry with artistic vision. He has been a key player on the west-coast breaks scene and rave circuit since 1996, when a track of his made it onto an installment in DJ John Kelley’s popular Funky Desert Breaks series. Two years later, Sasha and Digweed picked up another one of his songs for the east-coast edition of their second Northern Exposure disc. Besides his early singles (“Botz” and “The Freaks” were released on acclaimed indie label City of Angels), Q has remixed the likes of Sarah McLachlan, the Crystal Method, and BT.

Now, in 2001, Q drops his first LP, Faith in the Future, recorded under his Uberzone guise at his southern California studio. With the backing of the big guns at Astralwerks and an opening gig with big beat staples Crystal Method (promoting Tweekend, their latest release), Q stands poised for breakthrough success. Faith in the Future is a splendid exploration of the nu skool breaks sound, but it doesn’t stop there — Q cleans up the genre’s rough edges and injects each track with soul and emotion, taking care that his computer-programmed beats stay close to warmer, human territory.

The most prominent feature on this album is the bowel-shaking, speaker-rattling bass. This is definitely an album for those who want to make the most of their car stereos. The first single off the album, “Bounce”, takes this submarine bass to its logical extreme with pounding, resonant thuds deep enough to rattle the toughest dentalwork. Combined with aggressive breaks patterns, digitized drones, and sinister synth lines, the overall effect is delightfully dark and dirty. “Beat Bionic” also takes the lower registers to their breaking point. The grungy bass on this tune serves as a solid backdrop for an appealing pastiche of rough beats, vocodered voices (provided by Bart Thomas), sirens, blips, and bleeps. The occasional multi-level bass drop punches the track up even more, and Davey Dave (turntable technician for the Uberzone live show) contributes complicated scratch solos that distort and manipulate the rhythms even further. Q’s now-classic “Botz” even makes an appearance, and the Synthetik remix brings the track’s trademark glitchy breaks and crunchy synths up to date.

Besides an obsession with bass, Q displays a keen ear for unusual instrumentation. “Black Widow”, co-produced by Rennie Pilgrem, boasts an infectious conga line and bongo percussion arrangement accompanied by a whole host of frenetic, organic tribal drums. These warm tones play nicely against a background of deep bass, tinny breaks, guttural chanting, and processed synth screeching. “Rhythm Device” is an alluringly trippy, dubbed-out breakbeat tune with clean, well-balanced production and an interesting use of bells, chimes, and what sound like ape-noises. The title track, however, falls a bit flat. This ambient, beatless piece of synth noodling drifts about, sounding something like a robot love song but lacking any sense of direction. Though this track is haunting and subtly textured, the lack of Q’s lovely bass rattling and crisp drums is something of a surprise. He redeems himself, however, in the catchy “Keep Go-In”. This collaboration with Ken Jordan of the Crystal Method brings back roaring bass and crunchy breaks, but this time with a sliced-and-diced, distinctly big beat feel. This pairing is nothing but symbiotic. Jordan brings a new life and energy to Q’s music, while Q offers an interesting, futuristic take on big beat.

Out of the nine tracks produced with other artists, five are vocal collaborations. For the most part, these tracks are quite strong and speak of an electrifying connection between the parties involved. “Science Fiction” pairs hard, aggressive breaks with dancehall favorite Beenie Man’s warblings. A pulsating beat and hollow drumming make this song a pleasure to listen to. “2Kool4Skool”, featuring hip-hop legend Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force, is a hyper electro-funk workout that combines electronic squeals, blips, and pops with retro noise and sci-fi lasers. Bambaataa and Soulsonic add their trademark diction, and Q successfully brings his flow into the future while retaining a distinctly reverent attitude towards Bambaataa.

Showing a rare versatility, Q manages the frantic energy of his compositions with some subdued, muted tracks. Though they are a welcome diversion, he walks a thin line between haunting beauty and excessive boredom. The positively soporific “Little Dragon”, featuring Karen Lo, does little but wander aimlessly between chanting and singing in Chinese. Spare electronic bleeps hop and skip about in the distance, but fail to balance her floaty, whisper-light vocals. The other collaborations, however, more than make up for this misstep. “Dreamtime” is a quick departure from Q’s intense breaks and bass routine, relying on a lighter drum pattern for movement. Employing dream-pop vocalist Lida Husik’s ethereal, airy voice, Q weaves a complex pattern of vocals, banjos, Australian tribal instruments, and ambient strings. To achieve the feel of a chorus with Husik’s lone voice, Q broke down her vocals into individual elements and mapped them across a keyboard. Building these tones up again creates the feeling of warmth and closeness. The end result is a soothing intermingling of pop and breaks aesthetics. Q also fares well on his joint effort with Helmet vocalist Paige Hamilton. “Frequency” melds laid-back breaks, a rambling bass line, and precise drums to Hamilton’s lazy, melancholic voice to produce a languid yet quite striking effect.

Q’s heady mix of gruff beats, tender instrumentals, and throbbing bass makes for an intriguing — and above all, enjoyable — listen. Faith in the Future successfully establishes Q as one of the major players in breaks, and his contribution to the genre is significant. By touring with the Crystal Method, Q highlights one of the fundamental elements of the mainstream-accessible big beat sound. His interesting style surely bridges the gap between more easily grasped sounds and more experimental aspects of nu skool breaks. Never one to shy away from experimentation, Q shows the world how harmoniously breaks, hip-hop, techno, and house work together. Only a human being could use computers to such emotional affect, and Q proves himself to be at the top of his game.