This posthumous release of Ewan Robertson’s last album is a testament to his skill and creativity
Offshore may not be a household name, but it’s one that anyone who spent time in the shady world of the free party circuit will know. As the scene developed into harder and harder techno sounds, the Offshore Sound System was always a welcome haven of chilled-out sanity at any event it parked up at.
Sadly, Offshore himself – real name Ewan Robertson – passed on extremely prematurely two and a half years ago, cruelly thwarting his attempts to turn his expertise behind the decks into a sustained recording career with Big Dada. This album was on the verge of completion when the Aberdonian died, and has been finished by his partner and label as a tribute to him, as well as a way of raising funds for research into Marfan syndrome, the disease that Ewan suffered from.
And a fitting tribute ‘Offshore’ is too. Those who knew Ewan personally will surely recognise a gentle friendliness and optimism across the 15 tracks here, and equally those who only knew him through his music will see the same free-form, anything goes agenda his sound system reflected in its playlist. Take the first two tracks as an example. The opening tune, ‘J Bouncey’, plays dry, Oriental-sounding synths and electronic drums off against a human voice scatting along wordlessly. Then ‘Make It Up’ follows with brash and scratchy guitar riffs reminiscent of Joy Division at their most rough-edged, minimally embellished with keyboard sweetness. The two couldn’t be more different in style, but both have the same innocent playfulness at their heart.
We continue with ‘Barden’s Burden’, certainly a little smoother, with a vivacious slap bass and a carpet of subdued organ horns, while ‘Church Rhythm’ builds up around a sleek, panther-like bassline and razor-sharp psychedelic guitar. If Syd Barrett had ever come out of retirement with the sole intention of remaking ‘Smokebelch’ by The Sabres Of Paradise in his own acid-soaked image, then the results surely wouldn’t have been too far from this. ‘Flickbook’ and ‘NY In A Minute’ are closer to the house or techno template, but they’re far from formulaic, the former crying out for a remix as it clocks in at under two minutes, the latter especially dramatic with its lush string arrangements and LFO-esque bleepery.
Other highlights include ‘Turn That Down Upside Frown’, echoing the primitive industrial funk adventures of 23 Skidoo or Cabaret Voltaire, and ‘Off Peak’, which is probably the most accomplished and fully realised piece on the whole collection. It’s here, as spiralling arpeggios play a game of cat and mouse with impeccably chopped up and filtered beats, that you’re left with the impression that Ewan Robertson had so much more to contribute.
The project doesn’t end here. Artists including Amon Tobin, Ikonika, Blue Daisy, Slugabed, Mamiko Moto, Lockah and Enchanté have all been working on remixes of tracks from the album and a number of long-time collaborators have also contributed videos and photographs. And while ‘Offshore’ can be a slightly scrappy listen in places and one that, as you might imagine in the circumstances, lacks a little polish here and there, it’s definitely not lacking in charm or ingenuity.