Drum ’n’ bass gets a sizeable kick up the backside from a true maverick
While much of drum ’n’ bass, once the most progressive and boldly experimental of forces in electronic music, is sadly stuck in a creative rut at the moment, there are still a few brave souls out there still willing to shake up and reinvent the genre.
London-based producer Thomas Green, better known as Rockwell to those who’ve caught his string of singles over the past five years, is one of those renegades. From his first productions onwards he has always displayed a distinctive and instantly recognisable style, meaning a Rockwell tune sticks out in a DJ set the same way a fresh Dillinja cut did in the 1990s or an Andy C track in the early 2000s.
Putting that Rockwell sound into words is difficult. It certainly seems more electronic, more digital than the free flowing, live sounding breakbeats of most d ’n’ b, almost as if that well worn template had been smashed into a thousand tiny pieces and then meticulously reconstructed, each minute particle given its own individual bit of sonic sparkle.
Yet while that very individual style remains a constant here, he’s also clearly enjoying the chance to escape the relatively tight confines of dancefloor d ’n’ b tunes here. He might jokingly refer to the album as an ‘Obsolete Medium’ in the title, but he makes full use of the freedom that medium allows to explore a range of sounds, speeds and genres.
After a short introductory skit, it kicks off with its most conventional moment, the tender vocal track ‘Faces’, sung in the sweetly lilting and heartbroken voice of Lauren L’Aimant. From then on, however, the script is torn up and we’re taken on a rapid trip through 360 degrees of beats. ‘INeedU’ and ‘Lines Of Ground Glass’ are both d ’n’ b on paper, but in the flesh prove to be enthralling collages of rave euphoria, Detroit techno grandeur and Art Of Noise-style synth magic. ‘14Me’ is hip hop speed, but boasts both delicate melodicism and dubstep savagery, its backbone boiled down to the simplest of snares and sub-bass rumbles. There’s an accomplished full-on rap offering (‘Guts, Blood, Sex, Drugs’) that pops up unexpectedly two-thirds of the way through, with Brooklyn rapper Ja’s commanding rhymes providing a timely human counterpoint to all the bewildering electronic trickery.
It starts bonkers, basically, and by the end it’s even more insane. ‘Please Please Please (Play This On The Radio)’ not only has one of the funniest song titles of the year, its thrusting rave stabs and manic techno-flavoured energy sound like Jeff Mills and Squarepusher double booked in the same studio. It has about as much chance of making the Radio 1 playlist as the next Gary Glitter single, but it’s fantastic all the same, and on a sweaty 3am dancefloor will make total sense.
All in all it’s a brave and totally committed statement from an artist who evidently believes there are many more interesting and strange places electronic music is yet to travel to. While that might not earn him a place on daytime radio alongside Rudimental, it has certainly earned our respect. Obsolete medium? Extra large more like.