Audio Rehab – Volume 1
Label: Audio RehabScore: 8/10
As you may or may not know, Audio Rehab recently celebrated their growing successes with a sell-out night at London’s famed Ministry of Sound. The brand got its start way back in 2011 as a party at the sorely missed House and Terrace; a club located in the shadows of the 02 in South East London, before making regular appearances in the glossier settings of Shoreditch heating up dancefloors and building demand for their distinctively rough urban take on contemporary house music. Predictably Mark Radford set up the label in the summer of 2012 and things have blown up ever since. The steady release of music, combined with the growing popularity of his show on Rinse and an incredible booking schedule saw his stock as well as the labels sky rocket last year, so a chance to showcase the entire roster on such a big stage must’ve been a cause for ample celebration. But if you do a little research you’d know that this takeover at Ministry was the second in as many months for Audio Rehab, and if you’ve been paying attention you’d know they’re amongst a small universe of labels and promoters who’ve been quietly taking over the club scene in London, making waves on the frontlines of the capital with sold out sweatbox events, and all the while becoming increasingly bent on mutating house with core elements of UK underground dance music.
This 21 track compilation is a present snapshot of a label brimming with confidence, gifting listeners with a pulsating two hour soundtrack that perfectly captures the fringes of nightlife in the city, resulting in some of the darkest deepest, and above all, danceable music sure to be released this year. From the off we’re placed firmly in peak time. A neon chord progression flashes over a bleepy, bumpy bassline that rumbles from start to finish, only letting up for the precision hats to take control, driving things forward. It’s a choice cut from one of the labels brightest stars Carnao Beats; with a release on the hotly tipped CUFF and a reputation for dropping heat he doesn’t disappoint on the opener nor his other contribution ‘Witness’, where the morse code keys and an almost guttural bass come together to create a paranoid groove rooted firmly on the dancefloor.
The next three tracks go from groovy almost tribal tech house by the irrepressible Playtime Productions, to space age funk courtesy of Midland’s duo Shay & Sinista. Nightshift’s ‘Made you Look’ is a fan favourite, previously released on the label, and its inclusion on a disc that’s 90% new material speaks well for its status. Here a G-House like Nas sample booms out while the familiar monotone bass battles with some seriously militant claps and snares. It’s been setting off raves for a minute now with a particularly punchy piano inspiring all kinds of voguing and shape throwing. Bristol’s Hugo Massien brings this all to a halt though with his showstopper ‘Run It’. The grime influence in Hugo’s other work is very apparent but here he ditches that in favour of the type of deep dark sounds Crosstown Rebels used to favour with artists like Maceo Plex. Swathes of eerie organ stretch out over a deranged medley of jittering hats, detached voices (was it a voice?) and ominous piano work before the bassline literally creeps in. Key changes that could be played by a spiders legs ensure the off kilter vibe remains throughout but it is the pianos strained rising that supplies much of the nervous energy. Clearly a producer to keep your eye on.
Adam Cotier and Riaz Dhanani are frequent collaborators and familiar names to Shoreditch ravers and Rinse listeners alike, often playing back to back and hooking up in the studio they seem to have great chemistry behind the decks and that chemistry is even more apparent when they come together in the studio. ‘Lost Planet’ is a joint contribution and as the title suggests it’s positively brimming with alien sounds; wonderfully staggered arpeggios that laser in and out focus as noodling synths and snatches of melody warps and modulate like the control room of Voyager. It’s hard to see who provides the space age stylings when listening to the twosomes solo efforts. Dhanani’s ‘Dark Forest’ has been cropping up in DJs sets since last year but has not seen a release till now. With a deep and cavernous bass that bounces and plods in equal measure, and Carpenter-esque chords with synths that stretch to the horizon it’s a track perfect for dark, sweaty allotments of Vauxhall. Cotier manages to up the tempo and intensity while injecting a hypnotic groove into proceedings with ‘Physical’, undecipherable lyrics punctuating every other bar while a myriad of percussion is seemingly racing to the moon in the background; breakneck stuff.
Elsewhere on the album is RS4 aka (Oris Jay/Darqwan), a producer whose roots can be traced back to Hardcore’s heyday, he has dabbled in most every form of London dance music since then and experience shows on his solo sojourn ‘In The Dark’. A lesser accomplished producer might try and create the atmosphere present on the track by drowning things in reverb and echo, but RS4 applies these effects like a painter, carefully layering in all the right places. The hazy vocals and sub-aquatic bass tone work brilliantly to create a track that is both distant and immediate at the same time like Burial for the club. Shea Burke like RS4 is a longtime collaborator with Audio Rehab and his offering ‘Solo Train’ is pure intergalactic street soul. Sweet female vocals and a delightful bassline filled with attitude give the track a real groove that only gets more pronounced as things climax. A guaranteed floor filler and one of the most radio-friendly tracks present Burke delivers in spades. As noted Mark Radford had one of the busiest 2013s in the business, but his label duties (sure to be bolstered by sister imprint +Recordings) and own musical aspirations have seen a drop in club appearances and increase in releases of his own productions. He appears twice here with ‘Take Me’ being the stronger of the cuts, drawing level with ‘Solo Train’ in the pure song stakes. Defiant diva vocals and that elastic bass mesh together with some quirky key work to provide a track overflowing with feminine pressure. Arguably his strongest release to date it’s hard to believe that Rads offered this one as a free download, but if this compilation proves anything it is that the well runs deep at Audio Rehab, and as curator he has access to an enviable collection of talent.
What must not of been enviable however was the task of selecting what makes the compilation. 21 tracks is a blessing but with a huge roster all capable of top tier tracks it must’ve been hard separating the wheat from the chaff. Twelve artists appear over the course of the 2 hours, with four collaborating and two of the artists actually being production teams. Whilst longtime fans of the labels might have wanted to hear more from certain people (Playtime Productions sole contribution is outstanding but maybe this could’ve been a 22 track compilation?) Mark Radford does a fine job involving everyone. The effect of this is an acutely balanced disc where the standard never dips below ‘very good’, the labels artists have been known to remix each others work to great results and I’m sure competitive spirit also plays a part in keeping the levels so high.
DJ SKT like the Playtime boys only has the one appearance but is a gooden. Replete with skippy hats, swung drums and a Chicago referencing sample it is one of a handful of songs that doesn’t occupy the dark space this particular strand of House operates in, choosing to bring some nice garage flavours to the forefront instead. Louie Anderson however ensures the mood change doesn’t last too long with his VIP mix of ‘Deep Down’; an absolute bomb that’s as rugged as they come, replacing all the fun of the original with the type of screwface aggression that had unaware club goers rushing for the “no shuffle zone”. Nightshifts ‘Through The K Hole’ is practically bouncing off the walls with chemical energy, enlisting a warping spaceship sound at the end of every bar to trippy effect and coming sandwiched between the lunar grooves of Adam Cotier and Riaz Dhanani’s efforts it forms a strong passage of play and is one of the most sought after tracks to be included on the disc. Shay & Sinista prop up again towards closing time with ‘Boiling Point’, taking us back to the days of Plastic People in 2006 with a sawtooth dubstep riff that also reminds this listener of another unreleased stormer; the Hugo Massien remix of ‘Made you Look’ which if you have not heard you should rectify immediately. ‘Myndgamez’ by the Bristolian is an exercise in dysfunction, metallic synths bounce off of grimy bass stabs while robotic voices are taken through a production line of effects. ‘Meow’ by Louie Anderson continues the party on Mars vibe Hugo started, bouncing all over place with some Dirtybird like vocal samples cropping up everywhere, yelping and barking as you do. The angular keys sound dead serious but ultimately there’s way too much fun on this track for it to be as menacing as some of the other fare.
Speaking of Croydon new boy Kane Law makes a great impression on ‘Free Your Mind’ but it’s his album closer with RS4 that really buckles the knees. Swapping the jumpy basslines of Massien and Anderson for one that vibrates and wobbles but never wavers. The bleeps and clicks are reminiscent of something that might’ve came out of Sheffield in the early nineties and the female voice adds a nice human touch that could almost make you believe this track was made on planet Earth as supposed to a studio in the delta quadrant of the universe.
So that’s two hours and it flew by remarkably quickly (unlike this review right?). New fans will find that Audio Rehabs has a considerably large back catalogue that gets bigger every month. Old fans will know that Radford could’ve easily gone through their releases thus far and put out a ‘Best Of’ with the same runtime and same level of quality. After all for a first installment of music from a label celebrating their brief history many fan favourites are missing (“Our Kind”, “Know My Name”, “Serious People”, “Walking On” the list goes on). Radfords decision not to do so is admirable and also reflects the mission statement of Audio Rehab; a foward thinking label with eyes clearly set on the future, not looking to maintain their position treading ground, but take things to the next step in everything they do. The last eighteen months or so has seen the producer membership grow from a core group of 5 of 6 from London, to almost 20 contributers from places all over the UK. The bass here plods, chugs and bounces in a one note fashion that might not be everyones cup of tea; you could call it repetitive but you could never say it lacks rhythm with the amount of syncopation that goes on. The sound is narcotic, sometimes minimal sometimes maximalist but most of the time very confrontational and alive with attitude. If you like your house happy this is probably not for you, the music here reflects the harsh environment it was made in with manic tension and aggressive grimaces being the name of the game. Despite these qualities the musicality and the quality of such cannot be denied.
So if you’re wondering what happened to Londons music scene since the wilderness years of Post-Dubstep, or maybe just wondering what the hell this Audiowhore flyer you keep seeing everywhere is all about then look no further than the “Six foot deep house’ of Audio Rehab. Where producers have taken a bit of everything from grime to golden age hip hop to make a style of house they can call entirely their own. Shuffle shuffle.
Words: Christopher Grees