Various Artists – SOTC001
Label: Sounds Of The CosmosScore: 7.5
Having initially birthed itself as a “living movement” with a 1000-capacity tent at 2012’s Big Chill Festival, UK underground legend and Aphex Twin collaborator Tom Middleton along with influential music journalist Joe Muggs hooked up with acid-house veteran Richie Rundle in an attempt to join the dots between modern bass music’s urban centric sensibilities with the preceding 25 years of hardcore influenced rave music that defined the way Middleton appropriated, produced and understood music. Further reflecting the symbiotic marriage of these disparate influences was a run of extremely successful gigs culminating with a triumphant stage at Dimensions 2012 and the inception of the Sounds Of The Cosmos label, an imprint whose raison d’etre is to explore modern variants of ambient, acid-tinged bass music and also to cement Middleton’s prestigious, often overlooked legacy in stone.
The self-titled, seven track EP (almost a mini-album in reality at nearly forty minutes long) serves as a great introduction to what the label is to attempt over the coming months. Fusing bass music’s prominent low end, with ambient’s meditative pad work and clean, crisp dancefloor destroying riddims in a variety of ‘nuum influenced genres – the half-step swagger of Silkie’s dubstep, the shuffley, wonky hip hop leanings of newcomer Jabru, the brusque D&B stylings of Forgold, the Burial-esque 2-step referencing of VVV and even an unrelenting jukey, footwork banger are all present and correct – the debut EP from the Sounds of the Cosmo label is everything you would expect from the people running it; mouth-watering experimental fare as at home on the dancefloor as it is during the post-rave, fuzzy brain meltdown that occurs at 5am on a Saturday/Sunday morning.
Kicking things of is collaboration between Silkie, Distal and Mite entitled ‘Something Wrong with Daisy.’ If The Bug was exploring acid-dancehall on his lauded 7” series on Ninja Tune subsidiary Acid Ragga label, then Silkie, Distal and Mite are definitely exploring acid-dubstep for Middleton and Muggs’ nascent institution. Twisted, delayed, TB303 riffs combine with a simple, effective, scoop-destroying bass line and the half-step might of the tunes’ dubstep influenced drum track to devastating effect, creating a massive mind-fuck number the brings together the best elements both genres of music have to offer – the immediacy and urgency of South London’s biggest music export and the mind-bending, aural gymnastics afforded by acid’s paranoid, mutant tones. The combination of the two sounds/styles has been on the cards for a while now, with half-hearted offerings being bestowed upon the public in the past, but never so persuasively or well done as now.
Newcomer Jabru’s dub version of ‘Glass Floor’ takes up the pensive vibe where Silkie and co left off, but instead of utilising dubstep as a template as ‘Daisy…’ did, takes the tune into the cosmos via the use of a very UK leaning style of Dilla-esque hip hop. A shuffly, triplet infused bassline, jumps sporadically over the hefty boom-bap influenced, electronic drum kit giving the tune a lumbering, juddering feel that is jump started when the sparkly, 70s prog-rock style arpeggio and harmonic backdrop enter the fray to boss the action. The tune is exceptionally musical in its approach, wielding melody, harmony and technical ability in equal measures, never forgoing one for another, in the process creating an almost timeless quality to the track. This guy, Jabru, is defiantly one to watch out for in the future.
Forgold, a producer culled from Middleton’s favourite part of the country – The West Country – once again, as with the other tracks on the EP, fuses a delicate, precise almost pastoral, ambient vibe with simple, direct, ‘autonomic’ style drum and bass on ‘Sleep Cycle’. It is my least favourite track on the EP, but probably because I have heard this type of tune hundreds of times before, and for me, it brings nothing new to the table – it’s not badly produced or shit in anyway, it, as with a lot of the more minimal forms of drum and bass, just does nothing for me in an emotional way. Its sound design is nice but perhaps a little vapid, it is as if the tune appeared out of nowhere rather than being harangued and cajoled into existence, and, resultantly loses out on the human imperfections that make a track, well, human. It’s a little too perfect, a little too sterile for my tastes.
Fellow West Country man Sapience imbues his tracks with a definite type of nostalgic emotion, and his inclusion on this EP with ‘Nocturnal’ is no exception. The word derivative may be thrown as a criticism towards the talented new producer, and yes, the tune doesn’t come across as strikingly unique, yet somehow, its combination of ruffled, low-pitched percussive hits, dubbed-out atmospherics, flying cymbals and its general, pervasive shroud of darkness and malaise does hit a resonant note within my brain – in a very good way as well – it is a really nice inclusion on an EP that is, as a whole, a pretty colourful affair, so to place a mono-chrome garage rendering into the mix is a nice change of pace.
VVV, a Texan-Iranian with a penchant for post-garage riddims and attitude, forgoes his mainstay sounds in favour of exploring the expansive realms of ambient music proper. His beatless ‘Arrival’ combines all manners of found sounds, with sounds that appear to be culled from the classic, sci-fi soundtracks of Bernard Herrmann and Bebe and Louis Barron (The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Forbidden Planet respectively). Along with these tones and samples, swathes of static and radio-esq interference wash around the tunes’ delicate string track, rendering the music onto a mental reel of 35mm cellulose acetate film which is subsequently set alight, allowed to rustle away gently in the background, adding further texture to an already craggy piece of sound art. It doesn’t capture feeling as a Brian Eno track does, (not much does!) but it definitely suggests something! It’s moving, and entrancing, a very nice slice of modern musique-concrete and a great way to finish the physical section of the EP.
Finishing the digital only package are two re-versions of tunes previously mentioned – a footwork reinterpretation of opening number ‘Something Wrong with Daisy – which pounds along in a delightfully frantic Chicago fashion, with unrelenting kicks driving the track forward like a techno banger, alongside a slightly different version of Jabru’s ‘Glass Floor’.
The Sounds of the Cosmos EP is a great introduction into what I believe will be a great little label. The fusing of old style rave, acid and ambient music with modern, crisp bass leaning productions has probably been mooted by people all across the globe, but never, in my opinion has the relationship between the two style of music – separated by a massive gulf of 20 years, which when speaking in terms of culture is a very long time – been so symbiotically beneficial as it is on this EP. Both styles have breathed a fresh life into each other – the old sounds being re-invigorating by modern technological advances and the new being given a much needed kick up the arse by a scene that has been there, done that and bought the T-shirt!
So when two of music’s most important flag bearers for rave-influenced music put their heads together, as Mr Middleton and Mr Muggs have done so ably, the results were always going to be decent. And decent they definitely are!