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Destined: Various Production

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Michael Crumsho plays gumshoe trying to follow the trail of England's latest blank-faced genre hoppers, Various Production.

Destined: Various Production

Download Various Production’s "Hater" and listen to their radio set on the BBC here.

The call came late one night – me, on the couch, Dusted Impresario Otis Hart at home on his computer. "Ever heard of Various Production?" blinked the IM.

"Not a peep," I shot back.

"They're pretty big into being anonymous. The records are amazing. No one knows anything about them. Think you can do a piece on them?" he asked.

"Sure," I said. "No problem." Readers take note: this is not the first time I have regretted my own words.

The next day I was in possession of three 7”s and two 12”s, all attributed to this Various Production collective/label/group with little information outside of catalogue numbers and track titles. The music didn't give any more clues. As I spun through them all I heard Missy Elliott cut-ups, slothy grime riddims, queasy abstract electronics, shots of quaint Brit-folk and doses of electro-funk, wispy female vocals, and even a track that sounds like it could have been some old lost soul number. A few clicks later and the website popped up – nothing there, really, save for a drawing, some mp3's, and an e-mail address. I fired off a quick note in my best professional journalese requesting an interview and called it a night.

No response ever came. Nor did it come with any subsequent emails on my part.

A couple of days later I spun the tracks again, and this time out they sounded different. Nothing stuck hard the first time, but with a second turn the claws began to dig deep. First there was "Cogmac," a lithe skip, a shoulder shrug beat, high female vocals pitched into the rhythm. But then came "Queen Bee," the B-side with Var. Prod. making their best effort at blowing up Stock, Hausen & Walkmen's game. Nipped from the Rotary Connection, this one channels the original's dewy vocals over broad orchestral sweeps – a deep and penetrating sadness in the chorus, a sleepy set of pipes nursing a drink and a busted heart. The "Foller/Home" single played next – the A-side all queasy seasickness, a low end throb pouncing up and down matched by yet another female voice and a harp. The flip got off on Shirley Collins, a banjo, an incantation, some old folk song I thought I had heard a million times before that sounded fresh and alive here.

Back on the internet I googled. I emailed. I hit the web boards and the blogs, posted messages and asked around. Every time the same response – "Oh yeah, I've heard of them. Good stuff. No one knows anything about them, though. I hear they signed to Warp/Leaf /[insert various other big time labels here]." An unending refrain, it would seem. The leads were hilariously slim – a friend of a friend on a message board had tea with them and said they were quite nice. A whois search on the website domain turned up a generic hosting company. Glowing reviews on Boomkat, another review that mentioned this being the newest production from Adam Phillips and Ian Carter. The Carter thing was a false lead, instead giving way to an Ian Cotterell. Either/or, it didn't really matter in the end – all roads led to the same blank cul de sac.

And still – more tracks. On to the 12”s, a different beast entirely, terse funk, twisted R&B moves and dance floor stunners. "I'm Really Hot" rips Missy apart over twisting percussive moves, somehow sounding much rawer than Misdemeanor ever was on the original. Again, though, it's the flipside of the single that burns. "Where I Belong" opens with a furious drum salvo, the rhythm all akimbo, the cymbals flaring, and the synths building steadily. Another anonymous female comes on the mic breathing sweet nothings into the air, a touch of menace circulating her winsome voice. A new 12”, another curve ball – "Too Lost in You/What About Them?" mines the Sugarbabes and Brandy for source vocals, ultimately popping limber funk in directions the originals never dreamed of. One final 7”, this one "Hater/Byker" and yet another shade of Various Production. The lead is glinting dubstep, the percussive hits giving off a metallic gleam as the female vocalist warns off the titular menace. But then when we switch sides, what comes up? "Byker," a version of an old traditional English folk song (although for the life of me I can't place the one they sampled, if it even is pinched) given the once over, the strings drawn out to cascade, the tension palpable, a work ballad transformed for the right now.

Various Production like to plunder, that's for sure. And maybe for some that's a bit problematic. Then again, so adept are they at transforming their source material into wholly new pieces it doesn't even feel like a theft. Rather, they encompass all of these sounds and disparate vocalists into their own distinct brand that they capably switch before anyone can even remotely get a handle on them. Then today, at the last minute another lead, this time a blistering, hazy mix for the BBC’s Breezeblock show incorporating bits and pieces of everything they seem to do so well.

Sure, in the end we did talk to a few folks at some pretty well-known imprints. Most of them had their finger on the pulse, but all were tight-lipped, any information given under condition of anonymity or with a "talk to me when things have been confirmed" or "this is all strictly on the DL" caveat. It got to a point where I was honestly thinking these cats had killed a man in cold blood and fled to the sanctity of the studio to hide, cranking out these lovely platters as a form of atonement. The point here is simple: there is no denying that by the year's close you will have heard of this group. The chatter is almost that deafening right now.

So in the end, all I have are these 10 tunes I keep coming back to. No names, no faces, no nothing except for solid tracks that hardly ever rest on one idea before bouncing immediately to the next. In style, the attitude is a throwback to the halcyon days of stuff like Basic Channel or Warp – no giant personalities, just massive and undeniable tunes. So, focus not on the folks at work here (be they two or many more), but the singular clarity with which they create. Sometimes in the rush to find amazing stories we can all lose sight of what we seek to discuss: the music itself. People claim Various Production have a blatant disregard for industry protocols, but maybe it's something much better and grander than that. Perhaps they're just so possessed with making beguiling, genre-mangling tracks that they shy from the spotlight to remind listeners just what they should be paying attention to. After all, we're here for the music. Aren't we?

Get less info and more music at www.various.co.uk.

By Michael Crumsho

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