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Headhunter - Nomad

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Artist: Headhunter

Album: Nomad

Label: Tempa

Review date: Nov. 5, 2008

Assuming the title for Headhunter’s first full-length was meant as a nod to the producer’s transient state during the record’s creation, Nomad could also characterize dubstep’s mobile evolution. Since breaking onto the global scene in 2006, the hulking bass lines and digital sashays that classify the genre have extended far outside their South London incubation. Perhaps the most compelling trajectory currently extends between Bristol and Berlin — an avenue that has cultivated the dubstep/techno synthesis which crystallized brilliantly in 2008.

It would be presumptuous to discuss Nomad without first identifying the various facets of the current techstep amalgamation that the album seems to summarize. Headhunter is one among Bristol’s thriving camp of producers (which includes Pinch, Appleblim, Peverelist, and many others) that have distinguished their sound from London’s FWD>> foundations, marrying minimal pulse and Basic Channel atmospherics with a nimble, but crushing, low end.

The most exciting statements in the transnational dubstep dialogue this year, however, have come from the Dutch, whose locale lies squarely (and symbolically) in the middle of the Bristol/Berlin route. The palatial riddims exhibited on Hague-based producer 2562’s debut, Aerial (on Pinch’s Tectonic records), rank among dubstep’s most breathtaking, and the buoyant beats of Holland’s Martyn are a refreshing alternative to the genre’s sinister underbelly. It’s here that Nomad finds its niche, nestling somewhere between 2562’s electro-dub deconstructions and Martyn’s skittering rhythm - a connection best heard through Headhunter’s Hello World mix on Mary Anne Hobbs’ Radio 1 program.

After a string of 12”s for Ascension and Tempa over the past few years, Nomad is Headhunter’s transition to the album format, joining the ever-increasing ranks of dubstep producers tailoring their tracks for the long-player while keeping the DJ in mind. The discrepancy between the CD and vinyl versions highlights such duality: Headhunter claims the former progresses more like a “journey” while the latter contains tracks that are better suited for mixing. Straddling that line is difficult to execute successfully, but Headhunter’s concoction of subsonic chug and heady hallucinations resonate wildly on both ends.

Bangers abound throughout the album’s 10 tracks, shifting between four-on-the-floor fist-pumpers and growling bass experiments that weave and bob sadistically. Headhunter’s cuts are more aggressive and sharp than many of his peers, flaunting the density of Skream’s low-end with Shackleton’s jittery percussion. “Prototype” is a prime example - the track samples the late Dr. Thompson’s slogan, “too weird to live, too rare to die,” over a punishing groove and hesitant snares. He even throws in a dash of the oft-disputed wobble on “Physics Impulse,” sounding similar to one of Benga’s more techno-oriented beats.

Nomad doesn’t particularly depart from the parameters that have already been set by the growing population of techstep tricksters, but it does serve as a concise document of dubstep’s travels to date. In an album-promoting post on the “Half-assed page of Headhunter,” the producer’s auxiliary blog, Headhunter claims he’s “not trying to invent anything new, just using my influences in my own way.” You have to give the man credit for processing them all so masterfully here. But in a genre where boundaries are so easily met and maintained, one can only hope that he can keep things moving forward.

By Cole Goins

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