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Machinedrum - Room(s)

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Artist: Machinedrum

Album: Room(s)

Label: Planet Mu

Review date: Aug. 16, 2011

In a recent interview with Little White Earbuds, Machinedrum set forth his thoughts on the current bass music scene. I’m including an extended quote because I think it says a lot about where Machinedrum is coming from and why his music may or may not be your cup of tea:

    [T]he whole concept of bass music has always been funny to me because I think it’s just — it’s an element of a song. I mean, I understand that it is a genre and what kind of subgenres are made out of that. At the same time I just think of it as an evolution in electronic music. Basically what happened, like, IDM — and I hate saying that term — experimental electronica came out of that period in the ‘90s where there was a lot of dance music, but people wanted to make it more interesting, basically, and then as it became more and more and more interesting, it essentially became more wanky, and people were just trying to see who could do the most tricks in the least amount of time. And it just became annoying and really unlistenable after a while, especially with a lot of breakcore stuff that was coming out. And I feel like this whole [contemporary] bass music scene is essentially IDM resurfacing in a more dance club context. Like, you have a lot of interesting sounds going on, interesting drum programming, stuff that is kind of off-kilter, but at the same time you have this underlying theme of bass that kind of carries you and just makes you feel good in the club. Because what’s club music without bass, you know what I mean?

Not the standard Simon Reynolds narrative, right? To drive the point home, here’s the lineup for FWD>>‘s 10th anniversary bash. It’s meant to tell the story of the scene’s progression over the past decade, with each year represented by the DJ who best captured the zeitgeist:

2001: Zinc
2002: Oris Jay
2003: Hatcha
2004: Slimzee
2005: Youngsta
2006: Skream
2007: Kode9
2008: N-Type
2009: Marcus Nasty
2010: Oneman
2011: Ben UFO

FWD>> is admittedly telling the tale from a strictly UK perspective, but that lineup is both dead-on and filled with artists who had and continue to have nothing to do with IDM. IDM is the antithesis of what FWD>>, Rinse, and the above artists represent because it’s almost completely divorced from urban life and soundsystem culture. The Guardian is never going to publish an article about whether Merck Records could inspire riots. It’s also worth noting that DJs like Bok Bok and Claude VonStroke use far less “interesting” ‘90s music, such as tracks from the Dance Mania catalog, in their sets.

But even if Machinedrum has a point about the current scene’s expanded sonic palette, I still find the idea of club-oriented IDM distasteful. Room(s) is a good album, but, as might be expected from someone who wants to make more “interesting” music, it tends toward the clinical and overstuffed. To put it differently, there’s little soul in a track like “GYBE,” even though ecstatic vocal lines run throughout. The track aims for the future by beefing up the juke, but the best juke I’ve heard gains power from reduction and cold-ass samples. “GYBE” sounds like a halfway point between SND and Addison Groove, which is an odd and, at least for me, undesirable place to be.

When Machinedrum strips down the sound on “Youniverse,” however, he comes close to a breakthrough: a less dread-filled, juke-infused version of Shackleton. Alas, the rest of the album only builds from this point, and the speedy tempos end up limiting his options. These tracks are so concerned with moving forward that any drops or space exploration lack impact. More importantly, the laser-beam focus on breakneck programming closes off the endless possibilities that make me so excited about this scene. Any given Boddika track could be categorized as techno, electro, house, or whatever. Blawan can switch from “off-kilter” drum patterns to straight-up killer techno on a dime. While Room(s) is certainly distinctive, it’s less Wot Do U Call It than, well, club-oriented IDM.

By Brad LaBonte

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