Control Voltage’s Friday Five: Damaged Beats from Blawan and Theo Parrish
Plus: Grime's ghosts, rave-tested kuduro, and pure FunkinEvil
After a short break, the Control Voltage Friday Five is back! Appropriately, today’s selection is all about letting off pent-up energy, from Blawan’s sly sadism to Theo Parrish’s total percussive meltdown. This week’s roundup is roughly 40 percent “bass music,” 20 percent techno, 20 percent post-colonial electronic fusion, and 20 percent apocalypse on wax — par for 2012’s course, in other words.
Blawan, “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?” (Hinge Finger)
Hinge Finger? More like Unhinged Finger. The third release from Joy Orbison and Will Bankhead’s gleefully contrarian imprint finds Blawan sounding flat-out deranged. Plenty of producers lately have tried to inject a bit of industrial menace into techno, to mixed results. But Blawan’s “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage” — named for a gravelly vocal sample that repeats every few bars for the length of the track — goes way beyond vaguely spooky affect. Distorted drum machines and a metallic, sick-making bass oscillation bash out an evil groove with all the subtlety of rusty torture implements, and periodic screams lend to the dank, dungeon-like atmosphere. Like the horror films (and, presumably, punk rock) that inspire it, it’s also quite funny — all the more so if you realize that the hook comes from the Fugees’ “How Many Mics.” A clever bit of sample truncation on Blawan’s part makes Pras’ original line — “Squash your squad and hide their bodies under my garage” — sound like “Why they hide their bodies under my garage,” a nonsensical question that gives the track its particular schizo frisson.
The record’s other three tracks are no slouches, either. “His Money” reprises the “Why They Hide Their Bodies” beat with a different line from the same Fugees track, to similarly brutalist effect. The chugging “And Both His Sons” sounds like it’s been sourced from samples of Sonic Youth’s Confusion Is Sex. And “His Daughters” sounds like a Throbbing Gristle tape that’s been buried in the ground, Lee “Scratch” Perry style, until earthworms and resonant evil have all but consumed the music.
FunkinEvil, “Night” (Wild Oats)
Blawan’s not the only one getting ready for Halloween; so are Detroit’s Kyle “MF” Hall and London’s FunkinEven, of Eglo Records. Three of the tracks on their debut collaboration, released on Hall’s Wild Oats label, are actually pretty placid, with juicy synths and jazzy Rhodes solos smeared over a bumpy house beat on “Dusk”; the minute-long “Intro” and “After Dusk” are just keyboard noodling and reverb, like Herbie Hancock gone chillwave. But “Night” finds the pair exorcising demons as they bash away at a distorted 909, sounding a little like a zombie Jeff Mills; chalky 303 squelch slips between the cracks like blood wrung from a stone. Every now and then, a low voice murmurs the word, “Evil,” as though you couldn’t figure that much out for yourself.
Joe, “MB”/”Studio Power On” (Hemlock Recordings)
The artist known simply as Joe may have the most forgettable alias in dance music, but his productions are anything but. On records for Hessle Audio and Apple Pips, he’s developed a singular style of bass music by stringing ultra-dry, Neptunes-style percussive hits into wriggly rhythmic formations. Joe’s ear for texture and sense of the groove take his best work to some pretty counterintuitive places: “Claptrap” was a flickering triangulation of minimal techno, footwork, and the Diwali rhythm. The occasional flute melody or flash of Rhodes lends color (and tips its hat to dubstep originators like Horsepower Productions), but what you notice most about Joe’s music are its lumpy contours and weird airlessness, like nuts and bolts that have been vacuum packed in soft plastic. His new single for Untold’s Hemlock label breathes in a different way. “MB” stitches together guitar counterpoints into a shuffling, sashaying Latin groove reminiscent of Metro Area’s “Piña”; his newfound acoustic palette, deep and mossy, only serves to make the layered handclaps and cash-register pings pop that much more. “Studio Power On” is more in keeping with Joe’s usual work, but its use of samples feels different. The booming 808 and samples of breaking glass feel like totems invested with the spirits of Miami bass and grime (and Lil’ Wayne); an indistinct rumble might be barking dogs or a saw dragging back and forth, and an acoustic hi-hat pattern sits meaty in the mix, dripping room tone all over the clinician’s anechoic chamber. Topping it all off is a haywire melody, part steam whistle and part pan flute, that bobs and weaves like a dying bumblebee.
DJ Marfox, “Artist Unknown” (Pollinate)
If techno is George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator, as Derrick May put it, then batida must be a samba school and a Belgian rave jammed into a trash compactor. At least, that’s how it comes out in the work of Portugal’s DJ Marfox, whose “Distortion Ass Mix” I wrote about back in July. (Back then I called it kuduro, but Marfox prefers the term “batida,” which apparently refers to kuduro’s instrumental strain.) Like that mix, his forthcoming Artist Unknown EP is a riot of hand drums and whistles and shrieking guiros; strafing lasers and neon fizz give it a queasy air of high-tech tribalism, like Blade Runner if it took its stylistic cues from Africa instead of Japan. “Zumbidos” plays darkside synth riffs and demonic laughter off of bubbling chants and nimble stick work; “Dark Emotion” is a fourth-world update of Joey Beltram’s “Mentasm.” “Artist Unknown” and “Me Gorda,” meanwhile, feature gliding leads reminiscent of DJ Mujava’s “Township Funk” set to some of the most bewilderingly syncopated rhythms you’ll hear this year — maybe this century. If the streaming sample below sounds exceptionally knotty, that’s because it’s a megamix of all five tracks off the EP. Zigging and zagging like an 8-bar grime mix, it actually suits Marfox’s many-vectored music perfectly.
Theo Parrish, “Any Other Styles” (Sound Signature Sounds)
Honestly, I have no idea what Theo Parrish was thinking when he made “Any Other Styles” — much less when he actually decided to release the thing. The spoken-word vocal sample that gives the track its title comes from the same kung-fu film sampled in Raekwon’s “Broken Safety,” and, appropriately, the rhythm consists mainly of thwacks and grunts and whooshing martial-arts sound effects. Sure, that’s only, like, the most clichéd idea in the history of beatmaking, but no one else has done it quite like this, tumbling loops upon out-of-sync loops until it really does sound like shoes in a dryer. The only other producer willing to turn out something so absolutely ungainly is Pepe Bradock, and Parrish outdoes even him in the department of polyrhythmic WTF. Seriously, it’s a mess. The first time I put it on, I was convinced that I had left a YouTube window open, but nope: All that chaos is etched right there in one long, wobbly groove in the wax. The Discogs commenter who wrote, “Not playable in clubs, not listenable when sane or not high. It just seems to be a result of selling something just based on the Parrish hype that is around” may well have a point, but I can’t help but be tickled by its maddening refusal to do anything the listener might want it to do. It is the ultimate “Fuck you” record. Cue it up with Khan & Lary 7’s “Black Sabbath Riot” bootleg and watch the crowd run screaming for the exits.