Ben UFO: FabricLive 67 (Fabric Records)
CD / DL / LP
The latest instalment of the FabricLive CD series comes from the co-founder of the Hessle Audio label, and monthly resident at the Fabric club, Ben UFO.
FabricLive 67 creeps up on us like a beast built from beats, lurching out of the swamp that is the current UK dance music scene – a confused and confusing place.
Ben UFO and his co-conspirators started out as part of the developing dubstep scene, putting on nights in Leeds back when the only place you could hear this then-new mutation of bass-music was the clubs and pirate radio stations of London and Bristol.
In contrast to dubsteps ongoing homogenisation their sound has grown as they have spread their musical wings towards the clear skies of house, two-step garage and techno. Far away from the pop / trance / R&B monstrosity that has colonised the musical mainstream, the UK underground is it’s usual fertile writhing self, unable to settle, always looking for the next big thing, the latest made-up sound, and this mix is a good place to start for the latest thinking about dancing.
The mix draws us in gently, then drops my favourite track of the whole set three tunes in: Pev & Kowton’s irresistible ‘Raw Code’ (hear above). This stripped-down monster of a tune has drum production that skitters along like a junkie clutching a crisp tenner, and a bass-line that is shaking the chair beneath me as I type (it’s been on repeat for about twenty minutes now). It calls back to many great tunes, such as ‘Spastik’ by Plastikman and DnB classic ‘The Helicopter Tune’, but somehow still feels like it couldn’t have existed in any moment other than this one.
It’s hard to match something so sharp but the rest of the mix does a good job, taking us through bass music that is so pared back it’s as if you are imagining it (Elgato – ‘Zone’), warped 4/4-tracks with flanged bass notes (Gesloten Cirkle – ‘Twisted Balloon’), and rich, stuttering house from K-Hand, with their ‘Project 5’. It’s like listening to the bare hollowed out bones of a once euphoric music: still rhythmically compelling, but without the forced jollity. Its music for dancing that often feels melancholy, sometimes decadently blank, defiantly removed from the pressures of real life.
Other standouts include ‘Clutch’ by Pearson Sound (on UFO’s own Hessle Audio label) which is a pure percussion experiment that somehow manages to retain a danceable heart. In fact ‘Clutch’ heralds the arrival of a particularly good run of tunes, with an instrumental version of Mr Fingers’ twenty year old 12” ‘I’m Strong’ sitting comfortably alongside the afro-influenced ‘Mukuba Special’ by Shackleton & Kasai Allstars, which itself bleeds seamlessly into the echo-chamber-acid of ‘Zug Island’ by Kyle Hall & Kero.
The mixing throughout is immaculate, not just in the devalued technical currency of beat-matching, but in the much more fundamental way the songs sit together, the way key sounds echo through from one track into the next, making something that is more than a sum of its parts. The DJ-set-as-journey is deservedly a cliché, but without some progression you just stomp on the same spot forever, and who want that?
This mix really does power through a sea of different sounds, influences, and genres, all held together by a steady BPM and a steady hand on the decks, leaving us unsure about the future direction of dance music but eagerly anticipating the next stage of our explorations.
Words by Bert Random. More writing by Bert on Louder Than War can be found here.