Gage, Mr. Mitch and the maleability of genre

Son Raw is looking for a new room. Is genre even remotely useful anymore? From its earliest days as a tool for segregating “race” and “hillbilly” music in shops to its current status as a...
By    February 25, 2014

Flickr_-_Duncan~_-_Olympic_Park_from_Hackney_WickSon Raw is looking for a new room.

Is genre even remotely useful anymore? From its earliest days as a tool for segregating “race” and “hillbilly” music in shops to its current status as a driver of ultra-specificity in dance music (minimal-psy-breaks anyone?), subcategorizing music into neatly defined boundaries has created as many problems as it has solved. Worse, genres are brands that no one controls, so there’s no recourse when Dubstep goes from Skream to Skrillex or Hip-Hop evolves from O’Shea Jackson to OJ the Juiceman. My point is this: I ride for a lot of music that gets grouped under the Grime tag right now, but the similarities individual tracks and producers share are mostly cultural. Rather than focus on specific sounds, tempos or drum patterns, it’s essential to remember that what ties together Grime (at least as this writer sees it) is a common history going back to East London, and a prehistory involving Hip-Hop, Garage, Dancehall, Jungle and rave music. Here’s two examples of vastly different records re-interpreting this history in new ways.

Gage – Telo/Shiftin [Crazy Legs]
A dubplate favorite for a few months now, Gage’s Telo initially seems to position him as 2014’s answer to Bloom: a producer able to make noise into music and music into noise. Dig a little bit deeper however, and there’s a whole lot of industrial dance music in its DNA: snares crash like long-foreclosed factory machinery and everything falls neatly into place, choosing robotic stomp over human swing. Grooving at a chill 128BPM, both Telo and its B-side Shiftin operate at the intersection of Grime and chugging, new-school club music, bridging the gap between Nightslugs’ more radical experiments and the aggressive weirdness making waves with Boxed DJs. The emphasis is almost solely on percussive pressure, forgoing melody and subtle emotion in favor of big banging noises to make crowds go nuts at 2AM whether in a dirty basement affair or (potentially) a large scale club. You could even argue that it harkens back to the days of Sheffield’s Bleep-N-Bass rave music, though super-charged for the 21st century. Even when a semblance of tropical warmth pops up in the form of Shiftin’s martial snares, it’s ever so brief before the drop sends the listener back into the depths. A great look for label Crazylegs, combining the playful, club-ready aesthetic they’ve cultivated with harder and more aggressive soundscapes.

Mr Mitch – The Room where I Belong EP [Gobstopper]
Then there’s Boxed co-founder Mr. Mitch’s new EP, which essentially avoids forward motion and the concept of dance altogether in favor of stasis and weightlessness. Emerging out of his Peace Edits series of concept tracks which inverted Grime’s war dubs frenzy into a parallel universe of ultra-slow covers of scene classics, each side of the EP kicks off with a mood piece before even considering lift off. Though not technically beatless devil mixes, The Man Waits and The Lion, The Bitch and the Bordeaux both build on that concept’s sense of space, cold and the alternating heaviness and lightness that comes with funeral pacing. Freed from the Grime dance floor’s demands and restrictions, this is Mitch using the genre to sum up urban despair in a way that hasn’t quite been captured since the earliest days of Dubstep’s dread, when Kode9 and the Space Ape released Sine. Even the more traditionally dance-ready tracks surprise – Pipe Dreams draws for camera clicks and flashes as percussion (a classic Grime trope) but the kick drums are sparse and the whole track threatens to dissipate into the ether. Only Bowser’s Snout shares the kind of aggression once thought innate to the genre – but even that sounds closer to the kind of broken darkness Mala dabbles in that anything DJ Maximum might play. So the question remains: is all of this Grime if it purposefully deconstructs every single idea behind the genre? Of course it is, Mr. Mitch made it, and with these tracks, both he and Telo are making the genre a whole lot larger while they’re at it.

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