Leave it to Bristol badman Kahn to do things a little differently. While much of the UK music I’ve covered in the past few months has been entirely experimental in nature ranging from weightless ambiance to slow-motion peace edits and quasi-psychedelic loops, Kahn and his partner in crime Neek have unleashed a torrent of tracks operating in hyper-specific genre confines, thriving in the process. While both producers have released free-form material as part of the Young Echo collective, their Roots, Dancehall, Dubstep and Grime tracks under their principal aliases and as Gorgon Sound stand as some of the strongest sound system music in recent memory.
Most visibly, both Kahn and Gorgon Sound, the duo’s Roots project, have released singles on Mala’s Deep Medi label. First, Gorgon Sound versioned Kahn’s 2012 Dread/Late Night Blues single, remixing the Dubstep originals into hazier and rootsier territory. Trading minimalism and space for rolling percussion, mind-expanding delay effects, and sufferer’s chords – the Gorgon Sound remixes super-charged what had already been some of the strongest tunes released on Deep Medi since the label’s opening run.
Somehow, Kahn then topped that this month with Abattoir, undoubtedly one of the strongest pure-Dubtep tracks of the past few years. Built around an absolutely uncompromising sub line and vocal sample, Abbatoir puts most contemporary “Dungeon” producers to shame. In both cases, the secret is a healthy reverence for Jamaican music and avoiding the overly-clinical and technical styles of their contemporaries in favor of real grit and dirt.
The versioning and dread darkness continued on the Backchat remixes, where Jus Now and Kahn take on each other’s biggest dancehall cuts. For my money, it’s the Jus Now’s Backchat remix that wins the day here, taking the original’s electro-ragga vibe into even heavier territory and enhancing the proceedings with the kind of orientalist strings already present in Kahn’s catalogue. What’s eye-opening here however is how the sound can mutate to a different tempo and form while staying intact: both remixes are just as Dread as the Dubstep tunes above, despite being made for vastly different sets of musical rules.
Finally, Kahn & Neek’s latest EP for their own Bandulu Records sold out its first two pressings in record time, leaving collectors frustrated and early-adopters thrilled. While the limited edition pressings may be frustrating in today’s discogs-resaler environment, it’s hard to fault the duo for keeping their finest work wax-only: they live by their own principles, playing strictly vinyl and acetate instead of keeping their tunes on wax and then going the CDJ route.
As for the music itself, all four tracks undoubtedly some of their finest Grime excursions yet, operating at the intersection of that genre and the Bristol scene’s proclivity for darkness and space. Opener “Got my Ting” sounds like a long lost Skream/Dizzee Rascal collaboration, all minimalist wub and pitch black emptiness while Dick Tracy reprises a similar trick with added Middle Eastern strings filling the mid-range. Both tunes stand in contrast to Percy and Chevy, the duo’s first Bandulu releases which kept the energy at full blast. Instead, the two openers groove and a chill pace – there’s room for either emcees or meditation here.
Can’t look Away increases the energy a bit and add new wrinkles to the Bandulu sound, bringing back the ethereal sampling from Kahn’s earliest work and pairing it to the stuttering claps Neek’s become known for. Finally, Cloud Base comes closest to what was known as the Bandulu sound so far: high energy percussion, interwoven vocal samples and an overall sense of dread. Truthfully however, that sound and those elements are interwoven in differing amounts across all of these releases – the genres just provide structure. Proof that you don’t need to re-invent the wheel to dominate 2015.