Silk Road Assassins and Dystopian Sound Design

The new Silk Road Assassins record is the link between American rap and British dance music.
By    April 27, 2016

silk road assassins

Son Raw is angling to play Cable in the next Deadpool flick.

While rock reaches for an #authentic yet mythological past and rap concerns itself with the shell shocked trauma of our present, dance music has always strived for the future. House proposed the promised land where all would be accepted, at least until it gentrified and switched to the promised brand of Huarache. Techno’s post-motorik beat evoked robotic labor, or at least a future where everyone was either a black android or a German start-up founder on pills. The UK’s various genres however, have best nailed the creeping feeling that our future will be a dystopian one, and Silk Road Assassins are the country’s latest prophets of cybernetic dread.

Appropriately, the group was recruited into the Planet Mu fold by Kuedo, whose records as one half of Vex’d were dubstep’s high water mark in terms of mechanized terror, but Reflection Spaces’ vibe reaches back even further to the kind of sensory overload generated by drum & bass pioneers like Photek and Source Direct. While those names took breakbeats to illogical extremes and combined them to then-cutting edge sound design, Chemist, Tom E Vercetti and Lovedr0id play similar tricks with drill and trap’s mechanical, grid-fragmenting drum patterns.

To be clear, these beats have none of rap’s rawness and that’s fine. Instead, we’re treated to the latest IDM-ing of American dance floor influences, and it’s a winning approach. The sheer vastness of the soundscapes across this record astounds and percussion ducks in and out of the mix with military precision. This is as widescreen and glossy as independent albums get.

The secret link binding Reflection Spaces’ dour Brit futurism to Chicago and Atlanta rhythms is (of course) grime, though the group wisely leans very little on increasingly predictable drum patterns as signifiers. Chemist and Vercetti are both veterans of underground incubator Coyote Records and their frosty records for that label have primed them to take a leap further here. This is a record inspired by a scene inspired by grime’s original wave, and it’s the extra layer of distance that makes Reflection Spaces sound genuinely fresh.

What the record doesn’t even try to attempt, is to grasp for trap or drill’s rawness, but that’s ultimately for the best: too many UK beatsmiths aim for south side Chicago menace only to end up with road rap that approximates American music without adding anything special. In contrast, Reflection Spaces is an assured fusion of laddish interests (Blade Runner! Videogames!) to African American rhythmic innovations, all delivered with the gusto of a group that wants to prove the music production course they met in was  time well spent. You can’t argue with results.

Next time though, get Planet Mu to splurge on a few Matrix or Blade Runner samples. They really tied those old Metalheadz records together.

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