Son Raw invites you to the theater of the mind.
While the history of UK rave music has often been written out in terms of a cascade of genres – Hardcore, Jungle, Drum & Bass, Garage, Grime, Dubstep, Funky – it’s a view that most makes sense when looking at developments in hindsight, once all of the rules are codified and the rough edges ironed out. These genres weren’t born fully formed, but instead emerged from the work of small groups of producers, DJs and emcees exploring a variety of ideas, before specific combination hit critical mass and spread to a wider audience, developing into a full blown club circuit and even occasionally, its own section in record stores.
The upside is mass acceptance, and often (though not always) careers for those involved at the beginning of a genre’s creation, the downside is that the tightknit groups that create these proto-genres inevitably get dispersed, with some thriving as individual acts and others being best remembered as part of the group scenius.
London club night Boxed certainly hasn’t dispersed – it’s celebrating its 6th anniversary on March 23rd and were I in London, I’d certainly attend. However, it’s safe to say that Boxed, Butterz and every other instrumental grime institution from the first half of the 2010s is well into a second phase, having often grown past the boundaries of grime. Similarly, key participants in the original wave of artists that orbited club nights like Boxed and Butterz have taken these scenes’ more fleshed out approach to instrumental grime into their own fascinating directions, none more so than Murlo, whose Dolos takes all the sugar rush energy of grime and garage and uses it to paint fantastic audio landscapes.
In addition to music production, Murlo is a visual artist and the album’s physical formats include a graphic novel and prints, both with download codes. This is no gimmick, as the surreal depictions of plant life, humanity and decaying urbanity are key to understanding Dolos’ off-kilter melodies and rhythms. Whereas grime has traditionally been tied to realistic depictions of life in inner-city England, with even its club nights forgoing the type of visual flourishes common among more psychedelic (and middle class) scenes, Dolos is a grime of the imagination. You’re more likely to think of scenic vistas out of a fantasy novel than you are a contemporary English street corner while listening to Dolos, and Murlo’s visual work is the perfect starting point to let your mind’s eye unravel.
Of course, that doesn’t inherently make for a good album – grime and garage have been tremendously vital forces specifically because of the space they come from and the issues they address. Thankfully, Dolos succeeds on this front as well, and this is where Murlo’s role in the instrumental grime scenius comes into focus. Dolos’ album length exploration of melody and rhythm feels like the culmination of years releasing singles and EPs on labels like Butterz, Oil Gang, Rinse, Mixpak and Glacial Sound and playing at affiliated club nights. It’s a path that sharpened Murlo’s idiosyncratic style and allowed him to master garage and grime as genre pieces, only to reshape these genre’s rhythms and marry the results to his own unique approach to melody.
On Dolos, this mastery allows him to stretch out and create music that feels altogether alien, whether more club-centric bangers or ethereal interludes. There’s never a sense that this is “grime for those who don’t like grime” – instead Murlo’s leftfield approach has a firm grip on the fundamentals but also an intensely personal slant that could draw new listeners in. That’s no small accomplishment.
It’s been an interesting few years for UK club music, with afro-pop, drill and concert-oriented grime cornering one side of the landscape while trad house and techno occupy the other. Admidst this holding pattern, Dolos dares to dream of something different, even if that dream isn’t likely to fit in any established club spaces. In doing so however, Murlo has released the best UK dance album since Proc Fiskal’s Insula last year, a modern rave triumph that’s unlikely to fall out of rotation for the foreseeable future.