[sic] Magazine

Mumdance & Logos – Proto

James Parker (Logos) and Jack Adams (Mumdance) may have been specialising in weightlessness recently, but when needed they know how to add some gravity to their music. After Mumdance’s rise to prominence last year courtesy of a collaboration with young grime MC Novelist, ‘Take Time’, which followed the release of Logos’ defining Cold Mission the previous autumn, the two reunite on Tectonic to build on 2013’s Legion / Proto 12 inch and serve up a set of ten heavy-hitting sonic monoliths.

After the somewhat damp squib of an opener, ‘Border Drone’, a track dominated by what sounds like the ceaseless pings of a submarines sonar location system, things pick up sharpish with the Joey Beltram-channeling ‘Dance Energy (89 Mix)’, all squelchy rave bass, choral pads and overpoweringly pounding rhythms. This is followed by a less overt track, ‘Chaos Engine’, which begins with icy, ethereal pads punctuated by the odd childlike chant before raspy synths, gunshot snares and incessant hi-hats add some spice to proceedings. ‘Legion’ is more like the kind of track found on Cold Mission, dark and brooding, militaristic handclaps and juddering kicks, the steady beep of an electrocardiograph keeping tabs on the listeners heart rate as the ominous crescendoes build into something akin to (oddly enough) Storm‘s ‘Time to Burn’ or even Azzido Da Bass‘ ‘Dooms Night’, which is also alluded to by the whirring, sling-like (bullroarer?) effect on ‘Bagleys’, which follows the electrically charged ‘Hall of Mirrors’. Actually, ‘Bagleys’ begins probably the strongest run on the record, once both the aerated pads and the squishy, crunchy synths give way to the bouncy rhythms and flowing hi-hats, momentum gathers rapidly. ‘Proto’ lifts the energy even higher with the pure rave sonics entering from the outset, bringing to mind a host of classic R&S signings, and the use of breakbeats giving the first solid nod to jungle. The track develops nicely with the high floating synth beacon above the inhalation/exhalation pattern of the mid-range synth urging the track forward, duelling with the contorted beats. Continuing the strong run of tracks, ‘Room 2 Lazer’ opens with faint industrial rumblings, distant bangs and crashes under a veneer of mist, suddenly erupting into a burst of syncopated percussion, howling, tubular bass, dancing cymbals and synthetic pistons, all the while looming synths breed the feeling of dread. ‘Move Your Body’ begins simple enough, a 4×4 kick and hi-hat pattern under a down-pitched voice repeating the track title, but after a short fermata the levels explode. Echoing Barnt‘s ‘Chappell’, the drums act more like aural Gatling guns than timekeepers, battering the brain around in the cranium with locomotive barrages of chugging beats, the addition of those off-kilter rave stabs being a nice bonus. (The spatialisation on this track being particularly excellent.) The closing track, ‘Cold’, finally cools things down after the propulsive workouts of the preceding tracks, the pairs ‘weightless’ tendencies finally being allowed to dominate, the coughing and spluttering machines eventually fading away into a hazy abyss.

There seems to be a number of British artists working among genres within the ‘Hardcore Continuum’ that are looking back to that period in the early 90s when a slew of styles bubbled out of the melting pot, diverging into the various streams of bass music we can hear today. Last year Mumdance and Logos’ Keysound label mate Sully released the jungle-infused Blue EP, the year before Paul Woolford (as Special Request) put out his homage to hardcore, Soul Music, plus guys like Lone and Tessela have been mining that classic rave sound for a while now leading back to Zomby‘s ode to the old skool, Where Were U in 92?. On Proto, the duo are more reverential than imitational, drawing inspiration from a number of those early 90s dance scenes, but balancing that with elements from modern grime, techno, garage and dubstep, imbuing the music with a sense of the contemporary and the forward-thinking. However, therein lies part of the problem with this record; most modern dance music in those genres just isn’t as much fun as that from the 80s/90s.

I’m young enough for the early 90s to be nothing but blurry snatches of childhood memories (mostly video games and cartoons), so I have no sense of the excitement of hearing those then new dance sounds in the clubs or at the raves at that time. Yet I find much modern British and European dance music to have none of that feeling of joyful abandon and hedonistic pleasure seeking that can be found in the anthemic piano house, acid washed rave or ridiculous junglist mash-ups of that time. Of course there is a mountain of great dance music producers working in Britain today, some making truly danceable tunes, Night Slugs and Her Records, for example, have put out some top stuff, and anomalies like PC Music and Manicure Records injecting kawaii aesthetics onto the dance floor are a welcome addition, but there is also a lot of quite staid, by-the-numbers fare that is getting pumped out as well. Once again America seems to be leading the way with scenes in Chicago (footwork), New York (ballroom), New Jersey and Baltimore, to name a few, all having much more funkiness and overall oomph than the British and European scenes.

Obviously, there’s room for all sorts of music in the club, from the extravagant and in-your-face to the more sober and low-key, and the kind of tracks found on Proto definitely have a place there too, but it feels caught between taking the all-out bangers route and the atmospheric headphone-friendly path, sometimes even on the same track. Yet despite that criticism, it still functions as a really solid collection of tracks that shows off the two producers talents with aplomb.

The prefix ‘proto’ is derived from the Greek word ‘protos’, meaning ‘first’, and if Mumdance and Logos decide to produce a ‘deutero’, then I will happily lap that up too, but hopefully this record serves as a prototype that leads to an improved production model.

Artist at Tectonic Recordings