Nymfo – Forbidden Planet EP [Dispatch Recordings]

For those unfamiliar with his work, Nymfo cut his teeth on pretty much every important label under the sun: 31 Records, Innerground, Commercial Suicide, Renegade Hardware and Metalheadz to name only a few – no one can argue with that pedigree. With a long back catalogue of bangers spanning over of decade, the initiated shouldn’t need an introduction, but his latest EP on Dispatch is worthy of one.

Nymfo’s sound largely lurks at deeper end of the spectrum, yet there’s still plenty of variety on offer with this EP. There are stepping tunes like title track Forbidden Planet and Everything Will Be; tracks that roll – albeit unconventionally – like Breach; down right weird ones like Cold Mission; and some signature Nymfo qualities in tracks like Pathfinder with longstanding Dispatch general Hijack MC.

Throughout there is a definite nod to the techstep era of the late 90s and early 00s. The EP feels raw in a way that minimal, techy numbers of the last 5-10 years have often lacked. Perhaps this record will be one of several marker points in the months and years from now that show the pendulum swinging away from technology-focused beatmaking, and back towards focusing on the overall vibe. That focus on vibe helped carve out the techstep style in the earlier eras of drum and bass, and it’s EPs like this that help cement the style’s status amongst the D&B pantheon of sounds.

The Forbidden Planet EP is out now at the Dispatch Store – all other stores follow Oct 16th.

Written by James Austin

Alix Perez – Without End EP [1985 Music]

There are few drum and bass artists that are truly accepted across a multitude of styles and sub-genres. Calibre is almost certainly the apex of these select few. Another several blog posts could be written arguing about the other alumni of this club, but in this piece, I wish to suggest that Alix Perez is as good a bet as any another. His latest 8-track, Without End, is testament to this. The build-up and indeed acclaim to date feels very much as it did when his seminal 1984 album was released over a decade ago.

Whilst a shorter body of work than 1984 and his 2013 follow-up album Chroma ChordsWithout End feels punchier for it; quality over quantity. Unlike his work above, Alix focuses purely on the 170 range, yet still encapsulates a variety of moods and vibes.

Sombre and melancholic tracks like the opener Wondering at Loss, Someone Else and the single Lost & Proud featuring the exceptionally talented Liam Bailey on vocals, are woven perfectly alongside more upbeat tracks like Moving On – again with Liam Bailey – and even the more style-agnostic Perfect Stranger with Halogenix. Distant Figures proves another highlight, featuring long-time friend and collaborator Workforce.

Despite these variations, Without End still feels like a holistic body of work, laced with the signature touches that make Alix Perez so universally adored. The deep sine wave basslines, the carefully measured and considered vocals – both sampled and recorded – and his elegant keys and chords, are clear and in abundance.

If 1984 was Alix Perez’ extraordinary freshman folio, and Chroma Chords his sophomore sound after several years of learning and devotion to his craft, Without End represents a most hard-earned (and quite long overdue) graduation ceremony into the genre’s hall of fame – if you still needed to be convinced, that is.

Written by James Austin

Alix Perez – Nighthawks EP [1985 Music]

Alix Perez has much of the drum and bass scene in the palm of his hand. With a career spanning 12 years he has constructed masterpiece after masterpiece across several different styles; Alix has come a long way from Get It On in 2005 and his latest EP Nighthawks is concrete evidence of that progression.

The EP features an enticing menu of sounds and vibes; Blip stands out as a harsh, stripped back stepper perfectly punctuated with one-shots and FX that give it texture and depth. Similarly, Lucky Charm has drum work that is characteristic of Alix’s output in recent years, matched to a rolling low-end that will see this track being reloaded again and again.

If steppers don’t tickle your fancy, there’s plenty more to satisfy your D&B cravings. The EP’s title track Nighthawks takes the listener down a deeper road, although that doesn’t tell the full story here. Nearly two minutes in the mids start to growl at you in this dBridge-esque way that remind you of the variety of sounds Perez is so adept at manufacturing.

Finally, for those that don’t have a taste for the darker sounds of the genre, there EP is rounded off by a killer collaboration with Javeon, which reminds me a lot of Alix’s earliest material. Javeon’s cool voice gives this tune an R&B vibe that rolls out endlessly; something achieved by only a handful of artists playing in that space.

So, the EP in a nutshell: something for everyone, but by no means generalistic. Alix Perez clearly demonstrates he is at home designing all styles and all vibes (although there is a notable absence of half time on this one). But after the musical journey he’s had and his rise to the top of the pile, he barely needs to demonstrate anything to anyone anymore.

Written by James Austin, aka DJ Auzi, label manager at Terabyte Records

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Gerra & Stone – Polarism LP [Dispatch]

It’s safe to say that Gerra & Stone are not new kids on the block. With releases on ProgRAM, Dispatch, Proximity and more, they have been mastering their craft for several years. After this period of gestation and incubation, the boys are dropping possibly their best work to date for Dispatch in the form of the Polarism LP.

With interludes and intros punctuating throughout, fans of all the rightly or wrongly noted sub-genres will have plenty to take from this LP. Tracks like Time Not Wasted, The Fourth State, and Preditor (among plenty of others) represent the harder sound that this duo is well known for.

That said, pieces such as On the Outside and In Disguise (featuring the elegant voice of Peta Oneir – my personal favourite) reflect a more liquid sound that Gerra & Stone are less known for, but nevertheless have a back catalogue speckled with. Finally, there are tracks that blend both styles. Repeat Process has smacks of Halogenix in its synth sections, while Take Me Home has more rhythm and groove to it than efforts of yesteryear.

Clearly the well balanced styles are testament to this pair’s acumen. There is something for everyone here, which represents a change to Dispatch’s more usual techy output. What we can be certain of is the beginning of a changing of the guard in D&B, as once emerging talents begin to take centre stage. I for one am excited at that prospect.

Written by James Austin, aka DJ Auzi, label manager at Terabyte Records

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QZB – Systems Vol. 9 [Critical]

Ill be honest, until I did my homework I had no idea that QZB are the artists formerly known as QBig & Zenith B. I should have known better. Perhaps their latest EP on Critical Music will cast a net even wider than their old alias did. Systems Vol. 9 definitely demonstrates the full breadth of their talent.

WYGD features entrancing whispers of vocals throughout the track, a style that pops up elsewhere on the EP. Lace that with clever percussive elements for a perfect example of a techy roller. Apollo – my favourite on the EP – features that repetitive vocal again, but in a very different manner. A totally screwed and chopped vocal alongside jazz-funk elements make this sound like Die & Break’s Grand Funk Hustle, Octane & DLRs Let Me Go, and DJ Rashad managed to pop out a child from a threesome gone awry.

Turning Point is true to its name, as for me this is where your attention turns from the vibe to the sound design. QZB seem to have captured the perfect snare, alongside a bassline that provides both textures to applaud and a vibe that matches it. I’m ready for the slating, but for me this bassline is ‘grown up jump up’. That really was the turning point on the EP. Revenant is far more stripped back, but with the same attention to intricacy and quality. The track is punctuated by open snares and fidgety percussive FX, and dare I say it an arpeggiated synth that is perhaps a nod to the Stranger Things soundtrack.

Its apt that the final track of the EP is named after the mythological Norse heaven, Valhalla. Another concrete demonstration that technical prowess in sound design can be matched with the atmosphere it creates. A heavily reverberated siren in the breakdown brings that Valkyrie-esque soundscape into focus. And rightly so that QZB sit atop the mythological heavens. For me, Critical are returning to sounds that got me into the label in the first place. Whilst its clear that Kasra is building a team of artists with distinguishable traits in sound – something any team-builders should aim to replicate – I would speculate that most of their UK audience prefer their tunes deep, dark, and intricate.

Hit up the Critical Store to grab Systems Vol. 9 on vinyl and digital right now.

Written by James Austin, aka DJ Auzi, label manager at Terabyte Records

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OneMind – EP2 [Metalheadz]

As individuals, these artists are arguably two of the most talented in the genre – certainly right now, if not ever. Impossible though it might seem, by joining forces, they have reached yet higher altitudes: OneMind’s EP2 is the second comprehensive testament to this. The EP’s opener, Pullup, is a future classic for certain. Only Mako & DLR combined could lace such a simple bassline with such complex eccentricities, and the result is frankly breathtaking sound design.

In every tune, you can hear both of their individual influences shine through. Mako’s old school vibe oozes through Late Addition, albeit with a little help from Total Science (and of course DLR). This collab definitely ticks the dBridge-coined ‘beautifully aggressive’ box, being both relentless and delicate – something many artists will never achieve. Early Daze is yet another example of the vibe OneMind are championing, intricate combinations of old-school vocals and one shots with modern-day sound design that provides such a rich texture to the track. The final track, Quiet Fire, features genre-agnostic Throwing Snow, whose Houndstooth & Moda Black heritage shines through in bags. I look forward to the prospect of more D&B from him.

OneMind have truly distilled all the ingredients that make Metalheadz the greatest label in the genre’s history – combining a pioneering integrity for sound design with a nuanced, yet deep-seated appreciation of the drum & bass past. Long live this sound; let’s end this before I run out of superlatives. Hit up the ‘headz Store to pre-order the EP ahead of the August 25th release date.

Written by James Austin, aka DJ Auzi, label manager at Terabyte Records

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15 Years of Secret Operations

15 years is a long time in music. 15 years from the time of writing, Nelly’s Hot in Herre was top of the US billboard charts – a position it had occupied for 6 weeks previously, and would surrender the following week.  15 years is an even longer period of time to be pushing music; some flash in the pan artists are lucky to go a five-year stint in the limelight. This makes Seba’s seminal Secret Operations label even more important.

Reaching 15 years of age, Swedish-sprung Secret Operations has decided to look back, not forward, to appreciate all that has gone before it to date. Seba has selected 18 tracks to represent the label’s ever-expanding history, including collabs and features from the likes of the timeless Robert Manos, the genre stalwart Paradox, and an unusual track from the ever imaginative Resound.

Musically, the LP features that signature Seba sound, carefully constructed breaks alongside a musicality so often overlooked by today’s brightest producers. Tracks like Pieces, Wake Up Call, and Forever amongst others capture that vibe expertly. That said, there’s also room for the darker side of drum and bass that has woven its way in and out of this genre’s discourse since the early 90s. Cuts such as External Reality, Fire Like This, and Day By Night are my go-tos as far as darker material goes.

But my wanton pigeonholing of tunes here doesn’t allow for some of the classics present on here. Before I Can Breathe from Seba & Physics was one of the first tunes I heard getting into the genre, and much of the rest of the album will represent similar audible milestones for you, too.

Distilling 15 years into 18 tracks would be hard for any label manager, but I think those selected for this compilation both reflect the outstanding musical ethos of the label, as well standing the test of time. Here’s to 15 more years of Secret Operations.

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Written by James Austin, aka DJ Auzi, label manager at Terabyte Records

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