Dusk + Blackdown - Dasaflex (Keysound)

For those unfamiliar, Keysound and its owners Dusk + Blackdown have both been prominent in London (and by proxy the UK's) underground music scene for nearly a decade as far as available digital records go, with Blackdown (aka Martin Clark) documenting frequently through his excellent and thoughtful blog since late 2004 as well as the pair running a regular show on Rinse. Their label primarily has roots in grime, dubstep and funky and in the time since their last release, 2008's Margins Music, all those scenes have gone through some fairly severe changes along with the formation (or alternatively acknowledgement) of a thousand other genres and sub-genres too numerous to attempt to dissect here.

Released Sep 20th, 2012 via Keysound / By Matthew Bayfield
Dusk + Blackdown - Dasaflex (Keysound) Genre is always a point of strenuous debate in music, more so maybe than in any other art form. In the UK dance music scene in particular things have almost seemed to reach critical mass, even up to the point where I just had to pause and think twice as to whether I should use the term dance music in this album review or something else such as "bass" or "electronic". But then on a logical level the album in question; Dasaflex involves all of those things, and moreover that still wouldn't describe the sound in question definitively. Again that is a sprawling discussion in itself that has already populated a good deal of internet pages, but for anyone familiar to these genres and their signifiers it is fair to say Dasaflex is a reflection and potentially meditation on these numerous scenes and their cross pollination over the past few years.

Opener 'Lonely Moon (Android Heartbreak)' stylistically sits somewhere around the area Margins Music operated in, framing an ethereal Farrah vocal (with whom the pair collaborated on Margins) around warm bass swells and large blocks of atmospheric space true to the original dubstep aesthetic. There is also a constant, decayed crackle over the whole piece kindred to the textures that give artists such as Burial's work that analogue and human element. The comparison used here is not just hyperbolic name dropping either, as it is largely accepted that the unnamed collaborator on second track 'High Road' is in fact Burial, and in the skittered rhythmic patterns and pitched up female vocal samples it would seem fair to say that his influence on the track can definitely be felt. It's also an interesting point that out of everything Burial has (or hasn't) put his name to this particular track has slightly less of the crackling static or rain swept ambience that cloaks his usual productions or that of the album's opener. Almost like the album is moving out of a fog, toward something clearer. 'We Ain't Begging' continues this feel, and is a slight step up in rhythmic tempo too. Whilst still sitting on swelling bass lines and an airy sense of tension like previous tracks it is also peppered with the tight percussive rolls and digital claps more familiar to the stylistic traits of the 'funky' genre, which Keysound has also had great success with in past releases. It is somewhat telling as well that the track which follows 'We Ain't', moving firmly out into funkier territory, is called 'Apoptosis'.

From here the momentum of the album reaches a gallop. From the aforementioned 'Apoptosis' with it's bouncing percussion and grime inflected vocal samples, through the massively infectious 'Wicked Vibez' featuring GQ, which has a wonderful juxtaposition of processed digital drums and live atmosphere, to album title track 'Dasaflex', which for my money might just be the catchiest thing ever put out by Keysound. 'Next Generation' featuring veteran MC Shantie sees the record's sound again mutate further, bringing to the fore more of the aesthetic of grime; more bombastic drum sounds, ruder synths and some eccentric sonic detailing. 'R In Zero G' sees this same eccentricity worked into slower tempos, again with the focus shifting back toward atmospherics and space. At this point it starts to feel that the two previously more isolated sections of the record, which were arguably based around dubstep and funky respectively, have converged and blended along with some grime elements to create yet another sonic gumbo. Perhaps 'Hypergrime's title is a winking nod to the endless genre debate, the parameters of which have only become more blurred in recent years through peerless releases like that of Kode 9's Hyperdub label.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but either way it would be naive to assume that this album was just a group of incongruent tracks assembled without careful consideration by its creators. By the time 'DeFocused' arrives near the album's close this amalgamation of styles borders on delirious. The track incorporates all of the album's previous styles as well as samples of Trim from a previous D + B release, percussion so tightly wrapped it invokes elements of the current "trap" movement and arpeggiated synths not a million miles away from the ones that made Skream's 'Midnight Request Line' the mainstream groundbreaker that it was upon release. It feels like the culmination of a prolonged investigation into bass (or 'dance' or 'electronic' or whatever you call it) music's multi-faceted front in 2012, and therein lies the key strength to this album. Dusk + Blackdown have been there since the beginning, seen and understood the many directions the music has taken and have also managed to synthesise all these pieces to express their own sound, moving alongside the many blurred margins of genre in 2012 without their productions ever becoming homogenised.

Maybe I've read far too much into the whole thing and wound up disappearing somewhere up my own arse, and the comparisons I'm drawing are through my lack of understanding or sheer fluke, but to decant the entire listen back down to it's most basic function at no point with this record did I feel the need to get up and skip a track and it has given me more to discuss than any other release since Kode 9 & Spaceape's 'Black Sun' of last year (which had similar DNA in it's synthesis of genres.) On those merits alone Dasaflex is clearly a record that should not go unheard, regardless of genres, scenes or styles in 2012.