VA: 116 & Rising
Hessle Audio

Anyone curious about Hessle Audio's offerings could do worse than start with 116 & Rising. The release is formally speaking a two-disc affair, the first all new material by figures such as Pangaea, James Blake, TRG, Untold, Blawan, and Joe, and the second a selection of prime cuts from the label's back catalogue, with many of the first disc's artists showing up on the second too. The root style propagated by Hessle Audio founders David Kennedy (aka Ramadanman and Pearson Sound), Ben Thomson (Ben UFO), and Kevin McAuley (Pangaea) since 2007 may be dubstep, but theirs is a distinctively skewed variant with a deep percussive focus.

The comp's trippy character is established from the outset when Elgato's “Music (Bodymix)” weaves a lazy shuffle in amongst warbling chimes and a suitably dazed vocal chant, and when Untold's “Cool Story Bro” slathers a punchy house pulse with a serpentine, rather neo-classical melody line. But they're mere appetizers for the disc's strongest cuts, the first of which arrives in the form of “Potchla Vee” wherein Blawan powers a steamy, crunk-laced tribal groove with vocal grunts and exhalations. The release ascends to a comparatively more soulful plane during Cosmin TRG's “Bijoux,” which marries a slinky funk-house groove to mutant warbling, warm Rhodes touches, and silken strings. Even higher on the tripped-out scale, James Blake spreads his android croon over a seductive slow-burn of electric soul balladeering in “Give A Man A Rod (Second Version),” a re-rub of an earlier track Blake did for the label. The pick of the litter, Joe's “Twice” features dialogue samples lifted from the film Magnolia, specifically the bit featuring Don Cheadle's hilarious turn as a stereo salesperson failing to persuade a customer that he really does need twice as much bass (“Basically, you're getting twice the mix”). Joe gets maximum mileage out of what's fundamentally a rhythm track sprinkled with voice samples but gets points for building the marvelously wicked broken beat from the tap of a typewriter, among other things.

Somewhat like Blawan, Pearson Sound strips his contribution, “Stifle,” down to its skeletal spine though in this case to less captivating effect, despite the constant stimulation an ever-mutating percussive flow generates. That emphasis carries over into Randomer's “Brunk,” which, again, compensates for its modest melodic dimension with the industrial-strength kick of inventive rhythmning, and Pangaea's rave-ready “Run Out,” where a ragga MC sample cycles to dizzying effect alongside a slithering bassline and bouncy drumbeat. That percussive emphasis comes to the fore a final time during Peverelist's “Sun Dance,” with the Bristo maestro battering a thrusting dubstep groove with rain-soaked synth smears. Like much else on the release, the track serves as s a strong argument in support of Hessle Audio's vision.

August 2011