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by Philip Sherburne

February 24, 2012

The New Sound of Bristol

by Philip Sherburne  |  February 24, 2012

This Friday Mixtape is sort of about a scene, sort of about a sound and sort of about a place.

Dubstep was born in London -- South London, to be precise (Croydon, to be even more precise) -- but Bristol is something like the U.K.'s "second city" of bass music. Heirs to their hometown's low-end legacy, Bristolians spun off a more elliptical variant of the chiseled, monumental sound that took shape in London.

Bass has long played a significant role in Bristol's musical culture, from post-punks The Pop Group and the hip-hop/reggae sound system The Wild Bunch in the 1980s to the trip-hop triumvirate of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead in the '90s, plus the drum 'n' bass community around Roni Size and the Full Cycle crew. By the late 2000s, a community of artists working at the fringes of dubstep had coalesced, teasing out its rhythms and its textures into contorted new shapes, like the neon glow of Joker's "purple wow sound" and the flickering pulses of Pinch's Tectonic label and Peverelist's Punch Drunk imprint.

But in the past couple years, a new sound has emerged. Dubstep's tempos and rhythmic signatures play a role, but so do the beats of house, the glassy synths of classic techno and, bringing things full circle, the moody torpor of trip-hop.

At the center are the artists Vessel and El Kid, and their colleagues in the Young Echo collective, including Kahn, Jabu and Zhou. In a few short years, they've done a couple of EPs apiece, plus a fantastic split-EP titled VeElSkSiEdL, and each record has tantalizingly fleshed out the sketch of a very different kind of music. It's hard to describe, but it's got a kind of dusky clang to it, as well as a grainy, earthy feel; it's tactile in a way that's hard to put your finger on, and also heady as a nitrous hit.

You can tell these guys have big things ahead of them, and the chops to back it up. El Kid also records experimental ambient music under his own name, Sam Kidel, while Vessel recently signed to the Tri Angle label, the hotly tipped electronic imprint that's home to Balam Acab and oOoOO.

It's not entirely a Bristol thing. Vessel and El Kid have recorded a lot of their music for London's Left Blank label, run by an artist named Throwing Snow, whose own productions share some of their proclivities, albeit in a more club-oriented context. (London's Visionist and Brighton's Lorca, two other artists on Left Blank, offer further perspectives on bass music's malleable sound.) But let's not get too hung up on specifics: The boundaries here are fluid, just as in the music. Check out our playlist to sample this sound without a name, from a scene that's not really a scene. It's as spongy as bass itself, which is just how it should be.

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