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Released on Lee Gamble’s U-I-Q imprint, Essex producer Sim Hutchins’ new A/V project, 'Vantablank Stare,' takes the form of a 12” and an accompanying website. His jungle, techno and ambient excavations – taking the pieces he needs and then reassembling them in experimental structures – offer adventurous commentary on the way that the media, specifically rolling 24-hour news coverage, infiltrates and shapes contemporary culture. Harking back to the late ‘90s, he’s put together a list of his favourite techstep DnB tracks – some of the most dark, twisted, dystopian dance music ever recorded. We’ll let Sim explain his choices further:
“Drawing on my experience as a DJ and raver, and contemplating how the tracks influenced my later work (there was a big gap between me DJ'ing and producing), I'm presenting to you 10 techstep tracks that are dear to me. In the simplest of terms: techstep took jungle's London breakbeat culture, and added a hefty dose of Detroit. It took the funk element by the wrist and gave it a Chinese burn. It came to fame in clubs that I was too young to attend, and took a hold on me long after most of its producers had left (Ed Rush & Optical playing jump-up at Warning in Cambridge was a low-point of my life). Totally mixing up album tracks with 12”s here, as these were just stand out tunes from my record box back in some sort of day. Here goes…”
Dom & Roland – 'Thunder'
Sim: "I played this as my first tune at a warehouse party on NYE 2004. Before this, I remember thinking as the clock struck 12am how absolutely shit it was to hear Pendulum's 'Another Planet' for the SECOND YEAR IN A ROW, so obviously I planned to not just diverge as far away from that sound in my set as possible, but to positively take a U-turn and run the fuck over it. The thing I love about techstep is the space it creates, it's the exact opposite of what over-saturated productions like the aforementioned convey. This isn't a happy song, nor is it an angry one. I think it's perfect for 4am, when most people's buzzes are dying off, and to me there's something about those hoover sounds and bell-like synth-lines that seem to suggest that this is a requiem for Belgium techno, or maybe I'm looking too deep. I have a propensity to pick tunes that have heavy use of the Tramen break, more of those to come."
Loxy & Ink – 'Pipe Tune'
"Part of a Renegade Hardware compilation that had nothing on Essential Rewinds (though I am sorry I bought that at a heavily inflated price just for Konflict's 'Messiahl'), this Loxy & Ink construction is a lesson in relentlessness that I duly noted in my later productions (see the first track on Vantablank Stare!). The few synth notes on this record conjure up visions of a mocking laugh, a sort of sneering stab, a patronising poke in the chest. I love the persistent programming of the amen break just playing out on the top, like they don't give a fuck that you're expecting to hear some chops. Attendees at the No U Turn school for distortion here for sure (see below)."
Nico feat. Makai – 'Omen'
"If it didn't pre-date the show by around seven years, I would be sure that Nico followed the suggestion of Super Hans in the 2004 episode 'Jeremy Makes It (of 'Peep Show')': “What we really need to do is create a powerful sense of dread”. This isn't so much dread, more a constant jittery uneasiness that permeates the track, and one I've drawn from to channel through my track, 'Nescience Is Not Ignorance.' I think the knowledge I gained from Simon Reynold's 'Energy Flash' (his book on dance music history) that upon observing Ed Rush and Nico through a blazing cloud of hydroponic skunk, they had a penchant for mashing everything though guitar distortion pedals, has a lot to do with my excessive stompbox collection, but fortunately I don't hold a penchant for the devil's lettuce anymore. Crate-diggers/thieves: there's a part at the end where you can sample that lenendary Nico break, use it to excess."
Future Forces Inc. – 'Dead By Dawn (The Final Chapter)'
"Fond memories of this early Bad Company record spinning on the deck in my mate's room whilst two MCs battled it out for the winner of saying “peenuminuminuminuminuminaaaa” the fastest (or whatever it is they were saying). This Renegade Hardware release was an important tune for me as it's the subtle balance of minimalism and sweet brutality that's a prominent feature now in what I do. While we're on the subject: techstep was either all about sampling Blade Runner, or channelling Blade Runner sound design, and my mate Ali made an extensive guide to doing that."
Trace – 'Sonar'
"The first time I heard this tune was on a cassette I stole from a house party I was thrown out of at around 16 years old, the set was later purported to be 'Skibadee, Fearless, Shy FX – Prophecy 89.5FM'. This was one of my staple tunes from my old DJ sets, I just dig the way the stabs & reese bassline compliment each other so well. It's that Detroit-esque combination again. Techno…tech…step… I get it now! Just listening to this on Youtube and man, I'm having a nostalgia-pang for the following: MC'ing along in an alleyway whilst sharing an earbud and a soapbar spliff and trying not to hot-rock my trackies). Trace's trademark 'Tramen' break never sounded so good, even if he did steal it off Dom…"
Ed Rush & Optical & Fierce – 'The End (Part 2)'
"Back to my obsession with the relentless, and a sad fact is I've sat through the entirety of 'I Am Sitting in a Room' (my LP title was a nod to that). I enjoy to meditate on the banal. And I am keen on William Basinski… however 'Relentless' (the energy drink) can fuck right off (35p Best-In or STFU). I do feel like my niche interest is being fully catered for here on this one; the song doesn't drop until like halfway through, and when it does it's memorizing voder-like bassline feels like it's lamenting the loss of that haunting vocal chant for the remainder. This is quite the opposite of jump-up, and it's like the antithesis of liquid D'n'B, that snare drum that sounds like it was painted on a wall with a fire extinguisher, in powdered tears."
Boymerang – 'Still'
"Probably around 2001 I got a new stereo for Christmas and it had a digital tuner, the kind that had a pissy little wire 'antenna' you blue-tacked on your wall. Upon finding the sweet spot one day, I happened upon a pirate station known as Rude FM, and taped what was to be the gateway mix to turn me onto drum n bass for good, a set by the veteran DJ known as MR2. The stand-out on that mix for me was this track. After only ever hearing a load of crappy jazzy DnB on Poundland compilations and being absolutely indifferent to it, this track was finally combining those sensibilities in a way I found engaging, and absolutely haunting. Boymerang is responsible for my favourite ever DnB break, that's conveniently named after it's nom de plume."
Ed Rush – 'The Raven'
"Back onto Rude FM again, and this time it's my 18th birthday, it's 6am and I'm coming down from my first pill (I was a late bloomer). There's a b2b2b with the station's staple DJs: MR2, Lady Flavour, and a new recruit to the airwaves, we'll call him “Dave”. “Dave” plays a record that instantly strikes discord with me. It's inverted-funk. It's suggests shut eyes without the likeliness of any shut-eye (aka me right then). Somehow fast forward years later and I managed to ID the track when I met the selector Dave, and that, dear reader, was right after I'm leaving a rave and being sick out the back of that DJ “Dave's” car window. Fans of the station can probably work out who it is, he has a wild sense of humour, and I gave him a few quid for the jet wash. Contrary to my euphoric state in 2003, and my sickly one in 2012, in 2017 my track 'Some Men (me) Just Want to Let The World Burn' really is a leitmotif for the drugs wearing off."
Ryme Tyme & Trace – 'Move VIP'
"Well, so here Ryme Tyme, known more for his productions than his MC'ing career (at least by my ignorant self), teams up with his DJ'ing partner in crime, but not as an on-stage collaboration, or for one of their classic Kool FM sets, but here as a super-producer duo of sorts. To put it simply, this track is just a fucking lesson in complimentary bassline sciences, and how to shuffle the fuck out of the hi-hats. We're talking 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' levels of shuffle here. Lads, not much more to say, just listen. The original is also worth a mention, and was a lesser-known banger. And by lads, I mean everyone."
Laibach – 'God Is God (Optical Instrumental Remix)'
"A remix of a Slovenian Industrial Metal band doesn't sound much like the recipe to facilitate vocal impressions of an airhorn to, but somehow this early Optical re-lick on Mute records was one such record. Negating the 2step sound that later came to characterise the drum beats on lot of his tunes (trademark EMU Ultra filter sweeps notwithstanding), here he favours the use of swirling breaks and jungle-techstep sensibilities. I played this one at a squat rave room 2, where the crowd of self-described 'faeries/pixies' thinned out within a few minutes (which was good because I didn’t want anyone flailing their arms in an unnecessarily spiritual way) giving way to the 16-year-old chavs on their first pill to take their place on the podium. As it should be."
Vantablank Stare is out now on U-I-Q.