Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
The work of Milwaukee-based producer Sd Laika could be described as grime in the same way that a pile of ash and rubble left after a controlled demolition could be looked on as a building. His 'Unknown Vectors' EP, released in summer 2012, was not only Sd Laika's introduction to the world, but it also inaugurated Visionist’s Lost Codes imprint. It did so with a barefaced bludgeoning of the genre’s conventions: like cringing through corrupted files lodged at the end of an old .zip of Wiley instrumentals. ‘That’s Harakiri’ – his debut for Tri Angle – arrives after a period of silence and with a mad glint in the eye picks up right where that fetid EP left off.
Excuse the hifalutin link, but much of ‘That’s Harakiri’ brings to mind that quote from 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes about life in the state of nature being "nasty, brutish and short." Clocking in at around the half hour mark, the album’s certainly a swift listen: many tracks barely hit three minutes. The ritualised samurai act to which the title refers is one about maintaining honour and willingly staring defeat in the face, but nothing screams the expendability of existence than slicing up your guts through with a sword. Gutter Vibrations scrapes and scruffs through the dirt and stench, while I Don’t – which rehashes the automated voices murmuring on ‘Unknown Vectors’ opener I Feel Cold – is a disembowelled eski joint. The remnant hollowed-out grime corpse – represented through a scatter of icy clicks and chinks dissipating in the background – is reanimated, and coaxed into an undead dance.
But for all the barbarity, there’s space for the humour of its maker to pop out, too. In the context of the whole samurai theme, and alongside titles like That’s Ritual, there’s one way of hearing that almighty bovine cry early in Meshes as some murderous sacrificial offering to the gods. But it’s also pretty fun, and funny too. There’s clearly a sly knowingness in landing on Peace as the title for an opener as hot, sticky and tumultuous as the one we get here.
While it may take repeated listens to get inside of, what’s come on strongly from the EP is Sd Laika’s ability to offer roundedness in amongst the chaos. Granted, as well as huffing and puffing, there also sat the sparsest of cold melodies on Spacemen Piff, but on ‘That’s Harakiri’, Remote Heaven reaches a similar level of duplicity to Aphex Twin’s Girl/Boy Song as the delicate melody walks a tightrope below choppy seas of scatty rhythm (incidentally: hello grinning artwork). This range doesn’t only reference grime: the chest-beating tribal techno of That’s Ritual is so unannounced it recalls that rush you get stumbling into an undiscovered room at a rave.
Fellow Tri Angle producer Evian Christ commented recently on newer artists on the label coming from smaller towns in the North West, place like The Wirral and Stockport, not exactly famed for their electronic music scenes. While out in the US, as one of grime’s new breed, a meddler warping a sound birthed and then cultivated thousands of miles away, it’s interesting to read a continuity in Sd Laika’s involvement with the label. ‘That’s Harakiri’ offers a fresh singular vision to sit alongside The Haxan Cloak’s ‘Excavation’ or Forest Swords’ ‘Engravings’ from last year. Tri Angle keep acing it in the album department, and long may it continue.
What comes next for Sd Laika, on the other hand, is hard to know. He’s swerved doing any press to promote the record, and it’s revealing that it in fact assembles work made in 2011-12, during a period described as “turbulent” for its maker. Whether this debut proves Sd Laika’s final artistic sword swipe or not, ‘That’s Harakiri’ is brazen outsider dance music to cherish.
Tri Angle release 'That's Harakiri' on April 28th 2014 (buy).