Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Club genres thrive on rhythmic restrictions. Unwritten rules that prohibit a producer from going beyond a certain point – it can only be this tempo, it can only have a snare on this beat, etc – allow them to stretch their sound to the outer limits of its potential without departing from it completely. It’s a lesson that Logos has taken to heart across his debut album ‘Cold Mission’, a record that is ostensibly rooted in grime, jungle, and other genres of the hardcore continuum (as viewed through Keysound’s current 130BPM prism), but takes the notions of these genres so far into alien territories that it often seems less like a long player by a recording artist and more like a theoretical exercise in what can be considered dance music at all.
For a record that wears its soundsystem, pirate radio, and rave influences so flagrantly on its sleeves, there’s remarkably few of the core components that traditionally make those things, you know, danceable. Basslines are spare, synthesizers fade in and fade away, and it feels like half the record passes before you hear anything close to a kickdrum. On Stasis Jam, when Logos brings in 909 hi-hats – usually a dependable four-to-the-floor hallmark – they’re left empty, hollowed out without a kickdrum. Voices appear all across the album, but they don’t add any “human touch”; instead, they appear as samples ripped from decades-old pirate radio shows or from VHS documentaries, smothered in echo, like chattering phantoms. Rewinds appear sporadically, but they do just that – appear, then disappear, into an unseen, unheard ether. Logos’ sound palette evokes the language of these dance genres and the spaces you hear them, but emphasises the space between the rhythms to evoke an ice cold, uninhabited atmosphere.
None of this is to imply that ‘Cold Mission’ is arrhythmic, though. Logos leaves a lot of sounds out, but what you don’t necessarily hear, you certainly feel – the groove and momentum that drives every track is implied rather than explicit, and some of the tracks would still make perfect sense in the mix. All the tension-building seems to be leading to the pay-offs – Alien Shapes, Logos’ collaboration with Dusk + Blackdown, Menace, the most overtly grimy track on here, and Wut It Do, a breakbeat-smashing track made with Mumdance, are all hits that absolutely let rip towards the end of the record. And neither is this to imply that it’s some sort of Lee Gamble-esque rave deconstruction. Logos still operates within a club framework, rather than tearing it apart.
With all this in mind, it’s worth bringing up the elephant in the room. On the first few listens, ‘Cold Mission’ immediately recalls ‘Classical Curves’, Jam City’s utterly perfect debut album for Night Slugs last year. That was a record suffused with a similar cybernetic quality, a sparseness, and undertones of dread, and Logos’s album seems to be indebted to these ideas to an at times questionable extent (he literally uses the same found sounds at some points – crickets chirping at night, breaking glass, bell chimes, the aforementioned empty hi-hats). But the two albums feel different the deeper into them you get – Jam City’s album hinted at something lingering beneath the surface, whereas Logos’s is just frozen cold; plus, Logos’s overt pirate radio and rave cornerstones make the record structurally and thematically unique.
One suspects that the similarities may be down to both the inevitable influence of a record as conceptually complete as ‘Classical Curves’ (would it be a surprise if more records like this appear in the future?), and the fact that what Jam City explored on his album might not necessarily be unique, but merely an apposite channelling of what others were thinking at the time. I’m reminded of a quote from Girl Unit, who was interviewed by Jam City for Hyponik around the release of his ‘Club Rez’ EP – when the latter asked what Girl Unit was taking most inspiration from at the time, he replied: “Human voices mostly, but also searching for big airy barely there synth atmospheres…and beat patterns with no snares or claps, just ghost percussion.” Besides, some of the most ‘Classical Curves’-esque tracks on ‘Cold Mission’, like Atlanta 96, first appeared across early 12”s long before Jam City’s album was even released.
'Cold Mission' is an interesting record, and an enjoyable one, too, once you get past how initially unwieldy the whole thing is – although when you consider how much damage tracks like Wut It Do cause when they do appear, you might wish the conceptual leanings were toned down just a little (admittedly you always have Logos’ seriously good 12”s for more club-based material). Otherwise, there have only been a handful of records this year that make your brain work overtime and challenge the musical landscape it finds itself in to the extent that ‘Cold Mission’ does.
Keysound Recordings released 'Cold Mission' on November 18th.