Soundtracking the emergency: Is there space for climate change in dance music?
Autumn is my favourite season. Sure, there’s no denying the cheeriness of spring, the hedonistic appeal of summer and the hermetic comfort of winter, but autumn has a peace to it. The heady mix of long-awaited foreign trips that briefly punctuate those unpredictable British summers can be tough on the soul, and there’s always that impending sense of finality come August. It’ll all be over soon; back to normal with a heavy sigh. Autumn, though, I find comforting. The fall of the leaves, those clear, sunny mornings before the evening rain, the gradual acceptance once again of routine (and knitwear); it all speaks to a want and need for tranquility that eases us out of the summer highs and gradually into the depths of winter.
With the seasons come those personalised soundtracks too. Everyone has them. It is nigh on impossible for me to not think of summer every time I hear J Dilla. The hook for ‘Fall In Love’ sends a warm mental trickle of sunlight across my back that’s incomparably comforting. Autumn too deserves such a nostalgic soundtrack but its transitional state makes it a tricky one to pin down in my mind’s eye. That is, until I heard Glaswegian producer Dam Mantle’s new track RGB. Taken from his debut LP ‘Brothers Fowl’ the release overall is a rewarding one in that Dam Mantle has taken three years, and as many EPs, to get to this point. In times when an LP can so easily get lost in the online mire without rigorous promotion or an established musical legacy and fan base, or both, Dam Mantle’s relatively long wait to release a debut is refreshing, and feels like a careful accumulation of his previous EPs – the orchestral sentiments of ‘Grey’, the hip hop leanings of ‘Purple Arrow’ and the gleefully eclectic trip of ‘We’ – albeit with a pointedly new direction underway.
Of the eight tracks on ‘Brothers Fowl’ the most accomplished of them is RGB. Clocking in at just under eight minutes RGB is a delightful and rather sombre trip through ambient electronica, jazz and hip hop that marries the nostalgic warmth of J Dilla and the skittish eclecticism of Daedalus and Debruit with a brooding, noir sensibility. RGB pours those mournful-yet-comforting Dilla-esque strings over a foundational scattering of warped jazz-infused percussion in waves so subtle that it feels, well, like pretty effortless work from a man who has repeatedly proven his keen ear for decidedly off-kilter productions. There is something about RGB that feels quintessentially autumnal in its delicate points of transition, layering one musical sensibility over another until it feels like an ideal union. Quick little piano lines and staccato strings are all wrapped up in a medley of muted, percussive energy.
RGB is particularly reminiscent of ‘Suite For Ma Dukes’, the L.A.-based live session in which a sixty-piece orchestra led by jazz pianist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson took on the task of translating some of J Dilla’s production into orchestral compositions – and to beautiful, illuminating effect. The beats themselves were uplifted by the orchestration rather than drowned out, the strings felt more robust and tactile, and the staggered percussion breathed new life with the direct infusion of jazz. This track feels like a lost cut from these sessions.
That trickle of sunshine that I feel from the hip hop beats of sunnier days still flows into the darker nights in RGB. The track embodies this seasonal transition not as a nostalgic revisiting but as a natural continuation, a slowly unfurling. As the sunlight feels cooler, so too do Dam Mantle’s Dilla inflections. His work feel more grown up, more fully realised. He’s left his EPs behind him yet what he’s learnt in the process has served him in very good stead. This is by far one of the most elegant, the most accomplished and the most intricate of his productions to date. It feels like draping your scarf up around your mouth and seeing your breath slowly curl out from the swathes of fabric; squinting your eyes in the bright October morning sunlight, crunching through the leaves underfoot and not really minding the cold for now. In ‘Brothers Fowl’, I’ve found my 2012 autumnal LP.