Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
It’s too easy to be partial to something just because it fits a certain aesthetic. The world of mirogenres is too micro to be choosy, and you’re not exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to the mongrel genre palette of global dystopias that projects like Chicago production duo The-Drum inhabit. Occasionally known to create lethargic rhythms for R&B act JODY, Jeremiah Meece (nee Chrome) and Brandon Boom have also produced for artists as wide-reaching as rapper Sasha Go Hard and British noise pop duo The Big Pink. Their debut album ‘Contact’, with its probably unrelated nod to the Jodie Foster film, is a concept piece based around ideas promoted by William Gibson and J.G. Ballard, drawing heavily on a fashion for contorted R&B sampling and the vocaloid liturgies for the Greater Cosmos.
I should like this album. It contains all the elements required to suit my current sensibility; chiefly, heavily pitched and processed vocal samples bathed in a familiar set of sonic motifs. There’s Nguzunguzu’s penchant for simulated wind pipes in opener Heat, played over a slightly chilly groove that is equal parts comforting and unsettling. Echoes of the sickening not-quite-human voices of Fatima Al-Qadiri’s ‘Genre Specific Experience’ EP whirl through a flurry of exoticised rhythms in Sirens, while the playful pitch-shifts of SimStem A, and SimStem B to follow, are not unlike the vocal manipulations of the likes of Planningtorock, intercepted by the odd hip hop handclap and clumsy syncopated breakbeat insertion.
You could even look as far back as Al-Qadiri’s Tri Angle-affiliated Ayshay project, slotting in close to the chopped and screwed R&B of oOoOO’s early drag sound, but the very fact that the former hasn’t produced as Ayshay since 2011’s ‘WARN-U’ is indication enough that things have moved on. Perhaps it’s in The-Drum’s focus on gestating, developing their sounds and their ideas – which, by the way, are abundant – that they fall short of achieving any focussed sonic thread. In filtering through countless beats, ideas lose out to execution, meaning that I’m bored before I make it to the eight-minute sound-byte bonanza of Narco.
I’m all for working on a particular sound in the face of the rapidity of shifting trends, but because of the nature of The-Drum’s sound, essentially based in a queerly synthetic “future”, it’s important they don’t fall behind the present. Maybe, if one thought of ‘Contact’ as a rehash of a rehash, in terms of the Baudrillardian theory that all things in the future (being the present) will be merely reproductions of reproductions, The-Drum could be on to something – but I think that’s probably giving them too much credit. Other groups within a similar oeuvre function along strong ideas and idiosyncrasies, like Al-Qadiri’s ‘Desert Strike’ EP or Nguzunguzu’s live global DJ approach, while The-Drum present those idiosyncrasies, but none of them are their own.