Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Bristol’s Young Echo are perhaps better known for the individual members that make up their ranks than as a collective unit themselves. Each member is established in their own specialty, releasing music through the leading labels of their genre – noisemaker Vessel with Tri Angle, dubsteppers Kahn and Zhou with Deep Medi and Punch Drunk respectively, sound artists Jabu and El Kid with RAMP and Astro:Dynamics – so it goes without saying that they’re a hive of fresh-faced talent individually. Their debut posse album, ‘Nexus’, is an opportunity for Young Echo to put their case forward as a group – and it’s a convincing case, albeit one that’s a little over-long and slightly joyless.
Album opener Radial Sheaves sets the tone for what’s to follow: six minutes of disquieting noises and drones held together by a distant but thunderous thud that doubles as a kickdrum, modular whirrs drifting past like the bleaker moments of White Noise’s ‘An Electric Storm’. Sound design and audio experimentation is probably the recurring trend across the album, with messy, often roughshod noise scattered across not just dedicated tracks like Untitled No. 7 and Eternities Never / Ephemeral Sometimes (yes, the track titles are this corny) but on the moments that border on pop, like Jupiter Rise and My Child My Chain, as well as the numerous spoken word tracks that make up its running length.
Those spoken word tracks are another important part of ‘Nexus’, with the atmospheric vocal tracks Voices On The Water and Flying recalling artists like Tricky and Massive Attack but updated with an absorbed knowledge of newer dance trends like dubstep and garage. Trite as it might seem to make geographic connections, you can’t help but feel that Young Echo are drawing a clear line between their sounds and the sound system heritage of their city. Whether it’s in these trip hop tracks or the huge low-end across the record recalling Skull Disco releases, the record follows in Bristol’s dubby lineage.
Whilst a lot of collaborations – especially ones with groups as large as Young Echo – can end up more like boxing matches, each member slogging it in an attempt to have their own identifying sounds heard over one another, ‘Nexus’ is an incredibly streamlined effort. It ventures between ambient music, experimental Dead Can Dance-esque darkwave, dubstep and trip hop without ever seeming out of place or consciously – or even noticeably – eclectic. Importantly, the album is credited not to the individual members but to Young Echo as a whole, putting them all on a level playing field as well as asserting a collective identity. Trying to second guess who did what would be a futile exercise – ‘Nexus’ brings together each artist’s own aesthetic into one whole.