music | reviews | album
By Alex Ward
2005 was a fertile year for London’s post-garage panorama. From the polished jabs and rhymes of big guns Dizzee and Kano to the cold, dubbed-out delirium of Skream, the steppy sci-fi rhythms of Search & Destroy, and the IDM-ish take of Monkey Steak, enough fuzzy fragmentation already abounds to confuse those following developments so far, let alone the newcomers. While Jamie Teasdale and Roly Porter – aka Vex'd – make music embracing elements of this bass-strewn topography, their trajectory is resolutely recalcitrant, readily referencing yet refusing to pledge total allegiance. Jamie previously made jungle while Roly dabbled in dub and electronica production, but it was exposure to the dark side of garage that compounded their skills and influences into the current Vex'd sound. Since dropping their debut EP on Bristol’s Subtext imprint in 2004, the duo have been justly championed in grime and dubstep circles, yet their following draws as much from electronica, techno and breaks crowds as the aforementioned camps. And it's of little surprise – this is a strain too techy for purist grime aficionados, too menacing for garage heads, and too rowdy to slot neatly in the dubstep ranks.
Fitting then, that their debut album dropped last year on Mike Paradinas’ refreshingly unrestrained Planet Mu imprint – a label that, with Virus Syndicate, Mark One and Pinch on its roster, has certainly been sucked in by the grime/dubstep undercurrent. As the title and cover image suggest, Degenerate is a dark collection of works, yet like much output from the breakier end of this spectrum, it’s material that rocks the floor to the next level with tight dance dynamics rather than militantly crushing it into submission. Deft sound design underpins much of this album, but it’s the bass that steals the show throughout; for Vex’d craft some of the rudest, rubberiest, most mangled, stretched and strung-out bass you’ll ever have the pleasure of introducing your neighbours to.
Opening with the VIP reworking of 2004’s Pop Pop, precise, edgy beats and high-grade video game blips rain down while iron handclaps batter your head with train-crash intensity. Angels is simply the bomb; a brooding intro falls away to a breakcore-strength groove before contender for bassline of the year plunges into position like Flat Beat on crack. Fire, the opening cut off the second vinyl platter, takes a similar tack, dropping sick beats over dark cinematic strings before the bass weight drops. Elsewhere, Lion VIP offers a raging rebuild of last year’s Subtext smasher, while Crusher Dub serves up a short cut of spannered dubwise electronica that hints at a wider vision for their second Mu album, supposedly due later this year.
The order of the CD release gets reprogrammed with three extra tracks thrown into the mix: the beatless bass odyssey of Cold, the doomy, fractured filler of Destruction, and Gunman, taken from the Planet Mu single. In addition, the first 1000 copies come with a six-track compilation disc of the two killer Subtext singles, plus Smart Bomb (from the Planet Mu EP) and their joint track with Search & Destroy featured on the recent Destructive compilation.
That UK techno pioneer Surgeon is fanatical about Vex’d speaks volumes for the freshness of their sound and it's ability to cross into other fields. This is music that prowls the fine line between deadly funky and utterly caustic; a decade of bass science squeezed through a sonic mangle. Although lacking the cohesion of a stone cold classic album, Degenerate is as bold a statement of intent as any other electronic music artist made during 2005. What fiery futuristic filth these guys will churn out in 2006 is anyone's guess. Music that ups the ante of heaviness.