• Vex'd - Degenerate

    Reviewed by Myke Burn (speakerpushtheair.com)

    <b> Vex'd </b> - Degenerate

    Degenerate is a record which evokes a fictional London. A city where multiple high rise chimneys pummel smoke into the atmosphere and where darkness battles with light and wins; a somber musical milieu which is atmospheric, redolent of both Industrial and Hardcore and intense and brooding. In the same way that Vangelis' score to Blade Runner is inextricably linked with the futuristic cinematic noir of the film, Vex'd (Planet Mu) creates a sound which is in many ways inseparable from a romanticized, constructed reality, more in tune with fiction than mundane London. Conversely, Dubstep is a sound which is utterly contemporary. Vex'd's adventure in sonic fiction is a continuation of the bass culture which has been part of London's musical lineage for many years. Despite the confusingly titled Rephlex Grime compilations, and although the two are related, Dubstep and Grime should not be confused. Grime and Dubstep are two distinctly different soundworlds which simultaneously exist within the postcodes. Both engage with the musical heritage of bass culture, with one evoking the sound of the gritty city and the other evocative of a slightly more otherworldly place. The latter is Dubstep and it is Vex'd's playground.

    Ever since the first Vex'd twelve inch dropped on Bristol's Subtext, they have been a key name on the Dubstep radar. Over a year on since their first release, the appetite for Dubstep has burgeoned, outside of London especially. The sound is gaining worldwide exposure with DJs such as Joe Nice from Baltimore and Bruno Belluomini from Sao Paulo pushing the sound. The timing of this record could not be more perfect and the CD format and distribution of Planet Mu will enable Vex'd and the sound to win over even more fans.

    Sharing a similar sound with the largely undiscovered and underrated Zan Lyons, who pared the punishing sonics of digital hardcore with a contemplative post trip hop structure, Vex'd is an extension of various takes on industrial music; deliberate or not. Comparisons can be made with Industrial artists such as Throbbing Gristle and Pan Sonic with whom Vex'd share a taut and hateful sonic tenacity. This makes for an album which isn't easy to listen to. On headphones it rattles the skull; it penetrates and crushes, resonates and rumbles, creating total audio assault. Tearing stabs and opulent bass marry with atmospherics and textures and serve to build an oppressive atmosphere. Vex'd has produced a harsh sound which explores the harder possibilities of Dubstep, in contrast, for example, to the bouncier and dubbier vibes of Digital Mystiks.

    Harsh sound in bass culture, however, is nothing new: from 'Ardkore through Drum 'n' Bass to Dizzee Rascal's overly distorted beats, inadvertently(?) referencing the boom boom crunch of Digital Hardcore on 'I Luv U', through the more ferocious elements of post BIDC Grime, heaviness of sound has evolved through a combination of influences. 'Ardcore's role cannot be underplayed and the vocal snippets on Degenerate reflect this clearly underpinning a key influence. 'Crusher Dub' inducts itself with classic Dub Reggae sounds before a bastardized beat comes to the fore and the reverberating dub retreats behind layers of staccato beats. The opening electro relay pings of 'Pop Pop VIP' deceive the listener; the track quickly employs the bass machine and decimates unexpecting ears. The album fluctuates between assault and assurance; from the ruffneck readiness of 'Angels' and 'Thunder' through to the reduced and extracted, more minimal and seemingly juxtaposed tracks such as 'Slime' and 'Fire', the Vex'd dynamic is clear and unrelenting. Only the beatless 'Cold' provides the listener with some respite.

    There is a frosty, glacial sound to Degenerate. For as much as the album is centered around bass, it lacks the warmth and comfort of a lot of bass music. It is punctuated by unsympathetic splintered sounds which can only be interpreted by the listener as something intended to be deliberately unsettling: bass / noise psychosis. Pushing beyond the ideological boundaries and genre problematics of 'IDM', Mike Paradinas' Planet Mu label has a new benefactor in Vex'd. Degenerate is simultaneously intelligent and dance orientated, it will antagonize fans of the label's traditional output whilst drawing in new listeners eager to indulge in the sound of London's most exhilarating genre.

    Vex'd's willingness to include sounds not usually included within the Dubstep mainframe, such as the ultra distorted beats, position them comfortably within the more experimental arena of electronic music as well as firmly within the hardcore continuum. For those familiar with the more anal and generic explorations of electronic music found on Planet Mu, a refreshing surprise is found with Degenerate whilst for those already submerged in the more esoteric elements of the label's output, such as the recent Virus Syndicate album, Vex'd cannot fail but to satisfy. Ultimately a landmark release, punishing peers and destroying boundaries, Degenerate is only an early indication of what Dubstep has to offer as it morphs and transfigures and travels across counties and countries.

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