• Vex'd - Degenerate

    Reviewed by Louis Pattison (Plan B, Aug/Sept. 05)

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

    Bass is the bedrock of dance music: it's the synthesis of low-end with rhythm that creates the illusion of motion out of abstract sound. Sometimes it is best applied sparingly, a passing ghost, or a steady, minimal pulse. Not so for London production duo Vex'd, for whom the bassline is a constant: massaged and furrowed, distorted and diffused, fired through faders and refracted through lenses. Low-end isn't just a facet of the paradigm - it is the paradigm.

    Dubstep - or sub-low, or simply instrumental grime - is a curious beast. It's suited to the biggest sound system where low frequencies seem to take on an almost physical mass, an invisible tension in the throat and chest and it's suited to headphones, where the tightened aperture reveals tough, unrefined sheets of sound to shimmer with infinitesimal details. On a standard sterio, though, it feels a bit of an exercise in futility: constrained by its unswerving dedication to stern, slate-grey mood, yet lacking the body-shifting force of a club sound system, it's oddly unsuited to the album format.

    Even within such self-imposesed boundaries, however, Degenerate is a winner. Perhaps it's easier not to see this as an experimental evolution so much as an evolution of necessity - an inevitable response to IDM's molecular - level microprocessing and snicker-snicker irony: devolve to evolve. Mind you, weirdly, if the robust, metallic squeal of 'Thunder' truly resembles anything, it's fellow bass warriors Autechre - albeit an Autechre after a lengthly process of recalibration.

    Dub is present here, albeit in a skeletal form: 'Pop Pop VIP' comes on like a Yardie rave on the Death Star, a murk of whooshing bass and martial percussion; later, 'Gunman' intersperses car-crusher cadence with the rattle of gunshots and exclamations in thick Jamaican patois. The key thing Vex'd take from dub is the judicious use of space: on 'Venus', snappy percussion and gaping bass yawns revolve in eerie synchronisation, creating gaping nothingness. They stumble only when the connection to dub becomes too explicit: 'Crusher Dub' takes a sleepy Kingston original and unnecessarily busies it up with a Squarepusher-style pile-up of percussion stutters. Best when the dub sound is a fleeting impression, a phantom roaming amid cold vectors of steel and silicone. Play Degenerate quiet, and it's remarkable. Play it loud, and you feel it - and it feels like 2005's key bass statement thus far.

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