• Virus Syndicate - The Work-Related Illness

    Reviewed by Pearsall Helms (riddim.ca)

    <b> Virus Syndicate </b> - The Work-Related Illness

    Throughout the continuum of British electronic street music (rave, jungle, UK garage, and now grime) most attention has been focused on London. This is especially true with today's grime scene, where at times it is hard to pull your eyes off what's happening in East London (which is, admittedly, home to Dizzee Rascal, Roll Deep, Nasty Crew, Ruff Sqwad, Newham Generals, Jammek the World, plus about a billion others) to realize that there's a lot going on outside the M25.
    One of the places that has its own thing going on is Manchester, the (literally!) grimy, crime-ridden former industrial city in Northern England that has traditionally been the second city of English music. Manchester has a glorious musical history, and today it is home to a variety of new grime crews. For instance, Tony Wilson, the man who started Factory Records, the legendary Hacienda club, and discovered Joy Division and the Happy Mondays, has recently signed a grime crew called Raw-T to his new label. But the main crew in Manchester is Virus Syndicate, and this, their first album, is probably the biggest grime release to come out of Manchester yet, and one of the first proper grime albums period. Released on long-term experimental electronic music specialist Planet Mu label it is, frankly, fucking sweet.
    There's a lot that I really like about this album. For one thing, the production is totally on point. Their ace in the hole is their producer, Mark One, who is one of the very best grime/dubstep producers in England at the moment, and on this album he really exceeds himself, weaving together an awesome tapestry of sound. A good example of this is 'Girls', which combines ocean deep bass, jittery percussion, a one-note old skool stab, computer game beeps, and a strange disembodied voice into an amazingly deep and spacey backing for the mc's. Another cool tune is 'Wasted' where the mc's drop their verses about getting drunk and high over a slithering rhythm, bass that wobbles like a 'Big Naturals' video, and a few layers of tinkly melody.
    This is one of the things that I really like about this album: it's nothing but grime, and they resisted the temptation to soften things up with any American-style rnb or hip-hop cuts. Maybe this is just me being a bit "give me my exotic music damnit!", but one of the things that I like about grime is that it isn't rap, that it's different, that the music is different, that the mc's flow differently, that it just sounds different (count them differents!) from the rap music that is ever-present in New York. Although I like hip-hop and rnb, I don't think it is all that exciting or interesting, certainly not compared to grime, which is probably the most sonically exciting stuff I've heard in years. It makes me throw my hands up in frustration when I hear grime crews who are otherwise responsible for some of the freshest music around turning their hands to standard hip-hop/rnb stuff that is the same (except for their English accents) as what I can hear if I turn on Hot 97.
    I also like their mc's JSD, Nika D, and Goldfinger. Not only do they not bother appropriating American accents/flows, but they keep it strictly Mancunian. Since most of the vocal grime stuff that has been released so far has been from London it's cool to hear the Manchester accent flowing over the beats. They cover the usual topics of grime lyrics (getting messed up, fighting, petty crime, their own awesomeness, women) with an unusual level of style and the odd bit of humor. Lyrically, for me, the standout track is Nadine, a harrowing account of one girl's descent into crack addiction and prostitution.
    All in all, this is a very good album. The production is absolutely top notch, and the mc's are excellent as well. I think that the hook-up with Planet Mu is a good idea, because it's quite clear that Paradinas has given them the space to do what they want. Well worth a purchase.



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