Under The Counter (Volume Eight)

Reviews of new releases and fresh promo’s.

Nymfo – Sting Blade (Metalheadz)

META084 welcomes Dutch producer Nymfo to the Metalheadz fold with his debut EP for the label. With previous releases on Hospital, RAM, Shogun and Dispatch among others, it’s great to see Headz opening their arms to invite producers from the wider scene to contribute their take on an iconic sound.

The EP first began to take shape last year upon the discovery of an old drum break, inspiring the artist to listen to  seminal Blue Note sets helping him craft what he describes as a “proper Headz tune”. That session spawned the title track “Sting Blade”, dark and bold with layers of bass, sounding just like an unreleased 90s dubplate. Breaks roll into each other, surgically chopped yet retaining their original funk while the bass is bold and brazen, engineered to grab your attention. All the Blue Note elements are there, eerie atmospherics, spoken word samples, strings are used sparingly adding character and drama, contributing to the dubplate feel. “Sting Blade” manages to capture the excitement of making a track, then cutting it to play to your friends and peers. One for the 96/97 heads.

Elsewhere on the EP, fellow Dutch producer Martyn features on the track “What’s Happening”. A soulful Rhodes sample creates a wonderful fusion of house and jungle, similar to early broken beat experiments of the late 90s. 

“No Choice” draws for the amen break and a snarling b-line that mutates it’s way through the arrangement while the digital exclusive “Lie Detection” takes a softer approach opting for techno chords and bleeps.

Various Artists – DROOGS005 (DROOGS)

The fifth release on UVB-76 offshoot DROOGS maybe their heaviest yet. From the amen frenzy of “Monolith” to the B-Boy fused paranoia of “City Limits”, both cuts are designed for rowdy dancefloors referencing the past while firmly pushing things forward. 

“Monolith” sees one of UVB-76’s founders, Gremlinz, team up with regular studio partner Jesta and DC resident Kalu for five minutes of carnage. Opening with intense strings and a distorted bass tone faintly in the background, the introduction hints at a storm brewing but nothing can quite prepare you for the ferocity of the drop. A wealth of amen variants, meticulously programmed, switch throughout this raucous battle of breaks. Constructed for maximum impact, the drums in “Monolith” are relentless, only stopping to pound for a few bars during its runtime.

“City Limits” by Friske (Metalheadz/Repertoire) is a stark contrast to the uncompromising nature of “Monolith”, drum breaks are replaced by drum machines and the bass, although still distorted, is warm instead of punishing. Early B-Boy references punctuate the track, from the sound of a subway train pulling into a yard or station to a primitive scratch of the word “break”. All this conjures images of youth trying to reclaim their identity through music and art in a city where streets are crime-ridden and their voices ignored. 

Like most cities, this track is sophisticated and atmospheric, with an ominous, almost sinister under-belly making this, possibly, my favourite DROOGS yet.

Bluematter – Real EP (Lore Limited)

More rugged amen action from Western Lore’s vinyl-only sub-label, Lore Limited. It’s great when you hear a track by an artist you haven’t heard before as it means you can do a bit of digging into the back catalogue and, in this case, be exposed to a wealth of music from different genres by the artist. Bluematter consists of Jozef K and Thomas Ragsdale, two producers whose background consists of making everything from “immersive soundscapes” to “blissful techno” receiving support from DJ’s including The Black Madonna and Maya Jane Coles. A recent track by the duo, “Aglaia” on Constant Circles, subtlely hinted a passion for drum and bass with its “Find Me” melody by Skanna.

“Real” begins sharply with rolling amens, similar to something Smith Inc would have done on Absolute 2 in 93, a high pitched string, techno pulses and Morpheus questioning “What is real? How do you define real?” before the “If you’re talking about what you can feel” line gives way to a 94 style amen, much heavier and chopped than the intro, resulting in a clever tonal change catapulting you forward through the evolution of hardcore into drum and bass.

“Zeus” and “Bunker” showcase the producer’s techno backgrounds with prominent kicks and dreamlike melodies, perfectly complimenting the chopped breaks that Western Lore is known for.

Out now on heavyweight black vinyl in a stickered sleeve, it’d be great to see this crossover into the experimental techno circuit as drum and bass owes so much to the genre for its own evolution.

Hooverian Blue – Old Gold (Sneaker Social Club)

Quality three-tracker from the ever-reliable Sneaker Social Club. After recent UKG style releases by Dream Cycle and Coco Bryce (under his Chavinsky moniker) the label return to breaks and bleeps with this bomb of an EP by Hooverian Blue. Among the three tracks is the “absolute weapon” fans of Ben UFO have been requesting an ID on since playing it at XOYO in August 2019.

That “weapon” is “Old Gold”, sounding like a modern-day take on “Valley of The Shadows” by Origin Unkown, albeit at a house tempo and minus the famous NASA vocal sample from the STS-51C launch. Built around a rumbling bassline that grows larger throughout the track, a classic Lyn Collins “Think” loop and minimal bleeps, it’s an obvious one to draw for when needing to pick up the energy in a set without going overboard. Like the other two on the EP it’s constructed with very few parts, much like “Valley of The Shadows”, but importantly all of the elements work so well together the tracks really don’t need anything else as all three have such a great vibe and 90s authenticity about them. 

“Eyes Closed” gets going right from the start with its “Hot Pants” chops and UKG style bass, rave stabs adding to the old school feel deeper into the track. “Laluviah“ is my personal favourite from the EP with its spaced-out techno bleeps and acid b-line, reminiscent of the sounds filling warehouses in 1990.

A solid EP and a joy to mix.

K3Bee – Zoot EP (Next Phase Records)

K3Bee returns to Next Phase Records with four tracks of retrospective drum and bass, paying homage to the music’s golden era.

Notably heavier than his previous NPR release, the “Bristle EP”, this collection explores the experimental and rugged side of 90s jungle. Taking elements from hip hop, ambient and jazz, the “Zoot EP” reflects a time where the scene was an alchemy of styles.

The title track, “Zoot”, has this ethos at its core. Constructed with a medley of parts, obtained from a variety of genres, then assembled to create something fresh and different. “Blue Mango” features an iconic jazz melody, which 90s hip hop lovers will appreciate, and an amen drop that would have tore up pirate radio back in 1994.

“Lo-Fi” takes us down the experimental path, full of delay, atmospheric noises and more fantastically edited amens. “Freedom” begins with industrial loops and techstep beats before introducing the Blowfly break and a bubbling b-line for an authentic jungle experience.

A triumphant return to Next Phase for K3Bee, the “Zoot EP” successfully reflects the myriad of styles and sounds that flowed through the 90s drum and bass scene.

Words: Dave Sector

Many thanks to the artists and labels who send me music. If you would like your release considered for inclusion on Two Hungry Ghosts please email your submission to twohungryghosts@gmail.com

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