“None of this has much to do with the epic grooves that Dälek laid down on this session. And it has everything to do with it.” So says Allison Schnackenberg of Southern Records, commenting on the coincidence of Dälek’s Latitudes experience with the 2005 London bombings, and the way in which this segued into a tremendous period of change for Southern Records (largely stirred by the death of the label’s founder, John Loder).
I can see what she’s saying. On one hand, of what significance are a terrorist attack and the near-demise of a record label when the listener is stranded in Dälek’s layers of middle-eastern percussion, Americana twang and warped synthesiser processing? The sheer inundation of sound through which Dälek announce themselves lays waste to any sense of fixed context; its very noisiness comes from its liberal swirling of influences and cultures, making it impossible for the listener to find attachment in any single source in particular. As the group have noted themselves, Dälek derive from the definitive school of hip-hop, which teaches that no combination of styles and cultures is prohibited; sound is taken for its sensory value alone, with its original context free to be reworked and even utterly disregarded.
But frankly, Latitudes is about so much more than just music laser-etched onto a disc (or in the case of the more recent sessions, inscribed onto vinyl). The process by which Latitudes sessions take place – spontaneous, improvised one-offs in the Southern studio, offering opportunity for experimenting outside of artists’ “official” full lengths – mean that the situation is everything. Bands arrive at the studio with a blank creative canvas; the music is borne out of, and into, the situation in which the artists find themselves, harnessing the immediate mood and environment into the creative surge. The lavish packaging housing each release (featuring billowing cloud formations etched by Stephen O’Malley, plus a photograph of the recording period that best encompasses the “spirit of the session”) turns the whole package into a souvenir of the occasion, materialising the point at which a sudden artistic spark came to be.
It seems that the constraints of time only work to push the boundaries outward. Without the power of retrospect and scrutiny to refine the music into smoother shapes, and within an environment that encourages the urge to experiment, partakers often end up throwing up something completely unexpected. Much of Dälek’s 44-minute track floats by without their trademark drum grooves to define its steps; MC Dälek mutters over a sea of freeform drone and offshoots of noisy experimentation, with syllables lapsing half-dazed into glistening electronics and guitar mirage. And when the beat is eventually unleashed, it’s concealed within white noise jets and a heave-ho hydraulic surge, like the mechanism of a solitary machine drowning within the arrhythmic bustle of a gigantic factory space.
Elsewhere in the series, Nadja produce a work that protrudes out of the band’s extensive back catalogue – not so much for its diversity of sound (Baker’s distinctive guitar tones and lumbering sound masses are still central here), but for the sheer quality of the session’s two tracks. The title track of Sky Burial is an absolute triumph – a metallic dissonance scrapes in the foreground over a mantra-like drone march, punctuated every four bars by a crumbling eruption of guitar low end.
Meanwhile, Grumbling Fur (comprised of Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan) emerge from the forest fog of their recent Furrier album to wallow in the clarity of sunlight and open space. Where Dälek scattered and buried rhythm beneath the noise, Grumbling Fur grant it the role of anchor for the most part of Alice: as a steady 4/4 in the first track, and as giddy waves of toms and crash cymbal in the second. The third and final piece lets piano assert pace and emphasis, its bright chords tumbling in amongst cosmic synthesiser swirls. It’s a much brighter and more embracing sound than on Furrier, edging slightly toward the intimate and organic handcraftings of Tucker’s solo work.
The releases are designed to be treasured by the enthusiasts of the “physical product”, and that includes those charged responsible for passing it between label and listener; smaller distributors and retailers are chosen as active supporters (and sustainers) of music production, offering them a product to sell that falls in perfect parallel with their own ethos. In a world where mass record production is being left behind in the shifting perception of how music is both played and brought into ownership, these limited runs continue to sell out within days of their release. Funny how months can be poured into an album that plummets out of existence within a mere fraction of that time, whereas the product of one fleeting weekend can found something of inexpendible worth when brought into a deserved pair of hands.
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The latest Latitudes edition, Haxan Cloak’s “The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water”, is due for release soon.