Friday, 30 July 2010

Skream Freeizms Vol. 1, 2 and 3

I’m not entirely sure how it’s happened so subtly, but at some point over the last couple of years Ollie ‘Skream’ Jones has found himself occupying the unlikely position of bona fide superstar. It’s been largely alongside his partner-in-crime and regular co-DJ Benga, but Jones has always been the more prolific, and it’s hard not to suspect that the duo’s fame is largely down to his success as remixer and producer. If you were to pinpoint a single factor most responsible for his current boom in popularity, it’d almost certainly be his ubiquitous remix of La Roux’s ‘In For The Kill’ – a neatly pieced together track, for sure, but for anyone who hadn’t been paying attention to him beforehand it’d have been surprisingly easy to miss just how crucial he’d been in dubstep’s development. Neither the La Roux remix, nor the majority of the razor-edged, aggressive and one-dimensional club fodder he regularly throws out there, can even begin to match some of his earlier music for sheer weight of innovation and emotional investment.

So it seems appropriate to spend a little time looking backward, at a point where it seems that Skream’s music is finally likely to hit the big time – his group Magnetic Man have a much-hyped record on the way, and his second full-length Outside The Box is a pop-tinted creature that will almost certainly make an impression on the record buying public. And in typical generous form, the three Freeizm zip compilations he’s given away provide an ideal opportunity, purging some of the hundreds of unreleased tracks that make up his sizeable back catalogue – some of which reach as far back as the earliest days of FWD and DMZ. Their release now serves a double purpose, and for anyone even remotely interested in electronic music – or even in the kind of material Skream’s releasing now – they’re well worth the five minutes’ download time.

Firstly, they’re evidence of just how precociously brilliant much of his early music was, ripping the hedonism and populism out of UK garage to leave a gritty inversion of London’s clubland – all darkened alleyways, council blocks and lonely journeys, sketched out in shattered snares and cocoons of amniotic sub-bass. At the time it was a deliciously alien headtrip into a different and entirely more real evocation of the world around it. And along with music from Kode9, Digital Mystikz, Loefah and the Skull Disco crew, it was fully immersive and involving, sub-bass acting as a tar that both bound listeners to one another and held them at just beyond touching distance. Of the three Freeizms, Volume 2 is the most brutally compelling, gathering together tracks from this period, each of which simmers with barely contained tension that seeps from headphones or speakers. ‘Dark Light’ is stripped-back to the point of non-existence; like Loefah’s ‘Horror Show’ it speaks as much through what’s not present as what little is – percussion that clacks like insectoid mandibles, and crawling subs. The pacier, skipping beats of ‘Arola’ and ‘Sine-Us’ are both spectacular, and his remix of Loefah’s ‘Indian Dub’ is lost dub many fans have been awaiting for a long time – with good reason.

The second – perhaps inadvertent – purpose these releases serve is to highlight the links between the sort of music Jones used to make and his current output. The first and third volumes are a little more mixed, split between largely dull, robotic rave beasts – ‘Pitfall’, ‘Meta-lick’, ‘Metal Mouth’ – and more considered tracks – the alternate take of his Geiom ‘Reminissin’ remix is even better than the original. Both ‘Rollin’ and ‘Minimool’ once again adhere to a sparse template that oozes foreboding and a curious sense of sadness, tying the best of his work to that of someone like Digital Mystikz’s Mala. And therein lies the rub: as much as anything else, the sheer variety of material on display here, along with his seemingly endless productivity, makes sense in the context of his current projects. Skream has always been a shapeshifter, comfortable in any mode he cares to work within, and it’s impossible to begrudge him the pop-oriented direction he’s currently moving in when he’s been, and often still is, responsible for so much shockingly innovative music.

Words : Rory Gibb


Freeizm Vol. 1:

Freeizm Vol. 2:

Freeizm Vol. 3:

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