Top 10 of the decade - sixth entry
Appleblim – Vansan (Skull Disco 06 – 2007)
(series growing here)
It was ironic that by the decade’s midpoint the loose federation of dubsteppers had fashioned a slower head- (and bass-) music that was getting people on the floor and ‘dancing’. My clubbing nights were coming down to a couple a year and far too random to require a regular pattern or scene to attach it to, so it was great but personally too late to have sounds come through that re-energised 90s techno/IDM as well as being only a step or two down from Garage. Most everything now would be assessed in Club Crofton, aka my attic in SE4, only one person permitted on most nights.
So curiosity in Skull Disco probably came from the well established route for aging bedroom refugees – the blogosphere and Boomkat, one for hyping, the other for trying before buying. I’d liked Appleblim’s Mystical Warrior on the first release. It was ravey half-step, arguably overindulging in shuddering Duck Fart that connected me back to my late 90s Virus cocoon, but very effective and it would hold its own against the Caspa midweight schlock of this world when played out now.
But this was merely a starting point for Laurie Osborne, the ex-Monsoon Bassoon man, and his moment came on Skull’s sixth release, Vansan the flip to Shackleton’s You Bring Me Down. A perfect fusion of German and Jamaican groove and space, British kick and Detroit escape, it’s the tune I long since imagined was out there if anyone could sublimate the key elements. I’m a sucker for every element on Vansan, the cold Detroitesque space chords reverberating further and further out each time they come round (further nagging at a depleting memory whether I’m imagining any specific tunes that contain this element), the thin bass pads (the low-end has no need to dominate), fluttering top-end ticks twinned with lysergic synth lines, and a nagging note echoed out of all recognition that I liken to the doors on the spacemachine opening and shutting, or more prosaically an aural indicator of a continued high, a narcotic filament flickering back and forth.
All of it is arguably stylistically very singular, everything seems to come through a Tubby-sized echochamber, everything extremely processed in a way that some ‘naturalist’ producers may disdain, but overall effect is the main thing and the instrumentation works brilliantly. The rhythm too remembers the overall function and is hard enough on the bass and snare to keep the tune going, to still be a ‘dance’ tune. Albeit a dance tune for replicants, escaping the chase. If you listen carefully Shackleton buries those orchestral-concrete Detroit slabs in his swirling You Bring Me Down. (When it comes to the bracketing, Shackleton deserves his own section for his jittery orientalist sounds – I’d recommend his creepy El-Din on Mordant as well as the paranoid In the Void on Hobbs’ Evangeline comp. ’Blim’s mix for Dubstep Allstars is also highly recommended.)
But for top 10 purposes I did question Vansan’s inclusion. Appleblim and Peverelist’s Circling, two releases later, came at us with similar tactics and in some areas is arguably even stronger. It takes a variant on those space chords, adds even more anti-freeze and bolsters it with a processed guitar line that crops up on releases every now and then (Peverelist also used it on some mixes for STP, I first heard it on Leftfield’s rmx of Renegade Soundwave as the dreaded ‘trip-hop’ was homing into view, but it emphasises the connection back to mid-90s techno). But in the end Vansan cannot be vanquished as its other elements are more individual – Circling is great but perhaps just a little too aware of its likely audience.
For Skull’s Vandals remix package, German Torsten Profrock as T++ remixed Vansan, putting a but more step into the sound, noodling up the incidentals in his usual style and burying the signature sounds for a more traditionally club-friendly mover. A reasonable job with such golden elements, but like 2562 and FlyLo taking on Martyn’s Vancouver unnecessary and perhaps foolhardy. What can you do but make it more linear? The original Vansan has an atmosphere of its very own, a dub-techno classic out of time and space.
Appleblim in oldish feature on Resident Advisor.