Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Where Were U In 92?

At the very end of last year, Zomby weighed in with an astonishing double-pack EP on Hyperdub. This was wonky (I’m STILL holding out for aquacrunk) in all its physically beguiling, futuristic impossibility - is sounded like a PlayStation attempting to dance to a dubbed-out Prodigy. This was (is) most definitely now. And then, simultaneously, he quickly super-glued the frames back on the doors that he had just booted in with this, his debut album on Werk, a seemingly straight ‘homage’ to rave culture. Some may have wondered what the proudly anonymous Zomby was up to. I certainly did.

Back in 2006, Rufige Kru (Goldie and conspirator) delivered their debut album after a decade of peerless singles. Despite his decidedly dodgy solo career, Malice in Wonderland (and what a title) felt like a triumph - a valiant attempt from the old guard to make good with contemporary drum’n’bass. Unfortunately, after a few weeks it fell from memory and I’ve not touched it since.

Maybe that’s the reason why it took me a while to getting round to actually hearing this and why it’s still getting reviewed everywhere. Why would you even bother with such an endeavour? Why did I get this SO wrong?

Where Were You in ’92? jumps straight in with 'Fuck Mixing, Let’s Dance'. It's all there - sirens, mentasm stabs, looped hyper-breaks, rave piano and chipmunk vocals. Every texture and every nuance is immediately recognisable, an instant memory rush. But, far from being a facsimile, it all ends up sounding a bit well, weird. Zomby treats rave the way early Young Gods treated metal. All the sound sources are perfect but it’s put together in a way that could only have been now. It’s not quirky or jerky, each song rolls and flows and punches the air but somehow what should feel like pastiche seems a million miles ahead of the aforementioned Malice....

Take the second tune, 'Euphoria'. Like every song on the album, it opens brutally, in the middle - there's no introduction and no separation between tracks. An ‘ardkore (hate that word) piano gravitates merrily over a looping vocal and more sirens (they’re everywhere) and while the former is as expected, it’s the latter two that are bizarre. The whoosh of wordless female vocal is so weirdly FX’d that it sounds like it’s attached to a cyber-whisk. It’s also right in your face, a mile of separation between it and the piano. Meantime, the air-horn clarion-call is cracked- sounds cassette sampled, feeling almost ancient in effect. It’s these little tweaks that make the project such a staggering success. All those old sounds and riffs become textures in the hands of a master craftsman and it becomes apparent that Zomby is the yin to Burial’s yang. Where the latter moves forward by embracing the melancholy of a temporary social carnival that can only be imagined, Zomby soaks in the futurism and redeploys it. Both fuck with memory - one haunted the other blissful.

There are references to Blade Runner and Baby D via the PlayStation, but where he revels himself is three quarters of the way through on 'Pillz'. It’s so massively off-kilter, an out-of-sync chip-riff with skewed R&B backing vocals before it suddenly drops into a breakbeat. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to anything that happened before mid-2008.

And with this knowing sleight-of-hand, Zomby proves himself to be as subtle as he is energetic. Where Were You in ’92? screws over your synapses, fucks with your memory and you can dance to it. A triumph in every respect.

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