The Goodness Review of the Decade
It's been a stellar decade for British electronic music. Driven forward by pioneers of the underground, we want to celebrate the producers and imprints that have taken the UK sound across the globe. Here's the story of the last 10 years of the UK underground, told in 10 iconic releases from its most influential labels.
2010: Commix - Re:Call to Mind (Metalheadz)
A collection of remixes might seem an odd place to start, but these techno/drum & bass mutations are evocative of the instincts of producers at the end of the naughties and an indication of where we are now. With techno stalwarts Underground Resistance and Marcel Dettman taking control over one of D&B's most recognisable labels, 'Re:Call to Mind' speaks to genre-fluidity that would come to define the UK sound. Highlights include a chugging techno number from Pangaea and dBridge's customarily modern take on DnB.
2011: Various - 116 & Rising (Hessle Audio)
The early years of the decade saw the rise of Hessle Audio, represented here by the compilation '116 & Rising', into mainstays of the electronic music scene. In bridging the gap between dubstep and techno, the Hessle trio effortlessly lean into the avant-garde without losing their signature accessibility. A deeper look into the compilation shows this connection - the contribution from legendary dubstep producer D1 comes from 2005, amongst new work from artists such as newcomer Joe and Hessle's then MVP, Blawan. It's Joe's track that's our favourite - showcasing his signature style: jazzy, groovy, dubby goodness, with a good-humoured touch.
2012: Burial - 'Truant/Rough Sleeper' (Hyperdub)
Choosing a single record from Hyperdub proved one of the most challenging decisions in compiling this list due to the label's consistently ground-breaking productions. In the end, the spot falls to its most famous son, Burial. Following the release of 'Untrue' on the label in 2007, the producer returned to Hyperdub with two feature length tracks. 'Truant/Rough Sleeper' is soul-searching, expansive, and some of Burial's best work to date. Both tracks display Burial's incredible knack for controlling the emotional pacing of his work. 'Truant' especially feels like an odyssey, pausing for moments of introspection before the percussion and refracted voices renter in a crescendo of bubbly ecstasy. It withdraws again, this time returning as something darker; more abrasive and paranoid. 'Rough Sleeper' manages to ride through this anxious state and finds something more hopeful, even giddy, in its conclusion. In just two tracks, 'Truant/Rough Sleeper' captures the essence of London in a way only Burial could've pulled-off.
2013: Daniel Avery - 'Drone Logic' (Phantasy)
'Drone Logic' launched the career of one of techno's most recognisable faces; Daniel Avery. It’s very accessible - many a route into dance music was found through this album, and it still stands up as an effortlessly repeatable experience. Catchy synths lend themselves to Avery's uplifting take on house and techno, and it's easy to find yourself returning to 'Drone Logic'. There’s a lot to admire in the album’s downtempo moments, too, especially ‘Simulrec’. Here the synths carry the emotional weight of the music, with a distinctively guitar-like feel. One of the nuances of the album, and much of the reason of its success, is Avery’s sense of timing and space. It’s all delicately layered and expertly crafted, both individually and as a collection. None more so than the drop in ‘Need Electric’, which somehow always seems to come half a second later than you’d expect it to.
2014: Aphex Twin - 'Syro' (Warp)
In for 2014 is one of electronic music's truly blockbuster names, Aphex Twin with 'Syro'. Perhaps the most famous face of one of Britain's most iconic labels across any discipline, Richard D. James saw off competition from Autechre and Nightmares on Wax to land the coveted Goodness pick. With his signature bafflingly complex drum-patterns matching their esoteric track names, its well within the Aphex mould. You might wonder, when you cut through the hype and the branding, if the music still stands up. It certainly does - take 's950tx16wasr10 [163.97] (earth portal mix)', a production well worth its place in Aphex Twin's musical oeuvre. The names, each the working titles as saved by Richard D. James in the production stage, take you inside the mind of one of electronic music's pioneers. It's a feeling you find listening to the album, being inside Aphex Twin's head: jittery, esoteric, ingenious.
2015: Various - 'Reverse, Vol. 1' (Livity Sound)
London institution Livity Sound were responsible for some of the decades' defining tunes, as well as spotting some of the best talent of the capital and beyond. Goodness alumni Laksa, Forest Drive West and Laurel Halo are amongst the producers championed by the imprint. A look through 'Reverse, Vol, 1' shows a raft of young artists that came to define the UK's underground: Batu, Simo Cell, Hodge and Bruce. With that in mind, its Bruce's aptly named 'Just Getting Started' which stands out to us - a no holds barred late-night techno cut that continues to remerge in sets in 2019 to represent the Livity Sound.
2016: Avalon Emerson - 'Whities006' (Whities)
Any number of Whities releases could have made their way onto this list, but for us Avalon Emerson shades other contributions from the likes of Lanark Artefax, Kowton and Leif. The release brought many to the attention of the rapidly rising Avalon Emerson, who has gone on to become one of electronic music's most sought after DJ-producers. Her stylish and effortlessly club-ready tracks were never far away from a set in 2016. Equally applicable as a curious inflection point in between two more high-octane tracks, or as a crescendo toward the end of a warm up, Whities 006 represents the label's and Emerson's own qualities as unconventional party starters.
2017: Jlin - 'Black Origami' (Planet Mu)
Planet Mu's inevitable entrance onto this list comes through 'Black Origami', Jlin's masterful album of 2017. Drawing from the city's influential musical heritage, the Chicago native blends footwork with the experimental. The result is a sprawling, percussive work; each track expanding and contracting, never static. Speaking about what drew her to footwork, she cites 'The music and the matching of the movement... Just constant exchange, constant exchange'. In 'Black Origami', Jlin captures this energy of dance and sound, always in flux, yet in perfect harmony.
2018: DjRUM - 'Portrait with Firewood' (R&S Records)
Another defining piece of the UK underground, techno royalty R&S records have been part of the electronic music establishment for many years. DjRum is their representative on this list with 'Portrait with Firewood', perhaps 2018's best album. Anyone who caught his performance at FOLD for us knows his immense talent behind the decks, which is backed up with equivalent skill in his own productions. None more so than those on 'Portrait with Firewood'. A highly technical DJ, constantly chopping and changing at breakneck speeds, it is remarkable to hear his restraint and delicate touch on a track such as 'Sparrows'. This flows into 'Showreel, Pt. 3', its choric opening belying its crescendo into the trance and gabber influenced sound often found in his DJ sets.
2019: Ninja Tune
Floating Points' new album Crush gets the Goodness pick for 2019. Released via iconic imprint Ninja Tune, it’s a fresh and meditative work, evocative of Skee Mask's 'Compro' with an orchestral twist. Fittingly for Ninja Tune, the album is a bit of a genre kaleidoscope. Look no further than 'Environments' for Floating Points' wide ranging musical influences, where you might find bleep, electronica, down-tempo jungle, breakcore and any number of others. The following track, 'Birth', takes an inward turn, becoming a kind of jazzy, ambient haze. Emotive and original, we feel the album is a cohesive mishmash of the sounds of the decade, and a deserving entrant onto this list.
Words by Ben Murray
Back into the gothic jungle with Christoph de Babalon
The timely 2018 rerelease of 'If You’re Into It, I’m Out of It' launched Christoph de Babalon back into the limelight. The style of the album, a journey through a spectrum of jungle and ambient, is as fresh as anything you’d have found last year. The ironic humour of the title, which might find itself on either side of the ‘cool’ divide, underplays the album’s more overtly dark, sinister track names, ‘My Confession', ‘Dead (Too)’.
Electronic music sits no more easily with this divide in 2019 as it did in 1997. Part of the appeal in ‘If You’re Into It’ is its punkish rejection of the rave scene of the time. To the audience of 2019 it promises a return to a time more authentically underground and de-commercialised, the same environment that de Babalon distances himself from in the album’s irreverent tone. There’s certainly something timeless about the album, perhaps due to its own wide-ranging influences and its continued impact on electronic music production. In its original creation, it sat outside the dance music continuum that has rediscovered it twenty years later.
Part of the enduring appeal of the album is its undeniable quality. Experimental in expression and outlook, no track is a misstep. From the sprawling opening of 'Opium', de Babalon rides the balance between the delicate and the heavy that electronic music can do so well. This balance, for example in 'Water', is found in the space between the hair-raising drum-patterns, as the track comes up for a sharp gasp of air before submerging again. In the downtempo, the album finds its regenerative moments, as in the pulsating synths of 'Brilliance'. De Babalon found a middle way, able to navigate the intensity of the fast and the slow. You can lose sight of just how great these moments of calm in the album are, amongst the intricate polyrhythms of the faster productions.
It’s hard not to be sucked into a rabbit-hole of genre divisions and subdivisions when describing de Babalon's style. A fusion of drum & bass, jungle, hardcore, and ambient, he draws his earliest music influences from punk, citing thrash metal such as Napalm Death as a guiding influence in his journey towards electronic music in the late 80s.For de Babalon, these musical connections were formed outside of the club, and this sense of the outsider is channelled in the music.
That's not to say that his live performances are out of step with de Babalon as a character; he's very thankful that a generation of young people are only now discovering the music. His live set is a combination of new work-in-progress productions and tried and tested material, rather than improvisation. It's a similar balance to those found in 'If you're into it'. High-octane and hypnotic, the sets combine the same world-building as his albums. You get the sense that Christoph de Babalon is not particularly interested in the cult of the DJ-producer - that he's still on the outside looking in. It's not an uncomfortable position; in fact, it's clearly working for him. Reabsorbed into dance music mainstream, his bleak and gothic aesthetic only adds to the mystique of de Babalon as an artist: the grainy black and white photography that adorns much of the albums is the overriding imagery of the music.
His live set covers the rave, drum and bass, breakcore and ambient soundscape that he has been developing and influencing over a 25-year career. It’s space to unleash a slither of the body of unreleased material from a prolific and uncompromising producer, a quiet but ever-felt presence in electronic music. Alec Empire, founder of the label Digital Hardcore Recordings that released ‘’If You’re Into It’, described in an interview between the two that de Babalon tracks ‘take time to build up the intensity… this is one strength of your music’. It's a fitting observation that parallels de Babalon's career, still building toward ever greater control and synergy of man and machine, his stock continuing to rise as he inspires the next generation.
A genuine master of his craft, Christoph de Babalon’s live set is the icing on the cake for our first party at Fold, alongside Nkisi, Minor Science and DjRUM.
Words by Ben Murray