Mutations in the genre of drum’n’bass are usually a long time coming. Because most emphasis is placed on either, the drums or the bass, innovations usually center around changes in the way those two elements are made (e.g. new equipment), or on locating an intriguing old sample from back in the day and crafting a fresh take on it.
Roni Size did a lot to change that manner of progress with his award-winning Reprazent album, 1997’s New Forms, by bringing musicality to clubland through the soulfullness of lounge-inspired jazz elements.
Working now with fellow Full Cycle artist DJ Die and warbler Leoni Laws, Size gives drum’n’bass another shot in the arm via the Breakbeat Era project. The debut album, Ultra Obscene, goes off more in the direction of hard-bop jazz, stressing tight tempos and punctuated syncopation in a tempest of improvisational emotion.
It’s the stuff of early Miles Davis, a passion-first approach to getting what’s in your gut out into the crowd. The kingpin holding the act together is Laws’ vocal talent, honed in Kyoto and London jazz clubs before hooking up with Size and Die. In “Rancid,” a taut bassline rips through the fabric of the tune, a hard-stepping romper that could easily overpower the best singers in the world. But not Laws.
Her clipped vocal attacks match the ferocious bass with the tenacity of a bulldog tempered by the beguiling style of Nina Simone. It takes a lot of control to sing like this, but Laws pulls it off like a pro.
The end effect: expect another shift in drum’n’bass thanks to Breakbeat Era. While clearly radio-friendly, Ultra Obscene has the potential to alter the way people approach the act of making dance music from now on.