Bassnectar :: Mesmerising the Ultra
Ever since Dimm asked me to join the ET crew in the dirty basement just over two years ago, I've been bugging him to send me heavier, grittier, more dance-floor friendly stuff to review. Unluckily for me, most of the recent offerings have largely been slow burners, with the occasional exception. So when Dimm approached me with Mesmerizing The Ultra and promised that it would be right up my alley, to say that I was ready would be an understatement.
For those in tune with the underground dance music scene in California, Lorin 'Bassnectar' Ashton is already an established name. A bit of research online reveals an immensely prolific past as a DJ/producer/remixer and watching the promo video on his website shows him behind the decks playing to thousands at, what looks like, various North American raves and festivals. The man's been mighty busy to say the least, rocking hip-hop and electronic dance music heads alike. This, his first official release - 35 tracks, spread over two discs - is the best blurring of the lines between every style of electronica that we will experience this year or anytime soon.
Mesmerizing The Ultra runs the gamut from heavy breaks, psy-infused IDM and trip-hop, to acid-lined hip-hop basslines and dubtronica - often in the space of the same track. Tempos vary to some extent but the focus on every track is definitely on the bass, which is turned up to the max on the EQ. The beat-fest starts from the get-go; the title track fuses glitchy electronics and IDM that the Warp guys would have been proud of, with hip-hop beats. "Snakecharmer" is a full-on aural attack of industrial meets Arabtronica via acid synth loops; think dZihan & Kamien for the ecstasy generation. Thankfully, Bassnectar doesn't take himself too seriously though - his remix of Sound Tribe Sector 9's "Some Sing" slows down just long enough halfway through to insert in, a cuckoo clock sample, twice, and there is some frenetic beatboxing technique on "Duzzit Slow." "Everybody" gets the Freq Nasty breakbeat treatment which turns into dizzying two-step rhythms. Like a lot of the other tracks on Mesmerizing The Ultra, "Blue State Riddim" fades old and new-school rhymes in and out of the electronic squelches and basslines. This is electronica that a b-boy won't even be able to knock. The last one-third of the first disc is all about versatility. The timely "Bursting" starts off with ambient synth patterns before living up to its name with a clash of electro and power chords, courtesy of Buckethead. Deep echoing beats resonate against psytrance synth stabs on "Enter The Chamber." The slow, languishing drumbeats of "In The Beginning" segue into the heavy breaks-fuelled storm that is "Agent Squish."
Disc two is made up entirely of remastered, politically leaning tracks off of Diverse Systems of Throb, a previous website-only release and ends with a remix of Heavyweight Dub Champion's collaboration with legend KRS-1, a strong Indian-influenced hip-hop number complete with a thunderous dhol breakdown. "Pleasure the Bassnympho" and "Simultaneous" are two of the best pumping breaks tracks to come along in a while; the beats and instrumentals ebb and flow behind sampled speeches of Mumia Abu Jamal, among others. "Dubuasca" is more of what we're used to 'round these parts; sexy-foreign-siren vocalist adds lilting pipes over dreamy downbeat.
A quote that left quite an impression on me was when Karsh Kale in Derek Beres's Global Beat Fusion tells him that when creating, his approach is "...not having to necessarily fit into a particular context or certain parameters for it to be a 'rock music song' or 'house music song.' All these lines need to be blurred, and are being blurred. When we listen to music and abandon those things we allow ourselves the ability to discover what we never would have if we adhered to these parameters." Bassnectar is obviously from that same school of thought. Genres, labels and the aforementioned 'parameters' are there to limit - this tremendous album would probably have not been made if Aphex Twin, Dieselboy, Prefuse 73, Bill Laswell and Public Enemy had not all co-existed so harmoniously in the psyche of this man.