Visionary Underground :: Keep the Grime On
The soundsystem concept in music, especially the live performance sort, maintained a strong presence in the 70s when Jamaican DJs and producers banded together to collaborate under one moniker, often showcasing the same vibes at a party or on a record. Hip-hop, with its block parties in the 80s and eventually, electronic dance music, via raves in particular, adopted the idea and soundsystems soon drew both large audiences as well as the scorn of the authorities. The introduction of the UK's Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 brought about pretty much the end of such endeavors, at least in public spaces, pushing them deeper underground.
These days, soundsystems and crews are making a comeback especially in the arena of electronica, Asian and otherwise. The Asian field is well represented by the likes of ADF, Nasha, Dhamaal (now defunct) and Shiva Soundsystem. A large, often revolving, collective of producers, DJs, MCs and now in most cases, graphic designers, allows these crews to amass talent and push one common theme. Adding their own twist, comes the official debut album of the 'audio visual breakbeat collective' known as Visionary Underground, although it in no way signifies the first time that we've heard from the trio of Feelfree (DJ/Producer), Coco (VJ/Visual Artist) and Damion (MC/Lyricist). Any loyal fan of the genre would instantly recognize previous singles "Militant 24" and "Ektaa", examples of gritty and tough Asian breakbeat at its best. It certainly didn't hurt to have Ges-e, Aref Durvesh and Dr. Das on board to lend their hands on production, tabla and bass duties, respectively, while Sonia Mehta's traditional Indian vocals complemented the hard beats well enough for her to become the unofficial voice of the UK Asian breakbeat scene.
While no track on Keep the Grime On comes as close to classic status as the two mentioned above (both appearing here in near un-altered form), there are definitely enough high BPM dancefloor stormers to keep even the uncompromising listener engaged. "Rollabreakz" sets off the album in the apposite manner with its old school (think early Prodigy) style synth loops. Famed drum n' bass MC Navigator brings his ragga chant technique to "Hooliganz", "Urban Uproar" and "Make It Happen". Album highlight and first official single release "Eye of the Storm" shows the VU crew utilize their resident MC Damion Mulrain's soulful and socially conscious lyrics to great effect, backed by Chandru of Bollywood Strings on Violin. Look out for Shiva SS's slamming "Cloud 9 remix" which takes the mid-tempo track and transforms it into a hard-hitting, heavy breaks update. "Shakti'z Theme' is one of the few Asian sound-heavy tracks on the album with grimy dn'b at its core. Closing track "Subway" sounds like it was made in the same session as "Rollabreakz", rave-y breakbeats all the way through.
VU's debut is unquestionably solid, especially if you're in the market for mid and up-tempo breaks. Not much here in terms of Asian elements - the Nasha compilations are better instances of that - but the core VU trio, with the help of dozens of collaborators, are at the forefront of the nu breaks sound emanating from London and will be a collective to watch and needless to say, we'll be closely following all future endeavors.