The world of drum ‘n’ bass can be a dark, dismal and overly-techy place for those with merely a passing interest. The stateside proliferation of mixes from the likes of Dieselboy and AK1200 have perpetuated the idea that the genre serves as a soundtrack for some sort of fucked-out 180 bpm apocalyptic wasteland. But drum ‘n’ bass doesn’t need to reflect the rise of the machines, and fortunately, there are producers who don’t feel inclined to fit into that mold. Their productions reflect diverse influences stemming from house, funk and jazz.
The most vocal advocate for this slice of the drum ‘n’ bass pie? More often than not, it’s London-based Hospital Records, which is responsible for releasing some of the genre’s most consistently excellent, soulful tunes. On his sophomore release for the imprint, High Contrast shows he is mature beyond his years and has maintained the high standards that he set for himself on his debut.
One of Hospital Records’ crown jewels, High Contrast released his debut True Colours in 2002 to worldwide critical acclaim, with many publications placing it on their year-end best-of lists. Born Lincoln Barett, the 21-year-old gave the Hospital folks some demos he produced on a PC at his home in Wales. Since then, he’s been propelled to the front of the competitive global drum ‘n’ bass circuit, remixing the likes of the Streets and being invited to record an Essential Mix for the fabled Radio One, an honor traditionally reserved for more conventional dance artists.
His sophomore release, High Society, is pretty much a continuation of the formula that made his debut highly addictive. Warm piano chords, strings and horns mesh with jazz-informed syncopated beats that fall far from the standard breaks that propel many a drum ‘n’ bass tune. The record’s got soul buried in its grooves, and the collaborations from the excellent Dynamite MC and Spoonface add to the appeal.
“Angels and Fly” is a standout, featuring an excellent East London flow from Nolay, over an odd drum ‘n’ bass/two-step hybrid beat that sounds like Timblaland dabbling with faster tempos. It’s slightly off-kilter but still suitable for the floor and all the more engaging for its originality. Closer “Basement Track” is the undeniable anthem from the record — a tune that’s been hammered on dubplate for going on two years or so. Which leads me to my one caveat: Drum ‘n’ bass is really all about individual twelve-inch releases. It takes a talented producer to stem together an album’s worth, let alone two album’s worth, of solid tracks, and High Contrast has delivered with minimal filler, no less. High Society contains about four absolute gems, and a significant number of catchy, innovative tunes that do the genre a service: making the girls dance rather than cower from sounds of robotic destruction.