Following hot on the heels of September 2020’s “Higher” EP, a collaborative effort with noteworthy producer Medlar under the alias Nitework, Ell Murphy’s debut EP Freedom sees the South-East Londoner fast establishing herself as a UKG mainstay. Composed entirely during lockdown, the five-track release features collaborations with some of the hottest names in the scene and is an astonishing body of work that is a testament to Ell’s creative ability and vision.

Title track “Freedom” grows on you with every listen. A joint effort with Rotterdam resident and fellow South London Pressings affiliate DJ Crisps, the title track sees Ell Murphy in bloom – the virtuosic quality of her full-voiced vocal flourishes ooze with gospel sensibility. The hair-raising tune first emerged in 2019 as an acapella that soundtracked a turning point in her life: “I’d been through a difficult time…” she writes, “… so I wrote Freedom about finally looking into some sort of hope for my future.” Her lyrical content features the same glowing positivity as of her radiant 2020 tune Sunshine, only in this instance, her triumphant vocals emerge artfully counterposed against grainy breaks, hedonistic organ comps, and distorted, sweeping sub-bass set to rattle bass bins and car stereos nationwide and beyond. It is at once a nostalgic nod to rave-era euphoria, but also the timely lockdown easing anthem we want and deserve. “Hours” presents itself as a different beast altogether. Delivering a low-slung Sheffield sound, Japanese producer Stones Taro suspends heavily syncopated broken beats, ephemeral, whispered vocal ad-libs, and echoing mid-range synth pads over a bumpy, humming bassline, the melodic quality of which is equally as infectious as Murphy’s vocal hooks. It delivers a laidback atmosphere that would be well suited to an opening set, or simply nattering with friends over a beer in the park.

B-side opener “Letting Go” is as close to riding in dodgems as you can get without suffering a regrettable case of whiplash. The bouncy high-end synth lines are energetic and bags of fun, packaged in a neat 4 to the floor format that comes equipped with hissing hi-hats, ticking rim-hits, and compact segments of vocal samples. Murphy and Highrise have successfully ensured that this forward-facing iteration of speed garage is equally as mixable as it is enjoyable. Closing the album, Ell Murphy and Tuff Trax take you back to the funfair with “Close” which boasts an understated, bleeping bassline and groovy vocal riffs, and a smattering of swung-out synth-lines, excellent material to bump your head to as you sip a mojito in the pouring rain under a badly placed beer garden umbrella.

Sandwiched between the two, “Blue” takes another turn entirely. Picasso and Murphy lead you through a misty soundscape alive with birdsong that blossoms into spoken word, crackling with record static. Syncopated, jagged vocal thrusts and sparse drum-programming punctuate the track, juxtaposed with sustained, hazy synth lines to maintain a mellow and reflective quality despite the song’s melancholy themes, offering the perspective of an outsider looking coolly in. This one is sure to leave a good impression on your sonic palate, as well as cleansing it nicely between the two speed-garage heaters.

As well as supporting this release, be sure to check out Ell’s own recently launched label “Jucey Tunes”.

“Freedom” is available to buy and stream in full on Friday, 21st of May.

Arfa’s “Freefall” is a thrilling EP that shows a remarkable command of space, displaying the rare skill of concision in electronic music. “Transit” kicks things off, a scratchy 2-step beat, thudding kick/sub combos, and woody hits do the bulk of the lifting, with reverb and delay-washed stereo work doing the rest.

“Pacing” is next up, and goes about doing just that—setting pace. Warm sub and bass tones are even more present in the second track, with droning synth strings and dreamy pads elevating the track to the ethereal, gently lilting to rest midway through before returning to its dizzy heights.

“Motions” sustains the vibe, carefully cranking up the intensity with warping basses that occasionally lean into speed garage sensibilities. Succinct ostinatos on the keys serve as the preferred punctuation throughout, and the whole track carries beautifully through the night—a prime cut for the after-hours listener.

The record ends ambitiously, with “Freefall”, which, rather fittingly, is the longest entry on the release. Switching up styles, but retaining much of the hazy atmosphere that characterizes the previous songs, Freefall skates on top of smooth jungle breaks and spacy vocal/synth work, peaking and dipping off to match the ebbs and flows of the rave”s many dancefloors.

Freefall is a smooth, immersive ride through UKG and jungle sonics, wonderfully showcasing the idea that less, is indeed more.

We need more horns in garage. We need more garage. Thank you, TC4!

“Caracas” has a wonderfully classic 2-step garage feel. Shuffling drums, steppy vocal chops, and a bubbling bassline play off a simple horn riff to create a great summer vibe at home in the 90s or 2019. I am not dressed nearly well enough for this tune, but gun fingers are definitely out. And, oh my, it is so sweet when the strings come in before the second drop. Wait for it.

Speaking of drops, the drop in “Bongo” is immaculate. Latin piano over a classic rave-up drops you into madness with a bit of clever production. I won’t give it away, but it’s one of the more satisfying riddims I’ve heard in a while. This is the epitome of a producer seeing an idea through.

Finally, the flutes of “Lobos” take you away. In an odd way, “Lobos” feels like the joining of the other two tracks, straddling garage and brilliant arrangement, but maybe with a splash of Brazilian percussion for good measure. It would work great as a grime instrumental but stands satisfyingly on its own.