It’s no secret that I retain a healthy amount of skepticism for the big room and EDM sounds that have come to influence modern bass music. As the genre has grown, a wider range of mainstream influences have fused themselves onto the production styles of artists emerging around the globe; most often, this leads to the creep of sonic homogeneity, which has the capacity to dilute entire genres if left unchecked (see the trajectory of dubstep into and out of the mainstream as but one example).
NLMT has, in many ways, managed to consistently fold these potentially untoward influences into something special, performing the delicate balancing act of remaining open to new influences whilst staying true to his roots. “Mercy” is a sort of paraphrased manifesto for these musical ambitions, and accomplishes just that with surprising ease.
The record kicks off with the eponymous track, “Mercy”, and wastes no time showcasing NLMT’s diverse set of skills. Euphoric vocals lead the way, which have long become a signature of the Bradford native’s style, and are quickly intersected by industrial cymbal clangs, eventually making way for an impressively dense (and dissonant) bassline. The track’s bridge affords it some breathing room, and an obscure male vocal neatly segues the entry back towards its heavier highlights.
“Pleading” is up next, making clever use of pitched-up, drill-style 808s, which rightly signal the impending locomotion. As per the last track dreamy, effects-laden vocals run up until a potent drop; a hallmark which befits the newer school sensibilities of featured-collaborator “Cooky”.
“Break It Down” marks another collaboration, this time with a new start “Fraud”, and makes similar use of the aforementioned pitched 808s before breaking into a slurred, distorted tech-house/bass house style vocal. Numerous chops and airy synth lines coalesce and lead into a tight, melodic groove, with a number of subtle variations to keep the concepts fresh.
“Mercy” stands out as a coherent and exciting new bass release that showcases the most celebrated aspects of NLMT’s musical proclivities. Completed by the pair of collabs with surging up-and-comers, the Bradford producer might have found the formula to making new school bass music enjoyable for all comers.
There are few artists more dedicated to pushing classic, 4×4 sounds than J69. Packing a proud array of club-ready anthems, the Sheffield native’s unabashed promotion of the region’s key underground export has only gathered momentum as bassline’s popularity skyrocketed. Eschewing more popular EDM influences, “Bap Bap” is a headfirst descent into the sonically askew, opening with a cartoonish xylophone motif before colliding into skittering bass, saucy, almost drawled vocals and offbeat synth stabs. The arrangement is rustic, but very much fit for purpose. and the vocals are smoothly laid down courtesy of veteran MC, Breeza. The result is an explosive one forty collab dripping with vintage charisma and is one that will most certainly get significant playtesting in many of the region’s raves to come.
The sum total of a now well-refined formula, Bap Bap is a testament to the never-say-die attitude of Sheffield’s old-school bassline scene. For fans of UK bass music, the rest of the compilation is highly recommended, with standouts Palize, Killa P, Burt Cope, and Badger all offering their talents.
Liam Bline’s newest drop is a playful throwback to the “good old days” of bassline, with an entry that wouldn’t be out of place on an old-school Niche nightclub compilation.
Released through Sheffield’s Chip Butty Records, “Caught Up” bears all the hallmarks of party-igniting banger—a nostalgic vocal sample complements the uptempo drums, with bubbling bass work doing much of the heavy lifting. The end result is a hybrid of vintage vibes enlivened by modern production techniques and is a production trend that has steadily gained some traction, especially in the UK’s North.
To the previous point, the track arrives amidst something of a revival for speed garage sounds; a genre witnessing a noticeable uptick in inclusion across bassline, garage, and techno sets.
With lockdown coming to a foreseeable end soon in the UK, Liam Bline’s effort is varnished with vibes from start to finish, making for perfect middle-of-the-night skanking in any set, at any bumping rave.
Burt Cope’s latest effort shows the hard-earned results of his ongoing sonic negotiation; from the new kid on the block in UK bass to the established presence he is today.
“Broken” is a potent amalgam of Cope’s sounds, situated somewhere between his unapologetically off-kilter entries, as shown in “E Numberz” and “Sword Fight”, and his large and in charge efforts, such as the recently released “Business” EP. The Oxford resident’s knack for tuneful build-ups is on full show, marinating the meat of the track before dropping harsh screeches and chromatic bass licks that play fetch and return over a commanding kick. It stands out as an entry that, whilst embedded in the EDM-influenced sounds of the day, still pays homage to those that came before it in the scene. The vocal is, by all accounts, very memorable, and is sure to be earworm in the quieter hours of the working week.
A host of impressive features complete the EP, with UKG standout Yemi teasing the gentler flavors out through the vocal line. The use of stereo lifts the added keys to the sublime, and bright strings accompany the emotive buildups before dropping into the comfort of a bouncy bassline and crisp NUKG drums.
If Yemi’s flip was working with the lighter elements, Deadbeat’s entry makes full use of the shadow. Sheffield’s busiest wizard of bass pulls no punches, reveling in the grottier sounds that he has, over time, shown a complete mastery of. Guttural, warping lows and 4×4 drums are wonderfully layered, and a commitment to the use of variation across the main motif does the track, and bass music more generally, a great service. Take notes aspiring bass producers.
Finally, Mr. Dubz’s release ramps up the BPM to drum and bass territory, suggesting jump-up flavors before confounding expectations, delving into droning, detuned bass, and chopped-up vocals. Cosmic arpeggios and dissonant synth breaks stitch the action together, making for a welcome uptempo addition amongst the remixes.
“Broken” is a neat addition to Burt Cope’s established catalog, with the featured remixes showcasing impressive work from standouts in UKG, bassline, and drum and bass.
This collection leaks UK funky at the edges, blending with bass house, bassline and the classic grime elements that made UK funky stand up as a separate genre. Catchy leads lure you over big drops into bumpy bass lines. Voices from far away connect you to places foreign yet familiar and the best nights you remember. There’s something here for anyone who likes the deeper motifs of bass music.
A few highlights:
“Ting and Ting” feels like a live mash-up, capturing the UK funky-meets-ragga feel perfectly, which not everyone can pull off. The vocal is high energy, over catchy UK funky beat, bass, and grime licks. It’s the type of tune that will get pulled up twice and then mixed into something else, which is a shame because it’s solid right to the end.
UK Funky on a bass house tip, “Dutch Cheese” Is a deep and dirty little roller centered around another ragga sample, but stands in contrast to “Ting and Ting”. This one’s about getting low. Grimey basses slither around your ankles in the dark, while toms and dry snares elbow for room.
“Afrobass” is tough as nails. Stacked basses hit hard over a snappy rhythm, offset only by 8 bar octave leaps and the tension and release that comes with it. “Afrobass” feels like the middle of a tune, off and running, setting a darker mood of classic UK garage.
“Standby” is the kind of track you want banking when you walk into the club at 10:50 PM, just before they raise the cover. It’s the first tune that gets pulled up. It’s the type of big bottom tune that kicks off a night. And there’s a whistle. You can’t go wrong with a whistle.
And “Congo play” is one of the more gorgeous tunes on the album. Simple and driving, it’s got less to prove and somehow ends up one of the stronger contenders. A driving vamp plays off of clever percussion and a simple sub-bassline. While a lot of the big bass drops in this collection will hype a crowd, the vibe set by “Congo play” is what might stay with you.
This compilation covers every inch of a small circle of UK bass-centric dance music, while never quite repeating itself. Most of these tunes are bangers, not anthems, the kind that the best DJs use to set a mood, make people get low, and go home with smiles.
“Driver” by Ali McK & IYZ comes on like a Dixieland parade, full of joy and swing, but don’t be fooled into following. They walk you right off a cliff into the thin air of bass and shuffle. Time stands still as the growls and funky riddim builds into a perfect atmosphere of bounce and tension. You’re in for a wild ride, whether it’s for the boiler room or block party.
Right away, you’re reminded that “London’s Calling” from the building staccato strings, a nod to grime, bassline and all things UK garage. Which is only right, because the bassline could be taken from climes farther norf. “London’s Calling” is a simple riddim, but not without attention to detail. The hand percussion and vocal blurts keep it rolling.
Killjoy strips the original “Driver” down to the bone and builds it back-up with face slapping claps and more bassline flair. It’s relentless, a completely different interpretation of the “driver” metaphor.
Coldpast takes “Driver” a little further back, with chunky hats and a bit of snare swing setting a more speed garage vibe. The gun fingers come out on this one, Buju sample, synth vamps, and all. In the 90’s I would’ve driven hours to hear this.
This EP is a winner I slept on earlier this year. It’s now in regular rotation.
© Bass Tourist