For the past few weeks I’ve been delving pretty heavily into the deep past for my Friday night inspiration. Over the last few days I’ve come down with a wee bug which, although not enough to keep my away from work, has curtailed any desire I’ve had to keep treading on ghosts. I’ve also been thinking about the future, specifically I’ve been wondering about what records we are going to look back at in ten or fifteen years and consider classics.
New Jersey legend DJ Qu had a busy couple of years, although his output has tailed off a bit in 2014. He scored a huge hit last year with The Way, a beautiful, gliding vocal track that was evidence of a producer at the absolute top of his game. It was one of those records that ended up in many people’s best of the year lists – justifiably so. And yet, there was something about it I never quite got onboard with. Despite the best efforts of marketing men, radio programmers and the denizens of social media one of the best things about music is that it retains its subjectivity. I’m not sure whether it’s ever possible to love a piece of music no matter how brilliant it is if you don’t feel it at a very basic level.
Many years ago I listened to Copper Blue for the first time. It was the début album by Sugar, the band of former Húsker Dú frontman Bob Mould and I stood in one of those booths Virgin Records used to have, wearing their cheap headphones, and felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Such a reaction to sound is elemental – you can’t fake it and no amount of people telling you how great something is will ever compensate for that lack of gut reaction if you don’t feel it. Or, to put it another way, whilst I can appreciate The Way on an intellectual and academic level, it doesn’t really move me. With Undescribed, though, it’s a different story.
I was late coming to Undescribed. The EP had come, gone and been repressed (or maybe I just lucked into finding a copy, I don’t know) before I got my hands on it. Maybe the world had already known and then forgotten what it was I was finding out, but it stopped me in my tracks. Usually when I get a record I archive it to FLAC and WAV as a matter of course. That first listen as I transfer it is usually given over to making sure levels are OK, that the needle doesn’t skip – that sort of mundane activity that sometimes makes me feel more like a technician than a music fan. But with this I think I played it back four or five times in a row, savouring each listen like it was the first time I had heard it.
I’m not exactly sure what it is that catches me – hell, if I knew that I would make much better music than I do. I think it was the aching emptiness of it that got me. Although the beats are strong, propelling the tune as they always do, they serve to accentuate the fragility of the rest of the arrangement. To call it downbeat would be inaccurate. It stalks an emotional truth that isn’t often found in House music: the essential loneliness of late nights and disconnections with others no matter how crowded you are. It echoes and comments on the often superficial nature of the group experience. It tilts away from the typical endorphin warmth of the genre into a place thick with shades. The crumpled shred of the vocal cold but so precise, the iciness of the bass and the subtle wash of the synths work together effortlessly to create a groove so powerful that if I caught it in a club it would melt everything else around me into meaninglessness. This really, really is Qu at the top of his game.
Yep, give it ten years and then we’ll see. This is poetry with beats.