While the arguments never seem to end over whether vinyl or digital should get the crown as electronica’s most useful format that unloved child of necessity, the tape cassette, has slowly been making a belated comeback. Only recently appropriated by those in possession of twattish beards and a misplaced allegiance to the importance of obscurity (and how much of a gonk do you have to be to think that tapes were ever obscure?) they’ve begun to land in far more capable and creative hands, where their practicality and expediency offers the format wars something other than digital’s emptiness or vinyl’s gift wrapped pomp.
NCA002, the second cassette only release from Brassfoot and JMS Khosah, takes rare advantage of the format to deliver something that, while not-quite-album and not-quite-mix, seems to push out past the usual borders that are so common in house and techno today. The music itself, gritty, snarling, disorientating, and alive, seems to naturally echo those little quirks inherent in tape, the overdriven warmth, the flutter, that were so often in the past viewed as defects.
The artists have a common centre point, a shared gravity around which their ideas and skills seem to flow from, but their methods and the end results are very different. JMS Khosah’s side is by far the most straight up, delivering a near half hour showcase of deep, crunching house, and searing, proper ass kicking electro. I don’t know much about Khosah other than what I’ve heard on these tapes and some soundcloud snippets, but the tunes on offer here – pitched somewhere between Apron’s in-house lo-fi grooves and the soulful psychedelic bump usually heard from the likes of Jay Daniel or Kyle Hall – are absolutely on-point: fluid, functional funk that leads in one directions before starry pads, snapping claps or uncoiling basslines descend from nowhere to take you elsewhere. I don’t know whether Khosah is someone well-known going under another handle, but if he isn’t somebody please get him signed up. This is too damn good not to be out there in front of a wider crowd.
Brassfoot’s side is a different experience, and one given over to dark, wounding ambience and a masterful sense of foreboding which is every bit as tight and controlled as Khosah’s more lively grooves. When the beats do come they’re industrialized, puncturing the nervous atmosphere with serrated edges and brutal experimentalism. And although the mood morphs towards the end, with the introduction of some low slung beats, it still retains much of the weight, the sense of the pressure growing. And yet, it doesn’t roll like that; it can be a harsh listen, but there are flecks of humour here and there, little touches that draw out the colour and add movement to the static. In some hands it could have been monochrome and punishing, but with Brassfoot it catches itself between the depths and the sky. Two side of lo-fi heavy weight funk. Well worth digging your tape deck out for.