Review: Solid Blake – Mario EP (Outer Zone)

There is, I think, a change slowly taking place within electro. It’s one that may not have been very obvious at first; alteration at a fundamental level is often invisible to start with, and it’s only later, as the variations have propagated throughout the environment, we really begin to pay attention. There is still a great deal of electro being made which is largely as it always was, but there is also a more nuanced understanding of mood and tone than previously. Much of the music has become increasingly influenced by IDM, or synthwave, which has introduced new themes to the mix. It has grown deeper, maybe even more mature, certainly more accessible and less ‘abstract’. It has also, possibly, become less fun.

But at the same time there has been another, largely unremarked, growth of electro which is more experimental and willing to delve into ever more shadowy places in search of those influences. We’ve seen it in releases on labels like Brokntoys, Trust, or Mechatronica amongst others, a willingness to push the sound beyond the old boundaries and into new worlds. Often the music feels much like electro always did, but there is a new looseness, and desire to twist the familiar shapes, and blend them with choice additions of fresh genetic material, until new and weird hybrids appear.

Which is how we come to this belter of an EP from Glasgow native and Copenhagen resident Solid Blake. It’s a record which appears to have largely flown in under the radar to deliver a take on the genre which is as far removed from all those expansive and slightly boring contemporary remakes of electro as you can get. Part of what makes the Mario EP so good is that it holds both electro’s past and present at arm’s length. Yes, the sounds are there, as well as little touches and motifs which have long earned their place in the genre’s lexicon, but a scalpel has been taken to them, sheering them away from their original meanings and remounting them on a very different feeling sound.

And what a sound. It’ll take a while to adjust your expectations. Anyone looking for something that’ll remind you of ferocious Detroit technobass, or Warp inspired wobbliness will have to work harder to get what they want from the record. In a sense, the simplest way to explain it is that there is a similarity to the way in which the current crop of Bristol producers have built their own new forms of house and techno by smashing down what was originally there and recreating them with Dubstep’s thunder, polyrhythmic madness, and a thousand other little bursts of colour and excitement.

This is electro formed from heavy elements and thick clouds. As with the Bristol gang there are throwdowns to dubstep here, but also to dirty, cranky techno and an almost AFX style love of melancholy chaos. The result is a thick sound, breathlessly hazy in parts, as on the opener, Lens, with its ominous half-step rhythms thudding menacingly through the ground fog, and its pads lacerating the darkness with curled whips of lights. On Mario the music tightens up, coiling around the barks of bass, and the beats develop an urgency made all the stronger by the ricocheting perc and nerve fraying layers up high. In some ways this is music which lies closest to the potent moodiness of some old school D&B than it does to electro, or even techno, and it’s all the richer for it.

Even when a bona-fide electro legend is brought in for remix duties the music retains its ability to shock with its freshness. Stingray’s mix of Mario holds the original’s grimy heaviness close to its centre, but widens the vistas to include more of the wormhole. It’s a freefall, all gravity inverted; rogue smears of bass bounce and collide, creating a complex, almost alien, environment where the little emotive touches of the orginal are accented and allowed even more space to bury themselves into your brain.

Only Yagharek, right at the end, feels anything like a traditional electro tune. Even then it feels reflected through a similar mirror of madness as producers like Busen have long been working through – and there is a sense that the form the music takes is only one element of it. Yagharek is less willfully obtuse than anything Busen have done, though; it’s a slicing, focussed, stormer; sinewy and cold. But the structure is perhaps the least important element, nothing more than a conduit for the stark, anxious, energies at the tunes heart to conjure prowling, flickering ghosts into being.

Forget all the IDM stuff: this right here is real next generation electro – an EP cut away from a party on the edge of a tomorrow we might not have. Superb, and one of the most brutally fresh takes on the genre you’ll get right now.

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