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RETROSPECTIVE: Hamilton - Echoes

RETROSPECTIVE: Hamilton – Echoes
Jack Smith

Something a bit different from the UE camp: in our new ‘Retrospective’ series, we’ll be taking a subjective look at some of the key tracks that have shaped our taste in music – those that have led to the creation of Urban Essence if you will – and with them the personal experiences they have fostered. First up, Hamilton’s Echoes released in 2011 on Ram Records.

I’m going to start off with something as corny as ‘picture the scene’. A blustery mid-October evening in 2010 and I’m sat at my desk, headphones in ear within my comfortable student residence fervously scanning a CD streaked with wispy shades of black, purple and dark blue, sifting up and down a list of nondescript text in search of that one track in a sea of white, faceless, unknown music. I flip the case over and stare at this regal-looking, starry-eyed capped man’s face in a vain attempt to extract the information I had been seeking. I’m in a world of my own listening to this unidentified, beguiling track as the shiny red bulb in the upper corner of my room suddenly comes to my attention for the very first time, spinning on its axis, coating the dim light in my room with an intrusive red arrowing gloss; the screeching smoke alarm lost amidst a symphony of twinkling chimes and rolling amens. Half of our 300 or so residents were already out in the square as I eventually stepped out, a collective bemoanal of the one individual’s lack of cooking ability that pulled everyone from the warmth and most importantly from my excellent listening experience. As I returned, donned headphones and pressed play for the second time there was no doubting the credibility of my enthusiasm for this standalone piece of music. Courtesy of Andy C’s Nightlife 5, the B-side to what would eventually become Hamilton’s first release on Ram, Echoes became an instant favourite: one of the most accomplished and emotional (read: semi-cheesy) Drum & Bass tracks I had heard in the few years I had been active as a listener within the scene.

To say Echoes is unique would be to stretch the truth somewhat. The inevitable comparisons between the track and High Contrast’s Tread Softly surfaced soon after its release, prompting a heated (if somewhat troll-laden) debate online as to the originality of Hamilton’s effort – ‘A blatant rip of ‘Tread Softly’… The hook, the melody, everything’. We could go even further and say it sounds a hell of a lot like Invisible Man’s The Bell Tune – in fact anything that features the dominating chime hook we can hear so frequently looking back at what we can loosely term ‘atmospheric jungle’ – yet the fact that Ram’s PR machine refers to the original P.F.M. inspiration behind the track goes along way in dispelling the arguments against.

Delve a bit further into the track and it’s the distinctive subtleties that really take over as opposed to the similarities with other works, looking in particular at the descending arpeggios that run alongside those that are most prominent; a highly effective yin-yang disparity that gives the track its dramatic balance. Following on from this contrast, one of the best listening experiences I’ve had in 2012 was a complete accident. With the track’s overall key notched down a few, Echoes at 33rpm is really quite something: perfect lounge-about listening that had me considering the practicalities of an all 33rpm-174 mix, like a time-stretched orgasm of contemporary rollers with filtered drums and whiney female vocals; an impassioned ode to Bukem’s jungle era if I’ve ever seen one. If I was any good at mixing it might have actually worked too but there you go, maybe I’ll give it another shot some time in the future, and I bet it’ll probably sound half decent.

You would have thought there would be only so much one person can take: the same song as my ringtone for the last year or so, which still draws muted moans from those closest to me who have had to endure it too; the opener to every bedroom mix session I can think of of late; and my liquid go-to track as I’m travelling around London trying to block out the frantic whir surrounding me. Fortunately it hasn’t met with the same demise bestowed upon Big L’s Put It On – ex-alarm tone now languishing in my memory as the complete embodiment of many a painful wake-up, totally unlistenable now about seven years down the line. Why choose to have this cherished piece of music imprinted in my mind to this drastic, entirely damaging extent I often ask myself; switch it up, turn it off. Find something else to play. But you know, there’s no harm in continuing along this path when there is clearly no correlative between age and decay in the music itself, the same delicate balance that seems to have plagued Brainstorm, all but forgotten now in a scene so quick to simultaneously celebrate and discard its material. The final step for me will be to upgrade the loosely pencilled ECHOES title on the white centre sticker of my promo copy to a finely drawn colourful affair using felt tip pens, maybe some glitter… a fitting tribute methinks.