Med School - Blood Pressure LP
Hospital Records’ sister label Med School, managed by Ash ‘Med School’ Howard, has been upstaging its more established sibling as an advocate of quality electronic music for quite some time now. We can look as far back as at its first release in 2006, S.P.Y’s ‘Black Flag’ / ‘Double Dragon’ as a turning point, but Bop’s unique and sublime debut LP Clear Your Mind stands as a benchmark for their output and the minimal sounds they represent, a true magnum opus for both artist and label. Three years later, after a swathe of continually excellent releases including Bop’s second LP The Amazing Adventures of One Curious Pixel; the New Blood various artist compilations; and an assortment of EP’s showcasing new talents such as Joe Syntax, Unquote, Synkro & Stray, the label returns in 2012 with a new compilation series entitled Blood Pressure, showcasing an eclectic and engaging sound from a mixture of some of the scenes brightest new talents and established producers.
Blood Pressure’s opener, Mutated Forms’ ‘Feels Like’, is a return to form for one of the original artists catapulted to fame by the label. Its techno-house build up and haunting vocal edit makes way for waves of synths, progressive chords and a crisp kick-snare. Its layers work for both easy-listening and dance-floor as a rare take on melodic rather than pounding half-time drum and bass; a bold opening statement of intent.
Anile & Dakosa have been collaborating of late to devastating effect – ‘Settle The Score’ on Klute’s Commercial Suicide compilation album last year is dark, techy perfection. ‘Ecstasy Dub’ is another solid stepper: clean claps, delayed kicks and glitchy synth bursts held together by that swerving bassline and bouncy reverb. Think Paulista Dub’s futuristic twin.
Another artist with a strong sound forced into the spotlight by the trend-setting label is Australian-born Royalston. The classically trained producer featured on Med School in the depths of winter 2011 with his four-track Cerulean Blue EP, and continues that success with a distinctive neurofunk stepper. ‘Carnivore’ is an exercise in clean simplicity and glitchy tech, with its growling stabs, staggered drums and Kraftwerk-esque synths, and only further solidifies his talent as a producer with a distinctive brand of edgy, yet intricate beats.
Bop’s ‘Impermanence’ is another fine example of the Russian’s trademark, pioneering microfunk sounds. No one else quite handles percussion to the same effect – the track’s sporadic, delicate drums are fine-tuned to perfection. Coupled with a piercing wind-tunnel effect and a structured bass that enters in fits and bursts before dominating, Bop creates a piece at once both searing and calming.
Newcomers TwoThirds and BadApple join forces to create a track that sits definitively within a 170 tempo yet manages to borrow and manipulate elements from the Burial-defined deeper regions of dubstep and future garage. ‘Sense of Being’ is wonderfully engineered without being too overblown: guitar licks give way to Veela’s delicate vocals, whilst structured, wandering keys and a smooth melody progression creates a poignant and layered piece with a subtlety similar to established artists such as Lynx & Consequence.
Fracture’s remix of Unquote & Grimm’s Paint My Wings is an altogether different affair. Its carnival vibe, big-beat hi-hats and pulsing bass gives the original’s chords and vocals a unique twist whilst maintaining much of the cathedral-esque trademark Unquote sound. Another indication of Med School’s efforts to push tempo boundaries.
Submerse’s ‘Always, Like This’ is a full representation of the upcoming artist’s attention to detail and clarity of sound engineering. A soaring, beautiful opening, interspersed with familiar female vocals characteristic of the future garage sound, and given scope by subtle keys and cathedral chords. Credit again due to the label for handpicking such a talent for the compilation.
On paper a collaboration between Med School talents Lung, Joe Syntax and eleven8 immediately sounds enticing, and the dangerous dancefloor-orientated roller ‘Red Rhythm’ doesn’t disappoint. An ominous, lurking opening makes way for a pounding wooden snare, ‘red rhythm’ repeated vocal and that distinctive, undulating Syntax bassline. Laden with amen scatters and sweeping Reese snippets, ‘Red Rhythm’ stands as a very well engineered track, representative of each artists’ individual sounds.
Long-standing Med School artists Blu Mar Ten’s latest offering ‘Last Life In The Universe’ is an excellent flag-bearer of the minimal sound. Silky atmospherics, glittering keys and a completely unqiue kick-snare pattern comprised of female vocal edits, permeated by a mountainous, shifting bassline that graduates into a Reese wave that would sit nicely in any Hardware release. This is Blu Mar Ten at their affecting and clinical best.
Bulb & Clarity’s ‘Her Smooth Love’ is a lovely easy-listener. Unprocessed piano keys and glimmering bleeps, whilst Bulb showcases his talent for deep, layered atmosphere similar to his 2011 track ‘Tenderness’. Clarity also demonstrates his production versatility considering the poignancy of ‘Her Smooth Love’ compared with the rasping immediacy of ‘Parallels’ forthcoming on Horizons later on in the year.
Frederic Robinson has been turning heads since his debut on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood compilation in 2011, and it was only a matter of time before Med School would pick up on his extraordinary talent. ‘Roadtrip’ is the supremely produced sister-track to his first release ‘Mood Swings’, with its evolving string plucks and crisp, open-close snares and claps, whilst the artists musical technique makes it impossible to keep track of the layers of sound. No piece of the puzzle ever settles – Amens come and go, oriental flutes progress at their own free will, each 4-bar segment has a uniqueness different to any other and crescendos are introduced at a pace very rarely seen in the genre. Another outstanding achievement from a producer still only in his teens.
Relatively new Estonian talent S.I.N. brings something unique to the table in the form of trip-hop stepper ‘Neverending’, a departure from anything else on the compilation. A tribal percussion build up, piercing vocals and scattered, haunting piano keys with a bouncing, filtered bassline. A distinctive sound from a promising producer who has released on Spearhead and had his track ‘Oldy’ showcased on Hospital’s Hospitality Drum And Bass 2012 LP.
After his first release on the New Blood 011 compilation album ‘Colours of Distance,’ eleven8 returns with another melodic dubstep track in the form of ‘Bridges’. A seamless Spanish guitar reminiscent of Nu Este Roz given weight by the punchy snare and echoing ‘before I explode’ female vocal, accompanied by delicate piano keys and throbbing reverb bass.
Joe Synkro, having previously featured on Med School’s New Blood 010 EP and released on highly regarded labels such as Exit and Pushing Red, has become something of a major player within the electronic scene because of his clean production talent and adeptness at both 170 and 140bpm. Fans of the artist have been anticipating the release of the beautiful minimal track ‘Dwelling’ for years, and for good reason. Its emotive and wind-like, wisping atmosphere, and ticking hi hats punctuated with fleeting mids and progressive, driven bassline serve to create a skilfully produced piece.
Anile’s collaboration with another relatively new and upcoming artist, the production trio comprising of Josh White, Matt Lowe and Jeff Crake aka Hybrid Minds, is a classically structured liquid roller. ‘Old Times’’ clicky snare and Jeff Crake’s smooth vocals, including the progressive melodies witnessed in Hybrid Minds recent EP on Audioporn, come together to form a wonderfully understated piece.
Cornwall’s Barefoot takes the sound back down to 140 dubstep with a mellow ambience akin to soul-influenced R&B: ‘Murmurs’ introduces wisps of ambience and echoed vocals before easing into its hypnotic step-clap progression – another piece with a clear affinity to the signature Med School repertoire.
Newcomer Stickman’s ‘Pressure’ is his digital-only debut release on Med School. An accomplished 170 minimal track dominated by surging synth waves and an analog-sounding, warm bassline. Another talent plucked from obscurity by Med School’s keen-eared A&R department.
The final track from the Belarusian B Cloud, ‘Going Deeper’ does just as its “we’re going deep, we’re going deeper” vocal suggests. A Subwave-esque 2 step drum pattern and pulsing bass is coupled with electro-sounding chords and typical 4/4 amen chop, plus edits similar to those in Nu:Tone’s ‘Hyper Hyper’, form a searing finale to the compilation.
The various artists album as a format has rarely seen such resounding excellence as that which we encounter with Blood Pressure. The scale of sounds and variety of unique production talent across the board is second to none, and in bringing together such an accomplished cast Med School has resolutely refused any of the pitfalls that the idea of a compilation album can bring. This is no recap of the year, nor a collection of second-rate tracks from artists whose intentions lie elsewhere. We are presented with established artists at the top of their game, and the very best of upcoming producers that make you wonder where on earth this talent comes from (looking particularly at a 17-year-old Clarity and 19-year-old Frederic Robinson). Blood Pressure is an outstandingly successful album from a label with its eye cast firmly towards the future of not only drum and bass but also the electronic scene in general.