Bristol’s got its sound. The city's music scene is underpinned by an open-minded and innovative mentality. The latest wave of successful dance acts are flourishing in the rumbling aftermath of the dubstep era, slicing their own way through the thick jungle left by predecessors such as Roni Size. But it’s not been a slash and burn cycle of development. They’ve cultivated a more colourful canopy of sound, blooming from the city’s wide ranging influences.
The dub influence is tangible. Whether that’s in the heavy use of skull-shaking bass or heavy reliance on delay and echo effects - the results are simultaneously disorientating and danceable.
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There’s a certain brooding tension, too, that veterans of Livity Sound and Timedance nights are well versed in. It emphasises weighty yet subtle low end drops, and lends itself to particularly dysphoric and choppy percussive patterns.
Forged by a strong sense of community from institutions like Noods Radio and a diehard DIY attitude from scene stalwarts like Pev, Bruce, Hodge, Pinch, Kowton, Batu and Ossia, Bristol's bass-driven techno output was exceptional across the latter half of last decade. Check out some of the best releases hailing from artists linked to the city below.
Hodge Flashback (2014, Hotline Recordings)
If you needed any more evidence that Bristol’s post-dubstep fusion with techno was inspired by the former’s roots in sound system culture, then look no further than this double EP from Hodge. Released on Hotline Recordings, one of the slew of DIY labels started by Ossia, the B-side on the two-track EP features that typically tense sound found across the output of many Bristolian artists. A dreamy hi-synth line and flickering, weighty low-end bass open up, before a breakdown leads into jabbing kick drums and hi-hats.
Kowton On Repeat (2015, Livity Sound)
Livity Sound. A key pivot in the intersectionality of Bristol’s newest noise. Founded in 2011 by roundly respected dubstep don Peverelist, alongside a live act with Kowton and Asusu, the label was minted with Pev & Kowton collaboration 'Beneath Radar': two dubby, low-end drenched techno takes of the same rhythm. Four years and an explosion in popularity later, Livity’s sound was firmly established. On this 12" it feels as if seemingly random kicks, shuffling hi-hats and razor sharp, repeating two tone synth melodies are waiting for the snares to welcome the dense sub in. The middle breakdown is euphoric and elongated before deferring back to the thick, densely layered sound of the build-up.
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Peverelist Undulate (2015, Livity Sound)
Shimmering synth sounds oscillate around each other, taking centre stage for this release that nicely capped off an explosive year for Livity Sound Pev uses the rolling nature of the synths to bounce a hi-hat led opening with a subtle, rotund bassline that rhythmically matches with the carefully injected, almost UK funky-sounding snare.
Batu Domino Theory (2014, Timedance)
Timedance was created to provide am outlet for music that had nowhere to exist. The label, very much Batu’s carefully curated baby, was a space for more risky techno deeply rooted in sound system culture. This debut record was accompanied by the first of the parties that helped put Bristol’s The Island venue on the map. 'Domino Theory' follows a recipe, while, at the same time, subverting it. It has the same unwavering energy as heard from Livity Sound contemporaries - never delivering a real drop with synths creating a similar, palpable atmosphere. Yet, the mucky breakdown in the middle and subtle pitch changes in the background melodies set it apart. It’s this abstract approach that has allowed Timedance to carve out an unmistakable niche.
Ossia Red X (Blackest Ever Black, 2015)
There's heavy dub influence on this track from Young Echo’s Daniel Davies. The debut for his Ossia moniker utilises a sample from Peter Tosh, reverb and delay as a basis for its pacey progression from delicate half-pace power to a kick-driven, bass-heavy canvas for a mangled exploration of hi-end frequencies and dub sirens - another Bristol trademark.
Borai Anybody from London (2015, Hotline Recordings)
This breakbeat techno banger unashamedly fires a double gun fingered salute to the whistle blowing old skool, yet still manages to simultaneously weave in a speedy dubstep influence. That, simply put, fucking disgusting bassline arrives, and your face scrunches up like a discarded paper bag. The track’s textured with tightly delayed drums and amusing sample interjections.
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Bruce I’m Alright Mate (Timedance, 2016)
'I’m Alright Mate' captures a feeling of disorientation and confusion, yet somehow is undeniably satisfying. It is unrelenting and propulsive, with thumping kicks, a warm bassline and tense synths. Suddenly, after glitchy, skittish effects, the track cuts, before slowly fading in again. This time it beckons in that perfectly masterminded percussive one-two punch, with support from a running hi-hat and before long we’re back with that familiar marching double note low end.
Lurka x Batu 'Fringe White EP’ (B1) (2016, Fringe White)
Serial Timedance releaser Lurka collaborates with Batu on this unnamed, scary sounding techno stomper. It’s the kind of atypical weirdness the Bristol scene thrives on: addictive, busy percussion littered with warped effects, unsettling melodies and creeping elements that sutly come together to form a full, layered sound.
DJ October & Borai Necessary Force (2016, Happy Skull)
This dark, heads down tune is a more direct, four-to-the-floor style than the others on the list but still displays a plethora of the city’s trademark dance music trademarks. Choppy, echoey drums weave in between in a simple yet effective kick and synth bass pattern. The discombobulated breakdown at about four and a half minutes is archetypal, unhinged, plain crazy Bristol sound. It’s one from the vast catalogue of collaborations of October and Borai have made over the years. They’ve also drifted to the more experimental, industrial field with their project Spiritflesh - the name perhaps drawn from the industrial metal band Godflesh, of which October is a fan.
Batu Bleeper Feed (2016, Dnuos Ytivil)
Batu traverses genre in this release for Livity’s backwards spelled sister label. Heavy low-end paves the way for electro flavoured drums before the track descends into a UK funky middle breakdown. Energy crackles throughout, with a gaggle of bizarre feedback, sprouting Blitz-siren sounding klaxons complete with a smattering of delay and a spikey treble line that closes out by eventually being distorted beyond recognition. A considered, chaotic masterpiece.
Asusu Sendak (2016, Livity Sound)
A rugged bassy melody seizes control after an anxious kick driven introduction, as a strong low-end and elongated tense SFX lurk in the background. Dubstep influence? Check. Tense wonkiness? Check. Subtle yet heavy bass? Check. It’s got all the ingredients of quintessential Livity and Bristol bangers.
Randomer & Hodge Simple As (2016, Dnuos Ytivil)
The drum heavy opening that rumbles throughout 'Simple As' feels like staring into the inner workings of the most complicated clock you could own. There’s the perfect amount of room for that subtle, two tone melody to cut through the ever present low-end. Chopped up vocals provide an edgy energy and propel the track at key moments.
Etch Untitled Hardcore #2 (2016, Sneaker Social Club)
Pinch & Mumdance Control (2017, Tectonic)
Pinch is a dedicated head. He’s been putting out dubstep on Punch Drunk and his own Tectonic records for years, but more recently his tracks have begun to have a more techno influenced sound. For this cut he teams up with Mumdance for a wicked electro Bristol banger. It features vocals typical of Mumdance, dread inducing synths and strings to open before leaping headfirst into that electro kick snare pattern.
Kowton Iodine (2017, Livity Sound)
The sub on this track is sturdy and provides a basis for a more conventional techno style seen in the leading eight note loop, but it’s combined with weirder leanings - delay soaked sirens and flat notes seemingly plucked from thin air. The acid kick and echoey snare reflect in a more peculiar manner.
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Ossia Dub Hell (2018, Blackest Ever Black)
A mean, distorted kick thumps through your entire body whilst twisted, screeching samples swirl over the dubby beat. Nothing remains for long. The track’s shifting, liquid state thrusts a middle finger in the face of convention.
Lurka Heat Mover (2018, Timedance)
The menacing sweeping synth fades in and out, the groovey drums provide the foundation for a smörgåsbord of busy effects and the striking synth spike on the snare is infectious.
Syz Ethos (2018, Only Ruins)
Shanti Celeste & Hodge Soba Dance (2019, Peach Discs)
Shanti Celeste is perhaps better known for her house music output, combining dreamy, wriggling melodies, with smooth, gliding drums. After moving to Bristol she worked at seminal record shop Idle Hands, forming the Brstl label with Chris Farrell and refining her sound. It's not the most obvious crossover to combine her more uplifting sound with Hodge’s dark, dubstepping roots. The result? Busy drums provide the intro, and combine perfectly with bubbling synth lines, orbiting what sounds like a twisted bongo sample. It’s peeled back around the two and a half minute mark to reveal - again - a gripping, anxious melody. Things are brought to a conclusion with skittering hi-hats.
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Giant Swan Pandaemonium (2019, KECK)
Giant Swan’s self titled debut LP is meant to be played loud - fully in the reds loud. This single, 'Pandaemonium', is aptly named. Satanic vocal samples are littered throughout and the thunderous cut is an unrelenting, overwhelming techno assault completed with the duo's atypical smattering of industrial interjections.
Max Penny-Barrow is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter
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