Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Risk Taker, Skydiver: Tom Lea

Hailing from London, Tom Lea is quite an influential figure, and it rings true whether or not you've actually heard of him (in the latter case: shame on you). Contributing reviews editor of FACT Magazine -- a London-based publication that arguably stands at the forefront of experimental UK dance music and beyond -- he has an extremely idiosyncratic taste that often feels eminently fashionable without descending into fashion, a taste that drives FACT's unique editorial outlook. There's no denying the website's influence nor its far-reaching content, playing host to features from all sorts of brilliant writers (full disclosure: they are also host to some maybe-not-so-brilliant writing by yours truly) and covering everything from Drexciya to Olde English Spelling Bee to Ke$ha to Horsepower Productions to Drake.

You don't become the editor of an influential dance music publication without making some friends and connections. I'm not highlighting this to portray Tom Lea as some sort of networking magnate, but merely because he has his fingers deep into the most exciting reaches of UK dance music, and as such is a wonderful guide to the changing sound of the London underground. As fickle trends turn from dubstep to more house-oriented flavours, Lea is one step ahead of the curve with a burgeoning DJ career and an impeccable sense for selection and mixing as well as a clever understanding for linking UK sounds with the rest of the world, which is why he's the next very special curator for Futureproofing: and boy, does he deliver.

In addition to being a journalist, editor, and DJ, Lea also started up his own Local Action label this year. Five releases deep it's already a fascinating insight into an international 'post-dubstep diaspora,' to borrow a term from my colleague Michaelangelo Matos. Releasing two fantastic (and fantastically different) EPs from Deep Teknologi boss T Williams, Lea managed to wring out the last remaining vestiges of inspiration from UK Funky and combine them with an emergent aesthetic of what he calls "trad house" with LOC001, and combine the nocturnal and effete sensuality of classic UK garage with modern UK house with "Heartbeat," one of late 2010's most languid slow burners backed with a quirky but restrained remix from Mosca. The label also made a mockery of Burial worship with the early 2step revivalism of New York's Svpreme Fiend, who took Burial's paranoid and mournful take on El-B and combined it with the fussy clean lines of the 'real' stuff for something that exceeded the sum of its parts.

Lea is also a devoted fan of R&B, a love deeply entrenched in the current UK community, expressed through endless vocal sampling, unofficial refixes, mashups, and all-around a capella abuse.. Tapping into this directly, and choosing a wonderfully unexpected cover girl for his project, the fourth release on Local Action was a commissioned (re)mixtape of tracks by beleaguered Connecticut chanteuse Cassie, which featured blinding remixes by Jacques Greene and Brackles (with the latter's remix of "Me & U" perhaps the highlight of his year), among reworks by Lunice, Svpreme Fiend, 8Bitch, and more. Best of all, it was completely free.

I hinted earlier that the UK seems to be shifting towards house -- particularly with the grimed-up house of the incredibly influential Night Slugs collective -- and Local Action reflects this, marking their fifth release and first of 2011 with an EP from New York-based Contakt. It's an accessible and straightforward house EP informed by the colourful and exaggerated aesthetic of Night Slugs and their allies, an EP that works both as traditionalist tool and irreverent youthful mischief. Lea called in the big guns with a wonderfully percussive remix from the legendary UR associate Rolando.

The mix here is perhaps representative of a typical Tom Lea DJ set -- and the man has found himself better and better gigs, most recently playing on the same bill as a certain James Blake. It's a time-travelling and continent-traversing mix that illustrates the confused and wide-ranging roots of the current mutant UK sound, where Stimming, KiNK, Osunlade, and House of House rub shoulders with Julio Bashmore, Mosca, and Seiji -- and it all sounds natural. Lea's careful and considerate pacing is admirable, and it thankfully never feels showy or gimmicky: even when it can't help but be showy, as on the gorgeous transition between Stimming's quietly fist-pumping "Change" and the tearful house of Bashmore's new (and excellent) remix of Deadboy's "Heartbreaker." The mix is also home to some new faces: Contakt gets some time (including the Rolando remix), while Trizla, Ultravid, and Zoltan showcase the swirling vortex of dubstep, garage, house, broken beat, and hip-hop that makes up an international beat scene growing at an alarming rate.

Perhaps most intriguing are the mix's last minutes, where the glittery DJ Gregory remix of Osunlade's "My Reflection" slides into the hyper-ecstatic neon of Damu. Damu probably won't be a familiar name to most, but he's set for an interesting 2011, with a forthcoming EP on Local Action and an album on Martin Clark's Keysound label. The young producer's music radiates colour so bright it makes Ikonika sound monochrome, and that the mix ends with my favourite of his many forthcoming tracks is either a lovely coincidence or thoughtful prescience on Tom's part. (I'd like to think it was the latter). "Sequinny" is a complete mess, arpeggios stretched to their breaking points over ridiculous synths, and the whole thing is ear-piercingly catchy, unforgettable in all of its incredibly high-pitched anthemia.

To put it much more succinctly, this excellent mix is a bit of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup thing: Tom Lea has gone and put a bit of Europe and America into his UK house, and the combination is outstanding.  The clean and defined borders of tracks from producers like Stimming and DJ Gregory help to highlight and bring out the rigid house structures buried within the ecstatic realm of UK House, a general off-kilter aesthetic quite accurately described by Lea himself as "seasick."  Thanks to Tom Lea for providing such a clever, banging, and most importantly enjoyable mix.  He is, as they say, the one.

Svpreme Fiend – Suicidal Thoughts [unreleased]
Forest Swords – Hjurt (Pariah remix) [No Pain in Pop]
Stimming feat. Lazarusman – Change [Diynamic]
Deadboy – Heartbreaker (Julio Bashmore 2010 remix) [unreleased]
Contakt – Not Forgotten (Rolando’s VNO remix) [forthcoming Local Action]
Contakt – Squill 75 [forthcoming Local Action]
Mosca – Gold Bricks I See You [Fabric]
House of House – Rushing to Paradise (DJ Harvey remix) [BBE]
Ultravid – Origami [unreleased]
Trizla – Backache [unreleased]
Kink – Lift Me Up [Dotbleep] (Dennis Ferrer - Hey Hey [Defected])
Seiji – Straylight [Seiji]
Paul Ritch – Solarium [Drumcode]
Zoltan – She Makes Me [forthcoming Local Action]
Osunlade feat. Divine Essence – My Reflection (DJ Gregory remix) [Strictly Rhythm]
Damu – Sequinny [forthcoming Local Action]


1 comment:

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