- Top 100
May 17, 2012
Almost two years ago, before the rise of Skrillex and electronic dance music’s mainstream infiltration, South London’s Phillip Gamble was tipped as the one to bring dubstep to the masses. After DJing for years as Girl U No It’s True, his 2010 Girl Unit release Wut came out on Night Slugs and took over the UK club scene. R&B vocals, never-ending beats and madly intricate soundscapes that were noise all the way down—it summed up a peak moment in the movement towards worldwide dub.
And the album made it big, but it didn’t cross over the way we thought it might.
Fast forwarding to now, we find the genre in a place that looks a lot like where Girl Unit left it—full of ever more exuberant and massive sound, with some artists sharing Gamble’s flair for the right mash-ups, but others layering so many outrageous flourishes that mood and melody get washed out in the spin.
Club Rez—Gamble’s six track EP, just released on Night Slugs—is just not like that at all.
In fact, it’s far enough away from Wut that it begs a question: is it as equally forward thinking and genre defining? or is it a self indulgent wander through a genre that never was?
The truth: there’s little to no self-indulgence here, it’s as restrained as Wut wasn’t—to good effect. Gamble trades in cheap thrills for constant dramatic tension that keeps the listener locked in to the beat. If this is the future of the genre, we’re in good stead.
And if we’ve wondered what happened in the quiet between the last hyped release and Club Rez, it’s clear: Gamble was playing clubs and taking notes.
Taking notes from everyone.
For example, Rez Day is ripe and lush with Rustie-esque melody—a chord progression evolves into a funk hook that sweeps across oscillating white noise and fade-in/fade-out beats. Temp drops from the albums typical 130 to 93 BPM, pulling the listener up close and intimate. All Moog, sweet groove and driving rhythm, it explores a mid-range space that’s often bypassed in favour of big highs and lows—if Wut looked to gully East Coast hip hop and the U.K. MC scene, here we peek at those genres’ mutual disco roots and West Coast practice.
Not that nothing on the album is hard edged: Cake Boss is the album’s throwback track and is straight from the Night Slugs oeuvre. It’s a pounding of tech house that takes a trance rhythm and interrupts it with a banging volley of tympanic drums. Stepped electric bass, minimalist bleeps and sweet Mario coin high notes come from nowhere to reveal a specific gravity of tempo and beat that unlocks my wind up heart. It’s a skeleton of a track, a raw cut that finishes inside the listener—and it shows Girl Unit’s core strength, using liminal space and the silence between notes to good effect.
It’s a pogrom that’s hard to pin down—and in listening to the album, it’s clear that Gamble is a slippery bastard. Double Take and Plaza take this to the extreme. Plaza starts off with straight up house: minimal beats that blow up into lucid electronic jams—then veers off into uncharted territory with air horns and repeating loops of 808 funk. It’s the track to the most epic hip hop never sung, sort of like if you were to imagine a backing track to a Kanye West song that was actually as good as his meta-critic rating—instead of just a rehash of past success—then stripped away the vocals. It works because it’s pared back—like free-styling or beat-boxing, it’s full of breaths and pauses that make it ring sincere.
Meanwhile, Double Take veers crazily back and forth between sci-fi sounds and minimalist percussion, in a John Cage kind of madness that’s epic and brilliant. You wade through four minutes of a deliciously disturbing soundscape, full of whispered counts and math machine rhythm and find yourself led into a wall of R&B melody that washes all the dissonance away. It’s the kind of track that’s likely to attract superlative praise or condemnation, a radical experiment that doesn’t fret over its own success or failure.
Perhaps it doesn’t worry because the album’s title track is such a club-friendly banger that it guarantees the whole album will see heavy rotation. Club Rez is a grace note to the Girl Unit sound. Gamble dips in to his own material and weaves the results into a dubstep matrix that’s maybe the most radio-friendly thing Night Slugs has ever put out. There are air horns, claps, vuvuzela wails, breaks, breakdowns, reverberations and beats—all of the usual ingredients—but there’s also balance and quietude. It’s a solid end to a great album that’s sure to draw new listeners into his sound.
Check out the Club Rez trailer on Vimeo:
Available on iTunes and Beatport, Club Rez was released May 7, 2012.
Find Girl Unit on SoundCloud.