There are a couple of problems with reviewing so-called ‘dance music:’ first, there are so many sub-genres and labels, both of which separate the music into a confusing array of shades, which often makes it hard to know what you’re listening to. This obsessive labeling may boil down to the ever-present tribalist nature of music. This is ironic because dancing to music is one of the most basic human needs that also unites people. The second problem is more logistical. When dealing with music designed specifically for dancing in a sweaty club until the early hours, how do you sit down with a cup of tea and review an EP or whole album if you're not chewing your face off or waving your hands in the air?
I encountered both of these problems when listening to a compilation entitled EP MNK001 on the Manuka label. Hailing from both Manchester and the Pacific North West region of the USA, Manuka was founded by Lois Richardson (Hypho) and Amadeo Sanchaz (one half of Xakra). The label specializes in dubstep, UK bass, techno and grime. The four tracks on this EP sit close to the dubstep sound, with the exception of the last track (‘Zygos-Paz’), which has a faster, pounding techno beat.
The first track of the EP – Arkwright’s ‘Course’ is my kind of electronica – dark, moody and with an ominous, half-buried bassline. The track starts with what sounds like a bunker alarm, which slowly develops into the major melody of the track, and over a handful of eerie samples, the substance of the track builds. Punchy drums and handclaps soon enter the fray. About halfway through, the real beat kicks in – heavier drums, a break and an increase in speed. This continues for a further two minutes, whereupon the track ends suddenly.
The second track, ‘Child’s Play’ by Kelly Dean is, in my opinion, the best on this label showcase. The tune begins with what sounds like the Halloween theme song, with distorted, whispered voices in the background. This airy intro then leads into a big, wobbly bassline and some nice echoed wood-based percussion. The whispering voices continue throughout, as does the eerie Halloween-esque hook. Mid-paced, minimal and dark, ‘Child’s Play’ is great stuff. However, I personally found the final two tracks – ‘Red Cross’ by Sensei and ‘Paz’ by Zygos – pretty low key, and they failed to register with me.
Listening to dance music out of context like this; that is, outside of the club environment, there wasn’t much to hold my attention. Individually, these tracks are fine as club tools, though I personally felt they didn’t work as home listening material. I’m sure they would work mixed in during a club set, but I wouldn’t scrutinise them too much.
VA - MNK001 is available as a free compilation on the Manuka Records Bandcamp page.