Producer’s progress from pure dubstep is marked by moments of compelling abstraction.
Chris Power 2012
A release schedule of eight singles in six years is virtual inactivity measured against the hyperactive output of some electronic music producers. But London-based Pangaea (Kevin McAuley) seems to be more interested in maintaining a certain standard of quality control than many of his peers.
There’s also the fact that he, alongside Ben UFO and Pearson Sound, is busy running Hessle Audio, one of the better labels to emerge (in 2007) as a key player in dubstep’s second wave.
A prominent dance music trend of the last few years has been how eagerly some producers (especially from that second wave) have abandoned dubstep for other styles, particularly techno. But while Pangaea’s last few productions have been anything but pure dubstep, his transition seems more like a skilfully executed mix than the chancer’s technique of powering down one deck and hitting "start" on the other.
What’s striking about Release, covering stylistic ground from brooding dubstep to frantic techno, is that many of its most interesting elements reside on the margins. The title track opens with a minute of what could be a field recording, a repeated blue note shimmering amid traffic-like growls.
The Miami bass-like repetition of Game is naggingly catchy, but more memorable is the digital rainforest of trills and chirrups that filigree the track’s final section. Later, the chill stabs running through Aware seem to be gusting in from a more interesting place than the functional, bone-dry 2-step that dominates the track.
But Pangaea is a dance music producer, so criticising his music for conforming to mechanics demanded by the dancefloor hardly seems fair. On the other hand, when describing his production process to The Wire in 2010, McAuley said: “I’ll find myself going off on one, processing a sound into something really weird, and I have to remind myself that it is for a sound system and for dancing, and rein it in.”
In that context it’s interesting to note that High, Release’s closing track, is both its most abstract and best moment. A gloomy cloud of drone lit by an occasional weak beam of melody and a viciously time-stretched vocal, it deconstructs the garage-y longing of Pangaea’s own Memories or Router. Moving into darker, deeper spaces, it whets the appetite for further occasions when McAuley will fight the urge to rein it in for the dancefloor.