Philadelphia producer reveals a gleaming, maximalist space opera.
Chris Power 2012
When Starkey emerged in the mid-00s, he represented thrilling evidence that grime and dubstep wasn’t just spreading across the UK, but all the way to Philadelphia, PA. He’s since established his own outpost on the rowdy border between grime, dubstep, crunk, and what he calls "street bass".
If that sounds like crowded territory, it’s even more populous on his third album, Orbits. It finds Starkey on an avowedly sci-fi tip, with titles like Renegade Starship, Dystopia and Distant Star.
But despite occasional borrowings from Vangelis, this isn’t the grimy future of Blade Runner; this is gleaming, maximalist space opera. The operatic nature of Starkey’s productions is metaphorical, but at times his productions are so overblown that the advent of a soprano wouldn’t be surprising.
Renegade Starship, no more over the top than the rest of the album, channels the euphoric build of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy before breaking into brute-force brostep, which in turn collapses into flatulent, organ-like low-end blurts.
Despite this habitual busyness, something’s missing. Command gets the juices flowing with abyssal bass stabs that instantly recall one of grime’s earliest documents, Musical Mob’s Pulse X, while sirens and glitchy synths swerve across the track. But amid these elements, space for an MC manifests as hollowness at the track’s core.
More often, however, Orbits has too much going on rather than too little. At times this can work in Starkey’s favour, when he goes so far that he passes into a zone beyond the ridiculous.
G V Star (Part 2) marries a sleazy rising synth line to a brutal breakbeat and chopped vocals. It’s ludicrous, but deployed at the right time it could probably launch a festival tent into space.
The occasional moments of calm are fumbled. Starkey sings softly on G V Star (Part 1), accompanied by cello and xylophone, but this interlude only serves to make the drop into Part 2 more extreme. The glissando synth work on Crashing Sphere briefly becomes the album’s most affecting passage, before building to an unnecessary and kitsch climax.
These tracks underline Orbits’ biggest flaw, which echoes the lesson taught by dynamic range mastering and the loudness wars: making everything extreme all the time doesn’t lead to greater extremity, but to blandness.