Friday, 24 February 2012

Review: Swarms - Old Raves End

Swarms - Old Raves End
This is the second album from 2011 I love that has the word "rave" in the title yet sounds nothing like rave either as music or social gathering. Amusingly, "Old Raves End" is almost exactly synonymous with Tim Hecker's "Ravedeath, 1972" and I think the two would go together remarkably well as a combined listening experience. But where Tim Hecker explores the meeting point between ambient, drone and neo classical, Swarms is very much a dubstep act. A lot has been made of dubstep, and particularly the Burial flavour of melancholic near-ambience shot through with haunting vocal wails, being the generational echoes of a social post-rave comedown as expressed by people just too young to have gone to the original acid house and hardcore parties of the late '80s and early '90s. In other words, dubstep is a youth generation mourning that the utopian future of ecstacy and communal partying never came to pass, brutally truncated by the government and the collapse of the rave scene into self-devouring corporate superclub culture. Hence the title.

Now, you could deduce from this that Swarms are Burial imitators, and yes, like almost everything else still making honest-to-God real atmospheric dubstep right now, there is a lot of Burial to be heard in this record. But there's also a more pastoral, expansive edge to the desolation. Old Raves End is only the third album released by US label Lo Dubs, the other two coming from the outstanding British producer Clubroot. Clubroot's album II-MMX was one of my favourites of 2010, the first one to take ambient dubstep into the great outdoors, with gorgeous results. And like Clubroot, Swarms use combine the grainy atmospherics and skittery, distant percussive emissions with more live, acoustic instruments and gentle melodic swells. The result is a more widescreen, panoramic soundscape, the gaps between each dislocated bass thump seeming much larger than the cramped urban spaces you'd hear on, say, a Jack Sparrow record. This album reminds me of the rusting hulks of dead industry that I used to walk through as child - skeletons of the dead mining industry of the north of England half reclaimed by resurgent undergrowth. Perhaps in this context the fragmented ruins are tent poles and rotting speaker stacks left over from the great outdoor raves of the acid house explosion, an elegaic ode to UK dance music's pastoral history.

As the unusually serious and faux-poetic mode of this review may have hinted, I genuinely love this album. The fusion of dubstep with various ambient environments was always where I thought the genre should have gone. I said not too long ago that "dubstep is over", splitting irreconcilably into brostep aggression and experimental abstraction. If that's the case, then Old Raves End is a fittingly beautiful epitaph.

Genre: Dubstep
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

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