Zomby: with an "ie", a dead thing which walks amongst us. In this context: a very much with us producer...
Initially emerging as part of dubstep's creative first burst, Zomby quickly established himself as something different. Releases were sporadic, but his approach – recalling the spirit of rave but with a downbeat, haunted feel - pushed his sound into a new direction.
After completing the hardcore homage which was 'Where Were U In '92?', the producer was snapped up by 4AD. Zomby's debut release for the label was released in emotional circumstances, with 'Dedication' being named in honour of his late father.
Continually controversial, the reclusive producer now lives in New York where he completed his expansive new album 'With Love' (find the full Clash review HERE). Sporadic live appearances aside, Zomby can only really be known through his music: sometimes oblique, sometimes direct, he remains one of the most potent forces in electronic music.
Toasting his return, Clash have picked seven personal favourites from Zomby's back catalogue.
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Amidst the hype and backlash, speculation and counter-speculation, it’s easily forgotten that Zomby is – at heart – a rhythms man. One of the earliest (officially released) cuts to bear his name, ‘Liquid Dancehall’ fuses the skippy, post-garage jump then prevalent in dubstep to an itchy sense of Jamaican funk. Yet really there’s not that much going on here – it’s Zomby’s use of space, the nod towards the infinite delights of the echo chamber, which makes the track so effective. Then there’s that single vocal sample, sounding as if it’s going to be washed away, pouring down the pavement, tumbling into the gutter. Vybz Kartel held in a cell underwater. Popcaan toasting from the depths of the ocean.
'Spliff Dub' (words by Errol Anderson)
Towards the start of Zomby’s career, there were regular homages to the holy tabernacle of dubstep as we know it best. We all know the story of dubstep's climax so we'll save the default descriptions of its heyday. The likes of 'Memories' and 'Liquid Dancehall' were prime examples of his adoration for the genre, but 2008’s 'Spliff Dub' always operated as the unloved sibling of his discography. When it emerged from the ether, it unsurprisingly shared the DNA of those other stonkers but something also elevated it above them. So gloomy yet bouncy that the thick-skinned nature of its bassline would have got every Plastic People dance space occupant nodding in Churchill dog sync. Then there was the fact that it ended up without a home and wasn’t signed to a label at any point. Shocking, really. Especially since it blended smidgens of Wiley's Eski-lead grime movements along with a celebration of marijuana-infused activities in equal measure. Of the remixes, Sukh Knight's version was particular noteworthy, but it's still the original causing goosebumps.
'Tears In The Rain'
‘Where Were U In ’92?’ was split between reverence to the past and a longing for futures lost. For every moment of straight-up rave abandon there was a poignant moment of reflection, a sense of tender, extremely fragile introversion. ‘Tears In The Rain’ – with it’s incredible Blade Runner sample – is a case in point, with fractured Amen loops tumbling beneath those glistening, poignant words. "All those moments pass away in time..."
'Rumours & Revolutions' (words by Felicity Martin)
Released in late 2008, this 12" was dropped on Ramp Recordings sub-label Brainmath. It's a track which flirts with 2-step and dancehall simultaneously, and comes a great deal more fleshed-out than a lot of Zomby's work. A tripped-out, ragga soundbite opens this track, giving a nod to the manic raver’s love of Jamaican heritage. When the flute notes come in, dancing over his choppy syncopation, there's a real 'Township Funk' vibe going on. It’s like a haunted Notting Hill Carnival, minus the Red Stripe revellers...
Without any shadow of a doubt the most controversial moment in Zomby’s catalogue. The debate over the sample, it’s clearance (or lack thereof) is so well worn that it barely merits repeating, and has arguably obscured ‘Natalia’s Song’ itself. The broken, knackered shuffle has a kinship with Burial (indeed, a previous Zomby interview found the producer claiming to have written it for the Hyperdub mainstay); but what really seeps through is a powerful, overwhelming sense of loss. ‘Natalia’s Song’ is both immediate and unknowable, the power of those Russian vocals transgressing the language barrier. In the end, perhaps it’s apt that the central song for a man in a mask has its ownership obscured so profoundly.
‘Dedication’ seemed to be part of a cleansing process for Zomby, the purification after so much mourning. Released shortly after, the ‘Nothing’ EP has almost fallen through the cracks of his discography; but it acts as a fantastic bridge between the two 4AD albums released thus far. A title which is both illusive and exact, ‘Nothing’ matched the haunted feel of Wiley’s Devil mixes to shattered hardcore so beloved of Zomby. ‘Labyrinth’ is all Amen breaks and air sirens, but there’s a sense of the ghostly here, as if the producer is conjuring a rave apparition. A dead thing walking amongst the living, the unpressured way ‘Nothing’ was released perhaps allowed Zomby to craft his most completely realised project to date.
'With Love' – minimix
Clocking in at two discs and 33 tracks, the sprawling nature of ‘With Love''s assembly deliberately disrupts any sense of unity. A diverse display of the producer's talents, anticipation for 'With Love' was ramped up by a mini-mix which connects four of the album's highlights. A strikingly shot, ultra-modern Romeo and Juliet tale, it fuses Zomby’s music with a sleek visual aesthetic. Clash can't help thinking that the producer approved of all those vintage Stone Island jackets.
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Words: Robin Murray unless stated
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